In a continuation of this series of posts, you will find
below the recollections on the first years of Landsknecht reenactment in California (in the States?) from the perspective of Greig Fors. Greig personifies the personality of “O.G.” (Original German) with a long history of reenactment, a passion for research, a vast arsenal of craft skills, and more stories about the First Days than you can shake a stick at. And honey, I have a LOT of sticks.
*grin* Along with a small handful of Bay Area residents, Greig helped to lay the foundation of this thing we call Landsknecht reenactment.
I have been lucky enough to get to know Greig in the past few years, and fortunate enough to get his permission to post his recollections on this tops.
And with any luck, I may even get him back in costume someday soon… *evil plotty hand rubbing*******************************“Friends First, Last, and Always”
Greig Fors met Carl Ontis (two of the founders of the original das Schwarz Fahnlein) in 1971 at the Mountain Ranch Rendezvous. Both Greig and Carl were involved in mountain man reenactments, which have a long tradition here in the States. Upon meeting these two recognized kindred spirits and became fast friends for years thereafter. Greig was there a few years later at the Railroad Flat (around 1975) when Carl met his future wife and life-partner, Elizabeth Pidgeon. She was attending her first rendezvous with a friend and Greig says, “[Elizabeth] and Carl were instantly together. It was pretty cool to see.” It was, as they say, an auspicious beginning; this close core of friends continued to attend rendezvous events for a number of years, eventually forming a group of free trappers and Hudson Bay Company traders known as “the New Helvetia Brigade".
With time the Brigade moved beyond rendezvous-only events and into new historical reenactment opportunities. This came about when Greig found himself in a unique (at the time) situation; he was asked by the California State Parks Department to begin acting as a costumed docent at the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park
. To his knowledge, this was the first such position in the Parks Department in California.[i] Over time this role developed into a more structured event with Greig, and later his friend Bruce Northridge (RIP), doing the ‘Adobe Days’ event at the Petaluma site. Both men portrayed blacksmiths, finally forming a partnership/business in the “Laurel and Hardy Forge and Brass Works”.[ii] Greig and Bruce would continue their friendship, and their personas as blacksmiths in the same forge, through their time together at Faire.The Gang at the Petaluma Adobe - Bruce Northridge at left front, Carl Ontis second on the rt., and Greig Fors 4th back on the right.
As more members of “the New Helvetia Brigade" became involved at Petaluma the docent activities began to spread further through the Park Department. Greig became friends with Glen Burch, the state historian for Northern California, and Glen in turn invited to group to come out and work at Fort Ross. In the end, Sutter's Fort became a site for their re-enactment activities as well.[iii]Carl and Elizabeth Ontis - at Ft. Ross - early 80's“A New Idea”
After a number of years of performing together as historical interpreters, a group [iv] from the “the New Helvetia Brigade" began a transition that would become the foundations of Landsknecht reenactment at both SCA and faire events. While the leap from ‘Mountain Man’ to ‘Renaissance Man’ may seem drastic, the move into the new and growing medieval/renaissance scene of the California Bay Area was a natural one for veteran re-enactors in the mid-1970’s. It went something like this; after participating in a Wild West show in the Marin Headlands in 1974-1975, a number of members decided to attend the “Great American Shindig” in 1976. This event had Ron Patterson, one of the original creators of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire (founded 1963), cast in the part of Wild Bill Hickok. Around this same time, 1976, these same Brigade members started taking part in Society for Creative Anachronism (founded 1966) events.
It was here, in the SCA, that the discussion of creating Landsknecht personas took shape and form. It was also around this time that Carl and Elizabeth were married, holding their wedding in Landsknecht garb – and apparently starting a long tradition of Landsie re-enactors getting married in their kit. *grin*
Hey! Any excuse for cool new German clothes!
