Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas on the Farm and Other Historical Holiday Happenings 2014

I'm at the point where the sentimental nostalgia of the old-time Christmas's that I regularly write about here have become a reality, for I believe I spend more time celebrating Christmas past than I do Christmas present (see links at the bottom of the page). I am being serious here. Every weekend from Thanksgiving through the first weekend in January I am in period clothing and presenting Christmas's of long, long ago by way of living history inside historical structures, teaching the public about the social historical holiday norms no longer a part of our society, and singing the old carols from an era when Christmas was more about feasting and Christ than about toys and snow.
With that being said, I am hoping you will enjoy this week's post consisting of mostly photos (with my own snappy commentary) and a couple video clips showing some of my more recent  2014 Christmas past excursions. These are but three of the five or six Christmas time travel journeys I've taken so far this year, with more to come.
I hope you enjoy them:
Let's begin with Christmas on the farm...historic Waterloo Farm built in the mid-19th century way out in rural Munith, Michigan. I fell in love with this place nearly a decade ago and have been celebrating Christmas Past here for more than half that time.

As you can see, throughout the 19th century additions were added onto the original structure.

Many historical museums tend to align themselves with the gaudy or the "country living" style of holiday decore', but the fine folks at Waterloo decorate very tasteful with a strong dose of history, which I appreciate.

Since the sitting room was filled with spinners (women and their spinning wheels), fellow 21st Michigan member, Jackie, and I spent our time enjoying Christmas in the formal parlor. Usually our group is in the sitting room so this was a little different, but we enjoyed ourselves and spoke of the use of the formal parlor during special occasions such as Christmas, weddings, funerals, or for special guests or events.

Here are a couple of videos I took of a woman playing the pump organ and of the parlor itself.
Hearing the sounds emanating from a 130 year old organ in this old parlor is a time-travel experience in itself.
Okay, I realize the woman playing the organ is not dressed 100% accurate - mind you, she's not a living historian - but the musical pleasure she gave us far out-weighed any fashion inaccuracies you might catch, don't you think?
Plus, she was so very nice to speak with!

Off to the pioneer log cabin we go...
Just outside the house is a log cabin used to show the pioneering life of the settler family before the farm house was built. Again, the decorations were done very tasteful and, as far as I could tell, historically accurate.

I loved the dried fruit ornaments hanging from the cabin Christmas tree.

Christmas dinner preparation. Yeah...I'm thinking of Ma Ingalls here. How can I not? I imagine Christmas with the Ingalls family wasn't too far off from what you see here.

Over at historic Greenfield Village, I was asked to help with a Soldiers Aid Society presentation which took place at the Smiths Creek Depot (built in the late 1850s). This is the infamous depot where, in 1863, an angry conductor threw a young Thomas Edison off the train when the boy accidentally set the baggage car on fire while conducting a chemical experiment using phosphorus. 
For the wonderful Holiday Nights Christmas celebration, folks are taken back to roughly the same time of the Edison incident - the period of the American Civil War - and the good folks of town, mostly ladies, have gathered many items to send to our Yankee boys off fighting in the south, things such as canned goods, newspapers and magazines, crochet items, blankets, clothing, and even games. 
On the table are many items being prepared to be sent off as Christmas cheer to our northern boys fighting the southern rebellion. Underneath is one of the boxes being packed for shipping.

As you can tell by viewing the left side of this photograph, there were many boxes to be shipped. Our boys, all far from home, would have a very happy Christmas this year!

Mrs. Lynch was the head of our local Soldiers Aid Society, and she and her husband invited me to help with the preparation of items.

Besides revising my role as the local postmaster, where I explained to the visitors the importance of the mail to the men so far away, I also found myself in charge of the cook stove, which (of course) doubles as a heating stove! The room was toasty!

I also cooked the salted ham (a "gift" from the pigs of Firestone Farm) on top of the stove. It was pretty darn good!

The station master and his family lived here in the depot back in its hey day, and the folks at Greenfield Village decorated what was once the parlor in the same probable manner as may have been done in the 19th century.

Here is a silhouette of Mrs. Lynch. I took this photo from the outside window - it turned out exactly as I had hoped!

Here is the Soldiers Aid Society group of Friday December 5th: That's me on the left with Village historical presenter Stephanie next to me, followed by Mr. & Mrs. Lynch. We had a wonderful time that evening! I enjoyed myself immensely.

