Wednesday, February 29, 2012

An Interesting Perspective on Authentic Reenacting

Speaking to the visitors of the future
I was speaking to a group of visitors - modern visitors - who were on a tour during a living history Christmas presentation this past December. It was at Historic Fort Wayne and a few of us were doing our best to show everyday life on Christmas Eve 1861. We were situated in the elegant house that once belonged to the commander, and so we gave the impression of being a well-to-do family and friends for our scenario. In the family parlor the lady of the house was playing the pump organ while the rest were singing traditional carols. The modern visitors, numbering around 20 or so, enjoyed this scene that jumped right out of the past.
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. While speaking to the tourists, our servant girl, who had been dusting the furniture in the entrance hall, stopped what she was doing and peaked in the doorway to watch and listen to the Christmas celebration in the parlor. After about two minutes of her standing there, rag in hand, I abruptly stopped my presentation to the visitors, turned to the servant and sternly said, "Miss Graber, do you not have work to do?"
She popped back into reality and replied, "Yes, yes. I'm sorry." And proceeded to continue dusting.
One woman in the tour group was taken aback at what just occurred.
"You are making her work on Christmas Eve?" she asked. "And you're not even going to let her enjoy the celebration?"
"Ma'am," I said, "I have more family coming to-morrow for Christmas, and this house must be spotless!"
I then continued on with my presentation.
The rest of the tour group loved this.
Pretty authentic, wouldn't you say?
On a side note, after the last tour group left, we gathered all of our living historian participants together for a group photo. Miss Graber, standing in the front, was told by the lady of the house, "Servants in the back!"
Our domestic obliged.
Yes, we do take our fun seriously.

Posing for a photograph - 
this is what the future sees
Posing for a photograph - 
this is what WE saw
I bring this up because of a very thoughtful posting by a fellow blogger (World Turned Upside Down) that speaks on racism and discrimination in reenacting. No, she does not accuse anyone of racism; she instead brings up the point of authentic living history and the period-correct associations with African Americans and even the Irish.
Miss Stephanie Ann, the publisher of World Turned Upside Down blog, asks numerous questions in her post, such as Is it our responsibility to go against our moral to portray something so horrific as slavery? Are period appropriate interactions, inappropriate today? Should the Irish Brigade have derogatory names thrown at them? and  Should reenactors have to act in defiance of their modern day beliefs?
All are very good questions - questions that are rarely (if ever) brought up.
A good domestic will help wherever she is needed

I included the above written scenario of our domestic here, who is white, because that's a scene rarely played out. Let's be honest, it seems most in our hobby would rather wear the elegant dresses or the dandy suits rather than dress as the majority of the population did, much less dress and act as a domestic, who were, by the way, looked down upon.
But Miss Graber enjoys her portrayal very much. We have worked with her numerous other times as well and she said she loves the authenticity of it. She has a passion for the past and history in her heart, so she realizes what she is doing is bringing a part of the past to life in an authentic and accurate way. Much more realistic than dozens of women dressed gaily in their gowns doing needlepoint.
Of course, outside of our scenario, Miss Graber is an equal with everyone else - we do not carry on with her status or treat her any differently once the scenario is not in play.
And that's as it should be.
I don't know if you've noticed, however, that there are very few African Americans that participate in Civil War reenacting, especially as civilians. And I'm sure some of you are saying, "Well, why would they want to? To be period correct, most would be treated like dirt!"
According to what I have read, this seems to be a sad fact.
But it was the norm of the time in which we are portraying, was it not?
As Miss Stephanie Ann noted, "There are some people who somehow think that everyone in the south was racist and a supporter of slavery. They also think that everyone in the north was an abolitionist or somehow more enlightened than their southern counterparts. This type of thinking is juvenile at best and shows little understanding of the complex social and economic roots of the problems of the time period. Many  people also don't notice the "actor" in reenactor and falsely accuse Confederate reenactors of racism. They don't understand that reenactors portray people of the past and our real views are very different from the views we may portray.  Will "period discrimination" enforce these falsehoods?"
Very well stated.
So what does one do to address the issue of slavery and the black population of 1862 - North or South - during a reenactment? In my opinion, it all depends on how you do your presentation. For instance, if you are strictly a "teaching" presenter - no 1st person, only talking to the public in an informative style - this should be relatively easy. By continuing in that same manner you only have to speak to the public about the research you've done on the subject ("just the facts, ma'am"). A good starting point would be to do research on what Miss Stephanie Ann noted above to verify her information. (I have and my findings agree with her.)
It can be a little trickier for those of us who do 1st person. The subject of slavery and black life in general has been brought up to me at several reenactments while I was in first person. That's when I remove my hat, take a side-step, and let the visitors know that I am stepping out of my character to answer a question. At that point I do my best to give a truthful answer from my own research.
I then put on my hat, retract my step, and get back into my 1st person mode.

But what if there is an African American reenactor in the midst? What then?
Again - been there, done that.
Although I do my best to show life as it was to the best of my ability, I am also a man of the 20th/21st century, and have a few modern principals (only a few!) that were quite different than our ancestors, one of which is how to treat in kindness all human beings no matter what race or sex. I simply cannot treat an African American (or any other kind person) like dirt. Well, I suppose if said A. A. and I both agreed to a scenario I probably could, but to just do it off the cuff is not in my nature.
I guess I would have to consider myself a northern abolitionist-type of Victorian citizen.
By the way, I have another blogger friend who does living history. She is an African American woman with a strong passion for the past and shows another side of 19th century A.A. living in her blog.

I'm not sure if I helped with Miss Stephanie Ann's original post or if I opened up another door, but I do find this a subject of interest.

