Friday, July 30, 2010

Simple Thoughts from a Simple Man...

It's 2010 and I am driving down the main street in my city...let's see, there's a Kroger grocery store, a Dairy Queen, a Rite Aid, K-Mart, Best Buy, Macomb Mall, Petco, 7-11, Office Depot, Circle K, Burger King, a Comfort Inn, Ken's Auto Repair Shop, Home Depot, Costgo, Pep Boys, Ed Rinke Chevrolet, and a few smaller, more localized shops. All the businesses that are as familiar to me as my own name. Cars, SUV's, semi's, buses, and motorcycles zip past by the thousands in a constant flow of traffic. If one tries to cross this busy thoroughfare by foot it can be pretty dangerous due to those vehicles who turn right at the red light, forgetting that the pedestrian has the right of way.
And the stop lights are there, every quarter mile or so, along with street signs - probably a dozen for every 500 feet - telling the drivers to turn left here, no turn on red there, lane ends, speed limit 40, school crossing, yield...
Probably not unlike Anytown U.S.A.
Now, my mid-19th century personna is walking down the main street in my mid-19th century town...let's see, there's the cobbler and shoemaker, the millinery shop, and there's the blacksmith shop, the cabinet maker, the general store, the printer, the tinsmith, the cooper shop, the farrier, a tavern, the weaving shop, the tailor, a wagon shop, the saddler and harness maker, a baker, a gun manufacturer, and, seen on the outskirts is the gristmill. Folks on foot, wagons, carts, and carriages pulled by horses trot hither and thither - watch your step as you cross the plank road! - mud from the recent rainstorm cause puddles where there are no planks, soiling the bottoms of the trousers and skirts of the townsfolk and visitors.
Two different worlds...
Have you ever thought about what your town may have looked like a century and a half ago? Have you ever thought about how much has changed in comparison?
Well, okay, if you're like me and practice living history you probably have.
But let's reverse that dream or fantasy that many of us who attempt to time-travel have.
You see, we know what the future holds from a mid-19th century perspective, don't we? would one from 1850 react if he or she were suddenly placed in our modern time.
I think of that every-so-often, of how one from the mid-19th century may recognize very little if somehow drawn from their time to our time.
We, on the other hand, have the benefit of historical knowledge on our side - visits to museums, books, the internet, etc. - all allowing us to study what life was like during our ancestor's time.
Can you imagine someone - my 3rd great grandparents, William and MaryAnne Raby, for instance - suddenly popping into the 21st century from her 1850's existance? How would they react? What would they think? Would there be anything at all inside of Best Buy that they would recognize?
I am sure that William would clearly know many of the tools inside of the Sears tool shop, such as the gardening supplies: shovels, rakes, etc. But, he most certainly would not recognize the tractor, the chainsaw, the power drill, or the staple gun.
How about the women's department at Khol's? I can just imagine what MaryAnne would think of the latest fashions in clothing and shoes!
Of course, shopping for kitchen supplies at Bed, Bath, & Beyond would make their head spin! A toaster? A mixer? A refrigerator? Ha! just the fridge alone would be unfathomable: think about it - a box that you can regulate the temperature in one area to freezing while another area is above freezing but still at a cooler temperature - inside the same box! And a light goes on when you open the door!!
Wait! What's a light??
How about the hustle and bustle of traffic? I would think their minds couldn't conprehend all of the fast-paced action of the motorized vehicles, the lights, the flashing billboards, the volume of the sounds surrounding them, and the speed at which everything was transpiring.
I find thinking about this sort of thing entertaining, especially while at work when time allows for such thoughts.
Do you ever think these kind of "frivolous" thoughts, or am I alone in this?
I will say, sure beats thinking about politics all the time!


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Living History and Reenacting at Charlton Park

I'd like to tell you about a reenactment that I participated in this past weekend. It took place in a tiny open-air historical village nestled in the middle of nowhere in western Michigan called Charlton Park, and the opportunity for progressive living history was as strong as if one actually time-traveled back to the 1860’s. I have reenacted here numerous times before, but this year was different: a scenario was planned that would add realism to the planned battle that one does not see very often at reenactments.

