Monday, February 9, 2009

President Lincoln's Birthday Celebration (and more)

This past Saturday we had our first (unofficial) reenactment of the season - the celebration of President Lincoln's 200th birthday at the Plymouth Historical Museum in Plymouth, Michigan.
Man! Was it great to be back in my period clothing!
The museum is set up with false-front buildings to look like one is situated on old Plymouth's main street from the 19th century, so it wasn't too hard to get into character.
While our 16th president made speeches and shook hands with the public, we civilians cavorted with the crowd, speaking of everyday life as it was during the Lincoln era: our resident fiddle player had many - reenactors and patrons - singing the period tunes of the day, our washerwoman explained her important job as a military laundress,

and I spoke of mail delivery of the time. I also told a bit about every day life during the 1860's as well. Some of our other period-dressed ladies there worked on their projects, the type that women would have done at that time, and my daughter had our collection of children's toys to show other kids the type of recreational activities kids would do.
Our military boys in blue guarded the president during his speeches and also spoke to the public about their lives in the military camps of the Civil War. At one point they captured a lone Reb who they happened upon while marching and drilling for the public. They marched the Reb through the 'village,' much to the delight of the crowd. And what a crowd it was! At least a thousand people, including a group of girl scouts, walked through this beautiful museum, interested in all we were portraying. And, when my son and his friend pulled out their fife and drum and began performing, it seemed that everyone inside this gigantic building came out and crowded around to watch and listen.
It really felt great to be back at a reenactment - I was in the best mood in months afterwards!
It was a fine way to celebrate the 200th birthday of our 16th President.

While we're on the subject of Lincoln, I'd like to mention a little book I purchased on my last trip to Gettysburg called, 'Gettysburg Remembers President Lincoln: Eyewitness Accounts of November 1863' by Linda Giberson Black. What's unusual about this book is that it is nearly all in the words of those who were there, mostly taken from the diaries of the witnesses. As the back of the book explains "These narratives have been largely neglected by historians."
And I have found by reading this that the events as the newspapers of the day wrote can be quite different than what may have actually happened. For instance, "Many newspaper reporters wrote that the audience applauded heartily at the end of (Lincoln's) short speech.
Despite the newspaper accounts that have gone on record, several of the local inhabitants maintained that the audience responded to Lincoln's speech in a sudued way. William Tipton declared that there was 'slight applause' and 'Mr. Lincoln's sad face and the solemnity of the occasion seemed to forbid any excessive demonstration,' he noted. Henry Eyster Jacob's wrote that there 'was applause, sufficient to indicate the respect of the audience, but no tumultuous cheering.' "
On the day of this historic event, while the procession was beginning, Henry Eyster Jacobs wrote, "The sun shone brightly; the air was almost balmy."
I particularly enjoyed what Henry Holloway wrote about the president after he mounted his rather small horse for the parade: "After he had mounted the animal, Mr. Lincoln's feet were near the ground. The spectacle was humorous, and no one seemed more conscious of it than himself." With Henry Jacobs adding, "If there had been an accident, he certainly would not have had far to fall."
The book gives an account of the whole Lincoln/Gettysburg experience, from his arrival through his departure, and everything in between. Being familiar with the streets of Gettysburg, and because this little book (only 52 pages long) is written by those who were there, I, too, almost feel that I was there, only because I am seeing this history through their eyes. I could picture virtually everything that the eyewitnesses there wrote of in my mind.
A fine book to own that gives the historian a real perspective of that historic November day in 1863.

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