Greig remembers that he was wearing his first set of Pluderhosen at the time of the Ontis wedding, “Charlie (Charlotte) Rushing, Jack Thomas’ wife, made me a pair of Pluderhose that was for the time, impeccable. After four of five years, they became the Fahnlein’s loaner pants and were kept unwashed for another seven or eight years.”[v] The group also picked up a number of additional members at this time, as their growing reenactment repertoire attracted additional folks.Greig Fors and David Godwin - SCA 12th Nite event - prior to 1979
With a new period to focus on, it didn’t take long for the serious research to begin[vi]; along with a healthy helping of personal drive, the rigors of being a costumed docent for the California State Parks helped to mold an attention to historical detail that has passed down even to many Landsknecht groups in this day. As Greig says, it was these factors and “a bit of competition as well, you know, we would find something to outdo the others.” Carl Ontis seems to have taken a lead in encouraging this aspect of reenactment among the friends, with each person finding a niche that they found personally fascinating. For a blacksmith like Greig this was everyday items, like forks and spoons and weapons.
By the time 1978 rolled around the group – about ten folks in total, kitted out in German gear - decided to try out the local Renaissance Faire at Peacock Gap (started by RPF in 1966)[vii] in San Rafael, CA. While Greig and partner Bruce attended as a part of a blacksmithing booth, most of the members attended the event under the ‘Faire Ever’ pass (I believe this was a pre-cursor to Friends of Faire). Even in the booth Greig wore his Germans and did his best to get away f as much as possible to play with the others.Greig Fors, Elizabeth Pidgeon-Ontis, and Carl Ontis
The experience of going to faire as a group the first time involved a lot of walking around and interacting with the other faire goers. It didn’t take long for Phyllis Patterson, the faire’s director, to notice this new band. They were ready made with costumes in place, a friendly attitude, and a willingness to play. After their second year in attendance, Phyllis asked them if they would like to join the event officially as a part of St. Helena’s. At the time Helena’s was the ‘catch-all’ street actors Guild, not the peasant’s only group it eventually became.
After a couple of years with St. Helena’s, it was time for the Germans to set out on their own; das Schwarz Fahnlein was formed. This group joined forces with the Queens Guard to form a new Guild, St. Michaels; a performance company that survives to this day at both Northern and Southern California reenactment events. The faire itself also made a move during the coming years, changing locations from Peacock Gap to Blackpoint Forest, Navato, CA. It was during this period that Grieg was appointed as the Fahnenträger (ensign) and led queen's progress just behind the bell ringers; making him the first to learn to twirl the flag.
Greig remember’s some his favorite gigs from these early years: “…at the opening of Faire….We got the use of one of faire's carts and I think there were a few times we had brought a goat. There were four or five of us that would walk towards maingate with all our stuff in the cart, and the goat, if it was with us, was tied to the back of it. We all were acting like we had just walked miles and miles, heads down and quiet. We passed through the crowds without stopping and into the faire. I personally think it was one our best gigs.”A VERY young Elizabeth Frye and The Goat (or one of the Goats) - Elizabeth still makes it out to reenactments, and now brings her own child along as well, second generation faire-brat! *grin*
And then this around 1981-1982: “Carl and I with one or two others…’caught’ somebody stealing, and we restrained him and did a be-handing. He was led off screaming and Carl and I played catch with the rubber hand.”
And then the one they did at rehearsals but never got around to doing in public: “Elizabeth Frye was just a baby and Charlotte [Frye] was carrying her. Both in costume. She came up to whoever was in charge (it was both the germans and queen's guard and standing in ranks) and asked to look for the baby's father. While her back was turned, a couple of guys snuck away. While she was at one end of the ranks, some more snuck away on the opposite side, and everytime she turned her back, even more snuck away until there was one poor guy left standing all by himself, shaking.”
(*I think I know a gig for Casa de Fruta faire this year…*grin* ~ hsifeng)
At this point, while Carl and Elizabeth were the founders of the Landsknecht movement, there were other folks that had become involved that Greig would like to name: Roy Kester (RIP), Gordon Frye, Charlotte Frye, Oatmeal (per Gordon Frye: Oatmeal was Dave O'Neal ["O'Neal, Oatmeal, you get it..."]