The 1858 Sixberry House - *my* home for a few hours

To begin with, I was able to procure a home in this village that was originally built in 1858 and use it as my own. In doing so, I had visitors - 'cousins' Carrie and Sue. The three of us enjoyed fine conversation, staying as true as we could to the 1st person mode of speaking. Once one begins that manner of speech, it becomes quite easy to continue as such, and ours continued nearly the entire time while inside the home. Of course, we had non-reenacting visitors enter the (to them) historic home, and I played up that this was my home and the three of us were enjoying a fine visit.

Cousins come to call

Instead of speaking historically about the house or of the original family that lived there 150 years ago, we instead spoke of our lives in the 1860's, occasionally interjecting 3rd person with 1st person, which ultimately played out into what I like to call 2nd person. It worked very well and allowed the patron's questions to be answered without breaking the time-travel impression, which they seemed to enjoy very much. The patrons truly seemed to enjoy seeing actual 'period people' inside the home in the manner in which we presented.
We were there in the back parlor enjoying each others company when the cannons began to fire, and true enough the battle had begun in earnest.

As you can see from the window next to the front door, the army was right outside my door - - what to do? Where to go?

What to do or where to go, I did not know. People were running here and there, screaming that the town would be shelled. No one knew where to go or what to do. We decided that we ought not to remain in our vulnerable position, and that it would be better to go to some part of the town farther away from the scene of the conflict. As we scurried across the Village Green, the shells began to fly around quite thick. We soon found ourselves out of harms way and were able to watch the battle from a safe position.

Cousin Carrie nervously eyed the soldiers from the front parlor window as she prepares to skeedaddle before the battle begins

We knew that with every explosion, and the scream of each shell, human beings were hurried, through excruciating pain, into another world, and that many more were torn, and mangled, and lying in torment worse than death, and no one able to extend relief. We know not what the morrow will bring forth, and cannot even tell of the issue of to-day. Indications is that our troops have the advantage so far. Can they keep it? The fear they may not be able causes our anxiety and keeps us in suspense.
(Many thanks to the diary of Sarah Broadhead, for it is from her diary that I stole much of the above description, with some slight modification).

For the battle itself, the Union and the Confederates utilized the village structures to whatever advantage their leaders saw fit, sneaking out from behind one building, ducking back behind another, encircling each other on the village green; it was truly as if one were watching an actual battle unfold before our very eyes.

The battle commenced nearly right outside our front door!

And, yes, we civilians did go running from our homes and stores, the women screaming and the men hurrying them along. It was unlike any I have yet witnessed or taken part in, at least not around these parts! Definitely so much more authentic than the battles that are normally held on what could be along the lines of a football field.
So, that, in a nutshell, is how the reenactment in Charlton Park was for us on July 17th. As good as it gets.
Coming up very soon, by the way, is another event, only this affair will be held at Crossroads Village in Flint, and will be a total 1st person full-immersion presentation of northern civilians welcoming home their 'boys in blue' in a gala not seen since...well...since 1865! No battles, just a period hoopla with political speeches by dignitaries, parades, picnics, and a ball in the evening. I can't wait!


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Zap! You Are Now in 1860 - - - And You Need To Go Shopping! - - - What Now???

If you recall, back in April I wrote a post about survival in the case you had suddenly found yourself transported back in time 150 years or so (ZAP! You Are Now In 1877 - - - What now???), and what you might need to ensure your survival in those oh-so-primitive times (I'm being facetious here...wait! No I'm not!).
Well, I'm at it again! Yup - here it is, 1860, and you need to go to town to purchase some provisions, and I'm here to help. So, let's see what it will be like for you when you take the seven mile journey to the nearest town, either by way of horse and buckboard or farm wagon, or by leg power. Either way, a trip to town is a necessity every-so-often, if only to get your mail.
So, let's switch on the time machine and see what it's like...

