Pennsic: Slippery Rock Ohio … year 2 (2018)

The Pennsic war  a two-week-long yearly event held in camp site/park in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania. It is organized by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a medieval reenactment group. It is currently on its 47th year, and it regularly draws between 10 and 15K geeks (who have a passion for all things medieval) from all over the world to fight, meet, and frolic… and of course SHOP… the latter being why I wanted to go.

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People at a chocolate tasting party being entertained by other attendees who volunteer to sing, known as barding

This year was my 2nd time attending the event…. only this time I am sorry to say it wasn’t doing it for me anywhere near as much as it did last year, to the extent that after only one week of the two-week event I was DONE. In fact, as I’m writing this… I’m already road-tripping across America instead, the even is still going on. I am sorry to say that between the weather (it was what they like to call a “wet” Pennsic, so it was not only very hot… it was also very humid), and the fact that I’m 20 lb heavier this year, I was just NOT having a good time — although the rain clouds did make for GORGEOUS sunsets.

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The almost daily storms did make for amazing evening skies

The hot humid weather (on day it was about 89 F BEFORE the humidity) ultimately sucked every ounce of fun out of me … and apparently everyone else as well because the sidewalks seemed to roll up very early this year, with everyone going to sleep exhausted not long after I showed up (so very little for me to do in the evenings once the temperatures had dropped).

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All in all, the event got off to an unpropitious start…. so much so that the medevac helicopter had to be called in TWICE in just the first few days…. last year it wasn’t called in even once that I knew of, and my friends assured me it is only ever called for the most serious medical cases.

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The helicopter landed in the fighting field the first time while I was doing my first day of shopping… the guy who was taken to hospital was released, CAME BACK to Pennsic (who does that?) and had to be taken back to hospital by medevac a second time… I shudder when thinking about how much that cost him (and I’m talking in cash).

Speaking of shopping, here is this year’s haul IMG_2863.JPG

The white under-dress is the one I found used on eBay before last year’s Pennsic,

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but pay attention to the hem (i.e. the bottom) —  when I had bought it the previous owner had shortened it by just simply thwapping off the bottom with a pair of scissors, and by the end of last year’s event its linen material was starting to unravel. That’s why the dress is now shorter… and therefore more of a modern length than a medieval one (the woman in Dalton, GA, who fixed it for me is a generous; she saved as much as possible while evening out the sides — it is shorter in the front and longer at the sides — which ended up giving it a more flowy shape, allowing me more usage for it) … for SCA purposes, it’s supposed to be an undergarment anyway, so no big deal.

The jacket/vest I bought to wear over it (which has a sort of African inspired print, the photo doesn’t do it justice) was my new purchase, about $45 (with another $5 for the belt). I also bought the red cap (the blue dress I found on eBay over the course of the last year), which I’m VERY happy with, and intent do get a lot of NON-SCA wear out of. The same can be said for the new earrings, which are handmade and are ancient Roman in design.

That said, I got the nicest compliment…. while wearing it…  I had purchased “Aussie dims”, which I thought were dim sum, and they were… only they turned out to be of the deep-fried variety, rather than steamed or pan-fried (my Australia friend assures me deep fried is how Aussies usually eat them) … and served to me still swimming in oil (which I’m not allowed) … so I grabbed a bunch of napkins and patted them down before I ate one; but I’m not supposed to eat deep fried anything, so I gave the rest to a male friend who is always hungry. The next day I bought a Lamington from the same place, only when I asked “how much?” she said, “for you…. free… Yesterday our fryer was having issues and I saw you patting your dim’s down, so this is free.” When I told the people at the table I had taken it to eat it (total strangers), one of the women sitting there said to me, “what’s amazing is she remembered you! But, on second thought, to be honest I have spotted you a few times… you’re gorgeous and you’ve this look about you like you’re a professor at Hogwarts … you always look like you just stepped right out of Diagon Alley.”

That said, a friend took the pics of me in the blue dress and brand new red cap … which were decidedly less flatteringly, showing off just how heavy I’ve become in the last year (not sure that was his intent, but it was the result).

IMG_2864The whole not being able to walk with ease since I fell down and went boom thing (turns out my foot was dragging as a result of mixed up brain communication, I sort of had to teach myself to walk again) — combined with eating a lot of comfort food, had resulted in a massive weight gain, which I need to do something about… It is SO bad that when I walk I can feel my back-fat bouncing.

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While I did not spend much time there this year, nor did I take anywhere as many photos, I did spot some very cute shop signs ….

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And while the place might be a step back in time, it is NOT without internet….

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Also, I came across a guy who goes by an SCA name of Iron Lace (as I said in last year’s post, SCA members take on different names while ‘playing’), who is a diabetic talking about the med kit he’s put together for himself to carry with him during events…. apparently it also includes emergency instruction in case he’s passed out.

