LEXINGTON - It is the stab felt ’round the world, and for two decades, Jim Hart has been on the pointy end of the equation.
Hart plays Jonas Parker, a Minuteman at the Battle of Lexington who refuses to yield when the Redcoats advance. As his comrades retreat behind him, Parker is hit by a musket ball and falls to his knees. He gets off a shot. Then a British Regular sets upon Parker and runs him through with his bayonet.
It is a visceral moment in the annual reenactment, an image that is photographed and broadcast around the world. And on Monday, Hart will take one for the home team a final time.
Weary of falling to British steel, and wary of the risk of real injury, Hart, 77, is relinquishing his role as one of Colonial Lexington’s most celebrated casualties.
“I decided it was time to give someone else a chance,’’ he said after a recent rehearsal for the Patriots Day event. “I’m not 21 anymore.’’
For Hart to survive Parker’s death each year requires a tricky bit of stagecraft that entails careful coordination with his counterpart in this deadly pas-de-deux. The Redcoat reenactors carry real bayonets - albeit with slightly dulled tips - on their Brown Bess muskets. They advance in a cloud of musket smoke. The historic thrust of the bayonet happens only seconds after the skirmish begins.
Hart has managed to elude a myriad of bayonet thrusts through the years “by combining agility and skill with careful rehearsal,’’ said fellow Lexington Minuteman Bill Poole. “He makes it so realistic that the crowd frequently gasps.’’
But Hart says he depends on the skill of the Regular, who must stick the weapon between Hart’s arm and his chest and plunge the blade convincingly without piercing the man himself.
“To make sure that when I get bayoneted, I don’t get bayoneted,’’ Hart said.
To make matters more complicated, a different Lobsterback vanquishes Hart each year. He recalls one Regular reenactor who accidentally nicked him in the arm. “Since then, I purposefully ask for someone very mature.’’
This year, the honor has befallen Michael Foley, 48, an IT consultant from Quincy who plays a private grenadier in His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot. In the first of three dress rehearsals for the battle, on April 1, Foley and Hart had difficulty finding each other.
“Where’s Foley?’’ Hart grumbled. “He has to get over here faster.’’
But Foley said it was Hart who had lined up on the wrong side of the field.
“Once we fire our opening volley, it’s going to be black smoke, you just can’t see anything,’’ Foley said. “We don’t want to be running around looking for each other.’’
In a subsequent practice run, Foley’s bayonet came flying off his musket.
“It requires enormous trust to play this role,’’ Hart observed. “There’s a low tolerance for error.’’
This will be the 38th year on Lexington Battle Green for Hart, a descendant of a militiaman who was killed in a Revolutionary War engagement in Connecticut. The former owner of a marketing company, now retired, Hart was originally recruited for his talent on the fife and drum. When the role of Parker came up about 22 years ago - he does not remember the exact year - he jumped at it.
Parker “was a pretty independent guy,’’ Hart said, not hiding his admiration for the doomed militiaman. “He was pretty cocky. And that led to his demise.’’
Parker, a family man in his mid 50s, was the first cousin of Captain John Parker, who led the Minuteman on April 19, 1775. According to legend, Jonas Parker had made clear his intention to stand and fight.
In the reenactment, the British commander, Major John Pitcairn, orders the Minutemen to lay down their arms and disperse. Some of the militiamen quiver, but Jonas Parker does not.
“Disperse I tell you!’’ Pitcairn cries. “Disperse!’’
The British fix bayonets and begin to advance.
“Give way men!’’ Captain Parker shouts. “Quit the field!’’
A shot rings out. The rout is on. But not for Jonas Parker.
“I advance, put down my hat, my musket, my musket balls, my powder,’’ Hart said. “I get wounded, get off a shot, and at that time one of the grenadiers is on top of me.
As the British chase the Minutemen from the green, Hart’s wife, Myra, and three grandchildren, Spencer Hart-Thompson, 10, Hailey Hart-Thompson, 12, and Lilly Hart 10, in the roles of Parker’s wife and children, rush to the field.
There, on Monday, Jim Hart will die as Parker one last time.
Even as he prepares for his swan song in the role, Hart clearly still relishes it.
“It’s exhilarating,’’ Hart said. “It’s Americana.’’