Ronald Rinaldi, PhD, remembers the 1977 crossing like it was yesterday.
Then a 15-year-old reenactor, Ronald was participating in his second Christmas Day reenactment at Washington Crossing Historic Park (his first was the bicentennial).
He sat by a campfire watching the other reenactors prepare to cross the Delaware River when he felt a tap on the shoulder. It was St. John Terrell, the reenactment’s founder. “Come with me,” he was told.
Terrell, in his final crossing, wanted Ronald right next to him in the boat.
It was a day Ronald will never forget. So much so that 30 years later, the first of two years that Ronald played the prestigious role of General Washington, Ronald made sure his oldest son was right beside him in the Durham boat as it crossed the Delaware River.
Ronald has photos of both of these memorable crossings. In the first, Ronald is visible next to St. John Terrell. In the second, Ronald’s son is similarly visible, just inches away from his father.
Throughout the late 70s and beyond, Ronald continued to participate in Revolutionary War reenactments up and down the East Coast. History would remain a passion of his for many years to come. He earned a degree in history from George Washington University and took an internship in the military history division of the Smithsonian Institution. He went on to attend Duke University and earned a master’s degree in military history.
“I decided I really liked teaching and museum work. My first job at the age of 16 was as a tour guide in the barracks at Trenton, and I was also a tour guide at Washington Crossing Historic Park. I just loved talking with people about history.”
Ronald’s professional life eventually drew him away from museum work, but he continued to stay involved as a reenactor.
“Once I started a family, I didn’t have the time to do all the reenactments I used to do, but I stayed with the Christmas crossing reenactment,” he says. “Now, both my sons do it, too. My oldest, 21, has been doing it since 2004. And my other son, 15, started 10 years ago.”
Given his history with the event, it probably comes as no surprise that one of Ronald’s favorite aspects of the crossing reenactment is being on the water.
“When you’re crossing the river and you’re out in the middle of it, it’s so quiet,” he says. “All you really hear are the oars churning through the water. You almost get a sense of what it was like. Those moments always stay with me.”