Monday, December 29, 2008

Mourning

(I updated a new mourning blog with more information on the mourning practices of the 19th century. Click here to go to it)

As many social historians may know, mourning the loss of a loved one was quite different in the 19th century as compared to mourning today. In fact, I sometimes wonder if people truly even mourn in this modern time in which I'm stuck.
In case you might not be familiar with the stages of mourning during the mid-to-late 19th century, here is a run-down:

Mourning pertaining to women was in three stages - heavy/deep mourning, full mourning, and half mourning.

Mourning a spouse generally would last one to 2 ½ years:

For a parent: 6 months to a year

For children over 10 yrs old: 6 months to a year

For children under 10 yrs: 3 to 6 months

Infants: 6 weeks and up

For siblings: 6 to 8 months

For aunts and uncles: 3 to 6 months

For cousins: 6 weeks to 3 months

For aunts or uncles related by marriage: 6 weeks to 3 months

Grandparents: 6 months

For more distant relatives and friends: 3 weeks and up


Heavy/Deep mourning lasted the minimum of a year and a day and could last as long as 2 ½ years to life. Black clothing, jewelry, veils, bonnets, outer wear, and crape characterized it. The use of crape to cover outer wear and bonnets usually lasted a year and a day, and then could be removed. By the 2nd year the woman could add lace. Hats were not to be worn for mourning; bonnets covered in crape would replace them. The veil was of black crape, and very long, but by the 2nd year it could be shortened. Mourning clothes were expected to be plain with little or no adornment.

Full mourning collars and cuffs were replaced by white, veils were taken off, crape was discarded, and jewelry of a wider variety was worn.

Half mourning included the addition of lilac, lavender, violet, mauve, and gray. The woman was no longer limited to just black. She would use black and white ornaments for evening wear, bonnets were white, lavender silk or straw.

For specific periods of time a widow would not leave her home and did not receive any visitors. After a respectable time, she would then send out black edged cards advising friends and family that her time of heavy mourning had passed and she could now receive visitors. Parties, weddings, and other social affairs were hands off to those in mourning.


I write of this because we recently had a death in our family - my wife's mother, only a couple months ago, passed away quite suddenly at the young age of 61.
Death has been a visitor to my wife's family frequently since this new century began - besides her mother she also lost her father, a sister, and a brother - all rather young and all unexpected.

With death seemingly ever-present, my wife has not truly been able to mourn - to grieve - as she would like. She has been told that "life goes on," to "get over it," and "why do you mourn if you're a Christian."
Yes, these comments have been said to her over the last few years, believe it or not.

A couple weeks after my mother-in-law's death, we had a memorial service that included our very close friend who just happens to be a pastor and presided over the ceremony. During the service, my eldest son played the guitar and sang a very heart-wrenching version of "Wayfaring Stranger." Nearly all were brought to tears. In this gathering we had many friends and family, some who traveled quite a distance, giving their happy remembrances of my mother-in-law. A beautiful eulogy read by my wife also brought nearly every visitor to tears. And to complete the service there was a nice setting of food.
But, even though this memorial was supposed to bring closure, I could see that it didn't, at least not for my wife. You see, mother and daughter were very close and spoke to each other daily on the phone (we live in the Detroit area and my mother-in-law lived 2 1/2 hours away in Battle Creek, so visits were not as frequent as all would have liked). And the time of day the phone calls had been made (late afternoon) is particularly hard on my wife.
She still cries herself to sleep many nights and she still has bouts with depression, but she still can't mourn outside of our home it seems. Society does not allow open mourning without sending the mourner to a psychiatrist, who will invariably put them on some anti-depressant.
I do my best to comfort her, but I can only give the moral support she needs.

On the day her mother died - November 1st - we were in the midst of having a period dress gathering at our home with our Civil War friends, so we rushed to the hospital without changing (which garnered some looks from everyone around!). I say this because the day after Christmas we had a few friends over to help celebrate the holiday. And, just as we have done the previous two years with these friends, it was a period dress Christmas get-together once again. As our friends have repeatedly told us, "This is our Christmas!"
But, this year I noticed that, instead of wearing her nice flower-print brown day dress, she instead wore her lavender day dress with a mourning brooch I bought for her earlier this year while we portrayed mourning practices during re-enactments.
http://passionforthepast.blogspot.com/2008/07/mourning.html
Although she was not 19th century accurate, she was showing our visitors that she was in mourning - that she still had grief. And, afterwards she told me how good it felt to wear the badge of mourning for all to see and to give her the respect that folks should give one in such a state.
And that lead me to finally fully understand the mourning practices of the 19th century: it gave one - including men, albeit a much shorter length and less rules - the opportunity to mourn, and to let others know. It gave the mourner the right to cry whenever and have others understand. It gave the mourner the right to be angry whenever and have others understand. It gave her the right to be moody and have others understand.
It gave her the right to grieve whenever she needed to.
.
And, that's what my wife cannot do in this modern day and age. She needs to mourn and to know it's OK to mourn without anyone saying "It's been a couple months, she should get over it by now!" and having some doctor wanting to shove pills down her throat. Not necessarily mourning to the extent of our 19th century ancestors, but, in her heart she needs to mourn - - not for three days; not for a week or a month. But for however long she needs to.
Our ancestors were much smarter than today's society gives them credit for.
They knew...

(The image shown here in this blog, by the way, was taken with an 1860's tintype camera and shows Michigan Soldiers Aid Society members (including yours truly) during another mourning scenario that we did in Hastings, Michigan at historic Charlton Park. Many styles of mourning clothing are shown.)
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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas at Greenfield Village 2008

It was a harrowing journey through the late afternoon snowstorm but, after a nearly hour and a half ride (normally 25 minutes!), we arrived at Greenfield Village. Since we left early, we were there on time for the opening of the gates.
Our first stop, upon entering, was the home of Henry Ford, where the house is decorated as if it were 1876. The smells of bread and pie filled the air as we entered the building. I enjoy watching the presenters cook on the old woodstoves and explain what they are making. Not only is it a learning experience, but it helps to bring the past to life. It gives my wife ideas in many cases for our own meals.

From there we walked over to the Wright Brothers home. Again, the home is decked out for Christmas, only in this house it is Christmas 1903. On this night that we were there - December 23 - we were told it was the 105 anniversary of the Wright's return from Kitty Hawk. I liked the way the presenter told us: "On this very night, Wilbur and Orville walked through that same door filled with the news of their first airplane flight."
Gives one chills.

The Adams House was celebrating Christmas of the 1860's, and the aroma of a spicy Christmas drink (smelled like Wassail to me) filled the rooms. The decorated Christmas Tree in the back parlor had a Noah's Ark scene (built in Germany in the 1830's) underneath. Greens were placed throughout the rooms. This home is a wonderful example of a Christmas celebration of an average middle-class Michigan family of the 1860's.

Across the road from the Adam's home is the McGuffey schoolhouse, now being used as winter quarters for Civil War soldiers. The re-enactors there are my friends from various units in the area and they do a super job presenting what life was like for the northern soldier stationed in Virginia on a cold Christmas night. Lit only by candles and warmed by the fireplace, Mike, the chaplain, told us that this was one of the best times he's had at Christmas, but the heat from the fire did little to truly keep him warm. It helps to understand just what the guys went through all those years ago.

