Ketchikan is home to a new group. It’s called the Shire or Canton of Erleninsel, and it’s the local chapter of the international Society of Creative Anachronism.
The Ward Lake picnic area was crowded on Saturday afternoon over Labor Day weekend. Families and friends sat around fireplaces in the shelters, dogs chased sticks and kids played in the forest. There were also two men dressed in medieval armor sparring with bamboo sticks.
The fighters are members of the newly formed Ketchikan chapter of the Society of Creative Anachronism, a living history organization. Dustin Shull is one of the founding members and a driving force behind the group.
“The SCA is historical recreation,” Shull said. “We’re not reenacting any specific historical period. We cover from like 600 AD to 1600 AD.”
The unofficial motto of the SCA is “the Middle Ages how they should have been,” meaning no plague, no wars, no oppression. It’s a celebration of the arts and sciences, culture, language and military prowess of the time.
“The grand scheme of it or the dream, they call it, is to recreate an idealized form of the medieval western era,” Shull said.
The Ketchikan chapter is fairly new – it’s not yet recognized by the international society. The group plans to call itself either the shire or canton of Erleninsel, which means “alder island” in German. It will be a faction of the Principality of Oertha, which rules all of Alaska. Then the group has to be approved by the West Kingdom, which encompasses several states in the Western U.S., as well as Japan, Thailand, Korea and the Pacific Islands. The international Society of Creative Anachronism has more than 30,000 members worldwide in 19 different kingdoms.
Ketchikan’s group starting meeting in July after Shull and his family moved back to the area. Shull got involved in the Barony of Eskalya, the Anchorage group, while living there. Under the guidance of a knight, Shull learned the basics of medieval combat and how to build armor. Soon, Shull’s wife, Rachel, and their three kids got involved.
“And so he was just starting to learn how to fight and start making his armor and whatnot,” Rachel said. “Then we moved back here and so we just found a group of people that were interested, so we’re all kind of starting from scratch.”
Combat is a big part of the SCA, and perhaps what the group is best known for. The Ketchikan group holds fighting practice twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays. For swords, they use rattans – bamboo sticks wrapped in duct tape.
“And they use that because it doesn’t shatter or break,” Rachel said. “So those are just really big sticks.
The fighters in SCA build their own armor, too. Shull has practice armor made out of blue pickle barrel plastic and para cord, as well as authentic battle armor made of thick leather. He wears a helmet forged of steel.
“The armored combat in the SCA is a big part of it, but it’s only a part of it,” Shull said. “There’s light combat, which is primarily like rapier, cut and thrust kind of stuff… There’s also archery and then there’s all of the arts and sciences and music – pretty much anything that you can try to recreate that happened within that huge time frame.
So that could mean brewing, calligraphy, cooking, making “garb” or clothing, quilting, weaving, equestrian knowledge, illuminated manuscripts, leatherwork – the list goes on.
And modern and longer life spans might make us better experts than the people who actually lived in the Middle Ages, said Ketchikan SCA member Daniel Greer.
“It’s kind of funny to say, but you have people that can do that stuff better than the people who actually did it back in history because they’ve been practicing longer than the people were ever alive,” Greer said. “It seems weird to say that you have some 70-year-old dude who’s been doing the Society of Creative Anachronism for 30 years – that’s longer than most of those people were able to see and write necessarily.”
But Shull said it’s not all about what you can make.
“A lot of it revolves around the ideas of chivalry and courtly graces and just being polite and courteous and honorable,” Shull said. “And beating each other up with sticks.”
It’s also about family though. Ketchikan’s chapter has short rattans wrapped in foam for the kids. Some kids even have armor and custom handmade garb. They play while the adults spar – picking berries in the woods, playing with the dogs and making s’mores by the fire.
But they get to learn, too.
“That’s the nice thing about doing this because you do end up with a lot of families so you can just bring your kids and let them play, too… and eventually they get interested and want to start hitting things with sticks too,” Rachel said. “The dads are all like ‘Aww, I’m so proud of my kids.'”