Medieval times return to the Heights
Story by Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
Photos by QPHOTONYC and Robin Elisabeth Kilmer
This past Sun., Sept. 30th saw the invasion of Fort Tryon Park.
Since its inception in 1983, the Medieval Festival at Fort Tryon Park has been the traditional gathering spot for gypsy artisans, local merchants, history buffs, roast turkey leg connoisseurs, families with children young enough to believe in unicorns and people who can’t wait until Halloween to get decked out in costume.
Indeed, in selecting festival garb, people let their imaginations run wild—without much consideration to historical accuracy.
Ali and Lady Zombie, who preferred to go by their aliases, came wearing fangs, custom-made by Ali, who is a fangsmith.
They did not come as vampires.
“We are more like cats,” clarified the Lady, who is a singer, model, actor, writer, and hostess.
As cats, rather than vampires, they were able to enjoy the fest in the light of day.
“It’s great,” said Ali.
While fangs might not be historically accurate, it is imagination that is most prized at the Medieval Festival.
Joe Nanny is a regular guy from Missouri, except that 52 weeks out of the year he is the Viking Johan Scolsplitter.
On Sunday, Nanny was selling hand-made drinking horns, helms and fine leather goods. He said Scolsplitter, a fitting surname for a Viking, is actually his family’s ancestral last name—though it was changed to the drastically different Nanny when his family came to America five generations ago.
“I just reclaimed my last name,” he said with a boisterous Viking laugh.
Nanny’s first experience at the Renaissance Festival in Bonner Springs, Missouri, made him want to be a Viking for life.
“I saw the swords and all the fun people were having,” he said.
With long blond hair and a beard, Todd Britton looked just like another Viking invader, but he was in fact a harmless catapult vendor.
He and his associates, Travis Carson and Samantha Dionisio, make and sell miniature catapults—which were medieval siege devices used to launch heavy stones at castle walls.
Like Scolsplitter, they spend most of the year touring the festival circuit.
Britton, who has worked extensively as a woodworker and cabinet maker, said that since it is free, the Medieval Fest at Fort Tryon is a good initiation for further festival exploration.
“Most people here are new to the experience,” said Britton. “They have a great time and then they realize want to go to more, and they start buying costumes and dressing up and going out and having fun.”
And they might end up like Al Morales, also known as Sir Tristan of Scotland.
Morales, a native of New Jersey, was a regular visitor to the Renaissance Kingdom event in New Jersey, where he caught the festival bug.
He was knighted this May after spending three years as a squire.
He has an extensive festival resume, having earned to ride horses at a western theme park and spending time in a Shakespeare company.
Morales leads a nomadic existence, and said that the festival circuit is a good way to see the country, adding, “It’s a lot of fun.”
For Washington Heights resident Wilson Cano, the medieval jaunts are limited to the once-a-year visit to Fort Tryon, which he has attended for years with his family.
“I like to support community activities. My kids have fun and get to learn at the same time,” he said, as he and his son took in the jousting, in which two knights on horseback face off.
The knights took tumbles during the jousting, which elicited some anxious gasps from the audience.
Sir Tristan was one of them, but he gallantly picked himself up.
After the match, which he lost, he mingled with the commoners.
Children scrambled to take pictures with him and tap on his armor.
“When kids ask how to become a knight, I always ask them about their poo-picking up skills. That’s where you always start, picking up poo,” he said.
Morales concurred, detailing his own morning chores, which included waking at 6 that morning to clean the horses’ stalls. He understands well the masochistic nature of his work.
He noted, “I’m paid to get hit in the head.”