The home of Thomas Edison's grandparents was next, and it was 1915 in that house. An old Edison phonograph played scratchy Christmas music and a beautifully decorated feather tree stood atop the table, ready for Christmas dinner.

Over at the Cotswold Cottage, originally from England, the American soldiers of WWII did their best to have a Christmas far from their loved ones across the ocean. The mistress of the house was there, stringing popcorn to help give the guys the best Christmas she could. WWII re-enactor soldiers were placed throughout, telling how the locals in England would take the Americans into their homes for the holidays to try and give them as nice a Christmas as they could.

The 1822 home of Noah Webster was next, all decorated as it would have been in Mr. Webster's time. But, this home shows New Year's traditions rather than concentrate specifically on Christmas. The New Year's feast is there in the dining room, waiting for the visitors with calling cards to come a-courting the Webster daughters.

The next couple of houses we entered showed what many people may not realize happened in America - how certain religious denominations did not celebrate this holiday. Many folks often wonder why the Village presents this when it is supposed to be Holiday Nights. Well, remember that this is a historic place and part of their job is to show history as it was. But, if one listens to what the presenters have to say, very interesting stories of the times abound. I love entering the darkened great hall of the Daggett saltbox house, lit only by a fireplace, a lantern, and a rush light.

At the Giddings home, tales of Mummers are told. Mummers are/were (usually) men who dress(ed) up in costumes and masks and would travel house to house, putting on skits for the owners and singing songs as well in hopes of receiving money or food, or perhaps a bowl of hot wassail for their efforts. If the butler or owner closed the door on them, the mummers would find their way inside of the home and take for themselves the meat and drink they wanted. Usually a mummer was a neighbor, but because they wore masks and disguised their voices, the homeowner did not know who these people actually were.

The Susquehanna House shows a Christmas from 1860 on a slave owner's plantation. The home is decked beautifully and the "owners" are preparing for a New Year's Day wedding. Again, the sites and smells of foods from long ago permeate the air.

Speaking of food, vendors selling roast beef, chestnuts, hot chocolate, and other Christmas treats were set along the roadside. And sellers of lanterns, greens, and newspapers were also hawking their wares.

On the other side of the Village is an ice skating pond where patrons (and talented presenters) can skate. Horses and carriages, along with Model T's, are available for free tours of the Village. And brass bands, wandering minstrels, vocal quartets, a colonial fife and drum group, a dulcimer player, a lone fife player, and still other musicians are posted throughout, entertaining the patrons with the sounds of Christmas.

There is much more going on than in my description above - more houses to visit, fireworks, Santa and real reindeer, etc. Maybe I'll write a complete descriptive picture on my Greenfield Village blog http://gfv1929.blogspot.com/
in the future.
We attend the Holiday Nights event at Greenfield Village no less than twice a season and I enjoy it more and more each time, especially this last time, on December 23, when we had the snowstorm. The snow, instead of preventing all of the activities, actually helped here - it was only half as crowded as before. Now, that does sound selfish of me, and I apologize for that, but the lesser crowds (and the snow) certainly made for a more festive evening.

To all of you I wish a wonderful Christmas season - as traditional or as modern as you would like.



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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The English Language

Have you noticed a distinct change in language lately?
In just a short few years we have added to and changed the English language in such a way that, if someone from 1980 could travel into the future to our society today, they would scarcely understand much of what we say. But, I find myself using terminology of my youth as well as the 'modern lingo.'
For instance, my kids will say, "I'm going to listen to my i-pod."
I used to (and still) say, "I'm going to play my stereo."

My kids will say, "I downloaded a bunch of music from i-tunes."
I say, "I'm going out to the record store."

How about "Just click the mouse on the icon to get to the blog you wanted to bookmark."

And, "Why don't you throw on a dvd?"

Or, how about " 'sup?" for "What's up?"

There are so many more phrases and terms that are used today.

I can just imagine the look on my long-deceased (1982) father's face if he could hear this 21st century jargon! And I have barely touched the surface here!

The best part is that, as a mid-19th century living historian/reenactor, I spend a good amount of time researching the language of the Civil War era so I can include that speech pattern into my 1st person presentation! Some of the changes in language from 150 years ago until now are dramatically different. For instance, the word "hello" was a rare greeting before the 1880's. Thomas Edison convinced Alexander Graham Bell to say "Hello" when answering his new-fangeled telephone instead of what he wanted: "ahoy ahoy." (Only Mr. Burns from 'The Simpsons' still answers the phone the way Mr. Bell originally wanted)
So when you saw someone you knew on the street in 1861, you would have greeted them with a hearty "Good day! (or morning, afternoon, evening, night, etc. - whichever time of day it was).
The word 'excitement' today is usually a good thing: "That was an exciting football game" or "There was so much excitement at the concert!"
Back in the 19th century, it meant just the opposite. For example, if you were in Gettysburg in late June 1863, you may have said, "There was much excitement in the street last night for the Rebels marched through town pell mell!"

I am fascinated by the English language. There is a wonderful book entitled 'Righting the Mother Tongue: From Olde English to Email' by David Wolman that I am reading that gives a history of our language and why we speak and spell the way we do. Wolman gives an excellent historical overview of where our language came from. He gets to the root of our modern language - its so-called DNA - and speaks on the why's and wherefores of how we came to communicate in the way we do. There is also a history lesson on how Chaucer and Webster, in their respective times, attempted to reform spelling and language.
Wolman also has fun with our pronunciation of same-spelled words. For example: rough, dough, bough, through.

If you have, like me, read any of the great books of the 19th century, you will find that the slang of that time period could be a bit difficult to understand initially. 'Dip' I found means candle (he snuffed out his dip), 'situation' means job ("Let me hear another sound from you," said Scrooge, "and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation!"). This is where the 'annotated' books come in handy. For instance, the "Annotated 'A Christmas Carol' " by Michael Patrick Hearn brought totally new light to this wonderful old story. I have never found a better, more telling version of this 'carol' and it not only helped me to understand the story itself in greater definition, but it helped me to understand the social history of the times in which Mr. Dickens was writing. It amazed me how much of this story I missed until I read the annotated version.

But, believe it or not, many of us that listen to and/or sing the old Christmas Carols are helping to keep much of the old language alive. The latest issue of History Magazine has an excellent article on just that. In it, the author, David Goss, speaks of such archaic phrases that we hear daily this time of year: "hither page and stand by me" from 'Good King Wenceslas,' "Why lies He in such mean estate" from 'What Child Is This,' "What the gladsome tidings be" from 'Angels We Have Heard On High," and so many more. Words such as 'hark,' 'doth,' 'tidings,' 'thither,' 'sages,' 'hath,' 'lowing'... And, upon my own outside research, I can add "was to certain poor shepherds" from 'The First Nowell,' "With the dawn of redeeming grace" from 'Silent Night,' and the title itself of 'O Come All Ye Faithful,' much less the words. I found nearly every pre-20th century carol using words and terms no longer present in our every day speech.
And yet we sing and hear these carols daily from Thanksgiving through December 25th!
Truly a fascinating article.

