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Mythic FrontiersRemembering, Forgetting, and Profiting with Cultural Heritage Tourism$
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Daniel R. Maher

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780813062532

Published to Florida Scholarship Online: January 2017

DOI: 10.5744/florida/9780813062532.001.0001

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Performing “Frontier in the Attic”

Performing “Frontier in the Attic”

(p.176) 7 Performing “Frontier in the Attic”
Mythic Frontiers

Daniel R. Maher

University Press of Florida

This chapter uses performance theory to examine the specific manner in which Fort Smith constituted the frontier complex for the specific audience of tourists. In 1955 the city exhumed its frontier past to resurrect the “Hanging Judge’s” gallows and courtroom, not sixty years after an embarrassed town had burned down the original gallows. The Fort Smith Museum of History, the Fort Smith National Historic Site, Miss Laura’s Visitor Center, the Bass Reeves monument, and frontier reenactment groups collectively operate to fashion the frontier complex. Though ostensibly representing nineteenth century frontier history, this chapter details how these various constituents create a mythic past that reinforces contemporary ideologies. Numerous groups and individuals compete for space to perform the frontier complex into being. While some purport their authenticity to be sanctioned by the Reenactment Guild of America, it is argued here that it is not the fine art of splitting hairs over authenticity of buttons and threads that distinguishes these groups, but rather the amount of room on the theatrical stage upon which these skits are performed. Following Richard Slotkin, it is argued that the frontier complex is a space and place in America where mimed public violence is permissible and whiteness reinforced.

Keywords:   performance theory, authenticity, whiteness, Reenactment Guild of America, Richard Slotkin, Bass Reeves, Hanging Judge, Miss Laura’s Visitor Center

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