Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Civil War Comes to Greenmead 2015

I really enjoy when a new reenactment comes along, if for no other reason than fresh scenery.  Only in its 3rd year, this one at Greenmead Historic Village in Livonia, Michigan is still considered a "new" event, and, yes, the scenery that surrounds it is beautiful, especially during the autumn time of year.
That's not to say I don't enjoy those events that are established, for I absolutely do. But having a change in venues with new ideas is always a good thing.
Greenmead is very relaxed. Oh, the quality is high, but there's very little pressure to be "on" all the time.
Yeah, I know----this is an unusual statement coming from me - the guy who does immersion and comes up with all sorts of ideas to bring the past back to life - but every-so-often I do enjoy time spent with my other reenacting friends not worrying about what time does this presentation or that activity take place. It also gives us more of an opportunity to speak with the visitors in a casual manner.
You need both types of reenactments for balance.
And that's the best part: we have enough of a variety of events here in Michigan that no matter what style one prefers, they will find something suitable to their wants.
That being said...let's take a pictorial journey to early autumn 1865 and see what is occurring in this little town called Greenmead:
Here is military camp. No battles but it was a great opportunity to speak with patrons about army life.

It was also a good time for newer recruits to fall in and march & drill with the more seasoned veterans.

One of the very best things about any reenactment is the FOOD! Yeah...we eat pretty well at our events, and many times there will be a potluck meal, so one gets to enjoy a little of everything. And a potluck took place here at Greenmead. 

No, this is not an 1860s Pippi Longstocking. It is Mrs. Folcarelli, the baker, and the ribbons in her hair just happened to get caught in an updraft of wind just as I snapped the picture. We laughed pretty good when we saw it and decided it was a keeper.

Have you ever wondered if people from the past ever acted as goofy as we sometimes do today? I've often thought about this and have come to the conclusion (with no basis in factual research, mind you) that they most certainly did! Why? Because as enlightened and as open as we like to believe we in the 21st century are today, we don't have the corner on fun. And since photos 150 years ago were not as common as they are in our modern life, people more than likely wouldn't have wasted their money on looking goofy for a tin type (though a few actually did). But while the old tintype cameras were busy taking the serious photo, however, who knows what may have occurred just out of reach of the lens...

Michigan Senator Jacob Howard as portrayed by Dave Tennies. Senator Howard worked closely with President Lincoln in drafting the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution abolishing slavery.

My son, Rob, loves to spread out all of his accessories and accouterments and speak to the public about life in the infantry.

Meet Miss Adams (if you haven't yet already). I was visiting with her and a few others and noticed that the way she was sitting would make a perfect tintype, so I took her photo and "aged" it a bit.

And here she is again! As well as two other lovely ladies and one ugly long-haired mug in the middle!

On the left is someone you should know pretty well. If you don't then you are either new to my blog or you haven't been paying attention. 
(hint: her name is Kristen)~
On the right is someone who was not only a well-respected mainstay in the Michigan reenacting world, but a long-time employee at historic Greenfield Village: Miss Susie Lewis. After a ten year hiatus, Miss Lewis has returned to time-travelling, and we are so glad to have her "come back to us" again!

For those of you who may not know, Kristen, in her 21st century life, is a school teacher. Naturally, she sometimes will take on the same occupation in her 1860s life and always enjoys the opportunity to teach in a one-room school house.
Miss Mrozek calls the children to school.
It's late September and it's harvest time - since most of the children live on farms, they are needed at home to help with the harvesting of crops and all it entails, so it will be a few more weeks before Miss Mrozek's class fills up. 
But before the kids enter, a class photograph of the teacher and her scholars.
This is how it looked for us in 1865...

...and this is what the future sees.

Oh! What's this? A couple of the boys got into a scuffle! Miss Mrozek threatened them with a thrashing if they didn't stop the foolishness!

The scuffle escalated into a full-blown fight! Miss Mrozek tried to gain control of the situation, to little avail.

She picked up the youngest child and grabbed another while the other three continued their battle.

The young girl was quite distraught with the shenanigans caused by the ruffians.

But Miss Mrozek didn't give up and, after much huffing & puffing and vim & verve, she was able to overtake the spirited young lads, and settled them down enough to have them quietly enter the school.

This being such a cool fall day, coal was needed for the stove to warm up the classroom. It was the oldest student's job to take care of the heat.

The following is a video clip of Miss Mrozek teaching the children a few lessons:

See the children gaily shout,
"It's half-past four and school is out!"