Pennsic War: a two week, geek, camping retreat in Slippery Rock PA

The Pennsic war is a two-week-long yearly event held in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania  organized by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a medieval reenactment group. Having just completed its 46th year, it regularly draws between 10 and 15K geeks (who have a passion for all things medieval) from all over the world to fight, meet, and frolic… and of course SHOP… the latter being why I wanted to go.

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On that topic, according to one of my friend, this two-week event generates about 40% or more of the county’s tax revenue… so the local government is VERY willing to do whatever is necessary to keep these SCA folks happy (police support, etc).

I will say this, my Pennsic experience got better daily. At first I felt like a fish out of water, depending on the one or two people I knew from before to help guide me. However, the more I got to know people and make new friends and developed a better sense of what was going on, the more I enjoyed it. I had intended to just try it out this once, so that I could say I had, but after the fact I’m seriously thinking its going to be an event that I will be attending with regularity.

SO, what is Pennsic? I found a couple of TV segments that were done on it, and since I didn’t shoot any video while there, I’ll suggest you watch these (if you’re interested)

I also found these two 20 minute ABCNews.com go-stream that covered the Pennsic held in 2015

http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=32849773
ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

Some back story: I’ve been what I like to refer to as SCA adjacent since college. When I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin — Madison, while checking out the local Irish pub (my father’s side of the family being British) I met a group of folks who were sipping beer and singing funny drinking songs (something most Americans never do). It turned out they were the local contingent of the SCA, a group I’d never before heard of but which sounded like something I’d enjoy, so I started to hang out with them on a regular basis. At least, I hung with them until I got in a bit too deep, and as a result of some serious drama, decided that in fact they were a pretty dysfunctional and unethical group of people (long story) who I wanted nothing more to do with.

That said, over the last 30 odd years, I have repeatedly found myself dating or being friends with any number of SCA-type folks from other parts of the country (or in their parlance “kingdoms”), who have repeatedly assured me that the particular group that constituted my first contact with the organization actually had a really bad reputation with the society at large; and, more to the point, should NOT be considered by me as reflective of the whole (every time I describe the drama to them they’re horrified by what happened) ….

Going forward, while I have repeatedly found that on an individual level most SCA members are exactly MY sort of people; I have since then avoided getting too close, or too invested, into that culture — because as an adult my willingness to deal with drama is significantly lower than it was as a teenager — and the SCA seems to breed drama. Additionally, I tend to find that the SCA as a group has too many members who behave like “big fish in small ponds”… for my liking… something I generally only put up with when forced to, like at work (Academia REEKS of it).

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[Oh, and a note: SCA people create persona’s for themselves. They have who they are in real life, and then they have the character they play within the organization. In real life they are any and everything from folks who are in the military or academia, to Hollywood producers (an old High school friend of mine who started out as an animator but has since gone on to become a successful producer and director of animation — The Simpsons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Monster High, Hot Wheels, etc — still likes to occasionally dress up in armor and thwap other folks over the head with his broadsword as a form of exercise, although he hasn’t as much time for it as he used to), and of course there are more than a few Silicon Valley types (from NASA to Facebook engineers). In the SCA they take on new names, which have to be historically documentable (as in folks in that time period may have had a name like that… and there are ‘experts’ in the organization who have to “OK” your choice), and create story lines for who their characters are.]

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A group of SCA folks who have opted to be Romans (early medieval period). There are a lot of Romans at pennsic — I dressed as one myself — because the clothing makes significantly more sense on hot Ohio and often humid days than that of the late medieval period clothing, when the mini ice age had begun.

Once at Pennsic, individuals will bond together as communal ‘camps’ that take on many forms. Some consist of friends who want to camp together for two weeks every year and may, or may not, come from different parts of the country; but other camps form around how those members want to ‘play’ the game so to speak, with the campmates all playing characters from the same time period, etc., and/or staying in firmly character for the whole two weeks.

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That said, political correctness is only just starting to creep in: as in at Pennsic I saw a whole camp of folks of European decent play acting that they were Japanese, etc. —

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and, as I finally get around to completing this blog post — a good 6 months after the event (it’s been a slog to get it finished) … there is currently a major brew ha ha going on in the SCA around a historically accurate garment worn during a coronation ceremony that had exactly the nordic symbols that Hitler co-opted as part of Nazi iconography.  (The aforementioned article is worth reading because while discussing the current bit of idiocy it fairly coherently explains a lot about the SCA royalty system, which personally makes my eyes roll — did I mention big fish syndrome?)

