NAI 2021-23 Strategic Plan: Draft for member review

NAI Members,

At the link above you will find the draft of our strategic plan for the coming three years. I’m asking for your review and comments. (Scroll to the bottom of this page to comment.) The board values your thoughts and we’d like to hear from you—please comment by Friday, October 23.

As you know, we completed the previous five-year plan with a flourish last year. Since then the board has been busy reviewing progress and gathering data to inform this plan. Many of you aided that effort by participating in the SWOT analysis sessions and at last year’s national conference, and by completing the member survey. In fact, the number of members participating was substantial. Your responses helped make this truly a member-focused strategic plan. Your comments now will continue that.

We elected to make this a three-year plan, rather than the more traditional five-year plan due to the many changes swirling around us. Those include COVID, which influences conferences, participation, jobs, and budgets. Plus, with Margo, who has been a talented executive director and a strong leader, retiring, we are entering a new era of leadership and direction. The board felt a three-year plan allows flexibility as these things sort themselves out, yet will provide direction to the board and be a starting place for our new executive director.

I must thank the board for their diligent work. They accepted a variety of tasks and accomplished them with timeliness and true professionalism. I won’t name them here, you will see them recognized in the introduction of the strategic plan. I do want to call out Tom Mullin, who, as our Vice President for Administration, dedicated himself to keeping us on our schedule and shepherding the process. His organization and friendly leadership was absolutely invaluable.

Last, I want to mention Evie Kirkwood who accepted the challenge of facilitating the strategic planning process. She led us through several Zoom meetings, analyzed the materials provided, and created the final document you see here. Evie, a long-time NAI member and past president, was able to lead from an understanding of who we are and that smoothed the process for us.

Please take a few moments to read the plan and think about where you fit in, how it affects you, and how can you participate in accomplishing the goals listed there. We look forward to your responses.

All my best to each of you.

Jay S. Miller
President, National Association for Interpretation


Positioning NAI for the Next 30 Years

The Bylaws Revision Task Force has been working hard for the past year to prepare NAI for growth and opportunity. Now it’s your turn! We are asking you to read over the new Constitution and revised Bylaws for NAI and give us your thoughts.

A major milestone like celebrating NAI’s 30th anniversary always presents an opportunity to reflect on the future – we know where we have been, where do we want to go? For those of us in leadership positions within the organization, this is no idle contemplation, but a solemn responsibility.

One issue that NAI’s board of directors has wrestled with over the past six years is that of awkward governance documents that restrict our ability to respond to changing challenges and new opportunities in an agile fashion. The last bylaws revision (2012) changed the board structure in two major ways: Board members were now elected directly by the membership rather than the board being composed of region and section directors; and a separate Advisory Council was set up for region and section directors with two representatives on the board. This addressed the work overload for regional and sectional leaders who essentially had had two big (volunteer) jobs, but maintained a way for the regions and sections to continue to meet, discuss issues and have an impact on board decision-making.

While this new board system has worked well, and is popular with the membership, the actual bylaws (written by a law firm) were constructed on a corporate template that could charitably be called “cumbersome.” Requiring a long process and a 2/3 majority positive vote of at least 10% of the membership to make even the smallest operational change, the end result was that no changes could realistically be made – even adding a committee, expanding election rights of members, changing the date of the conference, etc. without a vote. Like many organizations, NAI gradually got out of whack between what the bylaws said and what actual practice had become, and so a bylaw revision was necessary.

After much deliberation, it was decided to tackle a more thorough revision instead of minor tweaks to address the lack of flexibility. The result was the creation of a Constitution, or foundational governance document, with all of the core aspects of the organization – much like the original Articles of Incorporation. Any aspect of these core components needs a vote by the entire membership to be changed or amended in any way. The revised bylaws will continue to contain the more operational aspects of the organization. Either the membership at large or the members of the board of directors can propose amendments or changes. These amendments will be voted on by the board, allowing for more timely implementation.

Over the next several months we will be posting more about the revisions and answering questions. We encourage you to leave a comment or suggestion – we are hoping to encourage an active conversation about these changes to make sure everyone is comfortable with them. After all, it is your NAI!

—Bylaws Revision Task Force
Cem Basman
Jay Miller
Tom Mullin
Theresa Coble
Pepe Chavez
Margo Carlock

My Last Blog As Vice President of Programs

So we come to an end of my blogs as VPP. Some no doubt are ready for a change, and others have been supportive and given me great encouragement. No matter which might be your stance, here it is.

While at the NAI Conference I was asked by a friend, who was the better historians, those who lived through an event or contemporary writers of today who can research and have a view separate from the event.

To me, both are better historians. Those who write today are usually well researched, have a great deal more materials available for their works, regularly provide prefaces and conclusions about historic events, and relate the outcomes and post history to the event. Analytically, these contribute a better understanding of the history and accuracy of the materials that may be lacking in the first person renditions. As a researcher, historian, and on site trainer I regularly rely on these resources to create program layouts and for materials for my own writings and lectures. Having a collection of histories to work from allows me the opportunity to assess the important aspects of a historic event and to draw my own conclusions for presentation as well as checking historic accuracy of the materials and chronological order of events.

