Clarence Hickey, Historical Interpreter

Q. What training have you gone through to become an interpreter?

A. I have taken formal courses and participated in reenactor workshops.  I’ve attended the Maryland Humanities Council Annual Chatauqua events for the last several years.  The Chatauqua event is a one week series of three or four presentations of famous people done by interpreters in 1st person.  I’ve read much on interpreting and reenacting, especially Freeman Tilden’s book Interpretating Our Heritage.  It is the best source of information on interpretating history and history sites.

I have trained with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD.  This included their annual reenactor workshops.  I’ve trained also with the Frederick Historic Sites Consortium and its Master Docent Series.  I attend this series every year in February.  Also, I have trained with the Montgomery County Historical Society and its docent training program.  Training, workshops, reading are all ongoing events for me.  And I researched the life and times of Dr. Stonestreet over a 4 year period and then wrote the book on him.  This research was training of sorts.

Q. Why did you choose costumed interpretation over non-costumed? Do you think that people react differently to you than they do a non-costumed interpreter?

A. Actually, I do both costumed and non-costumed interpretation.  Mostly, however, I am costumed.  It makes me feel the part and feel the times about which I am speaking.  Visitors to museums also like to see and be led by costumed docents and interpreters.  They often think that costumed interpreters know more and are more believable than non-costumed docents.  This is not necessarily true, but is a perception by some people.  And, of course, perceptions become reality for some.  So, I like the costumed part.  When I am reenacting, I always am costumed and often in 1st person; that is, I am the 19th century doctor himself.  Being in costume attracts people and helps to hold their attention.  And then, I can also talk about the clothes I am wearing and thus the times in which my character lived.  It is the life and times that really interest me.

Dr. Stonestreet’s 19th century medical office now is a museum that bears his name, the Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine, in Rockville.  I attempt to make it a living history site by being in costume when I am the docent on duty there, and when I participate in the Historical Society’s public school programs for 4th and 5th graders.  They like to see a costumed person explain the museum.

Q. What do you believe the educative value of your work is?

A. When I am participating in a reenactment, like a Civil War hospital, I am not there to entertain, but to educate.  If I am not teaching, I should not be there.  Of course, there is an entertainment factor involved, and that is OK.  I like to help debunk the myths of old.  Like the myth that the Civil War soldiers in the field hospitals bit on bullets while their extremities were being amputated.  Good Hollywood, but bad history.  95% of the surgery done during the Civil War was done with general anesthesia, ether and chloroform, not bullets being bitten.  This is education.  And I like informing people about the times in which my character lived.  What was it like in Montgomery county during the 19th century?  My character of Dr. Stonestreet talks about that in terms of his serving the community in which he lived.  My book about him is his life and times.  I hope my history lessons and interpretation can help my community to know something of our background, our shared heritage.

In my book about Dr. Stonestreet I state “Understanding the history of our community, and our shared heritage, helps us to understand a bit of ourselves.  It also accents the question: How will we be remembered, as individuals and as a community?”


Clarence Hickey as Dr. Stonestreet at the Button Farm in Germantown, Maryland.


*Interview was conducted electronically by Kelly Johnson, November 23, 2010.

Published on December 8, 2010 at 5:59 am  Comments Off on Clarence Hickey, Historical Interpreter  
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