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A collection of Royals from the various kingdoms sitting court with their banners behind them

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So, keeping that my own personal context in mind, while the Pennsic wars were something I first heard about 30 odd years ago, and everyone whose ever been seems to have LOVED it, (the same way folks who go to Burning Man LOVE that, and it’s also on my to do list) … I had never yet attended either event until just now. Those of you who actually follow my blog, or are personal friends of mine, know that one of my priorities has been supporting a very old friend of mine who’s doing time in a Prison that is very far from where his family lives (which makes it difficult and expensive for them to visit). As such, I’ve been focusing my travels to the general vicinity of his Prison, so that I can visit him when possible. So while looking at the map and asking myself what there was to do in the area, I suddenly realized that he wasn’t all that far from Pittsburg, and since the central joke of the Pennsic wars is that whichever side looses is supposed to take control of Pittsburg (or was, it isn’t now that Pittsburgh has formed own kingdom), it stood to reason the event MUST be somewhere in that vicinity…. SO, I on my Facebook account declared my interest in attending this year, and for the first time, and asked if any of my friends were intending to go as I was sure it would be a lot more fun to go WITH old friends rather than show up all on my own — but that I had no intention of camping at the event and intended to, as usual, rent an Airbnb close by (historical authenticity be damned, running water and air conditioning are GOOD things).

Immediately, a ‘old Facebook friend’ by the name of Greg messaged me, and told me that he goes every year and that I could go with him (couldn’t remember why he was a friend till he told me we’d gone on a date about 10 years ago and had been unable to schedule the next date — yah, kind of embarrassing). He explained that and in order to get more room allotted for his tents and that of the group with whom he camps, he always pays for “ghosts,” i.e., entrance fees for people who aren’t actually attending — and that since I intended to Airbnb anyway, this would be perfect for me. This way, I would NOT have to pay the full camping fee of around $200 to attend for the whole two weeks, and instead would only pay around $65… and that it would be nice to have a friend make use of it. So I was going to essentially go as his guest, and was welcome to consider his camp group as my own… which I did and made many new friends in the process.

Peace Week
As Greg had warned me, the first week has lower attendance and is called Peace week (he had even suggested I might not want to be there that week, but I wanted to do the whole thing). During the Event he worked at what the SCA folks in their parlance call “Troll” but the rest of the world calls ‘registration’ and as such was able to help me through the process. The very first days of the event they allow cars to drive right up to their camp sites (once the event really gets going, that is no longer allowed unless you’re making a delivery of something heavy). You stand in line (via your car, or truck, or trailer, if you have one)…

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Cars lined up, waiting to get checked in, Saturday morning

During that day of the event the various groups lay out their camps within the segment to which they’ve been assigned, as designated by number and letter combination (see map below) — but then it’s up to them to set the specific geographic boundaries of their specific camps within those smaller areas (a process known as landgrab)… with any disputes being brought to troll, but it usually goes pretty smoothly as most of the camps have been using the same sites for many years now and are friendly with their various neighbors.

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and once that’s completed they start to set up camp, a process the that can take a few days to complete; personally I really enjoyed this part, it allowed me a way to get to know some of the key camp members — and I argue that as a newbie it was the best way —  by working together. I strongly suggest it.

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Setting up our public spaces, the living room known as “Big Red” because the tent is red (the only one, and visible from aerial shots of Pennsic) and our kitchen (which had running water), as well as communal shower for the folks who aren’t staying off site (like I was).

In the evening of the first day, on the suggestion of one of my camp mates, I volunteered to spend four hours helping with security. The SCA, and Pennsic, are volunteer organizations. All the people “working” security, or helping to organize the event, or log people in as they arrive, are all volunteers. As such, every single person who attends is expected to pitch in, although only a certain percentage ever bother. For three hours, 10pm to 1am, I acted as the 2nd person riding on a security golf cart (connected via walkie-talkie to the main tent) around and through the entire event — the first person was someone who was experienced at the job — making sure no one needed help of any sort. That night the temps dropped, so that ultimately it was so cold that we had to keep stopping to put on more and more layers of clothing, and to grab hot chocolates from this one ‘bar’ that sold them. By the end I was wearing my heavy dress, my woolen hood (see later in this post), my down vest, and a black velvet cape with its own hood over the first hood, and I was still freezing. I did however get to meet some nice people.

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The food court: they actually had some pretty decent food. There were all you could drink iced tea and soda (if you bought a $28 mug), veal stew in a bread bowl, and shrimp cocktails
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A motorized wheelchair camouflaged as a horse
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No, the SCA isn’t full of nerds, what makes you say that? These folks are all standing around playing Pokemon Go.

Once all of the attendees have unloaded their vehicles they are expected to move them to assigned parking areas, and leave them there…. there’s even areas for RV parking.

