Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Anniversary Plans

This spring will be the 25th wedding anniversary for Patty and I.
25 years! Holy cow!
It honestly truly seems like no more than 10 years ago TOPS that we were married.
But, 25 years?
No way!
Well...I guess maybe it has been 25 years...our oldest child will be 22, and we were married three years before he was born...
Wait! I've been married for 25 years AND am a father of a 22 year old?
Okay...catch my breath.
So what to do to celebrate this milestone...? Hmmm...
We thought about taking a vacation - a sort of 2nd honeymoon. On our 1st honeymoon we went to Nashville, Tennessee for a few days and then over to Gatlinburg for a few more. That was really nice. Since Patty and I both love country music, it was the perfect place for us to go. This was before the "young country" garbage took over and ruined the real country music (let it not be said that I am not opinionated!).
Anyhow, we found that the problem with taking a 2nd honeymoon is we would be expected to go by ourselves - - - we really don't want to do that! As long as our four children still like vacationing with us, they will always be welcome. In fact, I enjoy when they come along - we all have a great time together. Besides, they grow up so fast (remember - I have a 22 year old...22!)
But, since we have been lucky enough, however, to take a three vacations over the last five years - with the kids - that really wouldn't be anything really special for our anniversary.
What to do...what to do...
Then it hit us - - -
That's it!!
Hey! How about a ball, a Civil War Ball?
To begin with we'll have a renewal of the vows at Eastpointe's historic 1872 schoolhouse. Our friend (and fellow Civil War reenactor) Mike Gillett is an ordained minister and I know he'll agree to officiate at the ceremony.
From there it will be off to the local VFW Hall - the only place around that will be able to accommodate a decent sized group at a low rate - where we'll have the Olde Michigan Ruffwater Stringband (http://www.ruffwater.com/) to provide us with period music and dance instructions. They are historical music and dance specialists and play most of the local Civil War balls in the southern Michigan area, including Greenfield Village, Jackson, as well as at the Harvest Ball in Lansing. Glen Morningstar, who heads the group, mentioned for us to make a list of our favorite dances - so far we have the Virginia Reel, the Spanish Waltz, the fan dance (good for the younger teen set), and a few others.
To make this perfect, we'll ask our guests to wear period clothing, correct to the Civil War era.
Now, the greater majority of our invitations will be sent to reenactors, and we have no doubt that they will be dressed "appropriately," if you know what I mean.

21st Michigan members have a ball!

There will be a few - my extended family, for instance - who wouldn't be caught dead wearing period 1860's clothing. And we understand this. So, we will ask that they dress in their finest modern clothing - no t-shirt and jeans. At least the evening will still have an elegant look about it.
But, how will 21st century modern dressed folk respond to 19th century dances, you may ask?
I personally think they will have one of the best times ever, if they will allow themselves to do so. If you have ever been to a contra-dance or a Civil War ball, you will know just what a blast it can be! And, at times, messing up the dance steps can actually be part of the fun. Quite honestly, very few reenactors know all the dances perfectly, so there will be many mistakes made (and laughed at) so I believe my family and non-reenacting friends will have a grand time nonetheless.
I guess what we're hoping to do here is to have a celebration for friends and family that will be memorable for sure. It will go beyond a vacation or a dinner or even a dance with a modern DJ.
For how much my wife and I - heck! our children, too! - are into history, this will be the absolute perfect way we can think of to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.
I mean, it only comes around once every quarter of a century!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

January Ain't So Bad...Considering...

January in 1864 Michigan:
Gray skies making normally vibrant colors look bland
Cold - sometimes very cold - temperatures with a harsh wind
Many times little or no snow, other times a ton of snow
Short days and long nights

Can you imagine just how dreary January was in the 1860's? Daily work was probably even more monotonous than usual.