However, no matter how well researched a particular event or activity might be it is missing an essential aspect; the human, passionate, often biased perspective that a first person rendering offers. These narratives and renderings may be myopic in historic accuracy or in presenting the “historic whole” of a particular moment in time and they may well have a definite slant in their presentation, but, they allow the reader to gain a personal insight to the culture and personality of the writer. My great grandfather, when recorded by the WPA in the 1930’s about his memories of the Civil War and what he remembered about any battle replied,

“ I was concerned only with what was three feet in front of me, what was to my immediate right and left and what was behind me. I cannot recall any specific orders, sounds or smells. I was scared to death and felt nothing but numbness when each was over.” But the timbre of his voice, the tightness and precise wording he used in the interview when speaking of the War, and the change in his tempo told a great deal about his emotions, especially when compared with the introductory conversation he had with the interviewer.  His response to the question, “Can you give us a Rebel yell?” gives me a real insight to his personality.  I can almost see the “Luzader smile” that is seen in his photo images and that seems to be the trademark grin that is seen in images of my grandfather, my father, and myself as he answered, “ Hell no, son. The noise would scare you to death and the effort would kill me!” That is the image I always want to capture and convey to the public when I am planning and presenting any living history program; the human element and personality of a person of the past.

It is the greatest weakness in so many historic interpretive programs that the individual human element that is based on the age, heritage, background, social status, situation, culture, personality, and essence of the individual is inadequately addressed. It cannot be scripted. It cannot be taught. It cannot be faked.

It is something that is felt by understanding, reading, researching, and committing oneself to the immersion of the ‘soul’ of an individual and how that person fits into the jigsaw of our past. Too many locales believe that demonstrations, scheduled events, scripts, and regulated costuming are the essentials to historic presentations. Those sites also look at the entertainment and theatre of an event or activity to draw in the audience. Historic accuracy of culture, materials, and personalities are too often put aside so that the ‘comfortable’ and the expected can be illustrated to the public without thought about who we are attempting to portray and honor.

I will summit two situations that have occurred to me, events that took place twenty seven years apart from each other. During the 125th. Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg I was involved in the battle recreations while depicting my great grandfather John M. Luzadder. I was wearing his vest and coat that traditionally held to be the ones he was captured in during the battle and I was serving in the reactivated unit he fought within. Yes, I know, you do not use originals and risk their destruction while participating in such events, but, this was not only a battle recreation for me it was also a way to honor my great grand father, his personal history, and his sacrifices. While being interviewed about my participation and my personal mission during the program I was informed that there was another  person portraying a John Ladder in another area. I went to examine whether it might be another decedent and thus, a relative. What I discovered was a tall lanky tobacco chewing, swearing  individual standing barefoot in his camp regaling a group with tales of hill-billyish drinking bouts and tall tales.

I was a bit put off. When he had quieted a bit and sat down I approached the individual and asked his name. It was not Luzader, or the period Luzadder. Nor, upon inquiry,  was he related to John M. Luzadder.  I asked how he came about portraying my great grand father. He had picked his name from a book and wanted to portray someone from “West Virginia”. There was a long discussion about accuracy: in his writings and narrations John M. Luzadder had described how he had traded his worn out shoes in Chambersburg and acquired a new pair prior to Gettysburg and how he was glad he had as he was captured and the shoes lasted through his confinement. Thus, he was not barefoot. He was also a Jew who abhorred both alcohol and tobacco         contrary to the aforementioned portrayal and far from having a hill-billy dialect and inflection the WPA tapes validate a college educated soul with a defined Piedmont accent. Now as to the tall tales, well, that is an inherit trait.

And as to the swearing, not one relative who met and knew the man would have believed that aspect as he was known to have enforced a non-swearing standard with all his friends and family.

I pointed these out to the fellow and was asked why I cared what he did and when I produced my identification that provided my name and explained my connection to John M. Luzadder he blandly stated, “Who cares. I’m here to have fun.”

Alas, I have heard like statements far too often and have been concerned that the attitude displayed is too often what causes my field to suffer so and to be muddled in being considered a profession or professional interpretation.

The other was at this year’s NAI Conference. I was being told about changes that were taking place at one of my favorite sites and how the new administration was creating a place that was more “fun” for the interpreters and , “if site B is doing it, it’s good enough for us as well.

Well “Site B” is nearly 1000 miles from the locale in question, and represents numerous time periods on its site, and, frankly I professionally believe the mentioned “site B” is doing a poor job in their professionalism.  Most importantly, and I asked this of the person regaling me with the tale of the changes, why should one be proud their site is a follower and not a leader in the field as they were once believed to have been?

“Well, it’s more fun! We don’t have to worry about all the accuracy.”

Portray and honor. That has been a goal of mine in my field for years. Not only to educate, but to allow the audience to know and understand our past peoples and cultures in a better vein. It allows us to see a more authentic past so that we can understand the whys and wherefores of our heritage and historic events. It allows us to have a chance to see both, or multiple sides of our histories: why some would consider Nat Turner’s Rebellion as acts of terrorism while others  see it as acts of rebellion and freedom. We can better understand why my parent’s high school in West Virginia named Adolf Hitler as a unifier and savior of Germany in 1940 and how 800,000+ Americans joined the American Bund, goose stepping and arm raised saluting while carrying American flags prior to our being at war with Germany. It illustrates how a Civil War Union soldier would consider mutiny after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued because he had joined to preserve the Union, not to end slavery. The understanding of the people and how they lived culturally as well as materially aids in understanding why the 1920’s saw not only Mississippi as a KKK influenced state, but also how the population of Indiana and Colorado ranked high with KKK memberships. It better explains how fears and prejudices created the situation that produced the Sand Creek massacre. How we as a people overcame all of our hardships and created various histories throughout our collective American past and various cultures by our individual uniqueness.

My profession can not be learned just through a script, or costuming, or demonstrations, or theatre, it must be learned through education, professional commitment, and training, as are ALL interpretive fields. To do less for any interpretive programming is not only unprofessional, but sad. And to view any interpretive field as primarily entertainment is lacking in foresight. But that is just my opinion. An opinion based on fifty five years of interpretive experience throughout  the world.