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In this photo, down the hill all the bits of white are the tents people have set up

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While the first week is designated as ‘peace week’ some fighting does happen. Fencers or archers (those who fight with light weapons), will compete with each other one on one or in small groups, in tournaments for awards and merit

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Archers are also involved in the major battles, and have to be “inspected” to prove they’re ready to do so.

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while those who are heavy fighters (broadswords) will practice, and go through a certification process to prove that they are fit and able to fight in the following week’s wars.

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In the evenings, various camps will throw parties, etc.
In the medieval period people brewed their own alcoholic drinks. In fact some argue that it was originally a woman’s task and it was only when men began to yank authority over that task away from women that the symbols of brewing (when held by a women) became evidence of witchcraft: i.e., the caldron, the cat to keep mice away from the grain, the pointed brewer’s hat, the ‘brewing’ itself, etc. (It’s a historical theory actually worth reading up on). As such, among the many medieval skills the SCA tries to revise among SCA members is brewing… and since a lot of SCA members also love to drink, a lot of these various parties held every night of the event are opportunities for the brewers to show off their recipes….

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Sign in front of another group’s camp — they had a full bar set up, with a high table and chairs surrounding a center set of taps where they served libations hand brewed by their own members

Other parties are more ‘culinary’ than inebriated … with the cooks of the group showing off their medieval recipes,

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My favorite party was a chocolate tasting… while other parties were doing alcohol tastings this camping group had in their front room a massive collection of different chocolates, flavors and brands…. and grapes and fruit to go with it… in their back room different members of the group took turns performing songs and theatrical pieces around the fire.

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While it wasn’t during the first week, the camp I stayed with has a tradition of doing a steak party which is invitation only, for obvious reasons…

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This bottom photos reminds me of Toulouse Lautrec’s “At the Moulin Rouge” painting, which hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago’s museum (my ‘alma mater’), and is one of my very favorite paintings. As a kid I always referred to it as “The Lady with the green face”

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One camp site brought in a band to perform, and served some really great food, and drink… a major investment

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Bagpipes, drums and belly dancers all jamming together… what’s not to like? And later a guy dressed as a jester deep-throated a sword

…  apparently there was this one really wild party down in what they called the bog (where there’s a lake and it gets flooded if it rains) where even held a slave auction of willing slaves (who usually ended up doing things like a camp’s dishes).

So, while there is some fighting during the first week, classes on all things medieval and or SCA related happen daily (I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t attend a single class session)…

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A decal on someone’s car: Slippery Rock is where Pennsic is held, and FAFSA is a US federal student aid program

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and peace week is also when some of the best pickings are available at the shops…. not to mention there were dances and parties at night. That said, attendance during this first “peace” week is usually well below the 10,000 people mark, and is usually made up of the folks who are the most serious about the SCA AND of course can afford to take that time off from work.

And for those of us who don’t care about the fighting:

For me, the DRAW really was NOT the fighting or the classes.  In fact I slept in during most of the hours when that occurred (I usually didn’t get there till 2pm). I took a few photos, granted, but honestly… not my thing.

What made me WANT to go to Pennsic this year was the shopping!

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Hey, I’m girly in SOME ways…  and I KNEW from what I’d heard over the years that the shopping at Pennsic was supposed to be GREAT (if what you’re looking for is not modern). The event is full of venders’ tents that HAVE to open up by Wednesday of the first week (even though attendance is still low), and there are as many as 250 different ones who tend to show up each year, all of which carry handmade goods that appeal to this demographic (historical nerdom such as myself). BECAUSE all of these goods are usually hand-made, no two things are exactly alike, and as such the early bird quite literally gets the worm.

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This store specialized in hand blown glass, using styles and techniques specific to various time periods and geographic locations

That said, you really SHOULD have SOME period clothing before Pennsic begins because it is highly frowned upon to be wearing modern clothes at the event. As such, before I got to Pennsic I was all worried that my clothing was not period “ENOUGH” to satisfy the folks who my friends have referred to as the “period police” (individuals who go around critiquing your clothes for authenticity, with comments like: “you’re combining 13th century shoes with early 15th century pants which simply would not have happened, and that tunic you’re wearing is Hollywood/fantasy garb, it’s NOT period.”  Some of these people take their historical accuracy very seriously. This fear was heightened by the fact that my host, Greg, a guy I’ve known for over 10 years, who even came to visit me when I was working in S. Korea, just happened to fall into that category.

That said, IF you come to the event as part of a group of friends, the odds are some loaner garb will be available — but it’s a good idea to check it out ahead of time.

