Everyone's heard the phrase "history repeats itself", but for 52 year-old Michael McCreedy, it really does.
Since 1988, McCreedy has been actively re-enacting a by-gone period, donning clothes of another era and making history come alive for countless Fort Toulouse visitors to witness. And he does all this voluntarily.
I sat down with him the other day to get an "insider-look from the outside" as I've always been fascinated about history.
First off, I was told I really shouldn't say "re-enacting". The participants prefer the term "living history" for what they do, and "historical interpreters" for who they are.
Secondly, I was not aware most of these portrayals are based on actual people; so when a historical interpreter chooses a name from the list, they are literally adopting the attitude, mannerisms and persona of a real individual who once lived at or visited Fort Toulouse in the 1700s.
"Most people who do this had a love of history early on." McCreedy stated, "For me it was the childhood trips with my family from San Diego to visit my grandparents in Montgomery and stopping at various historical sites along the way."
Of course if you have a mother who is interested in genealogy and volunteers at the Archives and History Department's "research room", as he does, history already seems to be in his blood. In fact, for the past three years, McCreedy has delved into his own Scot Clan lineage by "becoming" Lachlin MacGillivray, Highland Scot trader and interpreter to Britain's King George II. Prior to this recent change of sides, he spent 19 years as a French Colonial Marine.
McCreedy contends the reason he and countless others volunteer their time is because they have a true passion for what they do, enjoy the educational aspects of it, and also because it's fun. "Everyone dies, they come back to life, you get to do it all over again, then you get to have a beer." McCreedy quipped.
While volunteers don't get paid, they do have to outfit themselves with the proper gear. They actually have "loaner clothes" for those who want to try it out, but these clothes can only be used for a short period of time; after that, you have to buy or trade things to get your own uniform, shoes and musket.
McCreedy's initial expense, about twenty years ago, was $1000 on a musket (he points out these firearms aren't "guns", they are classified as "working antique replicas" as per the Gun Control Act of 1968), and another $800 for the uniform. So, while this is not an inexpensive hobby, fortunately most people find out relatively early on whether or not this is something they want to pursue. McCreedy remarked, "If a person sticks with it for the probationary one-year period, and they like us, and we like them, they are voted in.
But don't get any fancy ideas of showing up with a Commandant's uniform and thinking you're going to run the place. While there are promotions, typically new historical interpreters at Fort Toulouse start at the bottom.
Considering McCreedy was a cook, a French Marine and now a prosperous fur trader in his twenty-two years of interpreting living history, he definitely earned his promotions among the volunteer ranks.
In his present-day life, McCreedy is the Executive Director at "The F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum" in Montgomery and is working on getting his Master's Degree in History. He hopes one day to become a historical advisor for film or television.
Just to put this in a "sum it all up" perspective, McCreedy figures that over the course of his twenty-two years of volunteering, 13 months of his life was actually spent "living in the eighteenth century".
This is indeed quite an amazing feat which only a dedicated few can say they've accomplished. Seems historical interpreters get the best of both worlds: reliving old history while all around them new history is being made ever day.
How can you get into the "act"? Please go to http://www.forttoulouse.com/ or call 334-567-3002. They'll be more than happy to explain to you how you can get involved.