Yes, I know, it is a bit preachy, but this is my last blog as VPP and I wanted to clear my head on why I have been a member of NAI since 1994. I want all of us to improve our understanding of the importance of why all fields of interpretation need to be treated in the same professional manner and why we should expect the same professional standards for all fields of interpretation, including what is commonly called, “Living History”.

I will leave you with on last thought. Fifty five years of public interpretation in many different studies from theatre, to music, to public speaking, to nature, and history and culture has taught me that the best thing we can do to become better and to improve all of our fields is to follow the advice from my father, “If it ain’t broke, improve it.”

I wish to thank all who have have challenged me in the past years of my serving as Vice President of Programs, those who have served with me in so many committees and task forces, those who trusted in me, those who took the time to work with me or talk with me, all the board members and officers,  members of NAI who I have met, all those who have supported my wife and myself through difficult times, those who have shared meals with me, walked with me and traveled with me.  I especially wish to thank the NAI Presidents, Vice Presidents, Secretaries, and Treasurers of the board and the staff of NAI for all the assistance you have provided me through these years.


John C.F. Luzader

Soon to be, the Ex-Vice President of Programs

NAI Member




We’ve got the whole world in our hands…

I know, it is an over used statement that we have the world in our hands. We have seen it in print, heard it in presentations, and even seen it on TV on various advertisements. But, the saying rings true.

I have expressed before many of the times I have held historic items in my hands and how moving these moments have been, and continue to be when they occur. My home and office are replete with such artifacts; a helmet washed out of the sand from the beach at Normandy, a newspaper announcing George Washington’s death, a bayonett from WWI that was burned in a artillery shelling, a flag from the U.S.S Maine BB10, the second ship to carry that name and the one that sailed around the world with the Great White Fleet, stone tools, military artifacts, colonial homesteading items, Spanish coins from the beaches of Florida,&c., &c.

Upon occasions it becomes daunting worry when I realize how much is actually in my home and I think about its next ownership.

Recently two items popped into my life, both coming from the same discovery locale. The first was an original Hogarth print I found framed in a local Habitat for Humanity restore for the price of a combo meal at any fast food place. I have been collecting Hogarths for a long time, but have only been privileged in acquiring copies of Hogarths that were done in the 1830’s in the Penny Magazine out of England, yet here was an original print, framed no less, in a restore. Needless to state, I acquired it poste haste. Oddly,the same day, in the same store, a gentleman purchased an old canteen for two dollars from the used sporting goods area, an area I missed due to my excitement over the Hogarth.

This canteen was something I came to examine a week later when his wife came into the antique store where I work part time, so that she could confirm what she suspected about the piece. Her husband had purchased it as an accent piece for their book room and had been pleased with finding an old canteen to dress up the space. His wife saw something more.

I was able to confirm her suspicions: what her husband had purchase was a canteen used between 1870 to 1915, its cover and markings permitting me to make a quick assessment of its origins and age. It was also marked in a manner that allowed this old military historian to verify the suspicions she held. Still clear from its stencilling were a pair of crossed sabers, the letter “C”, a soldiers number (also called a rack number designating what soldier had been issued the piece)and the number “9” designating the unit the soldier was assigned. In this case the markings indicated that the soldier(s)who carried the canteen was from Company “C”of the 9th U.S. Cavalry, the famed Buffalo Soldiers.

This was a unit that fought in the Indian Wars, patrolled Yellowstone Park, fought along side the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, and patrolled along the Mexican and the U.S. border during the time the canteen was issued to troops. I offered my opinions and advised that the couple further their research by contacting a number of resources who specialize in Black Memorabilia and in the Buffalo Soldier history including Fort Jeff Davis in Texas and there the matter rested for the time, except my wish I had gone into the sporting goods section of the restore area that fateful day.

This past week the couple returned having contacted and spoken to all the folks and agencies I had suggested. The consensus: the artifact was an authentic 1870’s o 1910’s canteen that had been utilized by the 9th. U.S. Black Cavalry, the Buffalo Soldiers.

Now came the question I had secretly worried would arise, how much was it worth?

The couple has limited resources and has their child owing tons of money for college loans and their own needs of funds, a deteriorating water heater, house repairs, &c., and yet the wife had this realization that they owned not only a unique piece of history, but also the story of that famous unit’s history and a personal item with its, and its owner’s history now resting in their home. Who had owned it, what would the rack number reveal of of the soldiers who had drunk from its spout, the campaigns it had been carried in, the rivers it had been dipped in, the possible conflicts in which it had slaked a soldiers adrenaline dried mouth and throat, and how had it come to be in the Restore?

I gave them my professional assessment of value in dollars and my suggestion to where it should go next, if they were not going to keep it. I thought it would be a grand gift for Fort Jeff Davis, with a tax deductable donation receipt. That was a thought they stated they would consider, but they really need the money. It would be something that they need to think about before they decide. There the matter now rests for the time being. One of their concerns is a matter that I understand greatly. They are afraid that no matter where the canteen next continues its trek it will end up in either a museum store room away from the public, or in a collection never to be seen again, or possibly in a future second hand store in another “used sporting goods” bin,its story and importance forgotten or ignored.

We all have had to deal with such issues in all are fields whether we are conveying the stories and importance of historic artifacts, natural areas, environmental items, or dealing with the administration aspects of programming and planning; what do we do with the authentic and important aspects of our sites and materials? Who do we pass them to, how do we preserve their stories while conserving their structures and forms? And, how do we keep their stories and facts uncluttered with myths, misunderstandings, and unauthentic intrusions?