Now, look at some of the language over the last 40 years or so: 'cool,' 'bad,' 'dig it,' 'drag, 'hip,' were all popular in my youth, but are rarely used today. Well, except for maybe 'cool'. The terminology of beatniks, hippies, and the Jazz fans. Much of it, believe it or not, was stemmed from the 1920's, when slang became popular - much more than ever before, probably due to media accessibility (radio, magazines, papers, etc.) and the fact that it was the first decade to emphasize youth culture over the older generations. Words like 'hep,' 'and how,' 'bees knees' 'doll,' 'flapper,' even 'jazz,' were all as commonly used in the 1920's as modern slang is today.

Then there is the 'blue' language. It surprises me just how accepted certain swear words are today that just a few years ago would have gotten one in deep trouble. It's pretty much an anything-goes society when it comes to cussing. Me? I try not to, although I must admit that when I find a sudden burst of anger (or pain) arises, certain words will flow that could make a truck driver blush. I don't mean to, it just happens.
By the way, I do not believe - and will never be convinced - that foul language is protected by the 1st Amendment. If you look at it in its context, one can easily see that it is there for us as American citizens to speak out peaceably against our government.

Anyhow, I find the English language and its many changes a very fascinating part of our social history that many pay no mind to. In fact, if English teachers taught spelling and language in its historical form - teaching the students language history and maybe having their students use only out-dated words for a day here and there - it just might make an otherwise boring class a bit more interesting. I remember having to read Dickens' 'Great Expectations' and not understanding much of it because I didn't know many of the terms he used. So, I didn't get as much out of the story as I could have.

By the way, the parting words spoken when one left another - "God Be With You" - has, over the centuries, morphed into...'goodbye.' This from word histories: No doubt more than one reader has wondered exactly how goodbye is derived from the phrase “God be with you.” To understand this, it is helpful to see earlier forms of the expression, such as God be wy you, god b'w'y, godbwye, god buy' ye, and good-b'wy. The first word of the expression is now good and not God, for good replaced God by analogy with such expressions as good day, perhaps after people no longer had a clear idea of the original sense of the expression. A letter of 1573 written by Gabriel Harvey contains the first recorded use of goodbye: “To requite your gallonde [gallon] of godbwyes, I regive you a pottle of howdyes,” recalling another contraction that is still used.
How cool is that? People are giving each other a religious send off every time they say 'goodbye'!

And with that, I shall leave you with God Be With You!

(maybe one day I'll write about spelling changes!)

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

My Thoughts Exactly

It's been a while since I've had anything political in this blog.
The current economic situation, especially with what is going on in the auto industry, is near and dear to me, and it affects not just those of us in Michigan, but the entire country. Only if the industry collapses will folks from the far-reaches realize just how important the big three automakers truly are nation-wide.
Has the auto industry made mistakes? You betcha! But, I don't believe there are many corporations out there who haven't made mistakes.
I guess the best way for me to write how I feel is to let a professional local columnists explain it instead. This is one of the very few times that I agree with media commentary
(from the Detroit Free Press):

Hey, you senators: Thanks for nothing

A few parting words for the senators who squashed the auto rescue

By MITCH ALBOM • FREE PRESS COLUMNIST • December 13, 2008

Do you want to watch us drown? Is that it? Do want to see the last gurgle of economic air spit from our lips? If so, senators, know this: We’re taking a piece of you with us. America isn’t America without an auto industry. You can argue whether $14 billion would have saved it, but your actions surely could have killed it.

We have grease on our hands.

You have blood.

Kill the car, kill the country. History will show that when America was on its knees, you lawmakers wanted to cut off its feet. How does this happen in America?

Suddenly, the worker is the problem? Suddenly, unless union members, overnight, drastically slash their wages with a hard deadline, you pull the plug on an industry?

Suddenly, Detroit is the symbol of economic dysfunction? Are you kidding? Have you looked in the mirror lately, Washington?

In a world where banks hemorrhaged trillions in a high-priced gamble called credit derivative swaps that you failed to regulate, how on earth do we need to be punished? In a bailout era where you shoveled billions, with no demands, to banks and financial firms — who created the problem in the first place — why do need to be schooled on how to run a business?

Who is more dysfunctional in business than you? Who blows more money? Who fashions and molds its work based on favors and pork and traded compromises?

At least in the auto industry, if folks don’t like what you make, they don’t have to buy it. In government, even your worst mistakes, we have to live with.

And now Detroit should die with this?

In bed with the foreign automakers

Kill the car, kill the country. Sen. Richard Shelby, Sen. Bob Corker, your names will not be forgotten. It’s amazing how you pretend to speak for America when you are only watching out for your political party, which would love to cripple unions, and your states, which house foreign auto plants.

Corker, you’ve got Nissan there and Volkswagen coming. Shelby, you’ve got Hyundai, Honda, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. Oh, don’t kid yourself. They didn’t come because you earned their business, a subject on which you enjoy lecturing the Detroit Big Three. No, they came because you threw billions in state tax breaks to lure them.

And now — this is rich — you want those foreign companies, which you lured, and which get help from their governments, to dictate to American workers how much they should be paid? Tell you what. You’re so fond of the foreign model, why don’t you do what Japanese ministers do when they screw up the country’s finances?

They cut their salaries.

Or they resign in shame.

When was the last time a U.S. senator resigned over the failure of his policies?
Yet you want to fire Rick Wagoner?

Who are you people?

More money for the lords of Wall Street

There ought to be a law — against the selfishness and hypocrisy our government has demonstrated. The speed with which wheelbarrows of money were dumped at the feet of Wall Street versus the slow noose hung on the auto companies is reprehensible. Some of those same banks we bailed out are now saying they won’t extend credit to auto dealers. Wasn’t that why we gave them the money? To loosen credit?

Where’s your tight grip on those funds, senators? Or do you just enjoy having your hands around blue-collared throats?

No matter what the president does, history will not forget this: At our nation’s most uncertain hour, you stood ready to plunge tens of thousands of families into oblivion. Push them onto public payrolls, unemployment, no health insurance. And you were willing to put our nation’s security at risk — by squashing the American manufacturing we most rely on in times of war.

And why? So you could stand on some phony principle? Crush a union? Play to your base? How is our nation better off today now that you kept $14 billion in the treasury? Are you going to balance the budget with that?

Don’t make us laugh.

Kill the car, kill the country. You tried to slam a stake into the chest of this business, and you don’t even realize how close to the nation’s heart you’re coming. Shame on your pettiness. Shame on your hypocrisy. This is how we behave two weeks before Christmas? Honestly. What has become of this country?



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Friday, December 12, 2008

And You Think YOUR Life is Unusual!

I love the lyrics to the song "I'm My Own Grandpa."
I wonder if this actually ever happened...?