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For instance, This young man is Chris, a guy who had never attended an SCA event before, and showed up with no garb of his own (but he’d been invited so they knew he’d be coming, and were prepared to help him out). He’s wearing his own t-shirt under a loaner tunic — the thing around his neck is proof of payment to be at the event. He had come to camp wearing a British style wool flat-cap … and struck me as the sort of guy who usually wears a hat (which he confirmed). As this was his first major SCA event and he didn’t have any garb of his own (and the loaner garb they had didn’t include any head coverings) I said to him “dude, since you always wear hats, if you’re going to be doing a lot of SCA you’ll need a historically appropriate hat!” As he’s a young struggling musician, I offered to buy one for him. We went looking for what was available, ran into a long time Facebook friend of mine who is one of these sticklers for historical authenticity (she’s got AMAZING clothes, all of which she has sewn herself), and she agreed with the right hat, you can actually fake the rest of the clothing and still pass as period…  so with her help (he decided to stick with his heritage, which is Spanish) this is the hat he chose — it’s Southern Europe — the sort you see in Shakespearian Italian dramas, Romeo and Juliet, that sort of thing. 

I however wanted stuff for myself, and can afford to buy it (within reason). As such, before Pennsic began I reached out to my friend Greg, and he directed me towards one of his favorite Pennsic vendors who also has an online store Historic Enterprises; from whom — since there wasn’t enough time to do a full custom ordered gown, I ordered what an off-the-rack mid 14th Century Herjolfsnes ”G39” gown size 12, that was SUPPOSED to have then been altered down to my measurements (because the only part of me that is size 12 is the breasts, while the rest is currently a size 8, and NOTHING they had actually fit me); I paired that with their 14th-15th century ‘London’ style, buttoned wool hood. When it arrived however they had simply sent me a size 12 gown whose ONLY alteration was that had been hemmed, in spite of my having sent them LOAD of painstaking measurements for the various parts of my body.

Like I said, the operative word was SUPPOSED to have been altered… the dress that arrived fit me like a tent. I was besides myself because the dress cost me $189.95 and I couldn’t wear it. Not only because of the size, but also because I had been very clear with the stores owner that I needed it for Pennsic, and that part of Ohio is VERY hot during that part of the summer, AND I am in menopause, so really I needed a summer weight linen which they promised it would be — but was not. (Why the SCA insists on holding the event there instead of a different rural location with a much higher elevation — not to mention a location with no risk of lime disease from ticks– I don’t know).

Because of my lifestyle, I had the gown sent to the home of a friend of Greg’s who was also going to be part of our camp, who lived near Pennsic and about 1.5 hours from my friend’s prison. The week I swung through to pick it up, he suggested I join him to an SCA event he was going to be going to. At it I was directed towards an SCA member who was a respected seamstress, and I paid her an additional $100 to do the alteration I had been promised by Historic Enterprises, which I picked up from her home a few days before the event.

Happily, I found that while Pennsic COOKS during the daytime (it can get very HOT), once the sun goes down the temperatures drop precipitously, making the gown and the hood usable. While the arms were still WAY too baggy, the now altered gown (at the cost to me of an extra $100) came in around my waist enough to be wearable — and, since I didn’t have the proper undergarments anyway, I opted to wear it over my camouflage shorts, so that 1) I’d have pockets, and 2) the gown would flare out a bit more at the hips as it would have with said undergarments.

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Suffice it to say, I was so unhappy with Historic Enterprises that I did NOT buy anything from their tent while at pennsic, and was actually too livid to even tell the owner how unhappy I was with them — even though a few people were pushing me to do it.

Of the stores that did visit, my personal favorites were (not surprisingly) the sellers of women’s clothing:

Firstly let me rhapse melodic about, Armstreet, is a Ukrainian dressmaker whom I first found online maybe 10 years ago selling her hand-made clothes on eBay (now she has her own professional looking online store).  While it should be noted that MOST of what Armstreet sells is more “Hollywood” medieval/fantasy than it is historically accurate … and as such isn’t REALLY SCA kosher… but in a pinch it’ll pass and most SCA people won’t make much of a fuss about it.

Back when I first found Armstreet, you chose from various images she posted to eBay, and then sent her your measurements for custom-made outfits that looked about like what the photos had, but never exactly. At the time she was by far, the cheapest way to go for medieval garb —- but since it was mail order from the Ukraine, you were kind of stuck with what arrived.

At the time, I was dating a guy who was seriously into the SCA and I needed garb to wear to events that I was intending to go to with him… so I ordered a few different basic dresses from her. However, between the making and the long distance shipping, by the time they arrived, he had become my ex-boyfriend; I only, finally, had a chance to wear them at this Pennsic (10 years later). The first is a black linen dress with patterned ribbing, which looks far more like a traditional Ukrainian gown than a medieval one:

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The second dress was basically the same, only white linen with gold and red edging, which in the photo below I teamed up with a vest I found at one of the stores (I forget which), a white turban (purchased from Revival Clothing who also had a shop at the event, only I wrapped it a different way from how they suggested), and a middle eastern necklace I had purchased over 10 years ago in Tel-Aviv’s Shuk ha’carmel.