(4 out of the 5 photos here were taken by Ian Kushnir. The 5th one -Miss Graber cleaning the hall tree- was one I took)




.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Zap! You Are Now in 1850...What the Heck are all These Mills for Anyhow?

As you move about your modern town or city, chances are you will see factories. I know within a two mile radius in any direction from where I live I can come across multiple factories - dozens, perhaps - employing a wealth of workers who make the items (or parts of items) we need and use on a daily basis, whether plastics for limitless things (practically everything we use today has some plastic in it) or metal (automobiles and small engines mainly).
And we think nothing of these (usually) brick enclosed and somewhat dirty industrial buildings. I've even seen factories way out in the country, pretty much in the middle of nowhere.
We also see delivery trucks come and go daily at these places, picking up or dropping off parts.
And that's another piece of our daily lives we think little about: delivery trucks. They are everywhere, aren't they? Coming and going, moving day and night to deliver the all-important merchandise in a timely manner.
Suddenly, without warning, you find yourself taking a trip through time and space: you're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind...
And you have landed in 1850 - right smack-dab in the middle of the 19th century!
What now? You have no money or food...you need to get a job. At the sign post up ahead...you find the way to town.
One thing you will notice as you walk along the road to town is the absence of the dozens of factories. Not totally, mind you, for there are a few, such as iron, glass, and textile factories. But not nearly as many as in the 21st century.
However, one common type of industry you will see in 1850 that is a rarity in the 21st century are the mills that were so prominent. I googled "21st Century Mills"  and, well, click the link to see where that took me. Now look what happened when I googled 19th Century Mills. What a difference, eh?
Yes, we still have cider mills in our modern age - practically every city person visits the cider mill come autumn. And for the most part these were built in the 19th century, many even using 150 year old machinery to run them.
Ahhh...tradition lives...
But the rest of the mills are no longer around for the most part, or are so few that you really have to search far and wide to find one. Unless, of course, you go to an open-air historical museum - that's where I had to go to get most of the photographs in this post.
But there are a few still left in their original locations. In fact, my wife and I very recently actually had to find a working carding mill. You see, she does spinning on a spinning wheel and this past Christmas I bought for her seven pounds of raw wool, not knowing she still had a couple pounds that she purchased for herself earlier in the year. She really does not want to pick through, card, and wash all of this wool before spinning - as a working woman outside the home, that would take a mighty long time to do - so I had to search for a place that still does this process. I found a (very) few here and there, and we chose to go to the one up in Frankenmuth (about an hour and a half drive north of Detroit) called Zeilinger Wool Company. They use 100+ year old carding machines to prepare the wool for spinning. As odd as it may sound, it was kind of neat to have to go to a carding mill to get our wool prepared.
If you include our trip to the cider mill last fall, we visited two traditional-type mills over the past five months. And that got me to thinking about other mills I might have visited had I been living back during the mid-19th century. Suddenly, without warning, I found myself in a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind.
This post is in no way an in depth report of mills, but rather a quick overview.
Since I just spoke of going to the carding mill, that's a good place to begin with:

This is the Gunsolly Carding Mill, originally located in Plymouth, Michigan.
 
This circa 1850-51 mill, built by John Gunsolly, was originally located on the Middle Rouge River, and illustrates the changeover from hand-operated (carding paddles) to labor-saving mechanical equipment brought about by the industrial revolution, which resulted in the mass production and mass supply of goods.

One must remember that until the mid-19th century, America was basically a hand-crafted nation, with artisans working at home or in small shops where the human hand was the main source of power.


Future auto magnet Henry Ford and his father (and many other farmers in the area) used to bring raw wool sheared from their flocks of sheep to this very mill where the wool was carded, a process where fibers are opened, cleaned, and straightened in preparation for spinning, and then made into rovings (a long and narrow bundle of fiber with a twist to hold the fiber together), which were then taken home for spinning into thread or yarn by their wives and daughters.

The machine that made life so much easier for women of the 19th century

John Gunsolly ran this mill from 1850-51 to 1870. Many farmers would exchange their loads for a proportionate amount of the carded rovings instead of paying cash - a barter system.
By the end of the 19th century, larger mills, many located on the east coast of our country, took away business from the smaller ones such as this.


  A closer look at the carding mechanism

And here are the carding machines at the Zeilinger Wool Company in Frankenmuth that my wife and I visited recently:

There is really not much of a difference between the Plymouth Mill and this one except the machines here are a bit larger. But the process is the same.

From the carding mill we'll head over to the ever-popular gristmill:
From colonial times and into the first half of the nineteenth century, gristmills flourished in America by meeting an important local need in agricultural communities: grinding the farmers' grain into flour with large, circular stones, and levying a toll, usually in kind, for the service.
The founding father of Atlas, Michigan was Judge Norman Davison, who arrived here in 1831 from Livingston County, New York. He cleared the land and built a house for his family near the river on the site where the Atlas Country Club now stands.  
Soon after Davison settled in this location, many more settlers came to the town, and it was here that he erected a gristmill in 1836.  
With the coming of sheep, Oliver Palmer built a wool carding and stock dressing business, and a woolen mill was erected next to the gristmill during the 1850's. There were many other settlers who contributed to the prosperity of Atlas including the first blacksmith, Enas Rockafellow, who arrived in 1837, Fitch R. Tracy who began a mercantile business in the late 1830's, and Dr. Elbridge Gale who started his practice in Atlas in 1837. The first tavern appeared on the scene in 1840. Noah Hull, as a carpenter and millwright, helped build many of the businesses and houses after his arrive in 1846. Furniture for the town's people was made by the local cabinet maker, Mr. James Shields. Residents could have their shoes repaired or have new ones made by the shoemaker, James Lobban...
With the increase of families coming to the area, a school was started in 1837. One can just imagine this small mid-19th century town, how it looked in the early days. Probably very similar to what Crossroads Village open air museum looks like today.
Gristmills flourished in America by meeting an important local need in agricultural communities by grinding the farmer's grain into flour. It is operated by water-driven turbine beneath the water surface so the mill can operate in winter if the surface of the water is frozen. The water power turns the large stone wheels used for grinding.

