Sunday, December 11, 2011

Christmas at Historic Fort Wayne in Detroit

Another weekend in December - another Christmas time-travel experience...

That's our home - the white one 
(This photo from the Fort Wayne website)

Historic Fort Wayne is located in downtown Detroit and is situated on the Detroit River at a point where it is about a mile to the Canadian shore. The original 1848 limestone barracks (with later brick additions) still stands, as does the 1845 Star fortification (renovated in 1863 with brick exterior facing). On the fort grounds but exterior to the original star fort are additional barracks, officers quarters, hospital, shops, recreation building, commissary, guard house, garage, and stables.

Our entrance way - quite elegant, 
wouldn't you say?

The star fort today is substantially similar to the original construction, although some changes have been made.
It's here that annual Civil War reenactments take place during the summer months. It's also here during December that a semi-annual Christmas living history event will also take place known as Christmas at the Fort.
(The above was taken from Wikipedia)
Ready to begin our 
Christmas Eve 1861 celebration

On December 10th of this year a number of us donned our period clothing and brought the past to life for a few hundred tourists that took a scheduled tour, stopping at different locations to learn of Christmas celebrations past. They visited the barracks where Civil War soldiers were shown participating in the same activities they would have done a hundred and fifty years ago. They also stopped at a home to show what it was like for southern families during that time.
I was part of a group stationed inside a very elegant commander's home, though our scenario wasn't about the commander; it was to show how a well-to-do northern family would have celebrated Christmas Eve.
The house was as ornate and elegant as any Victorian home I have seen, and we got to call it "home"!
Family and friends gathered in our front parlor 
to enjoy this joyous holiday

This was a unique presentation, for the group of visitors were not allowed to roam throughout the home and speak to the various living historians. They, instead, were able to stand in the doorways of the various rooms to peak in and see the 1860's in action. While they did this, one from our group would quietly get up from our activity and move over to where the visitors were and speak of how we were celebrating Christmas.
Yes, we were ghosts of Christmas Past 
to the visitors from the future
The rest of us continued reading, singing, knitting, playing games, or doing whatever else we were in the midst of and were oblivious to those apparitions from the future. And then, when our presenter had finished their talk, they re-joined our group and continued as if they had never left.
I must say, this was a bit difficult to do as a presenter. We normally ask if there are any questions or employ the help of another reenactor in a sort of tag-team presentation. We're not used to just ending our speech and walking away. So, we kind of did a combination of the two. It worked well but it is my hope that should we do this again next Christmas that we re-visit this goal and see if we can make it kind of an ethereal presentation.
We gathered 'round the pump organ 
and sang Christmas carols
We did have a fine time as living historians bringing Christmas past to life. We took turns reading from the various material including Dickens "A Christmas Carol," the latest issue of Harper's Weekly (from December 1861), and from a book of poetry, short stories, and other period correct verses. We sang Christmas Carols to a pump organ, and played parlor games. And some of the ladies crochet and knitted Christmas gifts for their loved ones off fighting the rebellion.
Our servant girl continued doing what 
she was paid to do, especially on Christmas Eve!
As any wealthy family would have employed, we had a domestic there, cleaning, sweeping, and keeping house for us. She was included in our scenario here and there: while we had a group of visiting public inside, our servant would stop what she was doing and take a peak inside the room to view the celebrating. I, of course, would chastise her and send her back to her duties of which I pay her for. The tour group loved this.
On a side note, as we gathered all of our participants together for a group photo, one elegantly dressed woman told the domestic, "Servants in the back!"
The young lady obliged.
Yes, we do take our fun seriously.
Posing for a photograph - 
this is what WE saw
But it is fun and it is role playing - by choice - and that's why I love working with the living historians that I do. They are top-notch. Yes, there is room for improvement. But, we are heading in the right direction, and with each event that we present in this manner we raise our bar a bit higher.
Posing for a photograph - 
this is what the future sees
As I stated in my last post (Ghosts of Christmas Past) I have always dreamt of the days of Christmas past, from the time I was a tiny tot throughout my adult-hood, and I had attempted numerous times to replicate Christmas's from an era long ago.
And now my wish, my dream, my prayer seems to be coming true.
I never thought I'd see the day...

~If you would like to see more photos of this event, please click HERE to see photographer Ian Kushnir's picture album on Facebook~



Richard Cottrell said...

I hope your season is going well and I can see you are spreading the cheer. Richard from My Old Historic House.

Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Ken,

What a beautiful home and fine furniture! Thank you for sharing this special event.

My eyes fell on the stereoscope and views on the center table, and that gorgeous stand! I've seen those on eBay... too high for me! There are so many little antique items I would love to own, and some day, if they are still out of my price range, I may resort to making them myself!


Historical Ken said...

Pam -
I actually picked up a stereoscope from the 1880's in excellent condition off Ebay for forty bucks a couple years ago.
Keep looking...

Sherri Farley said...

Loved the tour, I love history and I will come back often to learn more! Your photos are lovely.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Sherri. I appreciate hearing that!