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Me and an old friend from high school (we were in orchestra together), EmilySue (her SCA name is Amelie d’Anjou — it rhymes with her real one), who is wearing a brand new early Italian Renaissance gown a friend of hers made for her. We were in the Dance Tent (see below)

Was I authentically period… well no, and definitely NOT when compared to what EmilySue was wearing … but this is Pennsic and as long as you make a good effort MOST folks will let it go.

When I bought the vest, I had been wearing another Armstreet item that I had happily fond for sale on eBay about a month before Pennsic (again, more Hollywood than historic). As I mentioned above, I had intended to wear the gown from Historic Enterprises, but couldn’t because not only was it so big that I had to pay an additional $100 to get it altered, but it’s weight was far to heavy for the daytime weather. HAPPILY, I found this gown of very light weight linen, size small, for sale on eBay used for $76.00 including shipping, instead of the $129+ $21 for shipping new it was selling for on their site (as I post this it’s currently on sale for $94 + $21 for shipping)…

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trying on my newly delivered eBay purchase… never did wear the necklace — the long sleeves are apparently called tippets, and were only the “trend” for about 30 years (let’s face it, impractical), even though they show up in almost every medieval themed Hollywood movie

which armstreet describes as it’s “Medieval Linen Chemise Archeress” and had walked around the various first vendors to open shop looking for something to pair it with, till I found the above stripped vest which I THOUGHT might work equally well with jeans and a T-shirt, but have since decided it really doesn’t. While Armstreet was ultimately at Pennsic, they were one of the very last shops to open up, and even when they did open up I couldn’t find anything to go with it that I thought was better than the vest.

That said, I was happy to see that now Armstreet’s owner is now so profitable that she is able to ship both her stuff AND her staff to the US and set up what was one of the larger shops at Pennsic. It was nice to finally meet her, reconnect her to this dresses she’d made years back (back when she was just learning her trade), and to try on some of her new, and far more elaborate designs. There’s one dress their Lady of the Lake gown — also way more Game of Thrones than period, that I tried on at her shop, looked amazing in, and am trying to find the justification for buying.

I will admit however, as I keep finding her new stuff popping up for sale on eBay USED and in my size, it might be a while till I’ll actually buy much from her that is custom ordered and new; especially now that her prices are now far more dear than they used to be.

In fact about less than a week after Pennsic I found this dress (see below)  that while being from Armstreet was in fact period… for sale on eBay, used and in my size, and bought it — in a package deal that included a similar but different chemise, a thin medieval style belt (which I needed anyway, it’s secured through a loop rather than a buckle), and a matching cape — not in the picture — for $199 including shipping when the same package now would have cost me:
Chemise $104+20 shipping
Kirtle $179+34 shipping
cloak $149+ 42 shipping
belt $25 at amazon

So, $199 used including shipping used at eBay vs $457 new, not including shipping which I’m guessing would bring it to $500…  That said, I DID have to take it to a seamstress and pay her $40 to hem the length (it was the right length in the back, trailing on the floor, but too long in the front where it needed to be just above the foot… we had to take off 3.5 inches in the front and then taper it to the sides ).

My next favorite store (and based on what I saw people wearing, it’s a favorite with a lot of the Pennsic folks) is  Linen Garb from whom I bought this hand dyed (no two were alike) and embroidered (the design at the top) Roman style dress for $95. Not only is it beautiful (and something I could wear to a dinner party), but it is impressively cool on very hot days — and Pennsic can get both hot and humid:

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Same dress, just different sizes and pinned differently: The ‘dress’ is essentially a large tube of cloth, how you choose to pin it alters its appearance (you can even do it upside down, in which case it becomes a Roman tunic that comes to just above the knee)

I initially pinned it up (at the shoulders) — the cloth is essentially a large tube that you can wear multiple ways– with Celtic pins which the owner of Linen Garb was giving away with the purchase of the dress

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image is about to size

(single coil fibula pins that were hand-made by ThorThor’s Hammer another artisan owned shop at Pennsic which sells hand-made museum replicas of Viking and Celtic jewelry), but when I went to that shop to get extras (in case I should lose one) I ultimately decided to upgrade to their Spectacle brooch, which I felt not only better suited the dress, but also better obscured my bra straps:

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Displaying image at about to size of item: Because the dress is linen, it’s very forgiving about holes — this has a very thick metal pin at the back

and then I went ahead and teamed the dress and brooch with their replica Roman earrings (also made by Thor, but which aren’t shown on his website). For headgear, and to keep the sun off the back of my neck, I bought a purple gauze scarf, and a cheap plastic hair-comb, and had the two sewn together for me at the seamstress booth run by this woman, who I had met a few weeks before Pennsic at a dance event (where she was wearing the most amazing Tudor gown, all hand-made by herself).

