World War I comes to life at Ma & Pa Railroad Heritage Village


When Jason Griffeth wakes up in the morning and puts on the imperial German spiked helmet and the rest of his World War I-era Oberstleutnant gear, his goal is to teach people something about history.

"The whole basis of it is to educate the public," said the 40-year-old Virginian.

That's why he prefers the term "living historian" to "re-enactor" — people hear the latter and think about people not doing much more than dressing up in old uniforms and using old guns to fire blanks at each other.

"They need to understand that these soldiers who marched off to war were like any other person," Griffeth said. "The only thing they understood is that their government or their kaiser wanted them to fight, and that apparently the other guys were evil."

He and a handful of other World War I re-enactors — he's actually fine with the term, as it's familiar to people — will spend this weekend camping out at the Ma & Pa Railroad Heritage Village at 1258 Muddy Creek Forks Road in Lower Chance- ford Township.

Anyone can visit the encampment between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The event is free to attend.

People will have the chance to talk to re-enactors about the weapons and gear from the time.

Visitors also will be able to take motorcar train rides that run hourly around the area near the historical village; they cost $7 for adults and $5 for children.

Encampment: Now in its eighth year, the encampment draws about eight re-enactors each time, said Craig Sansonetti, president of the Maryland & Pennsylvania Railroad Preservation Society, which effectively runs the village. He said the re-enactors get there Friday night and set up camp and then live there through the weekend.

They'll be there representing — that's Griffeth's word for what re-enactors do — the two different sides. Griffeth and a couple of other guys will represent the German army, while others will portray the Americans and others.

Griffeth was always a history buff. He majored in the subject in college, where he took a class about World War I that really got him interested in it. He'd previously liked learning about the Civil War and World War II and realized WWI was a bridge in technology and tactics between those two wars.

A few friends who also liked military history got into re-enacting and invited him along.

"As they say, the rest is history," he cracked.

After 21 years of re-enacting, he still gets a kick out of it.

"I like seeing the public's reaction to stuff," he said.

People always are interested in the guns and the gas masks. Attendees also seem to always like the spiked German helmets of that era.

"Everybody loves those, for some reason," he said.

What he doesn't do is take the first-person approach. He does not pretend to be someone from the time — he says that gets confusing and complicates and detracts from the point. It's hypocritical to do so, he feels, and it also can get pretty "preachy."

"I'm not gonna try to act like how these people lived," he said.

— Reach Sean Cotter at