Each granite stone, which were made around 1835 in North Carolina, weighs 1800 pounds.
The grain slides down the chute to the “hopper,” which has a funnel-like appearance. The hopper disperses the grain to the stones to be ground and emptied out into the flour bin, ready to be sacked for the customer.
The Atlas Mill remained in operation until 1943, when, due in part to WWII, replacement parts for repairs were no longer available. The mill was dismantled and moved to Crossroads Village in 1975 where it was renovated and then moved, in 1977, to its current location inside the Village.
The sights and sounds of the spinning, grinding wheels give the public a first-hand glimpse of an earlier age. The turning wheels could grind one barrel of flour (whole wheat or buckwheat) or corn meal an hour.
An early portrayal of living history. So real, in fact, that one can just imagine local farmers, with their pack horse, ox cart, or on foot, coming to the gristmill from miles around, carrying the grain to be ground into flour.
It now produces stone-ground flour sold in Crossroads Village.

Another gristmill, this one (of two) located in Greenfield Village, is one that most don't think of as a mill in its definition, the Farris Windmill:

Named after the Farris family, who ran this mill for three generations, this windmill is said to be the oldest windmill in the United States, built in 1633, and stood at the road to West Yarmouth, Massachusetts. It now stands at the southeast end of Greenfield Village.
.This mill was built like those the early pilgrim settlers had seen during their exile in Holland. Young men were induced to become millers by being exempted from taxes and military duty. Winds off the Atlantic and Cape Cod Bay turned the mammoth fifty four foot sails, grinding corn into meal in ten minutes or in three hours, depending on the wind force. The long lever between the roof and the ground is used to turn both the roof and the sails in the most favorable positions.This mill was moved several times, that being easier than finding a millwright to build a new one. The initials "T.G." and "1782" were carved in one of the beams during a move.
The interior has a winding stairway which leads upward three stories from the ground level to the revolving roof area.

On the second floor above the foundation are the millstones, which are turned by wooden gears, and below are the hoppers and bins which hold the grain and meal.


From the gristmill and windmill we'll head over to the Cider Mill.

 This cider mill is a replicated 19th century mill that was constructed inside of Greenfield Village in 1942 to conform with the 19th century cider making machinery Henry Ford had in his collection. Demonstrations of pressing apples into cider took place here every fall for many years up until recently.

Sweet and hard cider, as well as cider vinegar, were important orchard byproducts essential to the economy of rural communities. In the 1800's, farmers could haul their apples to cider mills like this one to have them ground and pressed into cider. The cider making equipment in this building came from a mill in Martinsville, Michigan.
Cider, by the way, was the most popular drink of the 19th century.
A country scene: The train and the cider mill
And cider mills are still very popular here in the 21st century. Here in Michigan one of the busiest we have is Yates. 
As is written on their website:  
With a history that dates back to 1863, Yates Grist Mill opened its doors beside the rapidly flowing waters of the ‘then’ Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal (now the Clinton River). The Clinton River cascades over the Yates dam, which supplies the headwaters to power the mill. The dam was built to create a stream that the mill uses for water power. 

By 1876, the Yates family installed a cider press into the existing water-powered process and began producing delicious Michigan cider. It then became known as Yates Cider Mill. Local farmers, orchard owners and landowners would bring their apples to Yates for custom apple pressing. Over all these years, Yates has been producing the same kind of fresh 100% all natural cider that folks enjoyed way back in 1876.

Now we'll head over to Hanks Silk Mill, which produces (according to the Hanks brothers themselves) "the oldest and best brand of silk on the continent."

Hanks Silk Mill was built in 1810 by Rodney and Horatio Hanks in Mansfield, Connecticut, and produced the first machine-made silk in America.
The Hanks brothers originally built the mill over a waterway which they had diverted from a stream. As with many mills, the water fell from a large flat rock onto a mill wheel.
Once moved to Greenfield Village, the wheel was removed and a nearby grove of mulberry trees were planted especially for the mill, providing food for the young silkworms needed to produce the cocoons.Although the mulberry trees are still there, this production is no longer presented at the mill, as the time and energy it took to produce the silk was too time consuming for the little amount provided.

The original machinery of this mill burned, leaving just a few iron parts. But, the visitor can still see the same type of wooden reeds that once wound the thin strands of silk, as well as the parts that twisted the strands into a thread in tact as Mr. Ford had a reproduction of the machinery built.



From the Hanks Brothers mill we move to the Fairfield Rice Mill, of which William Alston had erected in 1787.
 















Once situated on the Fairfield Plantation at the Waccamaw River near Georgetown, South Carolina, this brick building housed the threshers, grindstones, shafts, and pulleys needed for the miller to do his job of threshing the grains of rice. A rice huller or rice husker was an agricultural machine used to automate the process of removing the chaff and the outer husks of rice grain and, although I have no positive proof of this, was more than likely used in this building.


The Cotton Gin Mill, originally from Richmond Hill Plantation in Ways, Georgia, is said to be the only building on the plantation that remained standing after General Sherman marched his troops through the district on their way to the sea in late 1864.