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…. My orange necklace however was a Ukrainian necklace of amber which my father had purchased for me maybe 20 years before while on business travels there, but I had never before had the right occasion to wear.  (The green medallion I’m wearing is worn as proof that you paid your entrance fee to the event.)

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I later verified that I could also wear this to normal events, like to the theater in Stratford, Canada — where three different women complimented it, and more than that just scanned it covetously. My friend Dayna, who tends towards honest, said it looked amazing on me. I wore the same jewelry I wore at pennsic, but added the medieval belt that came with the used blue Armstreet dress, a black fedora and a pair of croc’s sandals.

For the previous year Linen Garb designs had made a tunic that I would have purchased, had it been available in my size (but it was not, which was probably a good thing). A LOT of people had it, and while it looks period, it was deceptive in that if you looked at it closely it had imagery from George Lucus’s ‘StarWars’ woven into it, including Storm Trooper’s helmets and the symbol of the resistance deceptively hidden in Roman like images … so this being an event that draws over 10k  geeks to one place, it had pretty much sold out quickly the year before (she had a handful left in XXL) even though they cost about $300 each.

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This guy combined is StarWars Tunic with a Lord of the Rings necklace … no geeks here, none at all

Boots by Bohemond, Didn’t buy anything from these guy, but my friend Greg did.

Midnight madness happens on the last day the shops are open, about 3 days before the event is officially open: it is the only night that the shops are open till late and they bring in electrical lighting. According to my friends it USED to be they had great sales that day, selling off items they’re rather not ship home… but not so much anymore (because they realized that people weren’t buying anything the rest of the time and would just wait for the midnight madness sales)

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I bought a used deerskin tunic for $95 ….. feels like butter and it looks fabulous.  It had been owned by the woman who owned the shop that sold it with her husband (one of them made it) and according to the hubby, I looked better in it than she had. They make their clothes from deer skins given to them by friends who hunt which they tan themselves, the bellybutton hole is actually where the deer was shot.

But of course, there’s more to Pennsic than shopping… although to be honest it’s what I did when I ran out of things to buy… well that and I tended to opt to stay late at Pennsic for the late night camaraderie and then went home to the Airbnb where I slept in, and tended to not get back to the event till mid afternoon.

There is general people watching, and the appreciation of the ornate costumes people come up with.

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A Chinese woman of the Han Dynasty & a woman from the early renaissance
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Two Vestal Virgins from the Roman period

And of course…. the happy side-effect of a large percentage of the men enjoying thwapping each other over the head with broad swords, is that there’s plenty of eye candy for us girls; I even saw a LARGE number of men in their 50’s, who still had it going on…. because swinging broadswords while wearing full armor is not for the scrawny. So, even if their day job is sitting around programing computers or teaching science — these are men are physically strong, AND they prefer their women nerdy. Nuff said…

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LOOK at those arms! I asked him if I could take this picture (even had him bend the arm to pop the muscle); he hugged me afterwards. I think I made his afternoon.

Although, as a noted before, there are also some highly athletic women who suit-up in armor and fight,

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War Week
The 2nd week, which is known as War week, is considered the “Main event” and is when the event really gets into full gear… attendance hits its maximum, of 10 to 15 thousand people, sometimes more…. and the main battles begin… at least up until Thursday morning, at which point the battles have been completed, and it’s as though a cloud of mild depression settles itself over the whole event, as people start to pack up to go home.

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for the women who want something that’s athletic but a “tad” less violent (emphasis on the tad)  ……. There’s Helga ball!!! (otherwise known as Rugby, with a cabbage as the ball)

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Helga Ball is based on a viking game; it is a type of Female Rugby, with a cabbage for the ball — 

To Play Helga Ball (Cabbage ball):
– Organize a team of 5-10 women. (Having substitutions is a good thing.)
– Each player must be over 18.
– Each team member should bring one or more paper or hygiene product for donation. (No monetary donations.)
– Points are scored by getting a cabbage through/past your opponent’s
goalposts. Two members of the Chivalry (or squires) shall serve as
stationary goal posts for each goal.
– All players must wear a dress. (Viking garb encouraged, but not required.)
– Players are encouraged to wear do-rags, heavy shoes/boots.
– Players may kick or dribble the cabbage with their feet, but may not touch
the cabbage with their hands or use hands to pick up the cabbage.
– Players may scoop the cabbage up in a skirt, apron, or do-rag, and move
the cabbage on the field.
– Tackling is not allowed, however “Group Hugs” are legal.
– Goalposts shall signal a “score” by raising one arm and yelling either
“Helga Ball!!” or “Olga ball!” to identify the scoring team.

