The lingering summer heat has vanished at long last and with its disappearance, renaissance fair season is in full swing. From Sept.1 to Oct. 28, thousands of people devote an entire day to roaming through crowded stalls and jousting fields, dressed in anything from jeans and a t-shirt to full suits of armor.
At the Ohio Renaissance Festival, each weekend has a specific theme. Pirates, barbarians, time travelers and ghosts all get a chance to flock to the fairgrounds and show off their costumes in grand fashion.
Last weekend’s theme was fantasy, and while the festival tends to lend itself to fantastical occurrences all the time, the theme attracted a wide array of magical creatures; dragons, fairies, satyrs and goblins all walked amongst people in hoodies and flip-flops.
Entering the castle-esque gates of the fair and being dubbed a “lord/lady of merriment” by a sign hanging from the archway, fair-goers are instantly taken eons away from the fields and farms of southern Ohio that lay just a few feet outside the gate. Just inside, a man in a red jester’s costume swallows fire while vendors behind him hawk turkey legs the size of a man’s arm.
Shops of all kinds offer magical baubles and mystical trinkets. A stall named “Lost Viking Hoard,” flanked by fiercely bearded Norsemen, sells tankards and furs. The shop next door, named “the Gilded Lily,” displays ornate folded paper art and intricate silver jewelry. While the products each vendor has for sale are certainly interesting, the names of the shops themselves are equally worthy of recognition. “Siege the Day,” “Fur Leather After,” “Johnson’s Wood of the Morning” and many more stand out.
Just off the muddy road, a small crowd gathers around a veteran artisan. Flames sizzle out of a blowtorch that has been elaborately shaped to resemble a dragon, and the craftsman holds long, thin tubes of glass in front of it. With practiced precision, he twists and flips the molten glass, morphing the rod into an ornate flower right before the crowd’s eyes. Clapping and murmuring, the crowd deposits a few dollars into the man’s tip jar and leaves, and the artisan moves onto his next stick of glass.
Down the road and across a wooden bridge, a stall simply named “The Armory” displays bladed weaponry of all shapes and sizes. Here, two college students, Julia Arwine and Theo Mesnick, hoist colossal swords, grinning from ear to ear as they do. Each blade is at least six inches longer than their wielders are tall. According to the shopkeeper, the blades are too short.
“Back when swords like these were in use, it was appropriate for a weapon to be a foot longer than whoever was using it,” the armorer explains. “William Wallace’s broadsword was over seven feet long!”
Tucked away in a shady spot beneath the trees, a tent sits apart from the rest. Use of this fully furnished pavilion, complete with wooden chairs, lavish rugs and burgundy cushions, is restricted to the festival’s season pass holders.
As the sun dips lower in the sky and twilight spreads across the fields, the fair’s largest event begins. Wizards in flowing robes and parents holding enraptured children crowd the large pen in the center of a large, grassy field. From atop the wooden stands, a drummer with the legs of a goat taps out a beat as the announcer strides to the center of the arena. It is time for the joust.
After acquainting each half of the crowd with the knight they’ll be cheering for, the announcer waves his hand and the combatants thunder into the ring.
Shining in their full platemail, the two horsemen wave to the crowds before taking their places at opposite ends of the pen. Then, to the sounds of raucous cheering and booing from the audience, the two knights charge at one another. The long wooden lances speed towards their targets and come crashing into the combatant’s breastplates, shattering spectacularly and sending both riders to the ground from the sheer force of the impact. After picking themselves up, the battered knights re-mount their horses and smash into each other again and again, until finally, the reigning champion, Josh Avery, is declared the winner.
At long last, hurried by a steady drizzle of rain, thousands of fair-goers cross through the gates of the festival, stepping out of medieval Europe back into rural Ohio. Sorcerers climb into their sedans and pixies pack into their pickups, leaving the stalls and streets vacant until next weekend, when a whole new crowd will flock to the fair, looking to take a step back in time.