The Cotton Gin Mill
I cannot, at this time, find information about this building or even about Cotton mills except from Wikipedia which states (in part):
The architectural development of the cotton mill was linked to the development of the machinery which it contained, the power unit that drove it, and the financial instruments used for its construction.  The process led to combined mills where carding, spinning and weaving took place in the same mill. Mills were also used for finishing such as bleaching and printing.
Prior to the introduction of the mechanical cotton gin, cotton had required considerable labor to clean and separate the fibers from the seeds. With Eli Whitney’s introduction of “teeth” in his cotton gin to comb out the cotton and separate the seeds, cotton became a tremendously profitable business, creating many fortunes in the south.
The invention of the cotton gin caused massive growth in the production of cotton in the mainly southern part of the U.S. Cotton production expanded from 750,000 bales in 1830 to 2.85 million bales in 1850. As a result, the South became even more dependent on plantation and slavery, with plantation agriculture becoming the largest sector of the Southern economy. By 1860, the southern states were providing two-thirds of the world’s supply of cotton, and up to eighty percent of the crucial British market.
Now I know that Wikipedia cannot always be relied upon but in double checking the information I found it to be correct.

From the cotton mill we'll move to the Sorghum (or sugar) Mill.
This Sorghum Mill, believed to be from the 1850's, was reassembled from an old sugar mill found in Louisiana near Harahan not far from New Orleans.
Most communities had a sorghum mill. During the autumn, sorghum cane raised in fields and farmers brought their harvested cane to the mill. In the cane mill, the 6-to-12-foot stalks were crushed between rollers powered by a water wheel or, in some instances, a mule walking in a circle, to extract the juice. The resulting juice was boiled down in large pans to a thick, sweet syrup. As the juice is boiled down, greenish foam is skimmed off the top. When the amber-colored syrup reaches the desired consistency, it is cooled and put up in jars. Drizzled over hot biscuits and cornbread, added to baked beans, and gingerbread, this sweetener, sometimes referred to as molasses, has flavored many a meal. It was also poured over pancakes and biscuits, and used as an ingredient to flavor cakes, cookies, and candy. Some people still prefer it as a sweetener, and a few still make it. But its consumption has now been surpassed by the granulated white sugar bought in grocery stores.
The Sorghum (Sugar) Mill
These are the only photos I was able to obtain of both the Cotton and Sugar mills, and I had to get them from an out-of-print book I own ("Greenfield Village: Preserving America's Heritage"). I wish I had thought to photograph them during one of my visits years ago.


Now to the saw mills...
Built on a stone foundation, the Spofford Saw Mill was built in Georgetown, Massachusetts in the late 1600's by John (or possibly son Abner - or both) Spofford. Lumber from this mill was used to make houses, barns, shops, and possibly ships. This is an "up-and-down" saw mill, and is one of the earliest water-run saw mills still in existence. The vertical blade flashes up and down while suspended between the two floors of the building, hence, the name "up and down" saw mill.Saw mills were one of the first mills built in local communities, for they supplied the lumber to build all other establishments as well as so many of the household goods and furniture.
This mill remained in the Spofford family until the mid-1800's, and the new owners continued to serve the community until 1925.




There is also the Stony Creek Saw Mill.

This is a circular saw mill and was used to cut lumber for use in construction. Logs were set on a carriage frame on a track and fed into the spinning saw. After 1850, circular sawmills were common in Michigan and other lumbering communities across America. This mill was operated by the water of Stony Creek in Monroe, Michigan, powered by a waterwheel, though Mr. Ford converted it to a steam engine once rebuilt in Greenfield Village.
The equipment on the inside of this building is original to the mid-19th century, from what I understand. Unfortunately, at this time I have no photos of the machinery or of the interior at all.The exterior, according to the Benson Ford Research Center, is a replica of the original structure of the 1850's, built in the Village in 1928.


And yet another saw mill known as the Tripp mill.

Early settlers in Michigan needed homes, barns, and shops. As farmers cleared the forests for more farm land, the trees provided a plentiful supply of wood. Sawmills were among the first mills established in towns and farming communities, and it was at these sawmills that the wood was cut into lumber to build the homes, barns, and shops.

The 1855 Tripp Sawmill, originally from Franklin Center (now Tipton), Michigan, near Tecumseh in Lenauwee County and built by J.D. Tripp, featured an up and down saw similar to the one Henry Ford operated in his youth. Powered by a steam engine on the bottom floor, the vertical blade flashes up and down while suspended between the two floors of the building, hence, the name "up and down" saw mill. The original machinery in this mill cuts lumber in the 19th century style, by emulating the same motion of cutting lumber by hand with a pit saw, which was invaluable for accurate restorations in the Village.

Much Michigan timber went through this mill when the Tripps owned and operated it from 1855 until 1916. It ran for four months out of the year with just three or four workers. During those few months, the workers cut all the lumber that the surrounding community needed. The mill was closed in 1916 when competition from the railroads made it easy to move lumber throughout the region from large scale logging operations.

Until the 19th century, America was basically a hand-craft-oriented nation, with craftsmen working at home or in relatively small shops, with hand-action as the main source of power. But the development of water-power helped to greatly lower the need for the hand-crafts. With water driving the turbines that then turned the power gears and belts, the age of machine-made work helped the nation to prosper. What the various mills could produce was seemingly limitless.

But by the middle of the 20th century, however, mills became objects of wonder, for they had lost, by then, all prominence in their place in society. Once found in every town across America, by 1950 they had become a curiosity.