I'm My Own Grandpa

Music and Lyrics: Dwight Latham, Moe Jaffe

Oh, many, many years ago
When I was twenty-three
I was married to a widow
Who was pretty as can be
This widow had a grown-up daughter
Who had hair of red
My father fell in love with her
And soon the two were wed

This made my dad my son-in-law
And changed my very life
For my daughter was my mother
'Cause she was my father's wife
To complicate the matter
Though it really brought me joy
I soon became the father
Of a bouncing baby boy

This little baby then became
A brother-in-law to Dad
And so became my uncle
Though it made me very sad
For if he was my uncle
Then that also made him brother
Of the widow's grown-up daughter
WHo of course is my step-mother

Chorus
I'm my own grandpa
I'm my own grandpa
It sounds funny I know
But it really is so
Oh, I'm my own grandpa

My father's wife then had a son
Who kept them on the run
And he became my grandchild
For he was my daughter's son
My wife is now my mother's mother
And it makes me blue
Because although she is my wife
She's my grandmother too

Now if my wife is my grandmother
Then I'm her grandchild
And every time I think of it
It nearly drives me wild
For now I have become
The strangest case you ever saw
As husband of my grandma
I am my own grandpa

[chorus]

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Just What Time of the Year is it Anyway?

This past summer I read something that interested me that I had thought of before, but never saw it put into words. It has to do with our four seasons.
As it stands right now, according to our calendars (which is calculated astronomically), winter begins on December 21st, correct? And summer usually on June 21st. But, does it not make more sense to say that December 21st is actually mid-winter? After all, it is the shortest day of the year, and from that point on the days become longer. So, by my calculations, winter should actually begin sometime in early November and end in the early part of February. Summertime would work the same way - June 21st should be mid-summer, not the 1st day of summer. Early May would be the season's beginning and early August would begin the autumn time of the year.

Well, upon doing a little research, I have found that I am not the only one who feels this way.

This from Wikipedia:

In Celtic nations such as Ireland using the Irish calendar and in Scandinavia, the winter solstice is traditionally considered as midwinter, with the winter season beginning November 1 on All Hallows or Samhain. Winter ends and spring begins on Imbolc or Candlemas, which is February 1 or February 2. This system of seasons is based on the length of days exclusively. (The three-month period of the shortest days and weakest solar radiation occurs during November, December and January in the Northern Hemisphere and May-July in the Southern Hemisphere.)

Also many mainland European countries tend to recognize Martinmas, St. Martin's day (November 11) as the first calendar day of winter. The day falls at midpoint between the old Julian equinox and solstice dates. Also, Valentines Day (February 14) is recognized by some countries as heralding the first rites of Spring (season), such as flower blooming.

Here is also the Irish/Gaelic calendar listing, which, to me makes more sense than our own:
I should have known this, and probably have read about it numerous times, but more than likely I was researching something else and blew this off.

Very doubtful this will be accepted but I still find it interesting, and it does make more sense.

By the way, upon further research I found that when Shakespeare wrote "A Mid-summer's Night Dream"," mid-summer in his day and age was what we call the 1st day of summer.
Once again, proof that our ancestors were much smarter (and had more sense) than many (if not most) today.

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"A Christmas Carol" Film Reviews

(This posting has been updated in 2011 and includes the newest release not listed here. Please click HERE to view it)


I have received a number of e-mails asking about my favorite filmed version of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol." I wrote a blog about the different versions last year ( A Christmas Carol ) and I thought I covered it quite well.
Obviously I either picked up new readers who haven't scanned back to last year or maybe those that read it might have just forgotten.
Anyhow, what I thought I'd do is copy and paste my Amazon.com reviews here and you can judge for yourself in greater detail my opinion of the various filmed versions. Not that my opinion means squat - it's just my opinion.

So, here they are, in no particular order:

The one with Alastair Sim as Scrooge - 1951:
This is the version that so many feel is the definitive Christmas Carol. It really is an excellent version. Alastair Sim plays Ebenezer Scrooge like no one else can. The believability factor here for both, the 'old mean Scrooge' and the 'newly transformed Scrooge' is very high, with the transformation itself coming about slowly. And that's what I like about this version. Scrooge doesn't suddenly become happy and giddy from the first of the three spirits, as in the Reginald Owen version. It takes Sim's old Ebenezer fully until the last spirit to convince him that he truly was a "squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner!"
Victorian London is well represented here, its sinister darkness, dreariness, and hopelessness surrounding the viewer in glorious black and white to further the mood of the dirty old town.
This version has my favorite Jacob Marley (listen to the way he mourns and moans. Sends chills!). And Mrs. Dilber is hilarious at the end when Scrooge gives her a Christmas gift of money.
I collect the different versions of this movie that are available, and this one is my second favorite, with the George C. Scott version ranking number one and the Patrick Stewart version, with the best Cratchit family I have yet to see captured on film, coming in at number three. All have a bit to add to the story (including the Reginald Owen version) that the others may not have. All, pretty much, follow Dickens' original story (although, I must say, the George C. Scott version is truest to the book in the dialogue). Jacob Marley and Scrooge from Alastair Sim, the Cratchit's and the whole 'present' scene from Patrick Stewart, the dialogue and the sets from George C. Scott. My advice? By them all! Really! If you trust my opinion (and you have no copies of any version yet), purchase them in the order that I have placed them. You won't be sorry.

The one with Reginald Owen as Scrooge - 1938:
A nice, short, family version of the Dickens classic. Good for the kiddies to introduce them to this great story. But for the purist, it has its shortcomings. First of all, Marley just speaks his part instead of wailing it ("Business? Mankind was my business." Instead of "BUS-A-NESS?!? Man-KIND was my BUS-A-NESSSS!!!" like it should be). Bob Cratchit IS a bit too portly to be believably poor. And, I'm sorry to say, Kathleen Lockhart DOES over-act. Watch her as she sets the pudding down on the table. Also, Reginald Owen becomes converted just too darn quick to believe that he is supposed to be this mean, crusty old sinner as he's supposed to have been. As stated in previous reviews, there is more telling of the story here than actual portrayal of the story. Sort of like a Reader's Digest condensed version. Too bad the script writers wrote so many of their own scenes and changed Dickens' own 'staves,' too.
I will say this, though. This is the only version I have seen that explains about the Cratchit's goose being cooked at the bakery, to be picked up at an appointed time on Christmas Day. Many poor people in Victorian England did just that since their homes had too small of an oven or no ovens at all.
My advice is to purchase the George C. Scott, Alistair Sim, and even the Patrick Stewart versions first (although, the Patrick Stewart writers have also added their own scenes as well - but not quite as dramatically as this version) to get a more accurate portrayal of not only Dickens' original story, but Victorian London as a whole. Contrary to what another reviewer has stated, it IS the little things that count!
This is not a God awful version. Rather, a mediocre one that has its moments.
By the way, Scrooge's sister's name was FAN not Fran (as in Reginald Owens' and Patrick Stewart's Version).