Pennsic also makes an effort to be child friendly. I saw any number of young mothers with fair-haired toddlers in toe, and it was beyond cute:

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There are in fact a whole schedule of “family” activities, to include the kinds. For the older kids there is even a special massive children’s water Battle, that utilizes the Castle built for the adult’s war, and includes water balloons, squirt guns, etc

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Another one of the cool things at Pennsic is a lot of couples find each other at the event. Back when I was 18 and first learned about the SCA I remember people saying “if you can not get laid at Pennsic, you cannot get laid at all,” i.e., it’s a self selecting mechanism through which a certain kind of nerd (who might not have a lot of luck locally) is far more likely to find someone who thinks your over the top nerdiness is a good thing.

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I’m sorry, either you understand the embedded cultural references of these images or you don’t.

As a result, during war week, these same couples…. should they make it that far, will often choose to hold their nuptials — or at least one of them — at the event. Not only is it a place where your friends from around the country are probably going to be anyway, but it’s the ultimate theme wedding… even the guests are in costume… and it’s relatively cheap.

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An SCA wedding; as at all nerd events, there are knitters

And then finally, in addition to hanging out at the fire pit in the center of our camp with the other members of our “clan” (each camping group refers to themselves as clans) — which often included drinking, singing, and just getting to known each other, pretty much every night I would go spend a little time down at the dance tent.

Medieval Arts:
One of the ‘lost arts’ that members of the SCA painstakingly, from available documentation, try to recreate are the dances that were performed in the medieval period. My friend Greg, who goes by the SCA name of Gregory Blount of Isenfir, has actually been awarded an SCA “Order of the Laurel” from the kingdom of “Atlantia” — he grew up in for his knowledge of historical dance, and as a Silicon Valley Geek of the highest order — his expertise is designing and building search engines for handling big data sets — he has built a website to help anyone interested in historical dance.

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On the topic of Laurels: At Pennsic I met up with my friend EmilySue (seated on the stage, bottom right, with her light hair braided in a Swedish kind of hairstyle) at an evening event where her friend from the Central Kingdom (think Chicago), was being awarded a laurel for music. After this is when she and I went to the dance tent (see picture above)

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This young man was also awarded a laurel for dance by his kingdom, and was gifted the calligraphy scroll (or I think it’s called a writ) being held by the woman in red, as well as a having someone handmade him the black velvet cloak he’s wearing.

Of course it’s hard to write about what this sort of dance is looks like (hence the historical issues of trying to recreate it from written instructions), and I didn’t film it, so instead I found coverage by ABC of a previous year’s pennsic that is from the dance tent  (Although I will note that during my visit dance tent was usually closed during the daylight hours, so I’m pretty sure this was “put on” just for the camera crew)

http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=32861137
ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

[So, on the topic of WHO are the sorts of weirdo folks who join the SCA, the guy playing the music for the dancers in this video, on what I THINK is a lute but don’t hold me to that, goes by the name of Master Avatar (you have GOT to love the pun inherent in that name), but in real life he’s an Aerospace Engineer, specifically he is a ISS Payload Support & Mission Science Integrator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. — And THIS ladies and Gents is an example of why I’ve always been SCA adjacent.]

I also found this video from 2015, which I find amusing as I now recognize a lot of the dancers, including the one guy who with the long hair and red hat who isn’t dancing… namely my friend Greg who is the person who allowed me to come as part of his group.

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Bottom right is my friend Greg, being a shark (his period appropriate shoes were at the shoemaker’s tent/shop being repaired, so he’s wearing bright red tennis shoes instead)

In addition to nightly dances there were also slightly more ornate “balls” which usually included something special in terms of a theme, or snacks, etc. There was one ball with a ‘let’s be silly’ under the sea theme organized by Asa (or at least I think that’s her SCA name — she was in the same camp as me, but only arrived during the 2nd week). She is the one in the pictures who is leading it while playing on the hammer dulcimer. My friend Greg, in order to be supportive, has donned a shark hat and floated around imitating a shark passing among the dancers — when he wasn’t stepping in and stealing people’s partners (which apparently is referred to as sharking). It was amusing. Someone later handed me a shark cap and I also walked around circling the dancers, but I don’t really know the dances well enough to be willing to try to “shark” a partner.

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This ball had a chorus of singers as well as musicians; geek fact, the girl in the light blue gown is the granddaughter of a Jewish/American Nobel prize winner in the area of economics (on the on-going question of why am I continually drawn to SCA folks)
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A performance of song

In addition to dance, music and song, there is an SCA theater group that puts on regular plays at night, that all are freely invited to attend:

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