As many of you know, I head up a period vocal group known as Simply Dickens. Our specialty is Old World Christmas carols, and we enjoy performing the music that radio does not play. In fact, we've found that most of our audience are usually not too familiar with most of our music at all.
But by the end of our show, we - and the music we perform - have gained a slew of new fans.
Ladies & Gentlemen, meet Simply Dickens, purveyors of old-world Christmas carols such as (among many others) The Boars Head Carol, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, The Goucestershire Wassail, All You That Are Good Fellows, Riu Riu Chiu, The Wexford Carol, and Masters in This Hall.

This is Beckie. Say "Hi" to Beckie. ("Hi Beckie!!"). Beckie is a seamstress beyond compare. She made everything you see here but the muff. That new hood is simply awesome! Great job Beckie!

Since Simply Dickens sings about wassailing all over the town, a couple of us saw it fit to pose for a photograph with some wassailers (otherwise known as mummers). In this photograph you see Kim and I with our new friends.

Here is one of the old carols we do, Masters In This Hall:

Christmas has always been a special time for me; my love for the holiday comes directly from my mother, for she would begin the preparations, including decorations, and start to play Christmas music even before Thanksgiving which, in the 1960s and 1970s, was almost unheard of (unlike today when radio stations become full-fledged Christmas stations sometimes even before Hallowe'en!). And to be able to enjoy and celebrate in the manner that I do has been a life-long dream.
It really has.
I suppose I could say Ebenezer Scrooge's nephew Fred speaks for me in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" novel:
I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that -- as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.  And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"


The links below will take you to some of my previous Christmas past experiences, including loads of photographs.

Waterloo: Ghosts of Christmas Past 2011
Spirits of Christmas Past 2013
Fort Wayne 2013: An Immersion Experience: Christmas at the Fort 
A Christmas Eve Pictorial Through Christmas Past (Revisited)  2013
All You Have To Do Is Ask: Having An 1860s Christmas Celebration

Of course, I'm sure I'll have at least another post or three about Christmas before the season ends.
Stay tuned.


Sunday, December 14, 2014

History in the News: Paul Revere Time Capsule Unearthed

 I found this to be so cool! I can't wait to see the contents once its opened.

Paul Revere's 1795 time capsule unearthed
By Kevin Conlon, CNN
updated 8:45 PM EST, Fri December 12, 2014

CNN-- Paul Revere hasn't stirred up this much anticipation in Boston since his midnight ride from Charlestown to Lexington.
More than two centuries later, a recently unearthed time capsule he buried with fellow revolutionary Samuel Adams -- the man whom Revere was riding to see that night to warn that the British were coming -- has got his former city, state and most of the Internet abuzz.
The artifact was unearthed Thursday thanks to a water leak near its resting place inside a cornerstone at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.
When workers investigating the leak stumbled upon it, Secretary of State William Galvin, who heads the state historical commission, called Pamela Hatchfield, the head of object conservation at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
"There was a big discussion about whether or not it should be removed," Hatchfield told Brooke Baldwin on "CNN Newsroom" on Friday. "(But) because there was water infiltration in that area of the building, it was decided that we'd try to see if we could find it, investigate and see whether the box was still intact."
Hatchfield spent seven hours Thursday delicately and painstakingly chipping away at the stone to extricate it.
"The contents are of concern, but the plaster that held the box in place is in good condition," Galvin said.

According to Galvin, the box-shaped capsule was placed by the Revolutionary-era duo in 1795, a year when Adams was governor and when construction began on the State House and its iconic dome, which would eventually be overlaid with copper by Revere.
Both he and Hatchfield said that based on historical records, the box is believed to contain coins, a plate and a Revere-inscribed plaque -- but no one knows for sure.
"It may contain other stuff, too," said Galvin. "We don't know that yet."
But we might soon: Galvin, whose office is inside the State House, said the capsule's contents are expected to be revealed sometime next week.
For now, it's getting some TLC and a thorough exam -- including X-rays over the weekend -- by the museum's staff.
This is not the first time this capsule was unearthed. In 1855 it was dug up during emergency repairs to the State House and put back in place, something that has Hatchfield "a little worried."
"We're a little worried because in 1855, they cleaned the contents with acid," she said. "So we're a little concerned that things maybe deteriorated inside."
Galvin sounded more optimistic.
"There were some coins that were tossed in the 1855 ceremony in the mix of the mortar. They are in good condition, so we are optimistic that the box itself has withstood the test of time and that it will therefore be holding the contents securely," he said.
Galvin told CNN affiliate WBZ the capsule will probably be returned to the State House, and that he's mulling both a new container for the capsule and new items from the current era.