The one with George C. Scott as Scrooge - 1984:
'A Christmas Carol.' Is there any other story that epitomizes what the modern day Christmas celebration is all about? And who would have thought this very English fable written over 150 years ago would be every bit as alive today here in the 21st century United States as it was in 1843 England when first published? Gerald Charles Dickens, great great grandson of THE Charles Dickens, was quoted recently as saying, "The 'Carol' is 10 times more popular in America than it is in England. In England, the 'Carol' is just a story. In America the 'Carol' IS Christmas."
And, to me, THIS is THE version to watch.
The opening scene of this great version literally grabs you and pulls you into the gray, wintry Dickens London on Christmas Eve day 1843. The viewer will feel as if they were walking down the cobblestone streets of Merry Olde England, passing the street vendors hawking their wares, and hearing the carolers and street musicians singing and playing that wonderful Victorian Holiday music. Top hats and bonnets abound as the crowd of people - rich and poor alike - rush to celebrate this most Holy of Christian nights. That is, all but one. And the first image of old Ebenezer Scrooge, played here to perfection by the late great George C. Scott, will send chills down the back of even the most ardent skeptic.
Just think...if the opening scene is this good, you can just imagine how great the rest of this movie is!
I'm sure there is no need for me to explain the story line of 'A Christmas Carol,' only that, of all the versions that have been filmed, this one is by far the best and most realistic I have yet to witness.
Now what puts this version of Charles Dickens' classic tale above the others available? First and foremost, as I explained in my first review, is the feel. There is a certain ambiance here - a sort of realism - that is not present in the others. As stated previously, you, as the viewer, are drawn into the movie as a willing participant to the events happening about you. Given that this movie was filmed not on a stage set in Hollywood, but in and around actual buildings that were standing during the period in which this story takes place alone gives this version an edge the others can't touch. And the authentic costumes are as accurate as I have seen.
Another major plus here is that Dickens' original story is followed much closer than in any of the other versions. The scriptwriters had a very easy task since they pulled a majority (but not all) of their lines directly from the book! And the casting was pert near perfect as well. In fact, the only character I felt that was miss-cast was the actor (who's name escapes me) that played the role of Scrooge's nephew, Fred. Not toward the beginning of the film when he's inviting his uncle to dine with him, but toward the end when Uncle Ebenezer IS dining with him. A bit of over-acting here. A small blip ever so minor that, because of just how phenomenal the rest of the movie is, one would hardly notice. Not enough to lower any part of the score!

The Ghost of Jacob Marley tears at your heart, for the believability factor here is high that this specter is truly wrenching in pain and sorrow for his life's deeds. And the Ghost of Christmas Present, with his sarcastic wit, easily puts Scrooge in his place simply by using Scrooge's own lack of common sense and lack of courtesy against him.
Virtually everything about this version of 'A Christmas Carol' surpasses its predecessors. All the 'Carols,' before and since, have been good to very good. But this George C. Scott ranks far above them all. I don't think even Masterpiece Theater - the greatest at filming Dickens' stories - could do better.

The one with Patrick Stewart as Scrooge - 1999:
This Patrick Stewart version of 'A Christmas Carol' is one that, judging by other's reviews, you'll either love or hate. I believe, however, in a middle ground (or upper middle ground in this case). What makes this version so unique is that it actually shows many scenes that were in the original book but never put on the various filmed versions available for viewing. A few examples: the Ghost of Christmas Present showing Scrooge the many different types of people - miners, lighthouse keepers, sailors out at sea - all celebrating this special day; the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come showing the lifeless body of Tiny Tim laid out in the Cratchit home; the lower jaw of the ghost of Jacob Marley dropping "down upon its breast" when the bandage around his head was removed. Even the items that once belonged to Scrooge being sold at "Old Joe's" pawn shop, such as the sugar tongs, were listed in the original book.
This version also has the best Cratchit family put to film. Their physical appearance (even their teeth), their manner of speech, their clothing, all were as you would expect a poor 19th century London family to look, sound, and be like.


The costuming, the acting, the sets, all are very well done. For what I just wrote, I would put this particular version right up there with the best of the 'Carols.'
However, it does have its downside that brings it down a couple of notches. First and foremost is Patrick Stewart. He actually does a fair job in his role as Ebenezer Scrooge. But I truly do have a problem with a totally shaved bald -headed Scrooge. Sorry, but most bald men are not 100% hairless! Also, Mr. Stewart's choking out a laugh toward the end of the film is obviously (too obviously) forced.
Another rather small but noticable error is when Scrooge is asking the young lad to go and get the poulterer, the young boy answers with "you're joshing." I'm fairly certain that 'joshing' was not a term yet used in 1843. For a movie that went to great lengths for accuracy, one must wonder why they put in a contemporary slang term.
One must also wonder why they call Scrooge's sister Fran instead of what she was called in the book - Fan. The 1938 version with Reginald Owen also makes this same mistake.
And, yes, I must agree that they could have done a better job on the phantom. Again, with all of the computer tricks available, why go with a battery operated child-type toy figure?
Why, with all of the wonderfully accurate scenes, did they allow for the inaccuracies that they did (there are a few others I did not list)?
All in all, even with the inaccuracies, it is definitely worth adding to your collection. It is a high quality version that, because of what it has included in contrast to its deficiencies, will, I believe, stand the test of time.

The one with Seymour Hicks as Scrooge - 1935:
Better than you might think for 1935, but not as good as the last three versions (Sim - 1951, Scott - 1984, and Stewart - 1999). I do place this slightly above the Owen version from 1938, however - not as Hollywood-y.
As with another reviewer, I feel that they could have come up with better spirits than a light, a shadow, and a voice. I also agree with Scrooge's reformation coming on a bit too fast. He was clearly already a changed man before the Ghost of Christmas Past was finished with its job. And, I have to say that Scrooge's former love, Belle, seemed to be quite the motherly type - we counted at least 14 children from her post-Scrooge marriage!
Now for the pluses: the sets were terrific! Very authentic - I wonder if they were actually filmed in original period structures? The Cratchit's home is perfect for their status, as was the home of nephew Fred. And the showing of Tiny Tim's body lying in state in the Cratchit home gives realism that the other filmed versions (except for the 1999 version) haven't touched. Also, seeing Mrs. Cratchit pull out the pudding from the laundry tub gave this that extra bit of authenticity rarely seen anywhere else.
The addition of Queen Victoria celebrating Christmas was unique.
Unfortunately, the quality of the print is not as good as it should be. It's not horrid but not what one is used to from a remastered disc. I am guessing that the original print is long gone. But, it's much much better than the VHS version.
All in all, not bad for its age. Very dark, but Mr. Hicks gives a wonderful Scrooge impression that is better than most.
A worthy DVD, especially if you are a collector.

------------------------------------------------

Now, I know there are a few I missed (Muppet version, the musical version, the silent versions). I just wanted to cover the major film versions (and I haven't seen the silent ones yet).
I must say, however, that I really enjoy the Muppet version.

Hope you enjoy watching your favorite version of "A Christmas Carol."

Friday, November 28, 2008

A Journey Through Christmas Past (or How to Have an Old-fashioned Christmas)

If you haven't figured it out by now, I absolutely love the Christmas Season. And I do my best to make it what I want it to be. This means, to me, giving it that old-time look and feel that people only dream (or sing) about.
Just like the ones I "used to know."
Well, not really.
My youthful Christmas's were wonderful, but they weren't like the songs you hear. Nor were they old-fashioned.
But, as fine as my Christmas's were when I was young, it was the "Currier & Ives" Christmas's that I always wanted.
So, now, as an adult, I have an old fashioned, traditional Christmas - I am doing my best to make the lyrics of the Christmas songs come alive.
And, so far it's been working - for the last 20+ years, it's been working.

