Three unbreakable rules for interacting with people wearing old timey garb at community festivals

Beat Ralphmonacolivinghistorian Nataleabonjour Web
Living historian Ralph Monaco is corralling others for Raytown's Festival of the Trails/Photo by Natalea Bonjour

The first rule of interacting with those people you’ll see dressed in period garb at Raytown’s Festival of the Trails? Don’t call them “reenactors.”

“They hate being called reenactors—they are living historians,” says Ralph Monaco, a lifelong Raytonian and heavyweight in the hobby who is wrangling the living historians for the festival.

The Festival of the Trails is “the Super Bowl to Raytown,” in Monaco’s words, and this year’s installment also marks Missouri’s bicentennial and the bicentennial of the Santa Fe Trail. Expect the largest assemblage of living historians in these parts this year, along with storytelling, games, food trucks and live music.

Also: living historians don’t like the word “costumes.”

“It’s period attire,” Monaco says. “We spend an awful lot of money on our clothing to make sure it’s authentic. For example, they didn’t have zippers during this time period. A costume might have hidden zippers, but period attire doesn’t. You know when people wear glasses and they have those little noseguards? You can’t wear nose guards. They didn’t have noseguards.”

That, ahem, period attire for the, ahem, living historians is pricey—minimum of a thousand bucks for one getup.

“I paid $500 for my shoes,” Monaco says. “They are perfectly handmade leather shoes.”

Don’t worry, Monaco can afford it—he’s a trial lawyer. His vocation informs the people he chooses to play, like Father Bernard Donnelly, an Irish Catholic priest who cast a long shadow over early Missouri and was one of Jackson County’s preeminent judges.

Which brings us to the third rule of interacting with living historians: Don’t try to get them to say offensive things, which chuckleheads have been known to try every now and again.

“There are certain words and phrases that are not appropriate to use as a living historian,” Monaco says. “When you’re doing first person, it’s a balance between educating and the perspective of the person you’re portraying and still being sensitive to things that are offensive to us today.”

GO: The Festival of the Trails is September 11 all over Raytown. Start at the Rice-Tremonti Farm Home (8801 E. 66th St., Raytown) or the Raytown Historical Society & Museum (9705 E. 63rd St., Raytown).

Categories: Arts & Entertainment