The local general store was always a dim, gloomy place. There was seldom windows along the sides, because the walls from the front of the store to the back were covered with shelves loaded with stock. It was an advantage to the merchant in the days of hard and tricky bargains to have his store in cave-like darkness. People were often astonished at the quality and the color of their bargains when they got home.
There could be truth to the story of a deacon who is supposed to have called out to his clerk:
"John, have you dampened the tobacco?"
"Yes sir."
"Have you watered the rum?"
"Yes sir."
"Have you sanded the sugar?"
"Yes sir."
"Then come in to prayers."

The usual arrangement in the general store was to devote one side to dry goods. Here the women bought goods by the yard: ribbon, thread, silk, corsets, bustles (usually made of cloth stuffed with bran, hair, cotton, rags, or old newspapers), fans, gloves, handkerchiefs, shawl pins, and artificial flowers.

On the same side the men could buy paper collars, cuffs, bosoms (the part of a garment that covers the breast), ready-made neckties, suspenders, hats, shoes, and underwear.
Across from the dry goods section, near the front of the store, were the candy jars, a small selection of toys, the tobacco & cigars, the cough drops and such patent medicine as Perry Davis' Pain Killers, Radway's Ready Relief, Log Cabin Bitters, Hostetters' Bitters, and Beecham's Pills.
On the shelves were crockery, including table ware, wash bowls, and pitchers. Glasses, lamps, and earthware crocks and jugs also occupied shelves.
Next came the grocery section, with its spice-grinder and tins of spices and tea and coffee, the cheeses and cracker barrels, and the sugar barrels. The casks of rum, brandy, and gin, and the cider barrel were at the rear, where were also kept the farming implements - pitchforks, rakes, hoes, scythes, snares, whetstones, and a circular rack of horsewhips suspended from the ceiling.

In addition to fullfilling his role as a storekeep, the merchant was often also a politician, banker, accountant, post master, or held a number of other prominent positions. He had great knowledge of his customers, their likes and dislikes, problems, and even financial situations. This was important since he had to deal with credit and bartering. He also had to have a good handle on the needs and wants of his customers.
P. T. Barnum, perhaps the most famous showman of the 19th century, once worked at a general store.
"I stood behind the counter and was polite to the ladies, and wonderfully active in waiting upon customers," he said. "We kept a cash, credit, and barter store, and I drove some sharp bargains with women who brought butter, eggs, beeswax and feathers to exchange for dry goods, and with men who wanted to trade oats, corn, buckwheat, axe-helves, hats, and other commodities for tenpenny nails, molasses, or rum."

It was customary for storekeepers who had apprentices to board and lodge the young men in their own families, working them from early morning until late at night and paying them little or nothing while they were learning the tricks of the trade. Stores opened at seven in the morning and stayed open until at least nine o'clock at night. If there was any buying activity, they were kept open until ten or eleven o'clock. From a merchant who worked at such a store gave an account of his days as a young clerk back in 1854: "The hours were very long and the younger clerks had a variety of work, from sweeping out the store to delivering goods. Another clerk and myself slept in the store and built the fires and swept out. There was a large hogshead (a large cask holding approximately 63 gallons of water) in the yard behind the store to catch water from the roof and we used that to sprinkle the floor.
"A great many remnants of prints were sold at sixpence, 8 1/3 cents a yard, or at twelve yards for a dollar. We used to sell nine yards for a dress pattern and the usual price was 12 1/2 cents a yard. Customers would generally try to beat down the price. Then we would come down to a dollar for the nine yards and sometimes we would have to throw in the hooks and eyes and lining for the dress in order to make the sale.

"Farmers drove to town and hitched their horses on Main street, hitching posts being provided for that purpose. They also hitched their horses to the awning posts which were in front of every store.
"We used to try to have customers take their parcels whenever they could, but when they would not do it we used to have to carry their goods to their homes in wheelbarrows. When I first started that was part of my job. It was no easy task to wheel a load of goods in a barrow.
"We had three gas lights (to light the store) - one in front, one about the middle, and one further back. Then, for the very back part of the store, where the umbrellas were kept, we had to use candles or small oil lamps - not kerosene - to light the way. We did a great deal of umbrella repairing; in fact, the boss made umbrellas and parasols right in the store. Whale bone was often used for the ribs.