I have been able to do this through a number of different means.

First off is the music. As I have written in a previous blog, I choose period-sounding old-world Christmas music, usually performed on authentic antique instruments such as a forte' piano, hammered dulcimer, fiddle, music box, traditional vocals (no divas please!), and the like. Cd's of this type are readily available at Amazon.

Simply Dickens performing Old World Christmas carols

Click below to read my blog on Christmas Music.

Sounds of the Season

Next comes the atmosphere - and this means candlelight. When I was a child, my mother would begin to light candles right after Labor Day. It gives any home - no matter how recently built - that old-time-y look. We carry on the tradition of lighting candles at my house throughout the season, beginning on Thanksgiving. We burn the tall, thin, beeswax real candles - not the fat, perfume-y, over-priced Hallmark ones.
Yes, we always eat our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners strictly by candlelight during the darkened evening hours, and our Christmas dinner this year will be in the same way, as will numerous meals between now and then.

Decorations...this is a tuffy. We have a mix of 19th and 20th century in our Christmas decor: garland around the ceiling with tiny (electric) lights tucked inside, for instance, hangs in our living room and kitchen. Also, on our computer desk we have an old (circa 1950) nativity scene. I also have a few of my Dickens Department 56 lighted houses on the piano - modern, yes, but they have that old, traditional look and feel - they show the various scenes of Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol," including the major characters of that story along 'brick' and 'cobblestone' roads.
I normally set up four tables for my Dickens lighted houses display, but I have no room at this time to do that.
Now, in our back gathering room, we have our electrically lit (with real candles attached to the branches as well) spruce Christmas tree, freshly cut down with help from my children. Yes, we go - as a family - north to Western's Tree farm in Sanilac County and get a horse-drawn carriage ride out to the trees we like, chop one down, then get picked up by said horse and cart, and ride back to the log cabin to pay for it. On the way home we stop for lunch - usually the old time period food like...ahem...pizza. This year it was the traditional A&W hamburgers. Very Victorian.
Once home, the tree is placed in the stand and then we all decorate it with period-looking decorations, including popcorn (not real but very real looking) and old-time-y bulbs. We also have all sorts of odds and ends upon our tree. It's fun to look at for the first time visitor.

Our 2008 Christmas Tree

I put up greenery (traditional cedar) without any sort of lighting attached throughout this room, and have my beeswax candles with the glass globe coverings on our table and mantle. Another manger scene, a wooden Noah's Ark set, a nutcracker, and an old world Santa Claus completes the picture.
It all blends in well with our antiques.

Our 'gathering room' during the holidays

There are so many "Hallmark" Christmas decorations out there that many woman (sorry - not sexist, but that's who I have seen purchase most of them ) just have to buy. Items like singing Christmas Trees, wreaths that speak, or the silly flags that show a snowman hanging from the front porch do not make for a traditional Christmas. I'll be honest, I personally do not even consider them cute. Now, I will admit to having a singing Christmas Homer Simpson, but he is kept near our very modern TV. And that's where he stays. And next to him is a lighted Department 56 "A Christmas Story" (Ralphie and the Red-Rider bb gun) house.

So that is how we decorate our house.

Now, there is much more to do if you want to have an old-time Christmas (or even if you just want to enjoy Christmas period):

Greenfield Village has a wonderful tradition of presenting "Holiday Nights," where folks can visit the open-air museum at night and see homes of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and how they would have been decorated (or not decorated, in some instances) during their time. (hint: this is where so many of my ideas have come from).

A Christmas scene from the past at Greenfield Village's Firestone Farm

To see these old homes as they would have looked way back when is a site for sure. And the Christmas lessons taught in each are fascinating. And the smells of the food being cooked is mouth watering. The main street area is just bustling with people - the whole Village makes you feel as if you stepped into a Currier & Ives picture print.

The hustle and bustle of Christmas Past at Greenfield Village's Main Street

There are free carriage rides, Model T rides, and carousel rides to add to the evening.
They also are open during the day on the weekends for those who choose not to go at night (or missed buying the tickets - every night sells out quickly - get you tickets now!)

The Holly Dickens Festival is a fun way to spend a day as well, cavorting with the characters right out of Dickens' story and hearing Christmas music new and old performed by small chorale groups and full choirs. And the authentic Victorian setting of the beautiful Village of Holly cannot be beat. This festival is absolutely FREE! It takes place the three weekends in December before Christmas. Yes, and yours truly is Charles Dickens himself!

In fact, in one skit, I write the story of "A Christmas Carol" and the characters of Scrooge and Cratchit come alive (see above photo). We also put on the "Christmas Carol" skit as well, although it is a bit different from what Dickens originally intended. It's great fun!

The Crocker House in Mt. Clemens (built in 1869) has a Wallow and Wassail every year, with a minimal cost, that brings Christmas "home," so to speak, by way of roasting chestnuts on an open fire, live music (including a traditional pump organ and singing and the vocal music of Simply Dickens), great traditional food, homemade sugar plums, and, once again, a period atmosphere.

Kim Parr makes sugar plums at the Crocker House in Mt. Clemens

There are also Christmas festivities in many of the towns throughout lower Michigan: Waterloo, Lexington, Rochester...and others.

If you do not live in the Detroit area, I would bet there are similar events that take place in your area as well. A quick search of your newspaper or a call to some of the city halls in your area can direct you. Or, start one of your own. Yes, it is a lot of work, but the end result can be quite satisfying.

Christmas shopping does not have to be a chore. In fact, it can be quite fun, especially if you shop on line. You can get great items at a very low cost. We have been able to get twice as many things for us and our kids than if we went to the mall. And, that's the best part - you don't have to go to the mall!!
Here's my blog (written very recently) about Christmas shopping:

Christmas Does Not Have To Mean Overspending

Another tradition, modern in a traditional sense, is to watch classic movies. I especially love Dickens "A Christmas Carol," (of course) and watch several versions AND read the book yearly. Great Victoriana.
Other favorites include The Waltons "The Homecoming," "It's A Wonderful Life," "The Santa Clause (the 1st one)," "I'll Be Home For Christmas (the one with Hal Holbrook and Eva Marie Saint from 1988 - an excellent Christmas movie set in WWII)," "The Gift of Love," and so many others.

As I said earlier, we eat our Christmas dinner by candle light. Being that we are Civil War reenactors, many times we will eat while wearing our period clothing. Talk about having the "look"! But, even without the old-time clothing, the candle-lit dinner certainly is an awesome atmosphere. And, having soft hammered dulcimer music playing in the background (the stereo is in another room) adds greatly to the desired effect. And, try some period food and drink - it wouldn't be Christmas at our house without my wife's traditional wassail, a period Christmas/12th Night drink. You can add 'spirits' if you desire, for a more authentic taste.