We do hold the whole world in our hands, it is a responsibility that comes with any aspect of our fields or interests and responsibility. It is a difficult task to keep the materials authentic and real to what we know and have learned, and are willing to learn in the future, and we realize we can not acquire it all, preserve it all, or protect it all. So how do we respect it all?

We must remember Tilden’s tenent to understand that information is not the entire story that it is but a foundation of interpretive presentation. That does not mean we should ignore the “facts” but know how to best use the authentic to build our stories. We must not fabricate and bastardize materials because we may not agree with what is known, or we are ignorant of what is known, or that we wish to dress up what is known with “exciting” themes or enhancements so that we can entertain. It is a demanding responsibility. We do hold the whole world in our hands and we must ensure that responsibility is ethically maintained and passed to others.

John C.F. Luzader

Vice President of Programs

“What is the best living history program you have ever seen?”

“What was the best living history program you ever saw?”

It is a question that is regularly asked of me and one that has many answers as there are many “ best” living history programs I have witnessed that meet different criteria, however, the most memorable and influencing occurred 45 years ago this June.

Father had been sent by the NPS to Europe for a year of research and contact initiation in preparation for the American Revolution bicentennial. Recognizing that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the family he paid for my mother, brother and myself to accompany him. Additionally he hired me to be his official runner and set up person, making contacts and appointments as well as hotel arrangements for the family. Part of this ‘job’ included the use of a bicycle or motorbike (depending on the country and availability), a modest travel account, and camera.

In other words, Father was insane enough to set his eldest son lose on Europe.

In my travels I was able to visit numerous cultural and historic sites and museums sans the accompaniment of my younger sibling and my mother. Through the months I  established a pattern where I could accomplish my assigned tasks and then visit these wonders with my own tastes being met. Early on I decided I would explore and research the sites where many of our relatives lived, and died. This involved visiting numerous concentration camps and  way stations.

The list began to increase; Dachau, Essen, Salza-Thuringe, Dora-Mittelbau, Ravenssbruch, Natzweiler-Struthof, Berga, Belsen, Westerbork, Amersfort, Vaght, Budenwald, Ellrich,  …  At each my anger mounted, my frustrations grew, and my thoughts turned dark in wondering how anyone, any government, any peoples could initiate and conduct the inexcusable actions that occurred during the Holocaust. Augmenting this were trips to war torn towns, battlefields, Anne Frank’s home, and numerous villages were the local museums and historic sites regularly displayed the debris and remains of the Second World War. It was still a recent bit of history, but 25 years before in 1970, and many locales were still rebuilding and repairing. While many historic sites and museums had been rehabilitated and refurbished, some cities and town, such as Nuremberg still showed scars and ruined streets. My reaction was upsetting. While I enjoyed many of the museums, art galleries and other classic tourist areas, each time I endeavored to find the towns of my kin, their life records, and their places of death I was angered by what had happened to them. The story was too often the same; removed between 1936 through 1944 to various relocation centers throughout Europe, better known now as concentration camps. There the records grew dim or disappeared entirely.  Fifty three names haunted me at nearly every stop in my quest. Dachau had struck me especially hard as many of the names led me there. I wondered if any had been part of the early occupants when the camp was filmed and displayed by the Nazis as a “model” reeducation and relocation camp”? Had any known Jean Voste, the only black person in the camp, a citizen of Belgium? Had any survived and made the death march from Dachau to Wolfratshausen passing through,m and being photographed through a window at Gruenwald? The tensions increased with every stop at these sites.

Finally the families travels moved into Poland and we approached the area near Oswiecim-Brzezinka: Auschwitz.

Few of my kin were listed as being sent there; less than ten, all from Ansbach.  I took the tour.

The aspects that are common now to so many were included, the gate, the stark buildings, barbed wire, the stories of the crematoriums, the stories of the crowed barracks, the selections, the static displays, all explained by an excellent guide. The chip on my shoulder grew larger as the tour progressed. My anger grew. How could anyone does these things? How could they do these things to MY family?

The guide, an impressive dark haired man in his 40’s continued with the group until we reached a field on the far end of the camp and there he stopped.

The place where we stood was a flattened area covered on flowers. Nothing spectacular was noted, just a flat field.

Slowly the guide bent down and scooped up a handful of nondescript soil.

“ Do you know what this is?” he inquired. No one spoke.

“It is Utopia. It is the bone remains of over 180,000 people.” There was a distinct intake of breath from the tour group.

Slowly he let the handful of material sift through his hand and fall to the ground.  “It is the bone remains of thousands of people and as I watch it fall I can not tell you if it is the bones of a German, a Austrian, a Pole, a Hungarian, a Romani, a Protestant, a Catholic, an agnostic, or a Jew. I can not tell you if it is a male, female, old man, mother, or a young child. I can not tell you if it is a political  prisoner, or an undesirable, or just someone who was caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are all as one, blended together as one people, one entity, one soul. It is Utopia. As a boy when I was between the ages of fifteen and sixteen it was my job to grind up the bone remains from the crematorium and bring them here.” At this point he raised his sleeve and displayed the tattooed number on his arm.

“Here is where I realized that God existed because he made us all one people. It is my favorite spot in the camps. It is Utopia.”

Smiling, he left. There was not a dry eye or face in our group. Many knelt and touched the ground and the flowers. Some had their arms around each other. Oddly, I do not remember anyone taking any soil, or a flower, or a photograph; it just seemed out of place.

As I walked away I realized that the chip, the dark heavy angry chip on my shoulder was gone. I realized I had been searching  for my kin with the wrong purpose: anger and hatred. I recognized that I needed to celebrate their lives, their bravery, their foibles, and even their suffering and deaths. They were all one with the world, held together with so many others on many fields and death camps mixed with the people, all the peoples of Europe. It changed how I searched for them from that moment on.

