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He became interested in the Civil War during high school. Keith grew up north of the river, and one day, a teacher wanted him to write a book report.
"On what?" he asked.
"That's your problem," she replied.
He went to the library but didn't know what to pick. So he put his hand out behind him, backed up until he felt a book and pulled it off the shelf. He was in the history section, and the book was about the Civil War.
"I hadn't really thought anything about anything until I grabbed that book," he says.
He wrote the report, got a good grade, then started collecting artifacts. After high school, he married a woman who worked in a bank, and some of her friends were re-enactors. She took him to his first re-enactment at Shoal Creek in Liberty.
He has always been a Union soldier. Currently he's a corporal with the 7th Missouri Irish Brigade. A green shamrock on his jacket signifies that he's a veteran — he has attended five events with that group and has all his gear, which includes, among other things, a gun, rifle, tent, shoes, haversack and bedroll. "You might have 1,000 medals on you, but the shamrock means more because it's a personal pride to have one," he says.
After 18 years of re-enactment work, though, he's thinking about retiring — in about five years. The battles, as well has his regular job with Asplundh Tree Expert Co., are starting to take a toll on his body.
"You have a pass to go out shooting, lay down dead, run around, [but] you're like a sports guy. You got a time limit," he says. "As much as your mind wants to say, Let's go, your body says, No way I'm going to do that! And I don't like the idea of doing that because I love it so much."
Keith earned the nickname Tic Tac after figuring out a way to add some realism to re-enactments with hospital scenes. Usually, people got shot through their arms and legs, and he wanted to make things more interesting.
Finally he had an idea. He took out his false teeth and put a boxful of cinnamon Tic Tacs in his mouth. After 30 seconds, he started drooling a thick, viscous liquid that looked like blood. Then he spit out the candies, which looked like broken and chipped teeth.
Sometimes, the cinnamon's hotness makes him throw up a little bit, which just adds to the realism of the battlefield.
"I've been tossed into real ambulances 'cause they thought I was really hurt," he claims. Once, a Confederate soldier and a Union surgeon came out on the battlefield. One guy grabbed his arms and the other his legs. They both wanted him on their respective sides for the hospital skit.
Another time, a nurse nearly passed out from seeing his trick. The attending doctor knew about Tic Tac and watched as Keith held his hand over his mouth. When the nurse asked how she could help, Keith spat his teeth into her hand.
As it turned out, she was studying to be a nurse in real life. "She thought she'd seen everything, and she said, 'You just freaked me out.' "
Keith says other re-enactors have asked if they can copy his trick. Some have offered to use corn, but he says he has granted them permission to use Tic Tacs. The only thing they cannot do is use his name.