Our 'gathering room' table on Christmas Night 2006

Having good friends over will make your Christmas that much more special. Invite your friends over to celebrate with you, whether it's for dinner, dessert, or just to visit.
And if you have re-enactor friends, well, wearing period clothing will make it even better!

Oh, one more thing- do not be afraid to say "Merry Christmas."

And when gift opening time comes around, take your time and take turns, allowing one person to open one gift at a time per round. This way, everyone has the opportunity to enjoy everyone else's treasures. Yes, this can work with young children as well. Be a parent to them and insist that this is the way it will be done.

Don't forget the most important part of the Holiday: please take time - whether you attend church or not - to spend with the One who's birth we are celebrating. Yes, yes, I realize Jesus was probably not born on December the 25th, but we are still celebrating His birthday, are we not? Read the biblical passage of Jesus' birth (Luke 2: 1-20), if for no one else's than for your own sake.

Christmas can be what you want it to be, with minimal costs. Yes, you may initially get a few off-handed remarks (especially from family members), but they, too, will learn to appreciate what you have done for yourself.

I have been told that I live in the past (thank you!), that I live in a fantasy world that either never existed or hasn't existed in many years (thank you again!). OK. So what's the point? I am living out what folks just think about doing.
Or what singers sing about.
And I'm having a blast!

.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Message Update

The following is a blog I wrote last year with some additions:

Quite a few years ago, around 1993 or '94, we had a discussion at my previous job about the Thanksgiving Holiday. A co-worker made a comment that of all the holidays of the year, he loved Thanksgiving the best because it was about eating and family and only about eating and family. I threw in that it was also about giving thanks to God, hence the name Thanksgiving. He adamantly denied this, stating that religion had absolutely nothing to do with this holiday. I asked him who did he think the pilgrims were giving thanks to, of which he replied, "To the Indians!"
I told him that, yes, in a round about way. Being puritans (advocating strict religious discipline), the pilgrims would not have given thanks to the Indians themselves, but rather to God for sending the Indians to them to ensure their survival.
Well, other co-workers stepped in and, as usual in this day and age, I found myself in the minority in my belief - even with all the proof I had - and pretty much smiled and nodded and said, "You can revise history all you want, but the truth is there to be found if you'll search for it. But, I know you won't, so you'll go on believing what you perceive to be correct but in reality, is false."
Pretty much shut them down with that.

Now I even have the History Channel to back me up:
Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops.
Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record.
Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time.

And this, by the way, from President Lincoln 1863:

"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Abraham Lincoln

Most, if not all, of our older holidays have religious beginnings of some sort. It's the newer Hallmark holidays (such as Sweetess day - a "holiday" my wife and I refuse to celebrate) who's beginnings are mainly secular.

So, that being said...
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

If You Seek History, Look About You

What people never seem to consider when they think of Detroit or southern lower Michigan is history.
Well, what most folks don't realize is that we have plenty of history all around this area. More than you may know.
In fact, I would put our collection of historical institutions against most other states - well, except maybe for the east coast. They seem to have the corner on pre-20th century American history. But, for the north central region of the U.S. (sorry - I don't consider us the 'midwest' - north central is more accurate), I don't believe you will find another area with more history.
First off is Greenfield Village the open-air museum in Dearborn. It's probably the most famous in the U.S. - right up there with Colonial Williamsburg. I have written plenty of GFV so, if you are interested, please see my blog dedicated to to the museum at http://gfv1929.blogspot.com/

Connected to Greenfield Village is the Henry Ford Museum, second only to the Smithsonian for historical artifacts, including the actual chair Abraham Lincoln sat in when he was shot by Booth at the Ford's Theater. It also has hundreds of old-time cars, a few full size locomotive trains, many carriages, period guns, furniture from long ago, wood stoves, a 1940's diner, camping gear once belonging to George Washington...

...there's so much to see - it's a full day's visit or more to just visit the museum! I will eventually have a blog on the Henry Ford Museum. (for more on the Henry Ford Museum, please click here The Henry Ford Museum)

About an hour and a half north of Detroit, in Flint, is Crossroads Village. Crossroads is another open air museum, although on a much smaller scale, but, in many ways, more accurately depicted than Greenfield. It has dirt streets rather than cement paved streets, wood-plank sidewalks rather than cement paved sidewalks, and is more accurate in its portrayal in that it has a very rural, small-town atmosphere. It has a 'downtown' area, numerous Victorian houses, a working gristmill, an icehouse, a carriage barn, church, school, a working blacksmith shop, and a 45 minute train ride.

A worthy trip back to the 1880's. Here's my site in progress dedicated to Crossroads http://crossroadsvillageofflintmichigan.blogspot.com/

A little closer to Detroit - Mt. Clemens - has the Crocker House Museum. Run by Kim Parr, this shining example of Victoriana at its best is a very busy place indeed. Ms. Parr, historian extraordinaire, keeps this beautiful and authentically furnished 1869 house hopping throughout the year as numerous activities, including Wallow and Wassail at Christmas time, a mourning presentation in the late summer/early fall, teas, home tours, and a number of other events take place that bring the past to life.

Folks in period clothing help to keep the atmosphere correct at many of these events here at the Crocker House. Kim has a passion for history and it shows. Please check out the Crocker House site at: http://www.crockerhousemuseum.com/

Historic Fort Wayne, in downtown Detroit, is a true gem in the heart of the city that very few folks think about, much less visit. Built in the 1840's, this actual fort never saw any battles; however, it was the place that most soldiers in lower Michigan, from the Civil War era through Vietnam, were mustered into service. Imagine being able to visit a place right here in Michigan that has a major Civil War connection! The officer quarters, the barracks, sallyport, guard house - all are still there as they stood in the old days, ready for visitors to take a walk through. The sallyport is my particular favorite part.



Some restoration is still needed but many local historians and preservationists have donated their time and money - and continue to do so - to keep this true historic gem alive. You, too, can donate to keep this part of Detroit history alive.
By the way, during the summer, a Civil War muster takes place.
Here is a link to visit the Fort Wayne site: http://www.historicfortwaynecoalition.com/

Traveling about an hour and a half west of Detroit, another small collection of historic buildings are waiting to be visited by the public, Waterloo Farms. A log house, a bake house, an icehouse, a granary, and a mid-19th century farmhouse (among a few other buildings) help to show what farm life was like in Michigan 150 years ago. Throughout the year the group that runs Waterloo Farms holds various events, including one for the American Indian, a pioneer days, and a Christmas gathering. Visit the informative web site here: http://www.waterloofarmmuseum.org/

Near Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum is the Dearborn Historical Society collection of buildings, including the Commandent's Building, restored to its 1833 - 1875 appearance as well as the Gardner House, built in 1831 and is the oldest structure built in Dearborn that is still standing. It is furnished to a mid-19th century appearance.