By the way, as a male civilian reenactor/living historian I find this sort of information useful, for it would have been a man who would have made the trip to the various mills either for work or business. And whether male or female, all would have had some knowledge of the mill trade.
The historical facts written herein can be used in our presentations to help bring the past to life for ourselves and for the visitor with historical interest, just as I use what I've learned about taverns & stagecoach travel, shopping, cooking, harvest time, dealing with winter, what it was like to visit a repair shop, the life of a teacher, visiting a doctor, or even mourning rituals to bring my 1860's persona to life.
Not only will it fill out the delivery of your life in the 1860's, but it will put you that far ahead of the typical campsitter who only wants to look pretty in her beautiful dress or look like a dandy in his top hat.





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Monday, February 20, 2012

Update: Look Into the Future - How Much of Our Time Will Be Lost?

"

~The following is an update of a posting from last year~


I found the above note while on Facebook and I wondered just how many people actually knew what the Library of Alexandria was. Just in case you don't know I will give a very basic bit of information here (taken from eHistory) followed by my 'editorial' on how future generations may perceive us if we don't save today:


"The loss of the ancient world's single greatest archive of knowledge, the Library of Alexandria, has been lamented for ages. But how and why it was lost is still a mystery. The mystery exists not for lack of suspects but from an excess of them. 
Alexandria was founded in Egypt by Alexander the Great. His successor as Pharaoh, Ptolomy II Soter, founded the Museum or Royal Library of Alexandria in 283 BC. The Museum was a shrine of the Muses modeled after the Lyceum of Aristotle in Athens. The Museum was a place of study which included lecture areas, gardens, a zoo, and shrines for each of the nine muses as well as the Library itself. It has been estimated that at one time the Library of Alexandria held over half a million documents from Assyria, Greece, Persia, Egypt, India and many other nations. Over 100 scholars lived at the Museum full time to perform research, write, lecture or translate and copy documents. The library was so large it actually had another branch or "daughter" library at the Temple of Serapis.
So who did burn the Library of Alexandria? Unfortunately most of the writers from Plutarch (who apparently blamed Caesar) to Edward Gibbons (a staunch atheist or deist who liked very much to blame Christians and blamed Theophilus) to Bishop Gregory (who was particularly anti-Moslem, blamed Omar) all had an axe to grind and consequently must be seen as biased. Probably everyone mentioned above had some hand in destroying some part of the Library's holdings. The collection may have ebbed and flowed as some documents were destroyed and others were added.
The real tragedy of course is not the uncertainty of knowing who to blame for the Library's destruction but that so much of ancient history, literature and learning was lost forever."


I think you'll agree that the above ties in well with what I have written below:
In the reenacting community I portray a postmaster. I have a pretty decent set up at my tent including a desk, the mail holder, period stationary, period writing utensils, and enough historical information to teach visitors in (hopefully) an interesting and fun manner about the mail during the Civil War era. I also explain just how important the mail was to both the soldier and the citizen. I like to ask the visitor what they thought might have been written in the letters coming from home to the soldier fighting hundreds of miles away.
Almost everyone gets it right: they wrote about the everyday goings on in their daily lives; they wrote of the happenings in their community; they wrote of friends and family. And they wrote about these subjects in great detail:

June 3rd, 1862
My Dear Husband,
I got here the Friday after I left you, found all well but Aunt Hester, her arm is getting like her leg was. I had a very tiresome trip. You never saw the roads in such condition. I got stuck twice, once I had to get out and then the buggy had to be priyed up before Julia (the horse) could pull the empty buggy out. The horses all seemed to stand the trip very well. The children would get tired every evening, but in the morning was always impatient to start. They were well all the way, but Lillia was pretty much sick all the way. I don't think it is anything but hives.

And the letter continues for four full pages in this manner.
But, what a great description of what it was like to travel!

We have learned so much about the Civil War era through the letters and diaries of those who were there. And it's because of these letters and diaries that we can very accurately recreate a scene so accurate from the past that if we could bring one from the era back to life they would be very familiar and comfortable with our presentation.
So much of it is due to the written word of the time.
And now we have e-mails that can easily replace the letter. Think about it: instead of writing out a letter, buying a stamp, sending it out, then hoping it's delivered in a short time (within a week, maybe) we can just send out a quick note via the computer. Or send a text message via cell phones. Or instant messenger. Messages on Facebook.
Skype!
But, let me ask you a question: how many of you reading this posting actually print out your e-mails or any of the other 21st century communications that you receive?
I thought so...
So, who, 150 years in the future, will know about our everyday lives?
It's scary to think that the only history of our times future generations might know is from what today's media will tell them.
And we all know just how accurate today's media is (cough cough).
For instance, when Obama and McCain were running against each other for president in 2008, the way the media presented it one would think that Obama won by 90 percent of the votes.
Not true.
Not even close.
In fact, it was much closer than the media would have you believe:
the popular vote was 69,456,897 for Obama to 59,934,814 for McCain.
Not nearly as great a divide as the media would have us all believe.
Typical.
(By the way, this is not a political posting - - I just want to show my point, so please, no political commentary. It will not get posted).
The media follows their own truth.
Their own fashion.
And, whatever the media today says is the truth is what folks in the future may be forced to believe.
Because they will have nothing else to go on.
And we need to prevent that from happening.
It's really not that hard.
For me personally, I keep a journal. I type in it daily - even if it's just a quick little blurb. And, if I receive an e-mail from someone that is a personal-type e-mail, I will copy and paste it into the journal. In this way I have it.
My journal also consists of me and my family's daily activities, including (sometimes, but not all the time) our eating habits, TV shows and movies we enjoy watching, our historical events, some of our purchases, visits from neighbors and friends and extended family, prices of certain items, etc.
Yes, everyday life.
I also, by the way, print out a hard copy of what I've written at each month's end.
If you don't want to write a journal, then at least copy and paste your e-mails (and text messages if you can) onto a word document and print that out every so often.
But, I hope you would take a few minutes out of your busy day and write a little something.

