HAWTHORNE, NJ - The Hawthorne Senior Center, found at 590 Goffle Road by the Volunteer Ambulance building and operated by Passaic County, provides meals, services, and activities to resident senior citizens throughout the year. On Tuesday, a special program was coordinated by Site Manager Carol Casselli and FirstLight Home Care, based in Glen Rock, to bring in local writer and living historian John Van Vliet.
The theme of the one-hour program was that of the Roman Empire, presented in the attire of the time. Wearing a thick wool tunic to his knees and wrapped up in the long, pleated wool toga of a Roman senator, Van Vliet set up a display of replica artifacts, clothing, armaments, and jewelry to accompany an interactive and engaging talk. On a mannequin torso, the woolen tunic, bronze-plated belt, and chain mail armor of a Roman legionary was assembled with a large wooden shield set below it. The lecture spanned the origins of Rome itself, from the legendary figures of Romulus and Remus, to the transformation of the Etruscan-dominated Kingdom into the Roman Republic. Stories of tumult and discontent, new-found riches and bitter war, related the eventual rise of the likes of Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, the downfall of the Republic, and the creation of the Roman Empire.
"I love doing talks and presentations," Van Vliet said to TAPinto Hawthorne. "I've been doing living history presentations for different organizations and groups throughout the region for almost 18 years now and it has been a fantastic experience. It's part academics, part theatrics, but it's all a lot of fun. The audience here was great, it was wonderful to be invited. Everyone was very friendly, they asked interesting questions. It seems like everyone had a good time; I thank Carol and FirstLight for having me here."
Van Vliet has done other programs like this, including a Revolutionary War talk at the Fair Lawn Library and a lecture on chemical warfare in the First World War in New York. "I think it was a nice choice of theirs to have a Roman program because so much of our western civilization is based on the legacy of ancient Rome. Our own Founding Fathers looked to Roman history for inspiration when they were shaping the fledgling United States, so it is an inescapable part of who we are as a people."
Was the toga hot? "Yes, it's pretty warm in this. It was like the tuxedo of the times," he said. "But I don't mind, I get to go back to the 21st Century and put the air on in my car. The past is fascinating, but it's nice to live in 2019."
The audience handled and passed around items, noting the styles of necklaces, feeling the weight of a solder's helmet, and seeing their reflections in a primitive bronze hand-mirror. The roles of all strata, from senators to slaves, merchants and legionaries were discussed. The tempetuous and often violent relations between Rome, her subjects, and the spead of Christianity were covered in an abridged but informative and entertaining presentation. Afterwards, some wanted to pose for pictures with their toga-wearing presenter who was only too happy to oblige.
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