Monday, September 15, 2014

Living History at Historic Fort Wayne 2014

Why, good day to you! Won't you stop in? It's been a while since we last visited!
It's now September, don't ya know, and it certainly became autumn seemingly overnight, with the cooler-than-normal temperatures and a blustery wind blowing through this year's Civil War reenactment at Historic Fort Wayne in downtown Detroit. (Though it's not considered fall just yet as far as the calendar is concerned, it is my opinion that most of us here in the north central region of these great United States believe fall begins as soon as September hits. Even the angle of the sun tells us it's autumn).
For at least a decade, the Fort Wayne event was held in July. But with complaints of the heat of summer from reenactors, the date was moved in 2013 and, well, there are no complaints of heat anymore. Now they're complaining of it being too cold!
Ah well, such is life...
Anyhow, as in previous years, we were able to utilize a period 19th century home as our own for the entire weekend, and we had a fine and fun time enjoying the experience, as we always do. We so enjoy the opportunity of becoming ghosts of people past while inside, and this year was no different.
It's always special when we can become part of a sensurround history. Although I do reenact in period homes frequently, I never tire of it. And neither do my fellow living historians.
We did not do immersion this time, but, instead, did a sort of "2nd person" - a combination of 1st and 3rd - and spoke to patrons as if we were from the past but with a teaching knowledge of the future.
Does that make sense?

Well, with that being said (and hopefully understood), let's take a photographic journey into the past...150 years ago, to September 1864 - - - 

Welcome to our home. Yes, this is the place we called home during the weekend, and we treated it as such. No, they would not allow us to spend the night inside, though that would have been a great (albeit maybe a bit scary) experience.

Yes, feel free to use our hall tree to hang your hats, bonnets, and wraps.

We had our guests visiting throughout the weekend. No, we didn't do a 1st person scenario this time. But all of our topics of conversation centered in and around history. To do 1st person/immersion correctly, you must have the right living historians with you, and though everyone here are wonderful reenactors, not everyone cares to do immersion, so we kept it more in the "2nd" person mode. And that was just fine with me.

This is my daughter using carding paddles to card wool for spinning on a spinning wheel. Growing up the way she has in the world of reenacting and living history, she is accustomed to taking part in traditional crafts such as the process of spinning. So, where young ladies her age (early teens) from the 21st century might be fascinated with this ancient skill, my daughter doesn't think twice about it.

My wife absolutely loves spinning wool into yarn, and this year she has taken the process even beyond her own expectations; she acquired three 30 gallon garbage bags filled with raw wool right off the sheep. She spent nearly the entire summer picking straw, poop, sticks, grass, clumps of dirt, and anything else sheep might get into from the wool, and then skirting it before washing it. Of course, from there she had to card it (see pictures above and below) before dyeing it in the traditional manner with flower peddles, bark, and nuts (if she chooses to do so). Once all of this occurs, she can then spin it into yarn by way of her spinning wheel. It is then she can crochet whatever she would like to make, maybe a sweater, a sontag, or a scarf. And people wonder why homespun costs so much, well now you know! (By the way, we are quite aware that spinning wheels were not seen very much at all in such fancy city houses such as the one we were in, due to the availability of machine-made fabric for city folk. My wife brought her wheel as a teaching tool.)
"Idle hands are the devil's workshop" as the adage goes, so even friends who came to visit, such as Mrs. St. John here, found herself spending time with the paddles, allowing my daughter to run off for a bit to play with her friends.

Mrs. Schubert stayed with us at the house and was able to get quite a bit accomplished on her crochet sweater project.

Our young neighbor came calling on this day as well. It is always nice to see this young lady and her baby daughter.

Little baby Cynthia was born on the same day (but not the same year) as our current President, on February 12, 1864. It's always nice to have a baby around the house, especially since our youngest child is no longer a baby, but is now nearly of courting age!

Two Jones girls in one photograph, and yet they are not related. Mrs. Jones in the foreground is an accomplished musician and played her violin for us in the afternoon. The sounds reverberated off the old walls as they must have done all those years ago, including one of my favorites "Hard Times Come Again No More," as well as "Wayfaring Stranger" and "John Brown's Body." I don't know...there is always something special about hearing period tunes on accurate instruments in a 150 year old home while wearing clothing of the times. It's a feeling that's hard to just feels right. And young Miss Jones, sitting in the chair knitting, treated us to a fresh batch of cookies she baked that morning, made from numerous receipts to get that special taste. Yes, they were very good. Thank you both for the treats!

