|FYI — March 2003|
|By Brad Dunn|
In December the annual re-enactment of the Battle of Trenton brewed into a battle of its own. The Washington Crossing Re-enactors Society, a group of impassioned volunteers who have run the event since 1953, clashed with the Washington Crossing Historic Park, a New Jersey State organization that announced it would take over the operation. According to the Associated Press, the volunteer re-enactors retaliated by calling the park administrator a "petty dictator" and accusing him of undermining the entire re-enactment and everything it stands for.
Among the bitterest issues at stake were poor boat maintenance and who got to play the part of Washington. Over the decades, the re-enactors, some of whom are now in their 70s, donated money and time to maintain four Durham boats modeled after the ones used in the original crossing. They average 60 feet long, carry 40 people, and require 11 oarsmen. The re-enactors say the state park has often neglected to dry-dock the boats during winter, and so repeated freezing has damaged the hulls, leaving only two boats seaworthy.
Though the park said the boats are safe for the crossing, some of the re-enactors take the neglect personally. "A lack of care of the boats is a source of frustration and pain to those who love this park," says Re-enactors Society spokesman Joe Majdan, according to the New Hope Gazette. "[It's] a blatant disregard for the men who give of their Christmases--and those who donated the boats."
As for who gets to play Washington, the re-enactors have always tried to recruit notable figures, including last year's pick of Philadelphia City Councilman John B. Kelly, whose sister was Princess Grace of Monaco. "We'd even like to see Stormin' Norman Schwarzkopf come out there," Majdan said. But this time the state park insisted on choosing someone who actually resembles Washington: They got James Gibson of Fallington, Pennsylvania.
In the end, the spirit of democracy prevailed. Despite their differences, the re-enactors and the state administrators worked together: On Christmas morning, they donned their Continental Army uniforms, boarded their craft, and embarked on the battle for freedom all over again.
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This article originally appeared in the February 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.