Monday, July 18, 2011

The Charlton Park Event - Where the Past Comes Alive

It can be difficult to attend the same old events every year and do the same old thing, can it not? Sometimes it seems that only the surroundings change while the tents and the campers remain the same. That's why reenactments need to step up a few what we do at Charlton Park.
Because of the way the open-air museum is situated - and because the good folks that run the park trust the reenactors - many of us that participate here take living history a major leap forward...a leap into the past. Every year I post a blog about this amazing event and how we practice our living history skills there. In fact, my posting from last year became an article in Citizens' Companion.
This year at Charlton we took Civil War reenacting up quite a few notches. Please allow me to illustrate:
We - my wife and I with three of our four offspring as well as our domestic named Carrie - arrived at the park and went straight away to the 1858 Sixberry House (top photo - house on the left).

As a postmaster in the reenacting community, I brought my desk, mail holder and sign, as well as ink, blotter, pens, and other accessories along and set them up in what was the original owner's office (the owner was a lawyer).

My wife brought her spinning wheel and set that up in the front parlor. And since we could not sit upon the antique furniture (except the kitchen chairs) we brought our own chairs along. Our cousin, Mrs. Kerstens, joined us in one of her few family visits, for she is still in second stage mourning and does not venture out much except to get a bit a fresh air. It's good that we live close by.

We made the house our home.
As non-reenacting visitors toured the place we spoke to them about our lives during the Civil War, attempting (and succeeding) a first person presence.
When our reenacting friends came by, a few of them knocked upon the door and Carrie, of course, answered it as we had asked her to do.

That gave off quite a bit of realism right there! And we did have many visitors! Most were women and they stopped over to enjoy the coolness of the house in comparison to the 90 degree heat of their campsite. You see, the house is...ahem...air conditioned! Yes, it's true! I find it funny that my actual modern home has no air, but a period home that I reenact in is very pleasantly cool!

Anyhow, it was a civilian dream come true, not unlike reenacting at Waterloo Farm. I must admit that at the Sixberry House we were actually able to do something that Waterloo doesn't allow: we could eat our dinner and supper at the kitchen table! Now, I have to say that staying in a period home all the day long is fantastic, but to include eating in a period kitchen with just my family and domestic made it all the more like a time travel experience. You see, by suppertime all of the structures inside Charlton Park were closed to the public so we were able to eat with all the tranquility of an 1860's family.
It was as close enough to being there as one could be; pouring our drinking water from a pitcher on the counter, eating macaroni and cheese (yes, it was around then!) cooked over an open fire (not in the kitchen stove, mind you, but at a campsite), all farb hidden.
And just us there.
I am getting goosebumps writing this!

To me, this was reenacting at it's finest!
But, there's more...
I'd like to tell you about another part of this reenactment that I don't very often write about: the battle.
For this year's scenario we portrayed the town of Winchester, Virginia, a first for me to be a southerner. Even my son, Rob, was a Confederate soldier for the first time - they needed some Federals to don gray otherwise it would have been overwhelmingly blue.
What puts the battle scene in Charlton Park over and above most battles at other events is that C.P. includes the community buildings and the civilians in the scenario. This year they had the Yankees invade our southern town of Winchester, and they stole furniture from the houses and put them in a pile in the middle of the town square.

There were chairs and trunks and other items. The women of the village wouldn't stand for that and fought the soldiers to get the items back, some running up, grabbing their chair, and scurrying back to their "home." A couple of the ladies even had their husband's pistols to ward off the yanks!
While all of the excitement of town was occurring, school was in session, and around a dozen and a half of our youth were in the schoolhouse learning their lessons on slate boards.

The young lady portraying the teacher, Miss Mrozek, is a teacher in her modern life so becoming a teacher of the 19th century came natural for her. Of course, the boys had to sit on one side of the room while the girls were on the other. She did give them lessons and had them hold up their hands or their slates to give the answer.

At one point, Miss Mrozek received a warning that a battle was about to commence right in town. After eyeballing the situation closely and seeing that the children could be in danger from stray bullets or worse if kept inside the building, she instead shoo'd them out of the schoolhouse, telling them to, "Run, children! Run to your parents quickly, and do not dawdle!" Away they went a-running and screaming in fear of the yankee aggressors.

It was a quite a sight to see - very realistic for all that witnessed it, including the audience sitting upon the hill. History came alive before their eyes.

The battle itself at Charlton Park is top notch. The buildings and the surroundings are used in ways rarely seen elsewhere. One truly gets the idea of what it was like in a battle town.

Friends, it's this sort of reenacting that gives a living historian the feeling of - and the opportunity to - step into the past. It's also this type of living history that allows the visitors to peep through a portal into a period that hasn't existed in a hundred and fifty years.
This is why Charlton Park - (and even Waterloo Farms) - consistently ranks at the top yearly. I am on a high for days after. That doesn't happen for me at most other events.
As reenactors/living historians, isn't that what it's supposed to be like?

Many thanks to Sally and Sheri and all the good folks that worked so hard to make this event come to pass. And a special thanks to Sally for her part in allowing us the use of the Sixberry House. This event is great, but it can be better. How? By having more reenactors attend. No matter where you may live, it's worth the trip to take part in this time-travel experience!



Stephanie Ann said...

I understand this and yes, it's up to us to make things interesting and different.

I am still trying to incorporate activities that allow different groups to hang out. You'd be surprised how often groups just keep to themselves.

Meryl said...

I adore reading your posts. As one who's always daydreamed of traveling back to the past, I've thought about becoming a reenactor may times over the years. Alas, my husband has no interest. I'm also the mother of two, working and going to school so time is an issue as well.

I wonder if there are any options for women reenactors who have very little time.

Historical Ken said...

Stephanie, you are so right. Too many stick to their group alone and rarely venture out to meet others and, dare I say, maybe even reenact with others.

Meryl - I don't know where you live but here in Michigan we have many units that can fit anyone's time. Both groups I am with do for sure.
Thank you for the kind comments - I do appreciate it!

~The Boyd Homestead Farm~ said...

I would love to travel down your way sometime to see some of your re enactments! It looks so real! Fantastic photos!! Glad you had a wonderful time :)


An Historical Lady said...

Sounds like a very fun weekend indeed! Loved the post and your photos~

Sally said...

Thanks for the great description of our event, and for being a great asset to the event by doing a great living history demonstration in the Sixberry you are always welcome.

Carolinelizbeth said...

I miss this event so much! Thanks for sharing Ken!

Historical Ken said...

Everyone - Sally, here, is the Sally I spoke of in my post. She has worked so hard every year to make Charlton Park what it is! My thanks to you Sally!

Trish - you would be very welcome to join us in one of our time-travel excursions!

Caroline Elizabeth - Why are you not able to come? It would be great to have you there!