A new friend, Miss Lynch, stopped in and she and my wife became fast friends. Miss Lynch is new to this world of the 1860s and we are helping her become acquainted to the fashions and customs of her new life.

In the midst of all these women, it certainly was nice to have our politician friend, Senator Howard, stop over for a short visit. He couldn't stay as long as we'd have liked, for he was very busy hitting the trail speaking to the local voting men, but it was still a fine visit nonetheless.

Throughout the weekend, guests came and went. On Sunday afternoon, we were paid a surprise visit by a very well-known couple. Can you guess who stopped over?

Yes! President and Mrs. Lincoln came by to enjoy some relaxation (and my wife's zucchini bread) before continuing his re-election campaign tour. It's always nice to have guests, whether well-known in the public eye such as the Lincoln's or Senator Howard, or even just our wonderful nearby neighbors, visit us.

Here is a panoramic view of our front parlor. That's my wife to the left, my daughter's friend Anna, my daughter (crocheting a blanket), the Lincoln's, and our good friend, Mrs. Kushnir.

By late Sunday afternoon, our friends and neighbors went their own ways, back to their homes or to travel elsewhere. My wife and I took this quiet opportunity to relax on our porch and watch passersby stroll along the walkway, sometimes arm in arm, with the horses clip-clopping by, pulling carriages right past our home.

Neighbors like Mrs. Cook, who waved as she moved along the plank walk, on her way to celebrate her special birthday. was a fine weekend.

And this was the way our reenactment went while at Historic Fort Wayne, and it was great to see patrons get excited over a history lesson they were able to see, hear, & touch, but, most likely were not taught in school.
Until next time in time...

By the way, look who is on the cover of the latest issue of Chronicle - The Magazine of the Historical Society of Michigan:
This photograph was taken in 2010 at Crossroads Village during our "Welcome Home to Our Soldiers" event. The Chronicle printed my article on Summertime During the 19th Century. It's quite an honor for me to be on the cover (with two good friends of mine!) and to have them print my article. First Citizens Companion, now this! Pretty cool!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Oh, The People You'll Meet! Welcome to the 2014 Michigan Renaissance Festival

If you recall, last year I wrote a posting about the Michigan Renaissance Festival and said that it was more fantasy than Renaissance, with little to no, little to no real and accurate history. I mean, the roots of history are there and are sort of based in the past - England in the 1400s and 1500s (although when you think about it, the Renaissance started in Italy and not in England - I suppose an English accent is easier than an Italian one) - but if one were to go to the Ren Fest thinking they would get a history lesson along the lines of a Civil War or Colonial reenactment, they'd be very wrong and mighty disappointed indeed.
So once you get that in your head - that this is not history come to life - then you'll find it's a great place to people watch and enjoy all things fantasy with mind-filling eccentricities.
Anyhow, we went again this year - my son is a performer there in a bawdy musical group called Bocca Musica, and so I feel a sort of obligation to go and watch his performance.
Okay, so I wanted to go!
Yeah I did. And I enjoyed it, too. It's mindless fun and I always seem to have a good time.
So away we went: me, my daughter (who dressed as a fairy), and a few friends of mine, off to the Shire of Holly Grove up in Holly, Michigan (about an hour north of Detroit) to enter the fantastical world of another dimension...not one necessarily of time and space, but of mind. a way, the Michigan Renaissance Festival is almost like entering the Twilight Zone.
Won't you join me?
It's in the grove part of Holly Grove where one can see a man set his head on fire. Well...not really. But he was a fire-breather, and this was part of his grand finale.

One never knows just who - or what - they'll meet in the Grove. I know these are fairies of some sort, just not quite sure from where they came. Maybe the gnome forest?

Two fairies: one happy and light, the other angry and dark. That's my daughter on the left...the happy one!

So I pulled a smile out of my pocket and threw it at the fairy on the right, and she immediately became happy and light! It's good to carry a pocketful of smiles wherever you go!

Yes, it seemed that the pixies and other creatures of the forests moved about in the land of humans.

