Friday, May 20, 2011

Chain Mail Shirts - Remembering Leif in Russia

We recently returned from a two-week trip to Russia, which put a stop to my blog posts for awhile. It was an interesting trip and there were so many things a long the way that reminded us of Leif, things we would have liked to share with him.

One afternoon we went to the History Musuem in Moscow. It is just outside the Kremlin and a beautiful old building. Although there was little English to tell us about the exhibits, we enjoyed the progression of Russian history from pre-history times until the time of the czars.

One of the things that made of think of Leif was the medieval battle accoutrements, armor, chain mail, swords, axes. Leif loved those things and when he lived in Kansas he was an avid member, and fighter, in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism). One thing that amazed me was when he bought big spools of heavy wire, spun it around a rod, cut links from it, and made himself a chain mail shirt. I can't even imagine how many hours that took him. In order to work on it, he hung a large, heavy metal pipe from the transom between the living and dining rooms at 710 N. 9th Street in Manhattan, Kansas, and hung the shirt on it. It passed through the sleeves and held it up straight so that he could add to it.

When finished, the shirt weighed 52 pounds. We all tried it on and wondered how the knights could ever have engaged in battle wearing armor and chain mail with such incredible weight. I think that chain mail actually weighed considerably more than metal armor, but either way, a knight (medieval or modern) would be carrying probably a minimum of 55-60 pounds of armor or mail, and the weapons were heavy as well.

However, modern army infantrymen, especially machine gunners like Leif was, have to carry more than that and still be able to march, run and fight. Leif was used to that heavy load from his time in the infantry, so putting on a 50 pound shirt to go fight in the City Park wasn't the ordeal for him that it would have been for any of us.

The top photo is of Leif at the City Park in April 2003, not long after he finished the chain mail shirt, and before he got his fancy new armor later that summer. Imagine trying to move and carry on a sword or axe battle in that much bulk and weight. Leif loved it.

The other photos are of chain mail shirts in the Historical Museum in Moscow. Leif would have been interested in their construction. There are various ways to make chain mail, various patterns. The middle photo is more like his. The lower one uses much heavier iron rings that seem to have some kind of fastening or locking mechanism on them.

There were more chain mail shirts there, and many interesting suits of armor. I wish Leif had seen them.

When Leif died and we had to clean out his apartment, we had no room to keep all of his SCA things, and no use for them other than memories, so we gave them to his friend Jason, including the chain mail shirt, and hope that he found other SCA members who could use them and perhaps remember their original owner and creator. We have only photos.

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