To visit these buildings will cost you nothing but donations are accepted. It is worth the trip to see these few original Dearborn landmarks - my wife and I did and the tours of each building together totaled about two hours. The historical society has done a fine job in the restoration of these beautiful old structures.
Here is another link where more information can be found: http://www.cityofdearborn.org/departments/historicalmuseum/faq.shtml

Traveling two and a half to three hours outside of the metro-Detroit area is another historic village called Charlton Park, and this is located in rural Hastings, Michigan. Similar to but smaller than Crossroads Village, Charlton Park is home to mid-19th century Michigan structures, including a 19th century few houses with period furnishings, a barber shop, a general store, a church, bank, school, a cooper shop, a blacksmith shop, and a small mainstreet collection.

As I have only visited the Charlton Park during Civil War reenactments, I don't know if the docents are in period clothing or not, but don't let that stop you from visiting this place. The (mostly) 19th century homes and buildings are well worth the scenic drive.
Check out there informative site: http://www.barrycounty.org/parks-and-services/charlton-park/

If you enjoy driving, taking a ride on US 12 from Detroit to Chicago - heck, even Dearborn to Jackson - is well worth your time and gas. Traveling through authentic 19th century towns where many original structures still stand gives one the opportunity to see this stage coach road as it once was...well...in a way. It is a modern street now, with modern autos zooming by. But, while driving along, stop and visit some of the Victorian towns along the way. One of the best restored buildings on the trip is Walker Tavern, at the junction US 12 and M 50. This restored 1836 tavern, still in its original location, is open for walk throughs telling the story of all taverns and stage coach stops along US 12 - well worth it. It is a part of the Cambridge Junction Historical Society http://www.michigandnr.com/parksandtrails/details.aspx?id=440&type=SPRK collection of farm buildings as well as the Inn itself.
US 12 has other historic stopping points as well. And if you love antiques, these small towns have plenty of antique shops.
Visit the site dedicated to this "Chicago Road." http://us12heritagetrail.org/default.asp

Traveling about two and a half to three hours north along the very scenic shoreline of Lake Huron, near the tip of the thumb, you will find another small but authentic historic village called Huron City, where most of the original late 19th and early 20th century buildings are still there as they stood a hundred plus years ago, including the seven gables house, a general store, a log cabin, a church, and the nearby Point Aux Barque lighthouse, among other structures.
Tours are given during the summer season. I have never taken the tour, but I have walked around the buildings and, I believe, the next time I am out that way I will take the official tour.
Their official website is: http://huroncitymuseums.org/

Now, I know that throughout the local communities there are many historic structures - train depots (Holly and Mt. Clemens have two beautifully restored depots), schoolhouses, log cabins, and other pieces of history - that belong to (or are cared for by) the various historical societies, and they are very happy to give tours. And, many of the smaller towns and cities throughout the area, such as Romeo, Mt. Clemens, Port Huron, Saline, Holly (the list could go on), all have beautiful original historic structures (Wolcott Mill in northern Macomb County comes to mind http://www.rayhistory.org/ ), Victorian homes and even mansions still standing and restored. One town, Marshall, Michigan near Battle Creek, even has a yearly historic home tour. I have never taken the tour myself but friends who have say it's excellent! Here's a site in case you want to get more information http://www.marshallmich.com/hometourbro02.html

I realize I haven't even touched on the northern towns and villages of Michigan, such as Mackinac Island and the town of Mackinaw at the tip of the mitt. I haven't been there in many years, but I am centering today's blog on places I have personally visited within the last few years. When I do travel that far up north, however, I will give a full report.

I also know there are many historical places in the area that I have missed, and I apologize if I missed your site (especially if I've been there!).
I hope this has helped some locals to visit their local history and may entice out-of-town history lovers to come to Michigan for a historical visit. Or even seek out historical sites in their area.
No, I don't work for a travel agency - I just like to pass along historic info and places to visit for those interested.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas Does Not Have To Mean Overspending

The Holidays are upon us once again; the advertisements on TV went from political to Christmas shopping in a heartbeat. Thanksgiving is next week and just a scant few weeks after will be the Big Day itself.
To many, the Christmas Season is not the joyous time that we would like it to be. I'm not talking about the seasonal depression that many get (although that could be included here, I guess). I mean that folks tend to concentrate too much on the gift-giving aspect of the holiday rather than enjoying the season for what it is.
Yes, we all know that, although Jesus was not born on Christmas (more than likely He was born in the springtime), it is the day that most Christians celebrate His birth only because that's the way it's been for close to 1700 years, since the mid-300's. And the way we celebrate it today is a somewhat successful blending of religious and secular festivities.
Yes, this blending angers folks on both sides of the issue. The secularists and Pagans want Christ totally out of the picture, while the Christian purists look to blot out all aspects of non-Christianity in the celebration.
Where I stand, as a Christian, is, well, kind of on both sides of the issue. It is true that the Christians took over the solstice celebrations of long ago, with its greenery, singing, and merriment-making, and turned it into a Christian celebration which, at one point in many areas was a very solemn occasion. Of course, the merriment would continue to sneak in until the puritans had all but wiped out the celebration that we all know. It was the 1822 poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" by Clement C. Moore, and especially the early Victorians, such as Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" that brought Christmas back in full force. And it was at this time that the Christmas Carols of old ("The First Nowell," "Deck The Halls," and "Here We Come A-Wassailing" for example) became popular once again.
And, as the 1800's turned into the 1900's, the holiday and celebrations grew.
Of course, now it's as big as ever, and the stores and society in general have come to depend on people spending their paychecks and racking up credit card bills in gift purchases: $300, $400, and even $500 or more per child or per family member is not unheard of.
But, I have to say, in my family it's not like that. First off, we spend just over a hundred bucks per child (maybe $125), as well as that amount on each other. So, for my wife and our four children we spend no more than $800 total. Throw in the the name exchange (about $20 to no more than $25 per person), plus the Christmas Tree and we're still under a thousand bucks.
You may say to me, "I could never buy what my kids want for Christmas for $125!"
So?
One Christmas, about 13 years ago, I changed jobs in the fall and took a pay cut to do so. Because of this, money was at an all-time low, and my wife and I, who previously would spend the large amount of cash on our kids, could not do it that year. So, we bought our children the two or three things each that we knew they would be happy with. Come Christmas morning, they were every bit as excited as if they received five times as many gifts! Honest to God! But, how we opened the presents helped here as well: one present at a time. Child "A" opens his and we all watch and enjoy what he received. Then it's child "B's" turn to do the same, and so on and so on. This way, everyone was able to see what everyone else got and get excited with them. This also made the gift opening ceremony last longer and increased the anticipation.
Let me tell you - it WORKS!!! And we continue in this manner to this day.
And, just so you know, we have not used credit cards to purchase Christmas gifts since the 1990's. Yep - everything is paid by cash or debit (no credit cards at all!). We put the amount we plan to spend aside when we receive our income tax refund in the spring and do not touch it til late October, when we're ready to begin the shopping.
And, if you really want to get more bang for your buck, shop on line. We do most of ours' that way and have been able to buy more for less. Check out Amazon.com - they're my favorite place to shop.
No malls or Kmarts...ahhhh....
Give this a try, if only once, and see if I am right.

Now, there is much more to the Christmas celebration than opening of gifts. In an upcoming blog, I will update one I wrote last year on how to get the most out of your Christmas celebrations at minimal costs.