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Rik Fox Featured in SWINDLE MAGAZINE

Step Back in Time
By Caroline Ryder
Photos by Dan Monick
(Edited from original)

There are some things adults never outgrow-dressing up, for example. Whether you're a Halloween partygoer in a mask or a closeted transvestite "borrowing" your wife's panties, costumes provide a safe (and hallucinogen-free) way to explore different realities. This manner of escapism exists in its fullest glory in the realm of historic reenactment. Populated by Vikings, Roman centurions, pirates, and civil war surgeons, each reenactment is like a terrestrial wormhole, where participants can not only be another person, they can be another time.

The concept of reenactment has actually been around for a long time. In the Middle Ages, people would hold battle tournaments and pretend to be Roman gladiators. But only in recent years has reenactment become an obsession, with thousands of so-called "living history" groups across the world.

Why the current boom? Is it because we have more time and money to spend on looking like pirates and gladiators? Or is there a deeper reason behind this modern-day nostalgia? It seems that in the nascence of the 21st century, living in any era is fine-as long as it's not this one. Contemporary fashion, music, and art all seem to be looking backward for inspiration. Young people are dressing up like Lynyrd Skynyrd and singing like Spandau Ballet. Do we retreat into the past because we don't know who we are anymore?

I ponder these questions while wandering around the annual Old Fort MacArthur reenactment show ( http://www.ftmac.org ), in San Pedro, California. It's one of the largest events of its kind, (along with Marching Thru History Exposition, held in Prado Regional Park, in Chino, California), a place where nostalgia and historic role-play are taken to their extremes. Participants often spend months, even years, preparing for their weekend trip back in time. My guide is an Irish fashion designer named Owen Thornton who just happens to be obsessed with playing soldiers. "When I was a kid, I had GI Joes and Action Man," he says. "And now, I get to look like that too." He's taken part in more than 100 reenactments in the last eight years, and his specialty is Vietnam, something that stems back to when he saw The Clash wearing tiger-striped pants. Then he saw Apocalypse Now, and decided that vintage army gear was definitely where it was at.

As we walk through, I see 15th-century German mercenaries carving weapons and antebellum babes strolling by, parasols twirling. In the distance is the sound of cannon fire. I notice a couple of oiled-up gladiators in kilts and silver helmets engaging in some serious swordplay. Nearby, an armored Roman is watching them. "Are you a centurion?" I ask. "No", he says, "I'm an optio." An optio is a low-ranking officer, and he's been one for 17 years. If he hangs around long enough, he might be promoted to centurion one day. "At least I'm not a slave." He sighs. Owen takes us past a trench, where some World War II soldiers are hanging out and puffing on Gauloises. Moments later, we're in a Wild West mining town, complete with undertaker, bank, saloon, and surgeon's tent, where we find a corpse (fake), a brain in formaldehyde, and a jar of leeches. We try to check out the bank but it's shut. "I think someone tried to rob it earlier", says Owen. The saloon, however, is open for business. The swing doors bear a sign that reads: "Cowboys leave your guns at the bar". Inside another sign tells us: "This is a men's bar. Females are tolerated only if they refrain from excessive talk". I guess some things never change.

As we walk around the different encampments, taking leaps back and forward in time as we go, I wonder what kind of dynamic exists between the various groups of reenactors. I mean, do the barbarians want to beat up the Romans? Do the Elizabethan dudes and the medieval princes compete to see who has the coolest puffball shorts? The answer is yes, according to Steve Nelson, who, along with Lou Lopez, organizes the event, to raise funds for the events' Museum. "When we first allowed medieval reenactors in, some of the later-era folks came to us and said, "Don't you know that medievalists are the lowest form of scum?" Then we had the medievalists asking, "Why do you have to keep the modernists around?" "There's definitely competition going on".

But the thing that annoys Steve the most is when outsiders laugh at them. "People don't feel that we're artists. They think we're nuts", he says. "But that short-sells us". He waves across the site. "These people research textiles, plastics, metals, paper. They use restoration skills which require craftsmanship, which rivals a police forensics lab. It takes intellect to research all the detail. Plus, it's theater. How can you not call this art?"

