I had written a few days ago that I would have enjoyed re-enacting with the balloon corps on the mall.
Spoke too soon. Didn't really think this through. Phony baloney event? Check. Run by public historians? Check. Staged in a geographic vortex of political psychosis? Check. All these factors came into play "big time" in re-enacting Thaddeus Lowe's 1861 balloon flight for President Lincoln. Or failing to.
While flipping the radio dial yesterday, I encountered a report that said DHS prohibited any balloon flights, so the attendees got to see not a tethered balloon, but a prostrate (cross-bound) bag (see photo). Think Gulliver in Lilliput. USA Today named a different villain, one we know very well indeed:
At the Mall celebration, the recreated 1861 balloon will stay on the ground to comply with U.S. Park Service regulations designed to keep the airspace safe over the capital.Except that it's not a recreated 1861 balloon.
I read this account in which an additional layer of security was injected. The strapped down, partially inflated "recreated 1861" balloon was being "inflated" with cold air via a cold air blower. The same story mentions the balloon in question dates from 1941. It's a 20th Century government service balloon. To ensure you don't confuse it with anything dated 1861, it's also a silvery color.
The editor who wrote the NBC headline could not be troubled to read the story itself and the headline says, "Gas-Filled Balloon To Loom Over Mall." Figuratively speaking, perhaps.
So there it lies, staked down like Gulliver, a fan blowing cold air into its silvery aperture, tourists ambling by wondering "What the..." As they walked by, the radio news reporter caught a few of their comments. The adult: "Interesting." The kid: "I hope they fly it!"
No chance, junior, whatever "it" may be.
Those who ventured too close to the display were accosted by an impersonator shouting, "I am Thaddeus Lowe." In other words, "I am a liar or insane." I think little kids would better appreciate, "I am dressed up like Thaddeus Lowe" or "I am pretending to be Thaddeus Lowe." That might be truthful, sensible, and in a kid way, fun.
But you know, if even a single child is led to appreciate history through these lies, stunts and tricks, it will have been worth it.
After awhile, another actor walked up telling people, "I am Abraham Lincoln." This would be Dishonest Abe from Bizarro World. Dishonest Abe then struck up a phony, I would even say imbecilic, conversation with Pretend Lowe. The reporter caught some of it. It sounded like a bad sixth grade play, so maybe the younger tourists could relate.
The newspaper accounts in the run up to this make no mention of the caveats I've just run through.
WaPo got it half right: "On Saturday, the museum will inflate a balloon similar to Lowe’s Enterprise [eh?] and host re-enactors portraying Lowe and Lincoln, with presentations on Civil War ballooning. The National Park Service won’t allow the balloon to fly, though."
This is like the 12-oz "pound" of coffee. I think public history is on a trend in which less and less history content is delivered at these events.