That, is the most moving and influential “living history” moment I have ever had; having a tour and hearing the accounts, and emotions of someone who was part of and witnessed the Holocaust.


What Does An Interpretive Program Cost?

What does an interpretive program cost?

Needless to say, we are confronted by this question whenever any of us sits down to assess the needs of a new program and event. Often we find ourselves looking at grants, sponsors, benefactors, and budgets as our first step in planning and evaluating the first steps in programming. Even as individuals we have to analyze what we need for props, support media, and programming whether it is for a power point program, campfire talk, or costumed historic interpretation. These still might run into the thousands of dollars for media support, computers, materials, or historic costuming. So, it is exciting when you can find something inexpensive, and yet, exciting for for a program.

I work part time for and antique store in Loveland, Colorado. We regularly discover items that provide the tangible existence to stories often long lost or fading in memories. Some of these artifacts include a series of 1901 and 1902 photos of opera stars. These initiated a search that allowed us to find on line recordings of the listed performers which delighted the purchaser when we played them from the internet. Sitting in one booth are a series of photo albums recording the Hawaiian service of a woman who was in the Women Air Rad Defense corps during WWII, a group of women whose service was kept secret until the 1960’s. Images, coins, artifacts, tools, furniture, all with stories that explain their wear and tear as well as their individual importance to their prior owners. Each of these have prices varying from a few dollars to the thousands.

Most recently one of our vendors came upon a photo that caught her attention. Joyce loves to purchase photos of young soldiers from various time periods. She refers to them as her , “ young heroes”. The image she recently came upon was of a good looking young man in WWII flying clothes. On the front corner of the image was written, “Our “HP” togged out in all his gear”. On the reverse was a name, George Weisfeld. As a military historian I was intrigued by the subject matter and the unfamiliar term, “Our “HP”…. It is a term I do not know. So the search began.

The name produced a wealth of information. George N. Weisfeld was a co- pilot of a C 47 (DC-3 as a civilian air craft) that delivered and dropped supplies to troops from 1943 through late 1944. He also towed gliders of troops and supplies. On Decemeber 27, 1944,during the Battle of the Bulge he was severely wounded when flying with the 9th. Air Corps, 91st. Squadron, 439 Troop Carrier towing supply gliders to troops of the 101st. Airborne at Bastogne.

The plane that Weisfeld and his pilot, Joe Fry, were flying was seen by Curtis Smith, a medic with the 101st. Airborne.

“The whole back of the plane was engulfed by flames and trailing behind it a cloud of thick black smoke. I saw one man jump out through the flames of the open door of the plane. Another man, I presumed the pilot, climbed out over the hatch above the cockpit. As the pilot crawled on his hands and knees toward the rear of the plane, he slid off its side and hit the rear horizontal stabilizer. The pilot’s parachute immediately deployed over the stabilizer as he fell underneath it. Then, with the shroud lines wrapped around the stabilizer, the pilot frantically pulled and jerked at his shroud lines as he tried desperately to free himself as he dangled behind the burning C-47. Watching, I thought to myself, ‘My god, he’s going down with his plane!’ Just at that same moment the plane exploded and the pilot was blown free to safely land on the snow nearby. I quickly ran to his aid as he sat dazed on the frozen snow, and I could clearly see the small burns on his face and his smoldering flight jacket caused by the melted aluminum burning off the plane. The pilot’s first comment was, ‘Did my buddy make it out OK?’ “

Nearly six decades later, Smith would discover the pilot’s and co-pilot’s names: Joe Fry and George Weisfeld.

When the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire from the German lines, Fry continued to pull the supply laden glider for miles in an attempt to get it to the Allied positions at Bastogne. Ordering his crew to bail out, Fry and Weisfeld stayed with the burning plane until they could cut the glider loose over the Allied lines. 1

George Weisfeld recuperated from the burns and wound, though the scars would damage his good looks and the pain from the wounds would be with him the rest of his life. He later married and it is reported his bride made her wedding dress from the very parachute he used when he bailed out of his plane in December, 1944. the marriage would last for 59 years until George’s death in 2004. His wife, Belle, would pass in 2014.

In 2011 his daughters donated the dress to the National Museum of Jewish History.2

Here was a Jewish American serving his country, severely wounded and who risked his life in order to supply troops surrounded in one of WWII’s most famous campaigns,

Quite an amazing story and one that I am going to add to my training sessions and interpretive programming.

The cost: One hour of research $75.00

The photo of George N. Weisfelt .50

A small investment for a great return.

As to the “HP” on the front of the photo; I still have not found a definite answer to its meaning. Does it stand for “Hebrew Pilot”, “ Hot Pilot”, or…who knows.

1Potter, Thomas. Brave Men of World War II,, 2003.

2Barsky, Ivy, 2013


When I started my interpretive experiences back in 1961 it all revolved around he centennial of the American Civil War. I ‘enlisted’ in a group that recreated a company of soldiers from a Virginia infantry unit. I was the drummer boy and was excited beyond words looking forward to the events and battle recreations I would become involved in. The standard uniform was available through either the Sears or Wards catalogs. These stores provided a selection of either Union or Confederate uniforms with the option of having the rank chevrons or shoulder boards sewn on the uniform at time of ordering or shipped separately. The material for most of these uniforms; nylon and rayon coats and trousers and a selection of shirts that included the same dress white shirt that could be bought for ‘civilian’ purposes (going to church, school functions, and dressing for holidays) as well as the same gray shirt that could be ordered for the NPS and Corps of Engineers. Hats could be ordered through the same companies and came in the kepi style and a flop hat intended for ‘Rebs”. Groups allowed any boots or dark shoes. The buttons on said uniforms were interesting; most were original U.S buttons and a small number of reproductions. The same could be found with belt buckles and most of the firearms used by the groups. This was a time when we could buy an original Civil War musket in Sharpsburg, Maryland for about $25. I remember that we the older guys were using shot gun shell primers and original Civil War musket caps for shooting their firearms. Other equipment was as could be manufactured, found at surplus stores, or through a very few period recreation businesses. My first canteen was made of a tin coffee can that had loops soldered on it and was painted NPS green. Needless to state, authenticity was not the primary goal and, due to all too few resources, was rarely available.

