POTSDAM — Wearing 20 pounds of chain mail, Olaf Haraldson wielded an ax around a conference room at SUNY Potsdam.
He was demonstrating how and where to hit with the ax, made of a type of vine and foam, to inflict a "telling hit," one that would take his opponent out of battle.
From 7 to 9 p.m. every Tuesday, Samuel E. McBroom, Potsdam, forgets that he is a librarian in Canton and pretends that he is an 11th-century Viking named Olaf, complete with period weaponry and a carved horn to drink from at the end of the day.
Mr. McBroom is a member of The Shire, the chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism for St. Lawrence and Franklin counties.
"My persona is from Iceland. I am a member of the Varangian Guard. They were bodyguards and shock troops for the Byzantine Empire," Mr. McBroom said. "I relate to the culture; I'm Irish and Scot, and a lot of the Irish trading towns were Viking trading towns."
Most members of the Society for Creative Anachronism come up with personas, characters that they play while they are in costume. Those personas have names and histories and during meetings and other events, members do not call each other by their real names.
"I've gone years without knowing a person's real name," said Mr. McBroom's wife, Suzane E. "For some people, (personas) can be a big deal. For others, not so much."
Mrs. McBroom's persona is Dalla Olafskona, which means Olaf's wife. Dalla is Swedish and was born in A.D. 950.
Mrs. McBroom said she became interested in Scandinavian culture and the Middle Ages when she was an anthropology student at SUNY Potsdam.
Society members are not re-enactors. They do not recreate specific battles or events, nor are they particularly concerned with historical accuracy.
"We are just using our personas to enact a period in time," Mrs. McBroom said. "While they are context in which to study, they are not real people themselves."
The international society, with tens of thousands of members, is dedicated to researching what life was like in pre-17th-century Europe, with a few minor alterations.
Rather than hand-forging hundreds of tiny rods of steel to create chain mail or getting real animal skins to make their period attire, as many re-enactors do, members can buy the stuff online. They often wear lacrosse pads or fencing masks when they hold mock battles.
They are involved in charity events as well. The Potsdam chapter is trying to get a team together to participate in Relay for Life, an annual event that raises money for the American Cancer Society.
The group is an eclectic mix; many of them are college students from SUNY Potsdam, but others have been involved for years. Mr. and Mrs. McBroom both got involved when they were students at SUNY Potsdam in the 1990s.
The group, which is open to all ages and has no dues, has been meeting at SUNY Potsdam for about a quarter of a century, and in that time has attracted all sorts of people, from former Navy Seals to investment bankers, Mr. McBroom said.
"I started in 1989," said Barbara E. Vezina, Knapps Station, whose persona is a 12th-century Saxon named Ariana. "It's a medieval-themed social club. I made a lot of nice friends with a common interest."
For Mrs. Vezina, that interest was archery. For others, it could be embroidery or calligraphy, leather working or carving. Obviously, they also fight.
"This is not all we do in the SCA, but it's what tends to get attention." Mr. McBroom said. "We're loud, obtrusive; we really stand out."