 ~Stay tuned for the revealing!~


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Ghosts of Christmas Past 2014

"He was conscious of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten."

I used to work at a record store many years ago. In fact, that was my occupation for nearly twenty years. Though our customers ranged in age from tiny tots through pretty darn old, most were in their teens through early thirties and their tastes would tend to run the gamut of classic rock to hard rock to harder rock to metal to death metal to industrial to punk rock to rap to alternative.
You get the picture - some pretty aggressive music for the most part.
But something funny seemed to occur at Christmas time; those who usually purchased music from the likes of such groups as Sonic Youth, Iron Maiden, Public Enemy, and Metallica were now buying Ray Conniff, Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, and Nat King Cole Christmas CDs.
For themselves.
Oh yeah, there were many rock-oriented Christmas music CDs available, and they sold pretty okay, but the majority of the customers wanted the traditional carols to help celebrate their holiday.
Just like the ones they used to know, you know?
The way I understood it then and still feel now is that it doesn't matter who you are, where you live, your age, or musical taste...when it comes to Christmas, the greater majority of us like the traditions we had in our youth, including the music.
And I believe that's why Charles Dickens' novel "A Christmas Carol" is still the most popular tale of the season. Top hats and bonnets evoke memories of Christmas past, even though the age of top hats and bonnets took place a century before we were born!
So how can our memories be of times long past, from even before our grandparent's times in some cases?
Because, as I wrote HERE, "Nostalgia is portable," meaning it is possible to feel a sentimental attachment to a time period one did not personally live through.
And that fits Christmas to a "T."
Listen to the sentimental lyrics of Christmas music. Songs like White Christmas, Sleigh Ride, I'll Be Home For Christmas, The Most Wonderful Time of the Year,  Christmas at our House, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (among many others) bring a sense of longing that never really was.
But the longing is there, isn't it?
Yes, it's been for me, too.
My entire life.
And for the last, oh, maybe 17 years or so this Christmas past desire has become a reality for me.
It began back in the 1990s when I first started participating in the Dickens Festival held up in Holly (Michigan).
The Dickens Festival was just that: a festival held out doors where folks dressed in costumes representing the idyllic version of an old London Christmas as Dickens described. It was fun and that's what gave me the bug to wear real period clothing (not costumes) and search out reenacting.
Plus, hey! it was A Christmas Carol come to life! Top hats and bonnets! It's old Fezziwig alive again!
But it just wasn't enough. I wanted more. I didn't want costumes and silliness.
I wanted the real thing.
As regular readers of Passion for the Past probably already know, for the last half dozen years I've played a major role in bringing Christmas past to life in a much more authentic and realistic manner.
(Read All You Have To Do Is Ask to see how this all came about). 
And now the 19th century Christmas celebrations continue on, and have truly become just like the ones I used to know...in a very real sense.
And so now, what I have here for your seasonal enjoyment are photos and even a couple of video clips of our latest time-travel Christmas Eve activity, showing our celebration that took place this year of 1864:
Christmas at Historic Fort Wayne 2014 was a bit different for me. Larissa, who normally portrays my reenacting wife, could not take part this year; she and her real-life husband welcomed their second child only a few weeks earlier and, very understandably, could not participate. Since our scenario here requires for me to have a wife, my good friend, Kim, stepped up to the plate and became my misses (and did a fine job indeed!). Kristen (you know her from the Victorian Needle blog), continues to portray my daughter and does a wonderful job in her role.

Kristen has been my reenacting daughter for something like three or four years now, and she & I have our roles down pretty well. Here she is showing off her new Christmas dress, made from fabric sent to her by her dear auntie and uncle, who own a big city mercantile.

Here is my reenacting sister and her husband. The young lady standing behind is another living history friend who willingly took on the role of their daughter, Laura.

Harper's Weekly keeps us informed on the latest news from the war front as well as having wonderful stories of the season.