No fear here in the 1860s. Children could climb trees and even play tag without the worry of adults afraid they might get hurt.
They had the freedom to be kids.
And no cell phones or video games.
Yep---truly another time and place.
We are always looking for new/old ways to bring the past to life, and Greenmead allowed a few of us to do just that. Relaxed event or not, sometimes some of us simply cannot help but bring bits of the everyday past to life in ways little seen elsewhere, such as the school scenario presented here. That's just the way we are, you know?
But I hope you enjoyed spending some time at Historic Greenmead Village.
And if you hear of a new event in your area, please do your best to support it. With the 150th Civil War anniversaries and remembrances pretty much over, there has been concern on whether or not this hobby will fall to the wayside. Well, as long as we can keep the interest of not only the visitor but of reenactors as well, we can continue to have a healthy, growing hobby.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Haunted by the Ghost of Johnny Appleseed

Every September, we - my wife & I with our kids, sometimes a few friends, and many times other family members - venture out to the apple orchard and cider mill to experience the season of autumn in one of the best ways we know how: by picking apples, drinking cider, and eating freshly made doughnuts.
Yeah...we're those kind of people!
Here in Michigan there are more cider mills than I can shake a stick at, and each can be pretty unique unto itself, from the ginormous that have singing hillbilly bears and skeletons sitting on the toilet telling awful jokes to the basic no frills apples, cider, and doughnuts with little else. And that's the kind of mill I prefer - the no frills variety.
And our day usually ends with my wife baking a couple of homemade apple pies!
It's a tradition we've had for at least thirty years, and there are no signs of us stopping.
Heirloom apple tasting
at Firestone Farm
Something else I've enjoyed is the 1880s Firestone Farm heirloom apple tree tour given by historic presenters during Greenfield Village's fall harvest weekends. They do a fine job detailing the history of each of their heirloom apple trees in the Firestone orchard, which is filled with a number of 19th-century and earlier varieties of apple trees, and we were able to see a wide selection of red, green, brown, yellow, and speckled apples growing upon them. Names like Rambo (around 1640), Baldwin (1740), Maiden's Blush (early 1800's), Belmont (late 18th century – one of Johnny Appleseed’s favorites!), Roxbury Russet (from before 1649 - possibly America’s oldest apple), and Hubbardston Nonesuch (early 1800’s) and a number of other varieties no longer readily available here in the 21st century can be found there. They all have different characteristics, flavors, and ultimately were used in different ways, either for sale, or for the family’s own use. With such a large amount of apples, there was a need for storage, and those not carefully packed away in sawdust were made into apple butter, apple sauce, pies, dowdies, dumplings, fritters, and cider.
I have even had the wonderful experience of drinking apple cider made from a replica 1800s hand-cranked apple press!
I can just hear many of you saying to me, "Ken, it's no big deal. It's only apples."
Yeah...whatever. And the Super Bowl is just another football game, right? (Well, to me it is!).
But as I have written in previous postings, food is such an important part of our history, and it has, unfortunately, been relegated to be considered of little worth. Yet, in all actuality, its significance is just as important as any other part of our history.
And that brings me back to apples. Maybe after reading this posting you might look at that wondrous fruit a little differently.
Apples in the United States have an interesting history:
Sacks of apple seeds were first brought to North America by colonists in the early 1600s. Before that time, the only apples native to this continent were crab apples (also referred to as "common apples").
By the mid-1600s, apple orchards with thousands of trees had been planted specifically for cider, a replacement for the poor quality water that was not fit for drinking. The proliferation of apple trees grew to the point where cider became the national drink of choice and was also used for barter.
After the establishment of orchards along the Atlantic coast, a second wave of apple varieties much further inland began with the distribution of seedling trees by none other than John Chapman, more popularly known as Johnny Appleseed.
"Up until Prohibition, an apple grown in America was far less likely to be eaten than to wind up in a barrel of cider," writes Michael Pollan in The Botany of Desire,  "In rural areas cider took the place of not only wine and beer but of coffee and tea, juice, and even water."
One picture of Johnny Appleseed
It was into this apple-laden world that John Chapman was born, on September 26, 1774, in Leominster, Massachusetts. Much of his early years have been lost to history, but in the early 1800s, Chapman reappears, this time on the western edge of Pennsylvania, near the country's rapidly expanding Western frontier.
Starting in 1792, the Ohio Company of Associates made a deal with potential settlers: anyone willing to form a permanent homestead on the wilderness beyond Ohio's first permanent settlement would be granted 100 acres of land. To prove their homesteads to be permanent, settlers were required to plant 50 apple trees and 20 peach trees in three years, since an average apple tree took roughly ten years to bear fruit
Whenever Johnny Appleseed came to a region that wasn't settled, he would plant or distribute his seeds. Some said he carried the seeds in leather bags on his shoulders as he walked along the trails, and others reported seeing him paddling up and down rivers in a canoe. 
For clothing Johnny Appleseed wore the homespun buckskin of the settlers, and the story of him sometimes wearing a tin pan upon his head, I've come to find, was true!
Johnny Appleseed blowing his
powder horn to warn folks of a
possible attack
No one knew the frontier trails and woods as well as Johnny Appleseed. Even the Indians respected him. Because of this reputation, Johnny was allowed to move about freely without much concern, and, according to legend, he became a one-man warning system and alerted isolated families and settlements of impending dangers, including Indian attacks, by blasting an old powder horn.
As a member of the Swedenborgian Church, whose belief system explicitly forbade grafting (which they believed caused plants to suffer), Chapman planted all of his orchards from seed, meaning his apples were, for the most part, unfit for eating.
It wasn't that Chapman—or the frontier settlers—didn't have the knowledge necessary for grafting, but like New Englanders, they found that their effort was better spent planting apples for drinking, not for eating. Apple cider provided those on the frontier with a safe, stable source of drink, and in a time and place where water could be full of dangerous bacteria, cider could be imbibed without worry. Cider was a huge part of frontier life, and for transplanted New Englanders on the frontier, cider was as much a part of the dining table as meat or bread.
John Chapman died in 1845, and many of his orchards and apple varieties didn't survive much longer. By the time the U.S. government outlawed alcohol in 1920, Chapman had become an American folk hero. But this didn't stop the axes of FBI agents who mercilessly tore down orchards that produced sour, bitter apples used for cider to prevent the making of homemade hooch. Aside from slaughtering Chapman's trees, this also nearly killed America's connection to hard cider. 
This not only effectively erased cider, but it erased Chapman's true history from American life.  
Apple growers were forced to celebrate the fruit not for its intoxicating values, but for its nutritional benefits - its ability, taken once a day, to keep the doctor away... 
In a way, this saying (adage?)—so favorable by modern standards—was nothing less than "an attack on a typically American libation." 
Today, America's cider market is seeing a modest, but marked, resurgence as the fastest growing alcoholic beverage in America. Chapman, however, remains "frozen in the realm of Disney, destined to wander in America's collective memory with a sack full of perfectly edible, gleaming apples."
But not all of the apples that came from Chapman's orchards were destined to be forgotten. Wandering the modern supermarket, we have Chapman to thank for varieties like the delicious, the golden delicious, and more. His penchant toward propagation by seed lent itself to creating the great—and perhaps more importantly—hardy American apple. Had Chapman and the settlers opted for grafting, the uniformity of the apple product would have lent to a staid and relatively boring harvest. It was the seeds, and the cider, that give the apple the opportunity to discover by trial and error the precise combination of traits required to prosper in the New World. From Chapman's vast planting of nameless cider apple seeds came some of the great American cultivars of the 19th century.
The beverage rooted deep in our history has only recently seen a resurgence in popularity. 
By the way, Nova, Ohio holds a 176-year-old tree, the last known to be planted by Johnny Appleseed himself. It grows tart green apples, which are now used for applesauce and baking in addition to cider making. While Chapman might be glad to see his seeds still bearing fruit, he'd likely be sad to hear this tree is a noted bud source for grafting new apple trees.

