Frank W., Harrisburg, PA — ★☆☆☆☆
I have always admired Colonial Williamsburg for its authentic depiction of 17th century America. From the realistic one-room schoolhouse to the historically accurate fitted bonnet worn by Martha, the apothecary, Colonial Williamsburg has always been uncompromising in its reenactment of 1665 Virginia.
But this visit was different. This visit, I observed in utter horror as Colonial Williamsburg—my Colonial Williamsburg—comprised its integrity, all in the name of 21st century, CDC-abiding, scientifically-proven COVID-19 precautions, none of which were period-specific. And frankly, it disgusted me.
People visit Colonial Williamsburg to be transported to a simpler time, a time when families churned butter in the home. But tell me, how am I supposed to believe a real colonial woman is teaching me to churn butter, when her flawless colonial outfit is tainted by blue latex gloves? When she “required” me to use hand sanitizer before my turn on the butter churner, I stood up, pushed away the stool, and stormed out of the room. Butter unchurned.
Instead of first aid stations, why weren’t there several buckets of leeches? Why weren’t the actors wearing historically accurate plague doctor beaked masks? Worse yet, why were they permitted to wear any style of mask they liked? The shoemaker was wearing, and I’m not even kidding, a Jack Skellington bandana from Hot Topic, as a mask.
The Colonial Williamsburg website claims, “Research is our backbone; education is our mission”—if that’s true shouldn’t they have known viral pandemics were a familiar part of 17th century life? As everyone knows, Williamsburg itself was devastated by the 1616 smallpox epidemic, which killed up to 90% of the population!
Which leads me to a much more glaring issue with the Williamsburg reenactment: why were so many reenactors still alive?
How am I supposed to enjoy an old-fashioned brick-laying demonstration when the whole time I’m wondering, “Shouldn’t the healthy young men, who are still capable of work, be digging mass graves?” Why is the pastor calmly leading a sermon when he should be administering last rites to the sick and dying? The infirmary should be overrun. There should be tightly rehearsed total chaos!
Instead, the guided tour is now exiting the candle shoppe, and suddenly 30 militiamen, wearing the face mask of their choosing, are performing in a fife and drum parade? All this in the middle of a pandemic? This is beneath Colonial Williamsburg’s standards.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the one exhibit that kept its periodic integrity, the blacksmith. The blacksmith was manly and rugged, just like they were in the 1600s. He banged some metal with a hotter piece of metal, and he didn’t waste one minute thinking about a pandemic. Thankfully, he had to wear a welding mask, so it was impossible to know whether or not he was wearing an N95 mask beneath. As we say in Colonial Williamsburg, ignorance is bliss.
But I’m sure you're wondering which exhibit ultimately led to me storming out of the park.
That would be the Witch Trial Reenactment. The bailiff, who would normally maintain total control over the accused during the trial by physically restraining her, was instead required by CDC guidelines to stand a full six feet away. So now the bailiff is just standing cautiously nearby? At this point, why was he even there? It was clear to me that if this had been 1665, he would have been incapable of stopping the witch from mounting her broom and escaping.
That was the final straw. I stormed out of the courthouse straight to the parking lot, where I waited on the hot Virginia pavement—tricorne hat in hand, fully defeated—for my wife and two teenage daughters to return from the Busch Gardens Amusement Park to pick me up.
Colonial Williamsburg, you’ve broken my heart. I hope you remember who you are by 2021—a 1665 theme park—because I will be back.