But, we're in the 21st century, right? Where one can have a big screen cable-connected television with 500+ channels and surround sound, the home computer where the internet provides the whole world at one's fingertips, cell phones where one can be connected at all times, movies anytime we'd like in the comfort of home, an automobile to go anywhere at anytime, 24 hour stores and restaurants, the electric light that enables one to turn night to day, warmth in any part of the house, your own room, ipods and mp3 players that can hold more music than one can listen to in a year...and the list goes on and on.
And yet, the whine of "I'm bored" and "there's nothing to do" prevails.
And not just from the kids - - - - - - -
Can you just imagine what our ancestors would think of us knowing what we have here in the 21st century compared to what they had in the 19th century? Can you just imagine if they could've seen the wonders of the future - the future that is now?
And we have the nerve to whine that we're bored.
It's knowing the boredom that our ancestors lived through that keeps me a bit more "up" this time of the year. I know that probably sounds strange, but it truly does. As much as I love the past - heck, I'd live there if I could, you all know that! - I still appreciate what we have today.
Then again, maybe we have it too good...
Think I'll click over to Facebook and see who I can connect with today.
See you next time!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Movie Nights to Beat the Winter Blahs

The mid-winter season is upon us. For my family and I this is a great time of year to watch movies on the cold Friday and Saturday nights. Oh, we watch all sorts of movies: adventure, drama, historical, and comedies. And sometimes we'll throw on a kiddie cartoon for our daughter. But, mostly it's adult oriented. No, I don't mean that kind of adult, mind you!
Of course, for me, if it has something to do with history I will probably like it, even the far-fetched flicks such as the National Treasure movies. Great fun to watch.
Most years we will do a theme. A few years back we watched classic movies of the 1930's and 1940's: Judy Garland musicals (yes, including Wizard of Oz), Jimmy Cagney gangster flicks, the great silents of the teens and twenties...
A couple years ago was American history, which found us watching everything from Three Sovereigns for Sarah and The Patriot, to the countless Civil War movies that we own.
Then there was the year we watched the epic flicks where the story took place overseas such as Braveheart, Rob Roy, Gladiator, and Ever After (Rosalia loved this last movie!).
Last year we watched family TV shows - Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons, Green Acres, Petticoat Junction...as well as newer comedy movies like For Richer or Poorer, My Best Friend's Wedding, and American Graffiti (I know A G is not new, but it is new-er!).
This year we are looking to watch time travel movies.
The following is a list of Time Travel movies that I either own or have seen:
Back to the Future I, II, & III
The Time Machine (1960)
A Christmas Carol (all of its incarnations)
Peggy Sue Got Married
The Final Countdown
Kate and Leopold
Somewhere In Time
Two Worlds of Jennie Logan
The Love Letter

Now, the last two listed are not really time travel per se, but I believe they can fall into that category.
Except for A Christmas Carol, we haven't watched any of the others in quite a while, so it should be quite a treat.

I'm already thinking of future themes, such as BBC productions of Dickens and Austin, and maybe even have a "series" season, where we can watch the John Adams HBO set, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Star Wars.
A cowboy theme - John Wayne and Clint Eastwood - might be a good one, too.

I guess cold winter evenings can be rather enjoyable.
Maybe we'll invite friends over as well...
Movie nights - - - gotta love 'em!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Earliest Sound Recording Known to Man

This is a repeat from a post I wrote back in the summer of 2008. I feel it's worth reposting for anyone who may have missed it. Quite fascinating...

What you are about to read will, in no doubt, astound you if you are a history buff and/or a period music buff.

It has to do with a sound recording of the human voice made in the year 1860 - yes, you read correctly - this is not a typo - 1860!
Please read the following article, lifted from the New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/), that I copied and pasted here. It is written much better than I could ever do (by the way, scroll all the way down to the bottom of this blog to hear these ethereal sounds):

Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison
Published: March 27, 2008

For more than a century, since he captured the spoken words “Mary had a little lamb” on a sheet of tinfoil, Thomas Edison has been considered the father of recorded sound. But researchers say they have unearthed a recording of the human voice, made by a little-known Frenchman, that predates Edison’s invention of the phonograph by nearly two decades.

The 19th-century phonautograph, which captured sounds visually but did not play them back, has yielded a discovery with help from modern technology.

