The Punk Rocker Who 'Becomes' Thoreau

Iconic contributor to this magazine Henry David Thoreau is the kind of writer that a lot of people really fall in love with. He identifies and skewers the consumer behaviors we associate with the modern era with such precision and wit that he resonates with us today.

But few people, not even the most dedicated greens enchanted by Thoreau's environmental ethics, can match Richard Smith's dedication to the man. Smith practices "living history," dressing up as and acting like Thoreau. There's a fascinating profile of him in the religion magazine Killing the Buddha by Beatrice Marovich:

Turns out that this guy, Richard Smith, is about as close as you can get to a modern-day disciple of the man himself. He's there doing living history. For more than a decade he has been "becoming" Thoreau: dressing up in meticulous 19th-century regalia, reading his essays in front of crowds, fielding questions (in the first person) from the public, about the man's personal life and politics.

Eleven years ago, he moved to Concord (from Akron, Ohio, where he was working in a living history museum) with his ex-wife (also a living historian) to turn Walden into his sanctum sanctorum. I was impressed by the deliberateness of this passion -- or, perhaps, obsession. I started to wonder if he might be the closest I'd get to a ghost. I thought we should sit down for a chat.

Richard: I often wonder what he would think about all of this. Me, doing living history as him. You know, does he like it, does he not like it?

Beatrice: Do you feel like he's watching? What do you think he'd say?

Richard: I don't think he would be impressed. Once, I was leading a walk through Walden Pond as Thoreau. I had a group of eighth graders with me. And one asked, "Mr. Thoreau, if you knew that there was a guy 150 years from now pretending to be you, what would you say?" And at first I was really impressed, and I was thinking, "Oh, what a great question." And without even missing a beat, I said (and I think this was a very "Henry" answer), "I would tell him to get his own life and leave mine alone." I do think this is what he'd say. On the other hand, I'm also turning a lot of people on to him. So, I'm sure he'd appreciate the PR.

Read the full story at Killing the Buddha.

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