The years and decades since have provided new resources that supply a much larger inventory of quality and authentic materials for not only that period representation but also nearly every historic period in European and American history. In speaking with a young man that I have done programming with his entire life (32 years) the other day we put together a list of 37 resources for American military materials covering from the 1830’s through the American Civil War, and that’s just for uniforms and equipment.

Things changed, and professionally, I say for the better.

Yeah, I know, pretty boring stuff to many.

NAI is changing. As a member for over twenty years I have seen a great many changes in the organization: member dues, three strategic plans, logo, mission statement, markets, sections, board makeup and duties, various task force needs, partners, administration, three major by law changes, &c., &c., and what I can state is that none of these have been change just for change’s sake. Each has been initiated by need and by the desire for improvement of the organization. More changes are coming and are being addressed now. As examples; our annual meeting and workshop will now be a conference. This offers a more professional setting and new options. It is something that will occur gradually and will offer new opportunities for presentations and for recruitment. That is a very quick synopsis of what is changing in our main organizational activity.

Training and certifications are regularly going through reassessments and improvements each year. The certification processes we had in the past are changing and improving. The system is improving for he better.

Our Awards system is changing, now allowing more members to be recognized for their important and dedicated work to NAI and many fields of professional interpretation.

The sections and regions are all now part of our collective Organizational Units promoting better use of our members skills and providing sub-organizational units that meet our members needs.

And the list goes on, as it should.

Change is difficult. It takes time and sometimes a great deal of personal effort to take all of it in and find a place where these changes meet our personal needs and to find how we each can find a place where we can best serve or fields of interpretation, our employment and NAI.

Personally, and ironically for someone who specializes in recreating the past, I , on the whole, welcome change. It challenges me, it keeps me learning, and hopefully fresh in my field, and it excites me to be a part of a growing and vibrant organization. In truth, like my field, if each had staid static and immobile representing only what each had been when I joined each, I would have left a long time ago. Growth change is vital to keep an organization healthy, our fields healthy, and myself mentally healthy.

Maybe it is all from being influenced by a song whose composition included the words, “Cha-cha-changes…”

The Best Laid Plans…

I am finally home after a long two and half weeks of travel, training in Indianapolis, a two day preworkshop at Bent’s Old Fort NHS in La Junta, Colorado for NAI , the NAI annual workshop, a few days traveling with close friends and time in Denver for my wife’s cancer treatment and Thanksgiving. Needless to say, I am a bit worn down and tired.

That is all personal matters, not expressed to get sympathy but to to illustrate how busy the lives of all interpreters seem to be in this age.

The NAI National Workshop provided exceptional experiences, presentations, networking, reestablishment of old friendships, and opportunities for new. That was to be expected. But, the workshop also presented to me a very needed learning experience as well.

After spending some many hours in preparing two Powerpoint presentations I found myself in positions where the following took place:

  1. One of the key presenters for the preworkshop was unable to attend as was one of the other support persons. Complicating this was the fact that the vans for the trip were an hour and half late from the car rental facility, thus placing us in the traffic jam the earlier assigned time would have had us avoid. The vans were also not filled with gasoline forcing us to make an unscheduled stop and for the drivers to dip into their own pockets for payment ( this will be worked out by the NAI office, but was an unexpected expenditure for the drivers) and thus we arrived nearly two hours late for the workshop start. The return trip, carefully planned, was interrupted by unexpected traffic at one of the highway construction sites getting everyone back too late for the opening event at the History Colorado Museum.
  2. I gave the worst session I have done in over twenty years. After arriving to the room I was to utilize for my presentation, with two laptops in my back pack and twenty five minutes early, I found the projector did not communicate with my laptops nor the one I borrowed from a participant and that the Powerpoint program I first loaded was the wrong one.. Assistance was sent for and soon Mr. Caputo arrived with a replacement projector. By this time we were into the presentation time by fifteen minutes. In inserting my thumb drive I found all of the graphics of the powerpoint were gone. I understand this may have been due to the computer and the program having been generated on two different systems or programs. Abandoning all hope I went back to ‘old school’ and gave a terrible presentation utilizing dry erase markers on a flip chart. Between my befuddled brain and my atrocious hand writing I struggled on for the next hour and a half hoping and praying that I was somehow conveying my theme and message.
    To all who suffered through this disaster, I thank you for your support and apologize for the poor quality of the presentation.
  3. The second issue was when I was presenting with a panel on Saturday. Watching the first part of the presentation I realized that my 45 minute Powerpoint section would not fit into the 30 minute time slot that I now had for my session segment. Once again I abandoned the electronic format and went to the flip chart and markers.

In the beginning of all our careers we are taught to be aware of our audiences’ needs and reactions and I could tell by mine that I was boring the socks off of them and that I had not met their professional needs..

Now I could go on and on in placing blame on the situations, the time crunches, poor material support, &c., &c., &c., however, the blame is solely mine.

In each I should have been better prepared and ready to offer the most professional presentation my audience deserved. Whether in time management, being able to step up and fill slots left open by emergency situations, poor electronic communications between program mediums, or just odd circumstances dancing into our lives, our primary obligation is to the audience. They should not be made t suffer for any errors that occur.