Even though Johnny Appleseed did not believe in grafting, many others did from years before up to our modern times, and through it all such a variety of apples as one had never seen was the result. Due to grafting, orchards with named selections were planted for the first time. By 1850, uncounted named apple varieties for fresh eating, cooking, cider, apple butter, applesauce, drying, pickling, vinegar, wine, and livestock food were listed in nursery catalogs.  
Over time, and especially due to prohibition, along with the growing popularity of soft drinks such as Coca Cola and root beer, apples became a popular eating snack rather than for drinking, therefore the 'look' of the fruit became all important; perfectly round, bright red or green with no blemishes was sought - the perfect supermarket fruit.
In the 19th century, farmers would haul their apples to cider mills like this one to have them ground and pressed into cider. In the 21st century, the popularity of visiting the cider mill has gone through the roof, only it's not the farmers who visit, but city dwellers who want to experience the old-time woodenness of days gone by and yet still have fun things to do for the kids.

I really enjoy researching the historical things few others think about, even something as minor as apples (though they weren't minor to the people living back in the day).
And I really enjoy seeing the popularity of the cider mill continue to rise, with families heading out in droves on autumn weekends. There are just some traditions that will continue to be a mainstay in our society, and visiting the cider mill in autumn is one of those wonderful traditions (as long as the mills don't price themselves out of business!).
Yeah...Johnny Appleseed/Chapman may not have approved of grafting, but something tells me he would be pretty pleased at the continued popularity of his favorite fruit.

By the way, here are a few video clips I took in 2014 at the Firestone Farm apple tour:

Maiden's Blush

Hubbardson Nonesuch


Information about the history of apples in the U.S. came from the following sources:
The Smithsonian Institute
Apples of North America by Tom Burford
American Folklore and Legend by The Reader's Digest

And for more blogs related to this one:
Cooking on the Hearth
A Taste of History

“And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.” 
(Genesis 1:11-12)