Ah, now here are maidens who, as clothing can detect, work for a living. They also do a fair job in their depiction of the varying lower classes.

Make way---here comes the Queen's court! Follow the parade to the entrance gate...

Once inside, a grand dance took place in the Queen's honor.
I've heard folks from the Renaissance did not dance in this manner, and I'm sure this is true. It was still great fun to watch.
Even my fairy daughter joined in!

Below is a (very) short clip of the dance. The battery in my camera was close to running out of power so I couldn't capture much more than what you see here. I hope you like what little I was able to get:

The Queen and her Court

My fairy daughter would one day like to be a part of the Queen's Court, but, alas, there are no fairies allowed. But she sure can pretend!

But felt right at home with this talking bush. He told of how he planned to branch out, this stemming from researching his roots. We decided to leaf him be while he packed his trunk.

These fairies - the web fairy, the yellow fairy, and the bubble fairy - insisted on being the main focus of attention.

This troll and his human female idiot "entertain" all within piercing ear-shot. I believe she took vocal lessons from Yoko Ono. Yikes!

And, of course, you can't have a Ren Fest without that infamous greenish-yellowish ogre, Shrek.

I'm not quite sure what to make of these creatures. I suppose they're, in a way, a sort of Centaur. Photo by Lynn Anderson

Is this an owl? Is that a ram? Things are very different in this Shire of Holly. Photo by Lynn Anderson

You want diversity? I'll give you diversity! Photo by Lynn Anderson

Yes, those are her real eyes. I wonder how well she sees in the dark?

The musical acts ranged from the more traditional...Photo by Lynn Anderson the more bawdy. (Yes, that's my son second from left) Photo by Lynn Anderson

The Vodca Family socks. Yep---I asked them if I could take a picture of their stocking-clad feet. Wouldn't you?

Then there is spaghetti juggling from the great Deante Fettucini (Hey! An Italian at a Renaissance Festival!). He was also a magician and could crack a mean whip. His jokes were awful puns that had my daughter laughing constantly. Yup---we enjoyed his act. Photo by Lynn Anderson

Then there is perhaps my favorite act at the Ren Faire: The Washing Well Wenches. I have seen this act for probably over twenty years and never tire of it. And I love being with people who have never seen the show before and seeing their reactions and hearing them laugh. Photo by Lynn Anderson

On the day we were there, a paid patron brought her three daughters along and asked Daphne (head wench) if she could do their hair like her own. She not only did that, but blackened their teeth as well. AND she included them in her act in a sort of impromptu manner. Oh, it was funny!

Now I was told that Daphne and I look like twins here, that maybe we were separated at birth. our eyes tell a tale that can't be told...?

Daphne then dubbed my fairy daughter the Guinness Fairy. Maybe she could be the Apple Cider Fairy, but certainly not the Guinness Fairy!

But then, it's all relative, isn't it? Photo by Lynn Anderson, pictured right

What made this particular day that much more eventful was that it was Steam Punk Day, where followers of this paralleled-past-off-the-side-road were able to come out in all of their Victorian science fiction glory.

I *get* the definition of what steam punk is, but I don't understand it. Does that make sense? The styles are interesting, and actually pretty cool, but as a living historian I don't believe I could get into wearing the fashion. I'm too much a purest.

I'm not quite sure if this is steam punk or just some more Ren Fest fantasy wear. Either way, I found those who like to dress for this festival have a great time - much better than those of us who come wearing our Beatles shirt!
Who knows? Maybe one year you'll see me in RenFest garb. But you can be sure if I do, the clothing I wear will be as close to authentic as possible! I can't help it - that's just the way I am. A Lynn Anderson photo

I always enjoy my annual excursions to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, and if you happen to have one of these fairs in your neck of this great country (or, in your own great country if you happen to live on the other side of the earth) I hope you at least give it a try and enjoy it for what it is: fun!

I would like to thank my friend Lynn Anderson, who joined us on this day, for allowing me use of some of her photographs (noted in the captions). I forgot to check my camera battery and found it to be low, so I had to choose the pictures I took carefully.
Lynn's camera battery, on the other hand, had a full charge.

For more (and different) pictures from the Michigan Renaissance Festival, please click HERE