When I teach and train staffs I always attempt to point out that that moment may be the only opportunity that a member, or members, of an audience might have at that site, event, program, or training and that it is important to remember that we must give them the most professional, accurate, and honest program we can each and every time. The audience should never be left needing an apology or an explanation. To me, it is one of the most important aspects of our jobs ( along with safety, comfort, and the ability to have professional feed back).

So, though the annual workshop was in my own ‘backyard’, I truly feel I did some of my worst programs in the past twenty years.

Not looking for sympathy, what did do was to reassess each of the situations and examine how I might improve my presentations and part in each of the programs I conducted and participated within.

It is that self critique and self examination that I think is critical to each and everyone of us and is the best tool to aid us in improving and providing better and more professional events and programs. WE need to be our worse critics and not rely only on the words and surveys of others. As my father regularly states, “If it ain’t broke…improve it!” Resting on our laurels and believing we have excuses, or reasons, for disappointing performances without deep examination does not improve our fields or ourselves. We have others to whom we are responsible and who trust us to be our best.

As to the issues I faced at the recent workshop, well, there are some immediate aspects I am going to change for my audiences:

  1. Be ready for emergency needs when a key instructor can not make an event.
  2. Plan for any travel to start a half an hour before you think is adequate and get the most recent reports on road work and construction as well as having an alternate route in mind.
  3. Be on site in any session room a half an hour ahead of time to work out any issues, insuring that I have my presentations laid out for powerpoint and dry erase/flip chart presentations with the appropriate markers in place.
  4. When on a panel, I will have a full powerpoint and an abbreviated powerpoint presentation ready for whatever time constraints might occur
  5. And lastly, I am going to acquire anti-gremlin charms to keep the little buggers from disrupting my life.

Jto all, I shall do better in the future.

John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Programs

Love, your sister Alice

“Love, your sister Alice”

Inspirations for programs come from numerous sources; a friend’s suggestion, heavy research, a site’s themes and missions, the imagination, periods of desperation, and far too many time, the need to fill an organization’s need to fill an interpretive calendar.

However, there are many occasions when something just falls into one’s lap at the most unexpected moment.

I have had the unique experience of being hospitalized twice since September for heart issues. My body decided on September 10th to gift me with a severe heart attach requiring the installation of two stints in my arteries. Through the entire episode I was witness, and participant, to umpteen new experiences that offered me themes for programs, talks, and writings. Some have already been put to paper and social media. The second ‘cardiac event’ this past week again placed me as the receiver of new materials for my personal journals and possible future programs, mostly about myself, my new life, and the great person’ who worked so diligently on a stranger to save my life.

But, and added gift was given me by the Head Nurse on my floor.

It seems that when I am asked my profession it draws a great deal of interest from the person interviewing me and those who happen to hear my response. I suppose few hospitals have a specialist in costumed historic interpretation answer the inquiry, “ What do you do for a living?”. The response is often the same, “ What is that?”, “Do you mean like Williamsburg?”, “Oh I love those programs!”, “ I love history, can I tell you about…”, and further interesting remarks that divert the stress of the moment and allow the gathered a moment to better know each other.

This past week, after I had been ensconced in my hospital room, attached to the requisite battery of monitoring equipment, safely tucked in, the Head Nurse came in and sat by my bed and asked if we could talk about something she found. I was very pleased to have the diversion.

She and her husband had purchased a home in Fort Collins, Colorado that was built in 1901 and that they were rehabbing and restoring. In the process they had found an old letter in the wall behind the mantle as they had revamped the fireplace. She said it was not very interesting but would I look at it and give some suggestions on how they might display it?

I told her I was very interested.

The next morning she brought in a small envelope, opened and covered in a spot or two of mold and discoloration. Inside were three lined sheets of text from a lady to her sister.

Dated January 10th, 1914 the contents were a wealth of information and excitement to an old bed ridden historian.

The author described how the snows in Fort Collins had stopped and topped over three feet, but the streets were finally cleared and people were able to go about. She expressed how she was concerned that she might have to move to Oklahoma to be with her husband if he found regular work as there was nothing in Colorado for him. She also told how she was losing boarders as “they have gone off with the militia to deal with the miners’ unions in the South of the state.” She was having to decide whether she would hold their rooms or let them out to others. She then continued with the hope that here sister’s family would have a good new year with the closing, “Love, your sister, Alice.”

A number of aspects of the missive excited me; the weather report, the financial situation of her family, the action of taking in borders, the coincidence that I have a sister named Alice, and the mention of the “militia” going to deal with the miners’ unions.

The last is especially important to Colorado and American labor history.

Beginning in September of 1913 and continuing beyond December 1914 the strike, organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) targeted the coal mining companies of Colorado including the Rockerfeller owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company.

The strike had nearly crippled parts of the U.S. Economy, especially in the West. This strike, the one which the lady’s borders had gone as “militia” (Colorado National Guard) to deal with would culminate in the Ludlow Massacre in April of 1914. There the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s camp guards attacked the striking miners and their families in a tent city the miners had established. The reported casualties exceeded over two dozen people, including women and children, two women and eleven children found asphyxiated and burned to death in a ‘cellar’ under one tent. The repercussions of this attack was a retaliatory action by armed miners who for the ten days following the massacre attacked numerous mines and skirmishing with the Colorado National Guard that resulted in a reported 199 lives.

It was described as the “deadliest strike in the history of the United States.” (Thomas G. Andrews).

The resultant congressional investigation was influential in establishing the child labor laws and the eight hour work day.

