Yankee Doodle would have been right at home in Leesburg last weekend, when the town turned the clock back 200 years to recreate the color and excitement of August Court Days - a major festival in colonial times.
Held on the second weekend in August, when the crops were planted, the weather was fair and the roads passable, Court Days celebrated the opening of the county circuit court. During the festival, rural residents of Londoun County gathered in the county circuit court. During the festival, rural residents of Loudoun County gathered in the county seat of Leesburg to greet friends, buy and sell goods, exchange gossip and make merry.
With the rhythmic cadence of colonial fife and drums mixing with the clanging of blacksmith's hammers and the explosions of Brown Bess muskets, this year's celebration reenacted the sights and sounds of Revolutionary times.
The town's streets were officially closed to cars. So, instead of automobiles, more than 100 artisans lined the streets, hawking homemade wares. Mimes and magicians cavorted through the crowd and continuous entertainment on three stages around the town treated the approximately 12,000 people who attended the two-day festival to a taste of Leesburg's historic past.
"We're attempting to dramatize the events of 200 years ago," said Ray Baine, president of the Loudoun Restoration and Preservation Society, which sponsored the event to raise funds for preserving and restoring historic monuments and buildings throughout the county.
The Loudoun County Bicentennial Commission revived August Court Days in 1976, and the Restoration Society continued holding the annual festival because "everybody liked the idea so much," Baine said.
Court Day's central theme, "reliving our history," was presented in an original play based on Loudoun County court records. Written by Baine and performed twice each day on a wooden stage in front of the court house, the play presented a slice of life in Leesburg in 1778.
For "behaving in a riotous manner," four characters were punished in the manner of the day. Three men were locked in stocks, pillory and whipping post, and a young woman, charged with being "a common scold who sasses people in public," was dragged, kicking and screaming, to the drunking vat. To the delight of the crowd, she was treated to the indignity of being plunged into four feet of water.
Dressed in colonial uniforms, a dozen Revolutionary War buffs from the Maryland Militia demonstrated the 13 steps in loading and firing a musket.
"Soldiers were asked to supply all parts of their weapons - the lock, stock and barrel," said militia commander Jon Buck of Laurel. "When the gun doesn't go off, and just makes smoke and flame, that's a flash in the pan."
"We're wearing period clothes, not costumes," said Robert Barta of Potomac, dressed in tri-conered hat, breeches, greatcoat, stockings and buckled shoes. "Costumes are things with zippers and buttons that you rent, like an ape suit. But period clothes are actual reproductions, down to the hand-cast pewter buttons, made of homespun material."
"Fashions for the period had women flat in front and very hippy," added Barta's wife Joan, dressed in a mob cap and work dress. Like the women of the day, Barta made goose down pillows called panniers to tie around her hips to achieve the proper bowling pin-shaped silhouette.
Marching at the historical cadence of 90-steps-per-minute, the Commander-in-Chief's Guard and the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps played 18th century music and drilled the precision steps established by Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben,the Prussian general who trained Washington's troops.
Several artisans, including a weaver and a blacksmith, demonstrated crafts used in colonial times.
"Milling corn's a hobby for me," said Ed Morgan, as he plunged his hand into a bag of the coarsely-ground, light yellow corn meal. The vice president of a West Virginia oil company, Morgan brought his corn mill to Court Days because he "enjoys meeting and talking to people."
Standing under a sign that assured balists Bill and Peggy Doerken of Bluemont displayed a wide variety of herbs and explained herbal lore popular 200 years ago.
"Bedstraw was used to stuff mattresses, color tea and curdle milk," Doerken told interested onlookers. "A person might put rue around his neck to keep away the plague, and southernwood was used as a moth preventative."
Visitors from as far away as Arizona and Massachusetts came to enjoy the crafts and entertainment.
"It really gives you a feel for what it was like to live back then," said Barbara Mazzarella of Brooklyn, who stumbled onto the festival while touring Virginia.
"Court Days makes history come alive," said Lionel Issen of Bethesda, watching the Maryland Militia with his wife Gail and daughter Laura. "You can really get a better understanding of the people and their motivations."
Four generations of the Kuharick family came out to enjoy Court Days - five-year-old Amy Watkins and her mother Carolyn from Leesburg, with her grandmother Margaret Solly and 78-year-old great-grandmother Margaret Kubarick of Pennsylvania.
"Everything is so artistic and handmade," Solly said. "It's just beautiful."