New Camp Ripley exhibit takes visitors 'over the top'
CAMP RIPLEY--A new exhibit coinciding with the 100th anniversary of World War I almost literally puts visitors in the trenches. The Minnesota Military Museum rolled out "In the Fight: Minnesota and the First World War" on Friday with reenactors i...
CAMP RIPLEY-A new exhibit coinciding with the 100th anniversary of World War I almost literally puts visitors in the trenches.
The Minnesota Military Museum rolled out "In the Fight: Minnesota and the First World War" on Friday with reenactors in period dress, and food that was close to what would have been eaten in the trenches.
"War cake" made without eggs, bully beef in cans with vintage labels, and hardtack were all on the menu. (This reporter tried the hardtack, and it made him reassess how often he goes to the dentist.)
Less painful-but no less engaging-was the wealth of fascinating knowledge presented by the exhibit and the reenactors. For 20 years, head curator Doug Bekke imagined "In the Fight," but now it exists in all its fully realized glory.
When visitors enter the exhibit, they're immediately confronted by the business end of a German machine gun, poking out of a sandbagged trench. The gun is crewed by mannequins dressed in German uniforms, but they're not as concerned with the gun as much as the American soldier charging them from behind. The diorama represents a real-life incident in 1918 for which Capt. George H. Mallon, a Minnesotan, received the Medal of Honor.
Elsewhere in the displays, which took six months to build, are weapons, posters, uniforms, and media players that show films of the war and pipe through songs from the era.
Over the course of the exhibit's run at the museum, expected to be at least four years, it may also have reenactors visit occasionally and provide an even more engaging history. On Friday, there were three: Mike Burch of Osceola, Wis., Weston Hovald of Pine City, and Mike Kinzell of Lakeville. All of them were current or former members of the contemporary armed forces, but at the museum, they were dressed in WWI uniforms: Burch and Hovland as American soldiers, Kinzell as a German.
They spend an untold amount of dollars and hours not only hunting for vintage equipment, but researching what pieces are historically accurate, down to the tiniest bit of metal. The same modern Wisconsin National Guard unit that Burch served in also fought in the trenches of World War I-so he roleplays as himself, 100 years in the past. He said he got into a heated online debate over whether the tiny front sight cover on his rifle was accurate, only (somewhat) settling it with rare combat footage that showed the Wisconsin Guard unit using the cover in 1918. Hovald's 103-year-old vintage M1913 Warner & Swasey scope on his sniper rifle cost him $1,600 after he tracked down a seller in Italy. It's addictively satisfying when reenactors find the perfect, period-accurate piece, however.
"They say, 'get your kids into reenacting, and they'll never have money for drugs,'" Kinzell joked.
A lot of reenactors pick the American Civil War or World War II, but there aren't many World War I aficionados, they said-making them each a sort of history hipster.
"Straight-up, we're all nerds," Burch said.
If enough people get to see the exhibit, their nerd passion might just go mainstream.