The 10-second recording of a singer crooning the folk song “Au Clair de la Lune” was discovered earlier this month in an archive in Paris by a group of American audio historians. It was made, the researchers say, on April 9, 1860, on a phonautograph, a machine designed to record sounds visually, not to play them back. But the phonautograph recording, or phonautogram, was made playable — converted from squiggles on paper to sound — by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.

“This is a historic find, the earliest known recording of sound,” said Samuel Brylawski, the former head of the recorded-sound division of the Library of Congress, who is not affiliated with the research group but who was familiar with its findings. The audio excavation could give a new primacy to the phonautograph, once considered a curio, and its inventor, Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, a Parisian typesetter and tinkerer who went to his grave convinced that credit for his breakthroughs had been improperly bestowed on Edison.

Scott’s device had a barrel-shaped horn attached to a stylus, which etched sound waves onto sheets of paper blackened by smoke from an oil lamp. The recordings were not intended for listening; the idea of audio playback had not been conceived. Rather, Scott sought to create a paper record of human speech that could later be deciphered.

But the Lawrence Berkeley scientists used optical imaging and a “virtual stylus” on high-resolution scans of the phonautogram, deploying modern technology to extract sound from patterns inscribed on the soot-blackened paper almost a century and a half ago. The scientists belong to an informal collaborative called First Sounds that also includes audio historians and sound engineers.

David Giovannoni, an American audio historian who led the research effort, will present the findings and play the recording in public on Friday at the annual conference of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif.

Scott’s 1860 phonautogram was made 17 years before Edison received a patent for the phonograph and 28 years before an Edison associate captured a snippet of a Handel oratorio on a wax cylinder, a recording that until now was widely regarded by experts as the oldest that could be played back.

Mr. Giovannoni’s presentation on Friday will showcase additional Scott phonautograms discovered in Paris, including recordings made in 1853 and 1854. Those first experiments included attempts to capture the sounds of a human voice and a guitar, but Scott’s machine was at that time imperfectly calibrated.

“We got the early phonautograms to squawk, that’s about it,” Mr. Giovannoni said.

But the April 1860 phonautogram is more than a squawk. On a digital copy of the recording provided to The New York Times, the anonymous vocalist, probably female, can be heard against a hissing, crackling background din. The voice, muffled but audible, sings, “Au clair de la lune, Pierrot répondit” in a lilting 11-note melody — a ghostly tune, drifting out of the sonic murk.

The hunt for this audio holy grail was begun in the fall by Mr. Giovannoni and three associates: Patrick Feaster, an expert in the history of the phonograph who teaches at Indiana University, and Richard Martin and Meagan Hennessey, owners of Archeophone Records, a label specializing in early sound recordings. They had collaborated on the Archeophone album “Actionable Offenses,” a collection of obscene 19th-century records that received two Grammy nominations. When Mr. Giovannoni raised the possibility of compiling an anthology of the world’s oldest recorded sounds, Mr. Feaster suggested they go digging for Scott’s phonautograms.

Historians have long been aware of Scott’s work. But the American researchers believe they are the first to make a concerted search for Scott’s phonautograms or attempt to play them back.

In December Mr. Giovannoni and a research assistant traveled to a patent office in Paris, the Institut National de la Propriété Industrielle. There he found recordings from 1857 and 1859 that were included by Scott in his phonautograph patent application. Mr. Giovannoni said that he worked with the archive staff there to make high-resolution, preservation-grade digital scans of these recordings.

A trail of clues, including a cryptic reference in Scott’s writings to phonautogram deposits made at “the Academy,” led the researchers to another Paris institution, the French Academy of Sciences, where several more of Scott’s recordings were stored. Mr. Giovannoni said that his eureka moment came when he laid eyes on the April 1860 phonautogram, an immaculately preserved sheet of rag paper 9 inches by 25 inches.

“It was pristine,” Mr. Giovannoni said. “The sound waves were remarkably clear and clean.”