How about photographs? How many of you with digital cameras actually print out your pictures?
I do.
Especially now that film is going the way of the vinyl record album, 8-track or cassette tape, and TV antenna.

Well, not every picture - I take over a thousand photos every year and choose the best to be printed. Yes, I go through a lot of ink and paper, but to me it's worth it. I suppose I could take a disc of my favorites to the local Rite Aid or CVS and have them print my pictures out cheaper, but I enjoy doing different things with my photos including printing them at different sizes and sometimes even printing little stories or bits of information to go with them.

By the way, I also store my computer information (text and photos) on an external hard drive and update that monthly as well.
Why do I do all this?
You see, I have this fear that one day (for whatever reason) our computers may not be accessible, therefore rendering everything not printed onto hard-copy, inaccessible (can you say floppy disc?).
What now?

Seriously - so much of our history is being lost. I really hate thinking that the media will be dictating our lives to future generations, don't you?




Saturday, February 18, 2012

Living History/Reenacting/Interpreter Laughs

Whether you are a museum interpreter, curator, living historian, or a reenactor, I think you can identify with this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IhAJiz2ixuY


And, for something a bit more serious, check this blog post out:

There's a Word for That: Presentism










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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Michigan's Magical History Tour

 Michigan has its share of open-air museums: Greenfield Village, Crossroads Village, Mill Race Village, Charlton Park, Greenmead Village, Troy Historical Village, Port Sanilac Historical Village, and, of course, the forts and replications done up in Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island.
There is also Historic Fort Wayne in Downtown Detroit.
But this posting is going to be a different kind of history trip, and many folks don't think of my great state in this manner - - - - as a historical destination spot.
Read on....

This week's posting is about my home state of Michigan and a few (just a few!) of its historic structures. I'm the kind of guy that will stop the car while I'm driving if I see a building or a scene that I simply must take a photograph of. There are many wonderful homes and buildings from the 19th century that are still in - or very near - their original location, and I thought I'd highlight some of them.
So roll on up, for this Michigan Magical History Tour is waiting to take you away...

This first area we will stop off at in our time-travel journey is a place that is very near to my heart  - the Village of Lexington. Lexington, named for the famed Revolutionary War town in Massachusetts, is a little more than an hour north of Detroit, along the banks of Lake Huron. My grandfather bought a cottage back in 1956 on a small plot of land just a few miles south of it, so heading into Lexington was always a fun treat. Still is!
And Lexington has its share of historical structures still standing in their original locations. Come with me to see a few...

The place that I'm highlighting first is not our family cottage but it is a cottage that is only a couple roads away - a ten minute walk. We always called it the Stone Castle.

The Stone Castle in the subdivision of Great Lakes Shores on the outskirts of Lexington, Michigan.
 The stone castle was built in the very early 1930's by using the rocks from the beach from nearby Lake Huron. Family and friends made a line nearly an eighth of a mile long and passed the rocks from the beach up the road to the location hand-to-hand.
The stone fence surrounding the castle also has a neat European flavor, including the Tower of Pisa.
It has become one of the sites off the beaten path that is worth checking out because of its uniqueness. I have never seen anything like it, that's for sure.
The descendents of the original builder recently sold the place to a non-family member.

Another structure in Lexington - more of a landmark actually - is the Cadillac Hotel.  
The first hotel in the village was built and kept by C.L. Mills in 1840. He traded it a short time later for a farm to James Yake who in turn sold it to J.W. Buel. Buel's mother, Mrs. Mary Buel, kept the place until it had burned down in 1859. In 1860 the current Hotel Cadillac was built by John L. Woods and opened to the public with a ball on July 4 of that year.
My family and I eat here at the Cadillac every summer. They have very good pizza! It's supposedly very active with a poltergeist, and has been investigated by several paranormal groups. It's soon to be included in a book on haunted places in Michigan.

From what I read, the Moore Public Library was built in 1859 as "The Law Office of John Divine," who was the first attorney in Sanilac County. The three Moore sisters purchased the building in 1903 and had it remodeled for a library. It was deeded to the Village of Lexington on January 17, 1903. Mary Moore married Albert E. Sleeper, the Governor of Michigan from 1917-1920.
The Moore Public Library as it stands today

But this building wasn't Lexington's first public library. That distinction belongs to this next structure:
The B.R. Noble building features Grecian Columns of cast iron.

the Lexington B.R. Noble Bank, constructed in 1882. The library was started on the second floor. It is now an antique store that sells more Americana than actual antiques, but it's still a neat place to visit.

There are more Victorian structures in Lexington, but it would take numerous postings to do the village justice, so we'll take our leave and travel along the banks of Lake Huron to check out a few lighthouses.
What most Americans do not realize is that Michigan is the number one state in the union for lighthouses. No kidding! Not Maine, Florida, or California. With three of the largest Great Lakes (Huron, Michigan, and Superior - and even a bit of Erie) creating Michigan's two peninsulas - 3,288 miles of shoreline, which is the most of any state except Alaska - it's no wonder it has the most light houses.
The Fort Gratiot Lighthouse (including the Cottage keeper's house) is located in Fort Gratiot (near Port Huron), Michigan. The entrance into the St. Claire River from Lake Huron had long been deemed of strategic importance. With the surge in vessel traffic on Lake Huron in the early 1800's, the need for a lighthouse to guide vessels into the river and away from the shallows at the River entrance became a matter of increasing importance. 
Fort Gratiot (pronounced Grah-shit) Lighthouse with the Cottage Keeper's house
In response to this need, Congress appropriated $3,500 to construct a lighthouse "near Fort Gratiot, in Michigan Territory" on March 3rd of 1823. Work commenced on the structure, and with the completion of construction on August 8th 1825, Fort Gratiot Light House held the honor of becoming the first lighthouse in the State of Michigan.

