SHEBOYGAN (AP) - About 17 years ago in Texas, Barb Kotsonis and her husband were looking at doing something socially with friends beyond playing cards and jumped at the chance when they were invited to go back in time.
All the way to the Middle Ages.
"Every child wants to swing a sword or be a princess," Kotsonis said. "Everyone is fascinated with the tales of King Arthur. I think I was interested in that aspect."
That was her introduction to the Society of Creative Anachronism, an international organization dedicated to the customs and culture of pre-17th Century Europe - food, clothing, games, music and weapons.
Today, Kotsonis is one of more than 25 members in the Sheboygan County chapter, known as the Turm an dem See "shire." Turm an dem See is German for Tower at the Lake. Their shire is a part of the Northshield "Kingdom," one of 19 kingdoms worldwide with 30,000 members. The Northshield kingdom represents the states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota and the Upper Peninsula and part of Canada.
The group meets monthly and shares its knowledge with the public by doing demonstrations at places like schools, libraries and festivals.
On Saturday, several members were at Landmark Square senior apartments, 832 N. Sixth St., to meet with residents there and display their handiwork.
Landmark resident Betsy Parkinson tried on a gown made by club member and Parkinson's daughter, Drew Robertson.
"It made me feel like .," Parkinson said, bending over at the waist to show how heavy the garment felt. "And it was very interesting."
Nearby, Jack Welsh, of Fond du Lac, was showing a resident a string of chain mail he is making.
"It's something I do while watching hockey," he joked, pointing to each of the rings joined by thin wire, estimating that a full set of mail will consist of about 15,000 rings. "It will probably take me the rest of my life to finish."
Kotsonis' specialty is food.
"I actually have a degree as a chef and very much enjoy the cooking," she said.
She also enjoys the era's music and often sings with one of her daughters. Each of her four children has participated in the society.
"We have a great time because it's something the whole family can do," Kotsonis said. "They grew up in it."
Their involvement offers some fringe benefits in their modern-world existence too.
"They get very good grades in European history," Kotsonis said.
Kotsonis and her husband later divorced but he's still involved in the society as a blacksmith, she said.
Each SCA member takes on the persona of a character from the Middle Ages.
Kotsonis', for instance, is an Italian merchant woman named Francesca diAngelo.
"To be honest, I originally picked that character because I thought I looked good in the clothes," she said.
But since then, she has deepened the back story of her character.
"She lived from 1475 to 1525 - that's the period of clothes I like," she said. "She's the daughter of a merchant, and she's more independent than most. Her mother died when she was young and her father took me with him when he traveled so I learned to read, do math and the business. As he got older, I took over the business, which would have been very rare for those times. But it makes a very fun story."
SCA members do not call themselves re-enactors.
"We do not re-enact actual historical events," Kotsonis said. "We recreate a time period. We are historically based. We do the research. We pull what we can from history and recreate the time period."
She admits that historical accuracy sometimes has to be sacrificed, however.
"We're better with hygiene. There were certain beliefs they had like not washing their hands before eating or not taking baths for a long time," she said. "We do it as accurately as logically possible."
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