His scans were sent to the Lawrence Berkeley lab, where they were converted into sound by the scientists Carl Haber and Earl Cornell. They used a technology developed several years ago in collaboration with the Library of Congress, in which high-resolution “maps” of grooved records are played on a computer using a digital stylus. The 1860 phonautogram was separated into 16 tracks, which Mr. Giovannoni, Mr. Feaster and Mr. Martin meticulously stitched back together, making adjustments for variations in the speed of Scott’s hand-cranked recording.

Listeners are now left to ponder the oddity of hearing a recording made before the idea of audio playback was even imagined.

“There is a yawning epistemic gap between us and Léon Scott, because he thought that the way one gets to the truth of sound is by looking at it,” said Jonathan Sterne, a professor at McGill University in Montreal and the author of “The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction.”

Scott is in many ways an unlikely hero of recorded sound. Born in Paris in 1817, he was a man of letters, not a scientist, who worked in the printing trade and as a librarian. He published a book on the history of shorthand, and evidently viewed sound recording as an extension of stenography. In a self-published memoir in 1878, he railed against Edison for “appropriating” his methods and misconstruing the purpose of recording technology. The goal, Scott argued, was not sound reproduction, but “writing speech, which is what the word phonograph means.”

In fact, Edison arrived at his advances on his own. There is no evidence that Edison drew on knowledge of Scott’s work to create his phonograph, and he retains the distinction of being the first to reproduce sound.

“Edison is not diminished whatsoever by this discovery,” Mr. Giovannoni said.

Paul Israel, director of the Thomas A. Edison Papers at Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., praised the discovery as a “tremendous achievement,” but called Edison’s phonograph a more significant technological feat.

“What made Edison different from Scott was that he was trying to reproduce sound and he succeeded,” Mr. Israel said.

But history is finally catching up with Scott.

Mr. Sterne, the McGill professor, said: “We are in a period that is more similar to the 1860s than the 1880s. With computers, there is an unprecedented visualization of sound.”

The acclaim Scott sought may turn out to have been assured by the very sonic reproduction he disdained. And it took a group of American researchers to rescue Scott’s work from the musty vaults of his home city. In his memoir, Scott scorned his American rival Edison and made brazen appeals to French nationalism. “What are the rights of the discoverer versus the improver?” he wrote less than a year before his death in 1879. “Come, Parisians, don’t let them take our prize.”

The audio historian David Giovannoni

with a recently discovered phonautogram

that is among the earliest sound recordings.

The Phonautograph Recording from 1860 of 'Au Clair de la Lune' (mp3)

An Audio Excerpt from a 1931 Recording of the Same Song (mp3)

Another History Blog For Us To Enjoy!

One of my blog followers began a history-oriented blog of her own called "History...I Take It Personally."
She writes mainly about her adventures as a presenter at the Hale Farm & Village, located in northeastern Ohio.
I believe that those who like my blog may like her's as well.
Won't you check it out?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Great Ending to a Fine Season

(All photos were taken at this year's Christmas Party)

Many years ago, before our involvement in Civil War reenacting, my wife, Patty, and I had spoken many times about throwing a Victorian Christmas party. The idea was to have all of our friends dress in "costume" and pretend that we were in the 1800's by way of candle lit rooms, maybe reading passages from Dickens "A Christmas Carol," drinking wassail, etc. Of course, we had no idea how to put something like this together, and found it to be nearly impossible to have our friends, most who had not even the slightest interest in this sort of thing, dress in 19th century clothing.
It was a nice thought but never happened.
Then came reenacting.
It was around six or seven years ago, when I was relatively new to living history, that the thought of finally being able to participate in a period Christmas party would come to pass. And, yes, a Christmas party was on the schedule. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend due to previous commitments. I searched on the unit web site for pictures taken at the party, to see the fun I missed. I must say, I was a bit disappointed. Not only was the party held at a sports bar, but everyone was dressed in modern clothing. To top it off, the food served was mainly pizza, beer, and pop (soda to you non-midwesterners!).
One would never know that the gathering at hand were Civil War reenactors.
I then checked out other reenacting units, and I found the same across the board: just plain old modern clothing Christmas parties from each and every reenacting unit I came across.
This was quite the let down for me.
I mentioned to my wife that maybe I could step in and bring our dream Christmas into reality, so later that year I spoke with the unit board of directors and asked about having a period Christmas party. I told them we could use the 1872 schoolhouse in the city where I live and and we could ask members to bring a dish to pass...something that would have /could have been eaten during the mid-19th century. They liked the idea but I would have to take it on. I did willingly, although I did have some help.
That very next December we had our first Civil War Christmas party.

