Baldwin City Shane Seley has been what he calls “wearing the funny clothes” for almost 35 years now.
“Wearing the funny clothes” means taking part in Civil War re-enactments and wearing the authentic wool clothing of the era. Seley put the funny clothes on again Saturday at three re-enactments to celebrate the 155th anniversary of the Battle of Black Jack at the battlefield site.
For Seley, it is important that all the equipment and clothing used in re-enactments be realistic. At a promotional event for the re-enactment Tuesday at Free State Brewery in Lawrence, Seley was asked how much all his equipment and clothing cost, which is something he had never thought about before.
“I just didn’t even notice, and I started kind of looking down at all the stuff that I had on, and I’m like, ‘Gosh, I think I have about $3,500 worth of gear’ because we’re pretty much fashion snobs when it comes to the types of clothing and the types of equipment,” Seley said.
Seley works for Wide Awake Films, a company that has a background doing documentary work covering Civil War history and also devotes time on the board for the Black Jack Battlefield. Seley coordinated and also participated in the re-enactments. He said the six-person event committee has met to plan the anniversary events almost monthly for the past year and weekly for the final month and a half leading up to the event.
“That’s what is cool about these types of events, you know, they just take it beyond the book or beyond a documentary or beyond a movie or video game,” Seley said.
The anniversary events began Thursday, the actual date of the battle, with a free, guided tour. The events continued with an 1856 Lamplight Camp Tour Friday and three re-enactments Saturday.
All re-enactors were invited to participate and the re-enactments also included an introduction and summary by John Brown, portrayed by Kerry Altenbernd. Altenbernd portrayed an older John Brown, while a younger John Brown participated in the re-enactment battle. The re-enactment also took place at the actual battle site, which Altenbernd said is very rare.
Altenbernd said he was honored for the re-enactors to attend and volunteer their time, and he said he thought the re-enactors were also honored to be there.
“We give them thank you gifts but, you know, to hire somebody to do what they’re doing would be a whole lot more than meager little things that we offer them,” Altenbernd said. “We offer them the experience, and that’s priceless.”
For Altenbernd and Seley, authenticity and accuracy were most important in the re-enactments.
“That’s our goal. We want, when someone comes here, to get the authentic experience,” Altenbernd said. “When that battle goes off, we want it to look as close as it can to the actual battle.”
This is the second year for the re-enactments, and Seley said he is still unsure if the re-enactments will be an annual event.
Seley said one of the things that make all the extra work worth the time is giving children the chance to learn about history in a new way.
“I really like seeing all the kids come out and get excited and, you know, that’s just a big deal to me,” Seley said. “I’ve been into this stuff since I was, you know, in second, third grade, and this stuff wasn’t around for me.”