Ironically, the Ludlow site, today a ghost town and granite monument, is owned by the UMWA.

And so, to me, the little letter with its three pristine pages of clean crisp script, is an insight to one of the famous labor conflicts in U.S. History.

It certainly offers a number of interpretive moments for the future.

When she returned, I explained to the owner how to best preserve the letter and the envelope. I also speculated it had never been mailed as it had no stamp or post mark, and more than likely fallen through a crack on top of the mantle and is was awaiting a stamp and the postman.

We spoke as to whether either of us thought it might have been rewritten once the loss was discovered, or whether a later letter covered more or different news. Dis the wife join her husband in Oklahoma, did she let the rooms to others, or did she find that some of her “militia” borders not return?

Inspiration, it comes from so many sources, some as simple as a letter signed,

“Love, your sister Alice”.

John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Program

It’s All a Matter of Understanding the Terms

This year marks my twentieth year in NAI. It is not really a remarkable achievement but came about in a round-about-manner. I had been associated with the organization since 1991, having been invited to a couple of regional activities and the Vail national workshop. In working at Colorado State University, then the site of the national NAI office, I became acquainted with the then president of the organization, Cem Basman, who regularly asked me to join NAI. I had met with the then director and found that neither was the organization something that was meeting my needs and, to be blunt, the director was less than welcoming to my field of interpretation, (the director, not Cem). I mentioned these aspects to Cem, and also stated my frustrations on how the organization could call itself “the National Association of Interpretation ( the old name, since changed to the National Association for Interpretation). Cem then challenged to me join and , to quote, “change things.”

Loving a challenge, I joined. My reception by most of the folks I met in NAI was rather tepid, not that I expected a band and a parade, with very few others in the membership specializing in my field; costumed and historic interpretation. I also found some who were, well, were less than welcoming. A few expressed their opinions very openly to me when I attended the Cleveland workshop by stating that they could not understand why I would join NAI since “my people” (yep, that’s a quote) had their own organizations. I stated my opinion again about the organization’s name representation and usually met with a number of discussions about “living history” just being a hobby and not a real field of interpretation and that “we” could not understand the basics of interpretation. I would usually point out that I had studied under Freeman Tilden in the late 60’s, the 1960’s that is and wasn’t his ‘bible’ called Interpreting Our Heritage? That statement regularly created a puzzlement that I would know anything about Tilden, or Sharpe, or any of the standards that were the foundations of interpretation at the time. In truth, many of us who were in the field of historic interpretation were, and are, very familiar with the foundations of interpretive principles and practices.

Needless to state, the first few years of being a member of NAI were frustrating. I did meet others who shared my field of study and who were members of NAI. Our combined frustrations came to a head in 1996 in Billings, Montana when about twenty of us walked out of one of the keynotes, which, to be blunt, in our collective opinion, was not only poor historical interpretation, but was just plain poor interpretation. The group was approached by Deb Tewell, then an officer of NAI and now a member of the staff, who asked us to voice our concerns and encouraged us to approach the issue by starting a section to address our field. We accomplished the required number of petition signatures in a day, submitted our request for a new section to the board , and were approved before the workshop was completed. Thus, in a brief summation, the Cultural Interpretation and Living History section of NAI (CILH) was formed. Some may not appreciate, or approve of the thoughts and frustrations that initiated this action, but, as they saying goes, “the rest is history”.

Since that time I have had numerous conversations within the membership, and with many in the historic interpretive field and museums outside NAI, as to why I am a member of NAI and why I think others should join.

The reason is simple, we are all interpreters, with the same foundations, desires, and hopes and dreams of growth and improvement in our respective fields. We are a family with varied interests, experiences and expertise, but, we are of one family.

About fifteen years ago the term “Heritage Interpretation” began to circulate within the organization. For many of us, in all fields, we were a bit taken aback that the term needed explanation to some of the leadership and the members of NAI, as many of us who had worked in Europe and Canada had heard the term for years and understood its application. I wrote about the term then in one of the NAI publications and within the past eight years the term was being used regularly and was incorporated in our strategic plan and in a rewrite of our mission.

And yet, the term is still misunderstood, not only within our organization but also by so many others. Too often the word “heritage” is the “underminer”, if you will, of understanding the application to interpretation. The word’s old traditional utilization referring to historic and cultural materials only creates a belief that only historic and cultural themes and sites are “Heritage Interpretation”.

However, if one looks for the explanation of the term on the web and through heritage interpretive site materials you will see numerous definitions offered that give a better understanding to the universal term. One, developed by Interpretation Canada in the 1970’s, regularly comes to the forefront and offers a concise and definition,

“Heritage interpretation is a communication process, designed to reveal meanings and relationships of our cultural and natural heritage, through involvement with objects, artifacts, landscapes and sites.”

Further materials in the web sites, literature, and writings of Heritage sites fill in the definition with examples, themes of such locales, and missions of various organizations that are devoted to heritage interpretation, all maintaining the primary theme of the definition.

The interesting aspect of the term is that it does not apply only to historic or cultural interpretation, but reiterates the principles and tenets of Freeman Tilden about the field of interpretation,

“An educational activity which aims to reveal meaning and relationships through the use of original objects, by first-hand experience, and by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information”.

I am a Heritage Interpreter, not because I am an historian and a specialist in costumed historic interpretation, but because I belong to a great and large family of interpreters from many diverse fields of interpretation that collectively contribute to the whole of our world and its experiences. We are a integrative group who regularly offer to others a better understanding of our heritage, natural, biological, historical, cultural, and human experiences, and who continually gain better knowledge in the process.

It is all a matter of understanding the terms.

John C.F. Luzader
Heritage Interpreter
Vice President of Programs