Re-enactors seek to limit property owners' liability

February 19, 1998


Staff Writer

ANNAPOLIS - Wearing the blue wool uniform of the Union army and carrying a Springfield musket, Civil War re-enactor Wes Evans traveled from his home in Hagerstown to the Maryland General Assembly Thursday to experience another part of American heritage: democracy.

Evans was part of a group of 10 area men, women and children - all wearing Civil War-era clothes - who appeared before a House of Delegates committee in favor of legislation that would make it easier to host re-enactment events.

"If they don't pass the bill, then it limits our expectation of doing more events," said Evans, 41.

The legislation, which would provide legal immunity for owners of property where historical and cultural re-enactments take place, was introduced as a response to last September's three-day event commemorating the 135th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam.


The Antietam event attracted tens of thousands of spectators and re-enactors to Washington County. In addition to providing entertainment and tourist dollars, re-enactments are an educational experience, supporters said.

"As a living historian, I consider myself a teacher and wish to benefit future generations," said Crystal Edington, 39, of Myersville, Md.

Edington, wearing a brown plaid hoop skirt and carrying a white parasol, said children, in particular, can learn something from a re-enactment that doesn't translate easily into a textbook.

"They want to touch, they want to feel. It stirs the mind," she said.

James Barger, 41, a re-enactor from Hagerstown, said the events often replace what is not being taught in classrooms.

"I know a lot of kids who don't even know the Gettysburg Address," he said.

Del. D. Bruce Poole, D-Washington, said the legislation is needed because people who have re-enactments on their property could be open to lawsuits from injuries and deaths suffered during the events.

During the Antietam event, one re-enactor died of a heart attack and other people sustained various injuries, including powder burns and, in one case, a dislocated knee, Poole said.

"These are real concerns," Poole, one of the bill's co-sponsors, told the House Environmental Matters Committee during a hearing on the legislation.

The Antietam event had liability insurance and the 15,000 re-enactors who participated signed waivers, but an immunity law would make it easier on the sponsors and land owners, Poole said.

Evans said he would have no problem giving up his right to sue a property owner who hosts a re-enactment. He said participants should understand that such events involve some risk.

"There's an understanding that if I break my leg tomorrow, it's because of my own common sense," he said.

Committee members expressed very little concern about the bill and Del. George D. Owings III, D-Calvert, concluded the hearing by jokingly firing off several questions to Poole about the actual Battle of Antietam.

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