For thousands of hard-core enthusiasts, the Revolutionary War is still happening.
“I bear arms against King George,” said militiaman Israel Rosario, his chin tilted to the drizzling sky, his back as straight as a bayonet, as he prepared to wage mock war at this week’s re-enactment of the Battle of Brooklyn.
Trouble is, because so few Revolutionary War re-enactors live in Brooklyn, Green-Wood Cemetery had to call in reinforcements, so to speak, to commemorate the 230th anniversary of the battle on Sunday.
A couple of dozen out-of-town re-enactors heeded the call to arms. Eight of them (four Tories and four rebellious colonists) unleashed the sulfurous fury of muskets and a cannon on each other, while the rest, including all the ladyfolk, joined a crowd of 21st-century bystanders.
Rosario stood on those sidelines dressed as a blacksmith turned militiaman with a canteen strapped to his back and a replica rifle in his hand. But he had some trouble staying in character.
After describing his replica rifle for some civilians, Rosario launched into a defense of the Second Amendment — which wasn’t written until years after the Revolution — and a condemnation of what he perceives as a lack of patriotism in America today.
He wasn’t the only re-enactor caught up in nostalgia for the good ol’ Revolutionary War days.
Nina Catania, an elementary school teacher from Canarsie, added, “You know, half of the students don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance — it’s disgusting,” referring to a tradition that didn’t begin until 1892.
Nearby, Fred Leppig, who came down from Orange County for the battle, was recounting how he discovered Revolutionary War reenactment through the girlfriend, who became his wife.
After first, Leppig was just a farb — re-enactor-speak for someone who messes up the period details.
“I had a Civil War rifle,” he recalled with embarrassment.
The word “farb” is derived from the expression, “Far be it for me to criticize…,” and, despite the diplomatic tone, is a particularly cutting epithet in the re-enactor community.
“A farb is someone who wears polyester, or who doesn’t wear the correct uniform,” said Pat Jordan, who’s been part of the re-enactment scene for 26 years and came up from Philadelphia for the re-historic event.
Most re-enactors go beyond proper costuming to avoid being a farb. Some even adopt 18th-century expressions.
“I like to use ‘What news?’ as a greeting,” said Richard Cuneo, who played a Tory in the battle.
“They didn’t use ‘hello,’ back then,” added a friend. “ ‘OK’ is bad, too.” (Then again, so is eating pizza and guzzling Pepsi, which the re-enactors did upon arrival at the ceremony. Of course, they did their refueling in the privacy of a tent.)
When the time for battle came, the re-enactors loaded their muskets and made war — interrupted by patriotic, caustic and cute comments from the crowd.
“Are they going to kill them?” asked a tow-headed boy in a high-pitched voice.
As his father explained that no, this was just make-believe, there was a deafening roar, and the cannon unleashed its smoky fury.
The Brooklynites were entranced, and like rapt bystanders at a hit-and-run, they followed the Tories down the hill, upsetting the re-enactors.
“You want to be behind the hub of the cannon because of your hearing,” roared a heavy-set woman in colonial garb. She was also the owner of the replica killing machine.
The 21st-century Brooklynites ignored her.
The cannon went off again.
The British moved in. The Brooklynites followed.
One rebel fell dead to the ground. The photographers crowded around him.
“See if he’s got money in his wallet,” cracked a bystander.
The rest of the rebels scattered into the bushes.
The re-enactment might have been fought by few troops, but in the real Battle of Brooklyn, 11,000 American troops battled a British force three times its size.
On the ridges of Battle Hill, now part of the cemetery, 2,000 American soldiers were surrounded and killed, and the rest of the troops, led by George Washington, retreated under cover of fog to Brooklyn Heights.
A regiment of 400 Marylanders tried to cover for the rest of the retreating troops near the Old Stone House. Only nine of them survived. But the regiment is credited with buying Washington time to escape across the East River to New York.
The re-staged battle over, Cuneo took out his car keys, clicked the unlock button, and drove to the top of the cemetery for another ceremony.
Far be it from us to criticize, but neither the colonists nor the British had SUVs back then.