We move on, and spot more Romans preparing to march in formation. I pull one of them aside. He says his name is Decimus Maxius Carigorious, and he is a probationary legionnaire in the Miles Legio Nano Hispania, stationed in Britannia/Scotland during the building of Hadrian's Wall in around 90 AD. He is wearing a pair of caligae, sandals hobnailed for traction, over his udonis (socks), which were in high demand in freezing cold Britannia. His helmet was hammered from sheets of iron and bronze. He speaks a little Latin, and is trying to get better. Before joining this group a year ago, he was a medieval reenactor for around 15 years. "Being able to talk and look good is a thrill", he says, looking out from prescription glasses beneath his helmet. "Sometimes I go to the grocery store in my getup, and people stare." His modern day name is William Stephanson, but he likes to keep things authentic, often spelling his name Uilliam, using the Roman version of the letter 'w'.

People like William-sorry, Uilliam- are clearly passionate about their hobby. But some take it even further. "A lot of these guys think they are reincarnated," Owen remarks. "They say. 'I feel like I was there.'" Shortly after hearing this, I feel strangely drawn towards an encampment of Polish nobles. I see a statuesque armored-man, wearing an enormous, beautiful pair of feathered wings and carrying a saber. He looks like the angel Gabriel, clad in armor from head to waist, but his name is Rik Fox, and he once named and played bass in the hair-metal bands W.A.S.P., STEELER, and SIN among others. Now he is a Polish winged hussar by the name of Rotmistrz (Captain) Pan (a knightly title) Ryszard Sulima (his noble Clan name) Suligowski, captain of an armored hussar unit serving under Polish King, Jan III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna-1683. Rik claims that some of his ancestral family members participated as the winged knights who charged the Turkish army at this famous European battle. Hussars were 17th-century Polish warriors and, for a while, it was the in-thing for them to wear these angelic wings as they rode into battle, either attached to the saddle or their backs. His is one of the smaller groups at the event, apparently because representing the 17th century and their concept is so unique and historically misunderstood-uncool even-in most reenactment circles in California. "When I first started walking about in the winged armor at renaissance festivals, people didn't get it, and would make fun of me and say rude comments," says Rik, who now wears a luxurious feathered and bejeweled Polish noble fur hat. "They would see the wings and ask, 'why would a Polish hussar be in Elizabeth's England?' so basically, there's an animosity, jealousy and condescension towards what we're doing because we rock their status quo too much for their complacency to accept, and they refuse to acknowledge that there were winged hussars in both Elizabeth's 16th-century lifetime and into the late 17th-century, and that Polish nobles were very active in Elizabeth's Court in England as well." Fox started attending renaissance festivals in the mid '90's after giving up performing in his metal bands and work in the inconsistent film industry. "I came out of music and realized I was still looking for another platform where I could act and entertain, while portraying something close to me and still be a 'rock star', albeit a period one, onstage," he says. Then, quite emotionally, with tears rolling down his cheeks, he continues, "When I first saw the real hussar armor in a Museum exhibit from Poland, the hairs stood up on my whole body, and I got a cold feeling in my stomach, immediately, I 'heard' two words in my mind: 'I'm Home.'" "That feeling has stayed with me ever since, as if it were my ancestors saying 'It's about time you woke up and got here, we've been waiting for you, now pick up where we left off,' I feel like I have found what my goal in life is supposed to be, (by using the high visibility of his rock star status for raising Polish Historic awareness), and have made enormous strides ever since. Of course, I have made some adversaries as well, along the way, who have made it their life's work to try and spread malicious gossip and discredit me, mostly jealous characters from little, insignificant renaissance fairs, and mostly, because I refuse to kiss their holier-than-thou asses." "It's O.K." he says, "they can be the rain, and I'll still be the parade."

(I have come to find out that Rik Fox is solely responsible for 'introducing' the 17th-century Polish and husaria 'movement' to North America in our country's history, and now, other groups around the country who formed up after him, have followed his lead in opening up new ground in the reenactment circles on this subject).

As he wipes his cheeks, I realize Rik Fox, Polish winged hussar, has truly mastered time travel. Forget Einstein and wormholes; all Rik needs to bend time and space is a pair if feathered hussar wings, that saber of his, and the power of his own imagination. As I walk away, I almost envy himů



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Read our Interview w/ Steeler / SIN bassist Rik Fox Part I
Rik Fox Part II
Rik Fox Part III


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