On February 19, 1838 Michigan State Representative Isaac Crary entered a motion in Congress that the Committee on Commerce be instructed to investigate into the expediency of establishing a lighthouse on the nearby shore to both warn mariners of the reef and to mark the important turning point into Saginaw Bay. After investigation, the Committee concurred, and Congress responded with an appropriation of $5,000 for the Light's construction on July 7, 1838.
Pointe Aux Barques lighthouse in Port Hope
Construction of the lighthouse was not completed until 1847, with the light not exhibited until the opening of the following season of navigation. Peter L. Shook was appointed as the station's first Keeper, and is listed in payroll records as arriving at the station on March 6, 1848, and thus it is likely he exhibited the Pointe Aux Barques light for the first time soon thereafter.

While the 1825 Fort Gratiot Light served to mark the entrance to the St. Clair River at the foot of the lake, and the 1848 Pointe Aux Barques Light guided vessels around the tip of Michigan's "Thumb," the intervening 75-mile stretch remained unlighted, with vessel masters running blind along a forty-mile stretch of coastline beyond the range of visibility of either of the two Lights.
The construction crew arrived at Port Sanilac on June 7, 1886, with a completion date of October 15, 1886.

The Port Sanilac Lighthouse

About four miles west of Lexington is an off-the-beaten-path town called Croswell. Besides the Pioneer Sugar factory, Croswell is known for it's small-town charm and Victorian feel. But there is something that this place has that no other town has: the "Be Good To Your Mother-in-Law" Swinging Bridge.

Crossing the Black River, this foot bridge was originally built in 1905 at a cost of $300 and spans 139 feet. At one time it could be swung back and forth and bounced up and down in a sort of ripple effect by those who crossed it, but now the multiple cables are tightened so it doesn't swing so much. Still, it is well worth the view off and on the bridge.
It is the longest suspension foot bridge in Michigan. I also heard it was the only suspension foot bridge in Michigan. Hmmm...



Mt. Clemens is a city that was founded in the early part of the 19th century, flourished well into the twentieth century, then fell into ruins in the 1960's through the 1980's. But in the 1990's a revitalization took place and the city came back strong and very community-minded. Unfortunately, many of the old structures that once stood are no more, especially in the downtown business district.
Right off the main strip, however, is a home built in 1869 by Joshua Dickinson, the city's first mayor and whose wife was the granddaughter of city founder, Christian Clemens.
The Crocker House is as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside
Crocker House is now a museum and welcomes visitors from March through December.
 
This train depot, now a railroad museum, played a very important role in American and even world history. While working as a railway newsboy on the Detroit-Port Huron line, Thomas Edison often stopped in this Mt. Clemens depot. He made friends with station agent J.U. Mackenzie, and in 1862 saved Mackenzie's three year old son from death by a train. To show his gratitude, in August 1862 Mackenzie taught young Edison railroad telegraphy. From this training, Edison became a qualified railroad telegrapher and worked during the 1860's at this occupation. He said in his later years that learning telegraphy in the Mt. Clemens depot was a very significant turning point in his life and lead him to base his early inventions on the telegraph.
The Mount Clemens Train Depot
This building, built in 1859, stand mostly unnoticed by the heavy traffic just a few yards away.

Over in Holly there is another classic train depot that sits almost unnoticed by the masses. Built in 1886 it had a ladies waiting room that included a "handsome fireplace with a dark marble mantle and furnishings (giving) it a cozy, homelike appearance."
The Holly train depot: 17 Miles to Flint, 22 Miles to Pontiac, 39 Miles to Ann Arbor, and 45 Miles to Detroit - all major railway destinations in Michigan
This ladies room also had a lavatory, wash bowl, glasses, and a small heater in a corner. The lap of luxury for the ladies.
The depot itself also had a telegraph office.
Holly, Michigan was (and still is) a charming little town that time seems to have forgotten. It's filled with beautiful late Victorian buildings and houses, and it's on Main Street where the visitor can still see the ghosts of Holly past.
In August of 1889, the Village of Holly voters approved the building of a town hall and by August of 1892 they had one. However, it was not only a town hall but a jail as well. The cells were located in the basement of the building.
Holly Town Hall and Jail. It also housed the fire department's equipment until a firehouse could be built.

Here is the scene across the street from the town hall:
If the automobiles could be removed, I believe one could seemingly step right into the past here in Holly

A series of fires destroyed all of the wood-frame buildings along Saginaw Street and new brick buildings (shown above) were erected in their place shortly after.
Holly is also filled with the beautiful Victorian homes that so many of us love.
The house shown in this next photograph was built in 1894 by a man named Moses Downing.
There are two entrances to this beautiful home: one for company and one for business
From a description I have read it has a fireplace in the centrally located parlor along with two staircases. In the early 1900's a Dr. Felshaw practiced his medicine from this house while living there.

