The 17th Century Comes Alive

Barony of Three Rivers members bring history to life ... & have a lot of fun in the process

Dressed in period garb, members of the Barony of Three Rivers, the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism, row the Esperanza. The 30-foot Spanish galleon was constructed for the Wings of Hope charity boat race in Forest Park on July 28. According to Wings of Hope guidelines, the boat was built from cardboard. photo by Mike Martin (click for larger version)
08/10/2012 - Lots of people take vacations close to home but when Rock Hill resident Maryann Vognild gets away from it all, she likes to step back in time to pre-17th-century Europe.

Vognild is a member of the Barony of Three Rivers, the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA). She is among 40,000 people worldwide who often shed their modern identities at SCA gatherings to take on the persona of a character from an earlier era.

"One of the things I really enjoy about it (SCA) is that it is actually learning about history by doing rather than dry things on a page which can turn off so many kids and adults," said Vognild.

Moreover, as of this year, Webster Groves residents have royalty among them. The new leaders of the Barony of Three Rivers are long-time residents David Haselbauer, aka His Excellency Josef von Rothenburg, and his wife Mary (Her Excellency Slaine ni Chiarain). They were named baron and baroness in February.

Both have long enjoyed the organization's activities, which include dinners, fighting contests and classes in unique art forms like leatherwork or glass beadmaking. Events take place most weekends.

"People do everything from learning the dances to the woodworking and metalworking methods," said David. "Just about any kind of craft you can think of, there's someone doing some research on it."

The 43-year-old said a few dozen members from the Webster-Kirkwood and South County areas are among those who participate in the group. The reigning king and queen, who appoint rulers for subgroups like the barony, are located in nearby West County. Their royal kingdom, known as Calontir, covers parts of five Midwest states.

Fighting contests, in which some participants craft their own armor, are a special attraction. Contenders must spend a fair amount of time training just for safety before being allowed to take the field where they battle with rattan and foam weapons, learning how to "die safely" so that they aren't stepped on in a battle.

David said SCA differs from similar renaissance fair-style events.

David Haselbauer, Baron of the Barony of Three Rivers, prepares to sail the Esperanza in Forest Park's Grand Basin. photo by Mike Martin (click for larger version)
"There's the time period and the interest in recreating it that's the same, however, ours is for our own hobby," David said. "We are learning these things for ourselves and we will often do demos for school groups or church groups or scout groups. The renaissance fairs tend to be shows put on for the paid public."

David noted that one can meet many interesting people from all across the country as a member of SCA. Involved with the organization since the late 1980s, he's been to events from Canada to Arizona. Some folks travel regularly from as far away as Cape Girardeau to attend events at the local barony, which has been in operation since 1975.

Mary said the friends she connects with are an important part of the fun.

"I guess I like to think of us as a big family," she said. "We all play this game together but in real life these are the folks who brought food when I had a baby or who you helped clean out a basement when it flooded."

The barony also participates in non-SCA events. Recently, the group raised over $5,000 at the July 28 Wings of Hope charity boat race in Forest Park's Grand Basin. Barony members built a 30-foot cardboard craft, fashioned after a Spanish galleon, which held as many as 17 people. The group was given the Pride of the Regatta Award.

"We were definitely the largest vessel there," David laughed. "We weren't quite the slowest but we were close."

It isn't all events however. Nor is it entirely social. Mary said there's a real purpose behind the play.

"My mother would say that I never got over playing dress-up," she said. "I enjoy history. I've gone from having a very romantic view of it to having a more academic view and I've been able to combine both of those."

Fellow Webster resident Debra Vigil can attest to that. A former baroness herself, the 50-year old has been a member of the group since 1984. Her main interests are calligraphy but she also loves investigating heraldry, costuming and period theater. She said she likes SCA since it means she can explore everything without having to join several different organizations.

"I enjoy it because of the sheer variety of things you can do," said Vigil, who assumes the identity of Lyriel de la Foret, a medieval French woman. "It's not as narrowly focused as a lot of other special interest groups are."

David and Mary Haselbauer after stepping up as the Baron and Baroness of Three Rivers in February 2012 at Christ Church Cathedral. Ariel Tuley and Jeff Angus attend them. photo by K. Roberts Photography (click for larger version)
She said subgroups interested in shirt making, cookery or some other part of the cultural milieu, often hold gatherings even more frequently than baronial functions.

"You could, if you were of a mind to, do something every day of the week, every week of the year," she said.

Whatever one's level of involvement, the menu of activities runs the gamut.

"It appeals to me because I don't have to be pigeonholed in one small area," said Vigil, who owns clothing that includes everything from the Viking era to the Italian renaissance. "I can choose to concentrate (on France) if I want to, but we have people and resources with access to a thousand years of history. It's kind of hard to get bored."

Vognild, a 15-year veteran of the group who portrays a 10th-century Norsewoman from Dublin named Aoibheann Palsdottir, said her husband and young daughter also love to be a part of the fun.

"It's a hobby that everyone in my family can enjoy together," said Vognild, who enjoys weaving while her husband works as a metalsmith. "We can do completely different things and yet we are doing it with the same group of people and everyone wants to participate."

Vigil notes that the variety keeps history fresh.

"There's always something new to learn, something new to discuss with people," she said. "It's just something you can keep doing for the rest of your life and never get tired of it."

The public is invited to The Barony of Three Rivers weekly meetings on Thursdays at the Olivette Community Center, 9723 Grandview Drive in Meeting Room 8. Many members come dressed in medieval garb, although it is not required. Doors open at 6 p.m. For more information, visit

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