My wife and I found it strange to have servants at our beck and call. This is quite different than life on our farm!

The front parlor was buzzing with excitement and activity.

"Oh, dear aunt! Look at the latest style of dress! Do you think my Father would approve?"

My daughter is dressing her aunt's feather tree.

While Christina dresses the tree, the lovely voices of my wife and niece blended beautifully as they sang carols in keeping with the festive Christmas Eve situation. Click to hear Christmas 1864 come to life:

"Cousin, you forgot the cranberry garland! We'll have to remove the ornaments and re-dress the tree!"

"Thank you for helping me, Aunt Kim!"

Dressing the feather tree became a family affair.

Next the two cousins gave the fireplace mantle a festive look.

Here we see Christina and Laura decorating the banister.

Girls! You are showing quite unladylike behavior, and on Christmas Eve!

The two servant girls, Agnes and Candace, set a beautiful table in the dining room.
Here we see Agnes completing the preparations.

Our family enjoyed such a Christmas feast!

Turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry jelly, breads, cheese, sausage, preserves, and vegetables. Yes, we really had all of this as part of our dinner here. And that's not even counting the desserts of pies and cakes!

Once our dinner was done, the servants cleaned everything up and were able to enjoy their own feast. In the kitchen, though - not in the dining room.

Remember what I wrote at the beginning of this posting?
"He was conscious of a thousand odors floating in the air, each one connected with a thousand thoughts, and hopes, and joys, and cares long, long, forgotten."
This little quote, from "A Christmas Carol" during the scene where Scrooge first enters the past, just about says it all for anyone with an ounce of nostalgia in them.
Or for anyone who understands and studies social history and may practice living history, for it was true for me on this day.


What you have just seen took place on December 6, 2014, at the ever-growing "Christmas at the Fort" event located at historic Fort Wayne in Detroit. I thank all involved for allowing me to set up the scenario that you see here. I would especially like to thank Tom Berlucchi of the Fort Wayne Coalition for his trust in me and my fellow living historians. Can't wait til next year!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Culmination of the Fall Harvest and the Beginning of the Christmas Season

My wife and I would like to invite you to join us on a Christmas journey to the past to an era long ago and far away...
So here it is, Thanksgiving Weekend, and while the poor souls are out scratching and clawing for that one special must-have plastic Christmas gift, I am taking it smooth and easy, strolling the streets of historic Villages while wearing clothing suitable to the fashions of 150 years ago.
To begin with, my annual Black Friday trek is not to the mall, but to my favorite place of solace, Greenfield Village.
What's really cool is that I count the presenters as my friends, and I am welcomed into each home with open-arms as I enter the historical structures that once belonged to famous and not-so-famous people of the past.
As I entered the Village gates and turned left onto the dirt pathway to Firestone Farm, I was greeted (bleeted?) by nearly two dozen sheep, all moving up to me as I walked past them.
All were staring directly at me and baa-ing the entire time as if they recognized me. As many times as I've seen these wooly creatures, they've never reacted like this. Then I found out that respond to people wearing period clothing (since that's what the Firestone farmhands wear). They thought I was part of the crew! Pretty cool, eh?

In October I posted THIS POST about the autumn harvest at Greenfield Village, as well as THIS POST a couple weeks after with a more extensive history lesson on the autumn harvest.
Well, the culmination of the fall harvest is the feast, better known now as Thanksgiving.
And it's at Firestone Farm that the visitor can witness the celebration of this traditional and ancient time and holiday as it was done in the 1880s.
Here, the ladies of Firestone Farm are preparing for the Thanksgiving meal.

Each woman had her role to play in getting this so important dinner prepared, just as was done in the 19th century.

Here are a couple of videos I took as the presenters explain the preparation process.

And finally, the meal is ready to be served.

The aroma emanating from this feast was simply delectable! How I wish I could have joined the presenters! Ah...maybe one day, if I cry hard enough and hold my breath I'll get a chance. Ha! Yeah, right!

Here are a few more videos to give the viewer an idea of what it's like to spend time in the Firestone Farm kitchen during such a day:

My Firestone Farm friends happily posed for me before they sat down to eat!

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present the Black Friday Firestone Farm crew - perhaps the luckiest presenters in the Village on this special day after Thanksgiving!