It went off like gangbusters - it was everything I hoped it would be and more. Our members dressed in their 1860's finest, the food was out of this world, and we even had one very talented member play Christmas songs on her violin.
It was the talk of the season! It felt like a period Christmas party should feel like - a Holiday right out of the past!
Of course, the following year followed suit. And every year since. Here and there we have invited guests from other units to join in our celebration as well as having Michigan's very own President and Mrs. Lincoln (Fred and Bonnie Priebe) taking part.
This past January 9 we continued our tradition, and it turned out to be the best one yet. The Christmas spirit was with us, even two weeks after December 25th, and it actually felt more like a time-travel experience than any Christmas party before. One big reason was that our resident fiddler formed a period instrumental group and we held a mini ball, where our revelers spent the evening dancing jigs and reels, including one of my favorites, the Virginia Reel (amongst others).

Dancing the Virginia Reel

The evening was filled with laughter, dancing, singing, eating...even a Thomas Nast Santa right out of Harper's Weekly! It was all that one would expect to see and hear at a 19th century Christmas party. The atmosphere couldn't have been better!

I cannot express how much fun this party was - the perfect ending to a wonderful Christmas Season.
You ought to get your unit to give it a try next year!

~Me and my family~


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

My Dream - - A New Year's Resolution (with your help)

Do you ever want something so bad that it just aches to even think about it?
That's the way I've been lately...just aching to begin the process of living a simpler life.
Okay - that's an oxymoron if there ever WAS one. If you knew me you would know this to be true. In all honesty, I like stuff. No, not elaborate overly expensive kind of stuff - just cool stuff. I enjoy watching DVD's, listening to my music (always been a major movie and music fan), and my new home hobby of taking and printing out photographs.
Oh, and antiques. I enjoy purchasing an antique here and there as well.
I like going on vacations, although we haven't gone on one in nearly two years.
Books are a fun thing, too. One can never have enough books - especially history books!
Did I mention that I enjoy going out to eat?
See what I mean? I am caught up in this capitalistic furry.
And I don't want to stop. Well, I do...*sigh*
Now, I must say, what we buy is all paid for with cash - no credit cards allowed.
That's a plus. And, like any enjoyable habit, the items purchased are not necessarily necessary, but they are items that we enjoy.
But, lately, especially with what's going on in our nation and the world, we have found our priorities shifting...leaning toward traditionalism...self-survival.
My dream of living a traditional life in an old home in an older and more rural area is one I've had as far back as I can remember. In fact, on our very first date, Patty and I spoke of this very thing.
Unfortunately, because of extenuating circumstances - as well as our own foolishness combined - our possibility of this dream became out of reach. And that's what aches.
Which is why I said that we plan to begin the process. Before it's too far out of reach.
What I am asking of my blogger friends, since so many of us share the same Christian beliefs, is for prayers of guidance.
And strength.
I know I won't totally stop buying "cool" things.
But, maybe - just maybe - I can slow down enough and, instead of buying that remastered for the 5th time Who 'Tommy" CD, I can put the money I would have spent in a 'move out' fund and, the more I see that account grow, the more it will entice me to add to it.
That's what I am hoping to do.
But, prayers of strength and guidance is what I need.
If the good Lord's willin' and the creek don't rise (and lots o' prayers), quite possibly mine and Patty's dream from all those years ago might just happen.
Thanks for letting me air this.
Back to history/reenacting next blog - - - I promise.