In 2005, militaria collector and reenactor Mike Bollow decided that the long accepted rule, “Nothing fun happens in the dead of winter,” had to be broken. He embarked on a bold idea to have an indoor military convention in the Chicago suburbs that was aimed primarily at historical reenactors. Called “Reenactor Fest,” the hotel was suddenly full of the most varied and amazing array of reenactors, collectors and history buffs he’d ever seen when the doors opened at the inaugeral event. “Nobody believed that I could bring together reenactors from all different eras and have it work. Many assumed that Civil War reenactors would scoff at the WWII guys, and so on. They didn’t have faith in my vision,” says Bollow.
As it turned out, his vision was correct and Reenactor Fest was a huge success. Over the years, it has grown, requiring larger venues. In 2010, the well-known military book publishers, Osprey Books and Casemate, and famous toy manufacturer, W. Britain, approached Mike about sponsoring the show. Everybody recognized that the show was growing, and it was much more than just reenactors coming out every year.
To be more inclusive of collectors, armchair generals, wargamers and enthusiasts, the the name changed to “Military History Fest” (MHF). The other major change was a third change of venue, to the much larger Mega Center at Pheasant Run Resort in St. Charles, Ill.
“Reenactors have wanted to do indoor encampment from the start, and we never could accommodate them. Military vehicle owners have always wanted to be a part of it as well and that just couldn’t happen in the lobby of a nice hotel. The 38,000-square-foot Mega Center allows both,” Bollow reports. In addition to the vehicles (a rare German Hetzer and US M7 Priest self-propelled howitzer are showcase vehicles this year) and the 14 encampments, there are more 200 tables of original militaria, books, videos and the finest array of reenacting uniforms and gear around.
As unique as this sounds, what separates Military History Fest from any other show in the country, is all the entertainment. There are live historical performances all day, every day, ranging from period music, seminars and sword fighting to swing dance lessons, workshops and the most popular feature, Saturday night’s ball. “The nightly parties made this convention from the start. Friday night is Historical Jeopardy, and it’s a lot of laughs, drinks and goofy prizes. The main event is the Saturday Night Ball. You see Civil War debutantes dancing with 101st Airborne guys in their class A uniforms, General Grant dancing with Emperor Nero, and everything in between. A costume is not required either! Plenty of people just show up without,” Bollow reassures us.