And here you have it - the culmination of the spring planting, summer caring, and fall harvest.
I begged, pleaded, held my breath til I turned blue in the face, and they STILL wouldn't throw me a crumb!
Ha! Just kidding! (They're, understandably, not allowed to!)
Thanks to all of you for the wonderful presentation you gave on this day!

From Firestone Farm I went to my other favorite historical building, the 1750 Daggett Farm Saltbox House.
I loved the way the front door looked with the lanterns in front.

And on the inside, Little Red Riding Hood went looking for her grandmother (LOL)

Over at the Ford home the lovely ladies were preparing for the upcoming Christmas season.
Where are you Christmas?
It's coming ladies - Holiday Nights is just around the corner!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The very next day a few of us ventured about an hour and a half northward near the city of Flint, Michigan, to another historical open-air museum known as Crossroads Village.
Though most that went were 21st Michigan members, this was not a 21st Michigan event. Attendees were by invitation only from Sandy Root, a very good friend and living historian extraordinaire, who was able to procure a number of tickets to this affair. 
A picture at my home before our journey north.

Before heading to Crossroads, Sandy invited us to her home for a gathering and a meal..
Yes, we posed for a photo at her house as well:

W-e-l-l...another friend posed for a couple of photos without even realizing she was posing:
Kristen was awfully tired, and struggled to stay awake. Unfortunately (for her) sleep won out.

Let's see..sound asleep with nary a budge from all the noise. Hmmm...what to do...what to do...heh heh heh

Yeah - leave it to Rebecca to have some Victorian fun!
 Oh we are a crazy bunch, aren't we?

Off to Crossroads Village!
Rather than pursuing a more historical feel, Crossroads, instead, goes after a more decorative, rather modern look, using probably over a million Christmas lights for the effect they strive for.
In the summertime you would be looking at a very authentic Victorian scene, but come Christmastime - - - - -

But being the living historians we are, we were able to naturally turn an electrically lighted path into a scene right out of 1864! Well, kinda...

The 1854 Buzzell home was also decorated quite festively, but with a bit more of a period flare (though I do not believe the outside of the houses were decorated in this manner in the 19th century). Here we have gathered upon the porch to sing a carol or two.

Oh what fun it was to sing a sleighing song that night!

We also went inside the 1870s Fox House where Sandy played the piano while everyone sang more carols such as Angels We Have Heard on High.

It was wonderful being in that 19th century parlor, doing what probably was done 140 years earlier.

Every-so-often I try to get a little "artsy" with my photographs. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don't. I think this kinda works.

Samantha looks very festive for the holidays, doesn't she?

Rebecca and her fancy bonnet are quite festive as well.

The dapper gentleman and his lady prepare to welcome guests for Christmas.

Mrs. Folcarelli sets a spell before boarding the train.

This is my wife and I in the parlor of the Buzzell house. The folks were kind enough to allow us inside the sectioned off area for this photograph. ~(If you look at the top of this post you will see another picture very similar to this one)~

Yep - everything looks just right! We're ready for the train station!
We were placed in a car built in the 1890s. It was held solely for us - no modernites sat in our section!

The car we were in was not only built in the 1890s, but it was originally for folks who traveled in 1st class. The ride was loads of fun, as you can tell by these two smiling ladies!

  We all enjoyed singing carols during the 45 minute train ride. Beckie enjoyed her own reflection.

Mr. and Mrs. Root - the hosts of the evening's adventurous enjoyment! My hat is off to them for giving a few of us a wonderful start to what promises to be a fine Christmas season!

And here, again, is my wife and I, enjoying the season and being in the company of such good people as you have seen pictured in this posting.

I took a "front" and "back" of my wife, Patty, and our good friend Beckie to show off Beckie's sewing talent. It was she who made both paletots you see here.

The flipside of the photo - beautiful work Beckie! (I commissioned Beckie to make Patty's as a Christmas gift for her in 2013. My wife LOVED it!)

As I often portray Kristen's father during immersion events, I many times find myself at the brunt of her many wants, especially at Christmas time!

"These are but shadows of the things that have been," said the Ghost...

"...They have no consciousness of us."
A final group picture before we were to travel back to the future...until next "time."

And we enter the time-machine that will wisk us from 1864 to 2014 - - - - - -
Ground control to Major Tom...