Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Day Steeped in History...

Saturday, April 14, 2012...

There is so much history that has taken place in the month of April, including the beginning of the Revolutionary War and the beginning (and ending) of the Civil War. 
But the date of April 14 has a double significance.
Read on to find out...
Saturday, April 14, 2012 began with myself, my wife Patty and our three youngest, and our good friend Mrs. Cook venturing out to the opening day of Greenfield Village. The Village closes its gates after the Christmas season for a variety of reasons, including low visitor count during the (usually) very cold and snowy winter months, the need for upkeep and repairs of the historical structures, and the cleaning of the museum pieces inside the houses. So, for those of us who love history, Greenfield Village's Opening Day is every bit as important and exciting as baseball's opening day.
 If only the weather was a little better for us – we had thick clouds and sporadic rain – but we still had a very good time. 
Entering places like Firestone Farm, the Ford Home, Susquehanna Plantation, and the Daggett Farmhouse after nearly half a year was like coming home - and it really was a homecoming of sorts; since we visit the Village quite a bit we were greeted wonderfully and ecstatically by the presenters.
Talk about making you feel welcome!
And for the three of my four kids who came along with us it was like going 'home' to visit their 'old neighborhood,' for they all literally grew up there.
Plowing at Firestone Farm 

Over at Firestone we watched as the farmhands plowed a section for a kitchen garden. I've always been envious of the guys working the farm and wish I could go back to my younger days so I could have gotten a job at the Village instead of the record store. Not that I didn't like working at the various stores - I did - but I know I would have been much happier in history.
Well, that's why I do living history now, right?
Besides strolling about the Village we also dined at my very favorite restaurant - the Eagle Tavern - where one can order meals served in the same manner and style as if it were 1850.

The Eagle Tavern
 After our fine repast of beef and chicken with sarsaparilla to wash it down we went to the Henry Ford Museum, which is adjacent to Greenfield Village, to see the very special Titanic Exhibit. This day just happened to be April 14 - the 100th anniversary of the elegant ocean liner striking the ice burg, causing it to sink only a couple hours later. Well, to be honest, visiting the Titanic exhibit on this particular date was not a coincidence...when I found out late last year that the museum was going to have this exhibit for most of 2012, I knew without question which day I was going to go on, and I bought tickets months ahead of time to ensure it.
 My oldest child (um...adult child!) and his girlfriend, who could not come with us earlier in our Village excursion, joined us at the museum for the Titanic exhibit. My son's girlfriend has vague memories of coming here as a child, so while we waited to 'board' the Titanic, I thought I'd take the opportunity to give a quickie tour of the Henry Ford Museum to 'enlighten' her a bit. I pointed out just some of the amazing collection of historical items this place has, such as the camping equipment once belonging to George Washington and a writing desk once owned by Thomas Jefferson. 
But the piece of American history that I felt was most significant to see on this particular date - April 14 - was originally owned by Henry (Harry) Ford (no relation to the auto-magnet). Harry happened to work at the Ford Theater in Washington as the treasurer. When he had heard that President Lincoln was coming to catch the performance of the play "Our American Cousin" he brought in a rocking chair that was originally part his bedroom furnishings; he felt it was suitable for such an important man. 
Hopefully, those of you reading this know what happened on that fateful April 14 in 1865...the evening the President Lincoln was shot... 

The rocker President Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot on April 14, 1865.
Just imagine...
 And here we were, 147 years to the day, staring at what is perhaps the most famous chair in American history.
It still sends chills down my spine.
Other visitors near us, by the way, heard me speaking about this and gathered around the display to eye the chair with a bit more reverence.
But, there was another very important occurrence on April 14 - - the Titanic...
The Titanic exhibit wall
  We then got in line to “board” the Titanic; the outside exhibit wall where we waited was painted to look like the great ship. As we entered we were handed boarding passes - each one having a name and short biography of actual Titanic passengers; at the end of the exhibit you could find your name to see if you lived or died. (Surprisingly, all in our group were on the survivor list.)
Inside, the exhibit was laid out very well. There were many original artifacts brought up from the wreckage site at the bottom of the ocean including cups, bowls, and plates, some articles of clothing including a work shirt and a bowler hat, eyeglasses, a tape measure, toothpaste bowl, shaving kit, bottles of perfume with some of the 'smellum' still inside, cooking oil with some oil still inside as well, cooking pots, sheet music, a boat whistle, jewelry, and just so much more.  
(all items pictured in this next group of photos are original Titanic artifacts found on the ocean floor unless otherwise noted as 'replicas')
Razor and case