"The merchants used to get their goods on long time payments - six months, nine months, and even a year being taken to pay for them. Gold, silver, and paper money were all used. We (also) heard a good deal about shillings and sixpences, terms carrying over from colonial times."

Storekeepers, in many of the smaller towns (and even some larger ones), also served as a Justice of the Peace and postmaster.

So, there you are. I hope your visit to the general store went well. I look forward to your return visit.

(Most of the information for this post was lifted from a very old book I own (copyright 1938) called "American Village" by Edwin Valentine Mitchell)


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My First Venture into Collecting Early Rock and Roll Music (just in case you want to know)

I love music - all kinds of music. From punk to metal to big band to classical to country/bluegrass/hillbilly to old blues to ragtime to...well, you get the picture. Really, about the only style of music I am not into is death metal and the gangsta rap garbage that is being passed off as legitimate music.
I was asked earlier today about how I got into the older music - 50's and early 60's pop and rock.
The first oldie album I ever bought was "Dick Clark's 20 Years of Rock and Roll" from around 1973. It was a collection of music - year by year from 1953 to 1972 - put together by the host of American Bandstand, Dick Clark. I saw it while shopping at the old Federals Department store with my mom and wanted it mainly for the 2nd record of the double album set. "Crimson and Clover" by Tommy James and the Shondells, "Candles in the Rain" by Melanie, and "Louie Louie" by the Kingsmen were the main reasons why I wanted it.
But then I threw on the 1st album in the set...the one with the Crew Cuts singing 'Sh-Boom," Jerry Lee Lewis ' "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," Duane Eddy's "Rebel Rouser," and "Runaround Sue" by Dion & the Belmonts.
What great music! Of course, because of my older brothers and sisters, I recognized (but forgot about) most of these tunes.
I had to have more!
My next oldie collection was put out by K-Tel (remember them?) called '25 Rock Revival Greats.' It was cheap and had many tunes that, once again, I recognized but forgot about: Sugar Shack" by Jimmy Gilmer & the Fireballs, the Poni-Tails "Born Too Late," The Shirells "Soldier Boy," and Fats Domino "Blueberry Hill."
I was hooked on oldies!
Then, shortly after purchasing this collection, I saw the movie, 'American Graffiti.' The movie was great - everything someone like me would want: teen angst, hot rod cars, and cool '50's music. However, it was the music that really grabbed me, and my sister surprised me with the soundtrack album for Christmas that year. To this day I consider it the epitome of oldies collections. Forty one songs - all but two were bonafide original recordings - and I literally wore the grooves out. "16 Candles" by the Crests, "Runaway" by Del Shannon, "The Great Pretender" by the Platters, "Get a Job" by the Silhouettes, "Little Darlin' " by the Diamonds, "Maybe Baby" by Buddy Holly, and the original "Crying in the Chapel" by the Orioles (not the 1959 remake on the Dick Clark collection).
I was on my way.
From there I picked up other wonderful oldies collections whose titles have since slipped my mind. I amassed a fine collection of music from an era that I may have physically missed (since I was not born in the '50's), but could live vicariously through the great music. OK, yes, I know some of the tunes listed above were from the early 60's (and I was around in the early 60's), but I was too young to appreciate the songs when originally released.
So, that is how I came to collect what has since been called 'Graffiti Gold' (pre-Beatles music). I do love, of course, the Beatles music and post Beatles music as well, but there really is something special to be said about the early days of rock and roll.
If you enjoyed this, you might enjoy a post I wrote quite a while back Pre-Beatles Rock and Roll
about finding and collecting this wonderful '50's and early '60's music in the 21st century, especially since it's rarely played on the radio.