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Another place in time

Men clad in armor and chainmail -- bearing shields, axes and swords in combat. A fair-haired maiden weaving fabric with her fingers as her gallant knight prepares for battle. It may sound like a scene straight out of the Middle Ages, but that was...

Men clad in armor and chainmail -- bearing shields, axes and swords in combat.

A fair-haired maiden weaving fabric with her fingers as her gallant knight prepares for battle.

It may sound like a scene straight out of the Middle Ages, but that was the picture in Billings Park Tuesday evening as members of Society of Creative Anachronism practiced combat and chivalry.

The society got its start in 1966 at the University of California in Berkeley as a theme party, said member Jeff Bloomquist, the safety marshal who oversaw Tuesday night's combat practice.

It's just one aspect of the recreating of pre-17th century life.

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The organization recreates all aspects of life between 600 AD and 1650 AD, from the arts and sciences of the times to the heraldry.

Worldwide, the organization, an educational nonprofit, had about 29,500 paid members in 2004, according to its Web site, with 19 kingdoms.

The Shire of the Inner Sea is located in Duluth and surrounding area, stretching up the North Shore to Canada. Members hail from Duluth, Superior, Cloquet, Wrenshall, Mahtowa and beyond.

It's part of the Kingdom of Northshield, which includes chapters in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the upper peninsula of Michigan in the United States, and Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario in Canada.

The 19 kingdoms include Australia, New Zealand, parts of Antarctica, Europe, Africa and the Middle East, although most are in the United States and Canada.

The local chapter got its start in the late 1980s, said Tracy Eaton, the shire's seneachal. It was incepted into the worldwide organization in 1991 and garnered recognition as the Shire of the Inner Sea in 1993. About 25 members belong to the local chapter, and about a dozen are involved in heavy combat, Bloomquist said.

"It's really a family-friendly activity, said Eaton, who is also known by her persona, Dwynwen Mynglwyd v. Danu.

For Bloomquist, the society is a family affair. His wife of 25 years, Debra, and their son, Jake, also are members.

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"It's a blast," said Jake Bloomquist, who was clad in chainmail awaiting his turn on the battlefield.

Jeff Bloomquist said he and his son were "suckered in" by a friend. Debra got involved because of her husband and son -- she made their medieval dress and created the household heraldry on her husband's tunic.

"It's not authentic, but it is representative," Jeff Bloomquist said of the insignia painted on his tunic.

Society members take on personas representing people of medieval times. While some have one persona, others change when they create a new garment. Others change their persona with every event.

Bloomquist has taken on the persona of Godfrey Vonnarsson the Varangian, a Norse guard of the emperor.

Eaton said most people research history -- others travel -- to create realistic personas.

"It makes history come to life," Jeff Bloomquist said. And he's used his passion for history and knowledge of medieval times to give living history lessons to students at the Duluth elementary school where he works as a building engineer. Bloomquist has dressed as a variety of characters, including a Viking, a pirate and even Marco Polo.

Members of the organization have helped by demonstrating how things were done in the Middle Ages, he said. From spinning thread to weaving fabric and making clothes, the students learned how hard life was then, Bloomquist said.

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"It's not like driving to Wal-Mart today," he said.

Fashion of those times isn't readily available off the rack. While some armor and chainmail can be found online, many members of the organization learn the trades to recreate the historic garments and armor used to relive another era in time.

People can learn just about anything people did in medieval times, from making music or instruments, armoring and blacksmithing to the domestic arts such as cooking, brewing, spinning, weaving and sewing, Eaton said.

Emily Tobias, who joined about a year ago when she started dating one of the members, enjoys weaving.

"I've always been a crafty person," she said as she wove a band of fabric with her fingers. "This gives me a chance to learn new kinds of things."

The Society of Creative Anachronism is an educational organization, Eaton said.

Chris Rydberg, a cabinet-maker by trade, admits the history of the period isn't his strong suit, but his love of competition and of making things caught his interest when he discovered the Shire of Rockhaven in St. Cloud. He too is a member of the Shire of the Inner Sea.

Rydberg built his own shield and helmet.

"The first time," he estimated building the steel helmet, "took about 100 hours. The next time, I should be able to do it in about 50 hours."

While he enjoys the competitiveness of combat and chivalry, Rydberg also is interested in the arts and sciences.

"It adds realism to combat," said Tim Dybwdal, who learned about the organization while living in Washington state. He was introduced by his son's martial arts master. The combat has given him a chance to use his own martial arts training.

In combat, rattan weapons wrapped in plastic tape create swords; axes have foam heads covered in tape.

Safety is a primary concern, Jeff Bloomquist said, which is why combatants must be 18.

Fighters are trained to know when a blow would cause devastating injury if inflicted in a real battle.

When a combatant is fighting with an arm behind their back, or on their knees, it means they sustained a blow that would leave the combatant unable to use the limb.

"They're trained to know a damaging blow," Bloomquist said.

Shelley Nelson can be reached at (715) 395-5022 or snelson@superiortelegram.com .

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