Nickel Pot
Bowler Hat

A wool work shirt
Perfume vials with stoppers

Toothpaste bowl lid

Replica of 3rd class plate

Replica of 1st class plate
Replica of 2nd class plate

To think that these items survived after sitting at the bottom of the ocean from 1912 to 1985, and now we can view them!

 As we moved along we suddenly found ourselves staring down a very authentic reproduction of the 1st class hallway – my gosh! I must’ve stood in that part for over five minutes just taking it all in. It truly felt like you were there, if only for split second intervals. Then, turning the corner we came upon – this was awesome – the Grand Staircase. Yes! - - - there it was, in all its opulent glory! Just as I'd seen in old photographs and in the movies!
This was another one of those you are there moments (I suppose it takes a deep love and passion for history to get these moments). As a family, we had our photograph taken as we stood upon the steps of this magnificent reproduction. For some reason, the RMS Titanic corporation does not allow photography inside their exhibit, but they did have their own photographer there offering to take pictures...for a price. Yes, I fell for it - it was just too amazing to not have a souvenir like this. 
Yes, here is my family (including my son's girlfriend) standing on an exact replica of the Grand Staircase. This picture was taken on April 14, 2012
 Another interesting reproduction was of the lower level steerage corridor, including the constant sound of the great ship's motor rumbling in the background, which those in steerage heard. 
They had also reproduced a 1st class and a 3rd class cabin side by side so one can see easily the class difference. The rich expected such elegance, but for the poor, the third class accommodations were, in many cases, much better than what they were used to.
There are some who feel that nothing should have been brought up from the wreckage, that it should have all remained two and a half miles down below the ocean in complete darkness as a memorial. 
I respectfully disagree. 
I cannot think of a better way to remember than to have these items displayed in such a way and to see them with one's own eyes. It's in this way the legacy can be carried on for generations. That’s why I have no problem with them bringing up the artifacts for this purpose – and only for this purpose of display and remembrance, not for private ownership.
The Titanic exhibit is magnificent , and I plan to visit at least once or twice more before it ends in September.
But our day still wasn't over, by the way...
We drove back to our house and had a few friends join us to watch the James Cameron version of the Titanic movie. Now, I know there will be those who will chide me in my choice of the three or four major Titanic movies available, but I chose the Cameron version based on a number of reasons: 
~ it's the most historically accurate portrayal of the ship itself, taking the viewer in nearly all areas of Titanic (except for the 2nd class - that area is noticeably missing) including into the boiler rooms. The attention to detail is astounding.
~ the picture and sound quality of the movie draws the viewer right in. Modern technology can help bring the past to life, can't it?
~ it shows the ship breaking apart - no other actual movie that I know of, aside from documentaries, shows this
~ and finally, I just really like this version.
'nuff said.

The "movie" Titanic

Watching the movie directly after seeing the exhibit was, simply put, an engulfing experience. And knowing that this day was the 100th anniversary of the Titanic hitting the ice burg, I felt it was a fine way to pay tribute – not all tributes and memorials need to be sullen. Just respectful.

This day for my family and I  - and our friends that joined us - will be long remembered...

 - - - - - - - - - - 

A week after I wrote this post I took my then 82 year old mother to the Village and then to the Titanic exhibit. She loved both!

Mom warmed herself next to the Firestone Farm fireplace

Me and my mother on the Titanic's Grand Staircase



Civil Folks said...

Great post. Sounds like you all had a great time and looks like you had a 'grand' time on the grand stairway!


Karen~The Barely There Primitive Bear said...

Great post! I watched a lot on the Titanic this past weekend and I watched the new movie on ABC, I believe it was.
I heard about the exhibit and I would love to see it. Thanks for sharing and I would have had that picture taken, also! Great family picture, by the way.