From Holly, our travels will now take us over to rural Ray Township where we find another historical building off the beaten path: Wolcott Mill.
The mill was built in 1847 and operated until 1967 and was both a grist and a feed mill, and the machinery used for this purpose is still viewable.
A beautiful fall setting for Wolcott Mill
The "over-shot" water wheel at Wolcott Mill: water-power from the mill pond turned the wheel, which gave power enough to spin the giant millstones to grind the grain into flour

Just a short carriage ride from Wolcott Mill is perhaps my favorite town in Michigan - Romeo. The entire Village of Romeo is considered historic and has an official historical marker to prove it: "The many examples of nineteenth century architecture that remains in the village led Michigan and the federal government to list Romeo as a historic district."
How cool is that?
I don't have many photos of the downtown district - I plan to rectify that situation soon - but the picture below is one I took that shows a good part of the Gray's Block building (on the left) built in 1869. It had three rental store fronts, professional offices upstairs, and a ballroom and an auditorium, also known as Gray's Opera House.
Many operas and vaudeville shows were staged inside the building on the left, while the landmark tower/steeple of the church is on the right
The First Congregational Church (you can see the tall steeple in the above photo), is the second oldest Congregational church in Michigan. The cornerstone was laid in 1874, the tower built in 1878, and the building was completed inside and out by 1883.

There are so many historic homes in Romeo that a person could easily get lost in the past just walking around any of its well-kept neighborhoods. In fact, we've done living history presentations here and, during breaks, will stroll up and down the streets while wearing period clothing. Now that's an awesome feeling!
The following pictures are just a few that I have taken while strolling about Romeo. A few of the houses have plaques attached stating the year it was built, but most don't.
Romeo

Romeo

Romeo

Romeo
Street after street - - the 19th century comes to life - -rows of houses that are not all the same, and the people do seem to care...

This house has an 1844 plaque upon it

The 1844 home: My wife is dressed appropriately for the Civil War era presentation we did in 2011

Romeo

This house has an 1873 plaque

Romeo
Can you imagine living in a neighborhood - an entire town - that looks like this? Many men dream of getting rich, skimpy-clad women, or racing cars. I'm the odd one out - it is my dream to one day live in Romeo and have my wife and I dress in period clothing as often as we can!
One day...

Port Huron has its share of Victoriana as well. There are two parts to Port Huron (pronounced "Portchurn" by the old-timers): the old original part of town and the new very recently built (mostly within the last 50 years) part of town.
Of course you know which area I frequent.
I have a personal historical connection to this city: when my ancestors returned to the States in 1883 after a few year respite into Canada, they came to live in Port Huron. I still have a few relatives living there to this day.

This home was owned by my great great grandfather's brother during the 1880's.


There are some very unusual looking homes in Port Huron, such as the castle on the left. Yes, this is a home!

I stopped the car on a dime to take a picture of this house. Truly beautiful.

And old downtown "Portchurn" (as the old-timers call Port Huron) still looks much the same as when my ancestors lived here


Plymouth is another local city with beautiful Victorian structures abounding, dotting the neighborhoods. Summer 2011 found me roaming the streets in search of these beautiful old homes.
I found some:
Yes, I took this photo on the 4th of July - can you tell?

This Plymouth home was built in 1894
This next home (photo below) is located off Sprinkle Road in Vicksburg, Michigan. I've past it numerous times while visiting my sister and it has always attracted my eye. One day I decided to stop right there on the road to take a picture. I know nothing about it but, judging by the architecture I am taking an educated guess that is was built in the 1860 - 1880's.
The mysterious Vicksburg, Mich house

This brings us back to my own hometown of Eastpointe. To look at my city you wouldn't think it had anything remotely historical in it. But that's where you'd be wrong! There is plenty of history still standing here and I'd like to show you a few of the structures that you may or may not have seen in previous postings.
This first house, formerly known as the Ameis Home, is known now as the Leiter home, after the current owners who had put so much time and money into meticulously restoring this 1890 structure.

Before the Leiters restored it kids used to call it the Adams family Home!

On the other side of town we find another beautiful old house - one that thousands of cars pass by daily and hardly even notice:
The pictures directly above and below are of the 1874 Kern Home in Eastpointe. Mr. Kern was one of the founding fathers of Eastpointe (then known as Erin Township).
We nearly lost this house - the descendants put it up for sale commercially, meaning a Rite Aid or some other unwanted drug store could've easily purchased only to tear it down and rebuild some ultra-modern monstrosity to sell their cheap Chinese made junk. Luckily, a couple of lawyers set up practice here and kept the aesthetic appearance of the place.
History was saved!


And Eastpointe was also able to preserve its long past purely by accident when one of its original schoolhouses, built in 1872, was discovered being used as a warehouse. When the school closed its doors to students for one last time in 1921, Mr. Kaiser, who had recently started his own fuel and supply business with his sons, bought the building and moved it, by way of horses and skids, to the southeast corner on Nine Mile Road and Gratiot; the structure was used mainly as a warehouse for coal supplies and storage, which lasted from 1921 to 1984. To turn the old schoolhouse into a warehouse he covered the windows, walls, and flooring, thereby preserving local history. It's been said he did this purposely. We are in his debt for having the historical preservation foresight that he did.
 
In 1984 the East Detroit Historical Society (in Eastpointe) - and more specifically, John Gardiner, its then current president and superintendent of the school district - enabled the school system to purchase the building back from the Kaisers and move to have it relocated to within 20 yards of the original site. This was when restoration began on the old building.  Now it stands as it once did in 1872, restored fully inside and out.
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That concludes our journey to the past; I hope you enjoyed this little Magical History Tour around southeastern lower Michigan. I purposely did not include any structure that was moved away from its original location and put into such open-air museums as Greenfield or Crossroads Villages or any of the others in the vicinity. I wanted only the buildings that remained where they originally stood...or, in a few rare cases, very close to where they originally stood. I also didn't include the few taverns from the 19th century that still remain where they always have. I did a pretty extensive posting a while back on that subject (Michigan Taverns of the 19th Century).
And what historical gems are in your backyard...?









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