), Dave Godwin, Lucinda Nickel-Fors, Shula Shoup, Salvatore Bruno, David Miles (Original Trummelschlager), Julie (Juliana) Gaul, Kathe Barrows (RIP
), Bob Bodeau, Kevin Fogel, Mariposa and Moffit (Per Gordon: Bill Moffatt - which I would suppose means this is Bill and Mariposa Moffat
t). As Greig says, “There may have been one or two more, but I don’t remember.”The Usual Suspects - Northern Faire, 1983“And From This Seed…”
...a mighty Oak has grown.” Starting in the SCA, and moving into Renaissance Pleasure Faire North, a group of friends started a tradition of German reenactment that has spread far and wide. From a starting point in the Bay Area of California, the style and traditions of these founders have found homes in Renaissance Faires throughout California in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Riverside, with outposts in many towns in-between. Outside of this state there are groups inspired by these founders in Texas, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Nevada (I am sure I’m missing a few). Not to mention the Landsknechts who are a part of the nationwide (worldwide?) network of the SCA.
Greig says, “At one point, Carl was asked to go to Australia to show off landsknechts to the Aussie SCA. When he came back, he told me that they had gotten pics of the two of us, made them into posters and we were hung on ceilings above some of the women’s beds. I never knew how true this was, but I certainly got a good laugh. I am pretty sure the poster was for real. So I think our group was the inspiration for Aussie Landsknechts.”
Continuing the long tradition of Germans on the Security Crew at faire; Greig left the Germans to work with Ops and on crew for RPF events in 1986. He continued this off and on, mostly at Northern until 1994.
And if I get my way, he’s going to be coming back out to faire in the next year or so, to celebrate my birthday with me at Valhalla and get Rockett’s Forge out there as a resource for amazing metal-wares again!
[i] The tradition of costumed interpreters continues to this day at the park, with the next Living History Day event scheduled for May of 2012.
[ii] As Greig says, “I had made a logo that had a cut off chisel in a laurel wreath. The chisel is called a Hardy, well you get the idea…”
[iii] Greig – “Once, for New Years, we had Ft. Ross all to ourselves, our group and a number of the higher ups in the Park Dept. It was a great party.”
[iv] These members were Greig, Carl Ontis, Elizabeth Pidgeon, Gordon Frye, Charlotte Frye, Roy Kester and Dave Godwin.
[v] As I said to Greig; It’s good to know that newbies were tormented with unwashed loaner gear even back in the day! And by the way, he STILL has these pants!
[vi] Greig recalls, “The books were bought and studied and discussions took place and we started getting better.” And, “There was animosity towards us in the SCA, because we were trying to be historically accurate, and we were labeled elitist assholes.” (See my SCA History Maven friends – this is a long tradition! *wink*)
Greig also remembers the groups research collection starting out with Braun and Schneider’s ‘Historic Costumes’ and Vecellio’s ‘Renaissance Costume Book’ along with, “Every Durer book we could get our hands on….We looked for anything Holbein, Bosch, and Cranach (both the elder and younger). I was lucky to find some hardbound museum catalogues from several German museums. There were some auction catalogues that I found from the mid twenties that had a lot of weapons and armor that was not in other books. Dover Books seemed to have a lot of what we were looking for.” Keep in mind, the HUGE number of costume resources we have today were not present or readily available when this group was starting out, many of them have come along or been ‘rediscovered’ in the intervening years. Including that perennial favorite of many first-time Landsknecht, Osprey: “The first Osprey book on the landsknechts has the color illustrations, well, there are landsknechts that look like Carl, Roy, Moffat (Mariposa’s husband) and myself. We always wondered...”
[vii] Seems like the Ren/Medieval scene really “jumped off” in the Bay in 1966, with the SCA getting started in Berkeley and RPF getting new digs up North in Novato in that year.