Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tales of Everyday Life in Menlo Park (or Francis Jehl: A Young Boy's Experience Working at Menlo Park)


There are many fascinating daily activities the average person took part in from times long past that tend to be shoved into a corner, become filled with dust and cobwebs, and eventually forgotten about.
This is the way history is, isn't it? Only the names of the politicians, the war heroes, and the famous live on while the everyday joe's tend to be cast aside.
The following post is about one ordinary man and of his adventures working with a famous man in the late 19th century:

"It was still dark when I stepped forth from the (Sarah Jordan) boarding house to go across to my first day's work at the laboratory, and a cold rain was falling. I put up my overcoat collar and breasted the wind along the board walk to the point nearest the side gate  where we splashed across and raced into the compound.
The long gray building loomed up through the rain like a ghostly palace, its flickering gas flames already blazing a welcome in the black windows..."
Although it's not dark or raining in this picture, this is what Francis Jehl saw when he stepped forth from the (Sarah Jordan) boarding house. Yes, that's the famous Menlo Park complex in the distance.
The words above the photograph belong to Francis Jehl (pronounced yale), giving his description of his first day heading to work at the Menlo Park laboratory on an early November morning in 1878.
His boss?
Thomas Edison.
(Internet sources, by the way, say that Mr. Jehl began to work with Edison in February of 1879, but Jehl's own writing - put into book form entitled "Menlo Park Reminiscences" - plainly states (on page 19) "I saw him (Edison) on the second floor of the Menlo Park laboratory on that day in November, 1878, when, as a youth of eighteen, I came to work for him.").
Jehl was recommended to Edison by his former employer, Grosvenor Lowrey, due to the young lad's high interest in electricity. In the letter Lowrey wrote to Edison he commented:
Can you make use of a sturdy strong boy about sixteen years old who has been for several years in our office...
This young fellow is a German, named Francis Jehl, and although he has a rather awkward appearance, and manners, and is rather slow and might seem to some to be stupid, he is quite an intelligent, industrious, faithful, honest and high-minded young fellow. He has always been greatly interested in electricity, and while an office boy used to make magnets and little electrical machines which he brought to the office. They were, of course, only imitations of others, but showed a mechanical turn of mind, and a strong love for the subject of electricity.
He has been kept at the most uninteresting work (I think boring holes and washing bottles, and that sort of thing) and although he would be perfectly willing to do that if he was surrounded by men or things which interested him, he cannot do it there, for, he says, the men and boys are all flatterers of the foreman and do not work honestly and right....I have promised him to write to you.
From left: the Menlo Park lab, machine shop, and glass house...set up exactly the way they were in their original location
Edison obliged, and young Francis soon found himself on the second floor of the Menlo Park laboratory building, cleaning and filling the cells of the Bunsen battery, a tedious job involving moving the the heavy oblong glass jars one by one to the sink, emptying them, scraping off the carbon, rubbing the zinc plate with mercury, and then rinsing it off again.
And that was only the first step of his new job.
Edison inspected Jehl's work and was impressed with the boy's diligence.
The 2nd floor of the Menlo Park Laboratory as Jehl would have seen it
Francis was welcomed to stay on as one of the inventor's workers, and he accepted the offer without question.
However, Jehl came down from New York and went directly to meet with the inventor without finding a place to stay first. Mr. Edison suggested a boarding house down the road a ways - -

"(Edison) led me to one of the windows to the south end of the second floor and pointed past the office building to a drab-colored frame house with green shutters, a short distance down Christie .
'Go over there,' he told me, 'and talk to Mrs. Jordan.'
Can you see Mrs. Jordan's house in the distance? Yes, this photo was taken from the 2nd floor of the Menlo Park laboratory
I picked up my satchel and made my way down stairs and out the front door. It was nearing the time when Christian folks had supper and went to bed.
There was a path leading to the side gate in the rear of the office building. Beyond it stretched Christie Street, running past the picket fence on the east side of the compound.
Sarah Jordan's Boarding House, in the same way Edison's worker's viewed it from the laboratory
The boarding house
I crossed the street diagonally and...I turned in at the far gate and set foot for the first time on the porch of the Jordan boarding house, which was to become my home for more than a year.
In a few moments I was introducing myself to a slight, frail little woman who was the proprietress. 
As the boarding house must've looked when young Francis walk from Menlo Park Lab

The "far gate" that Francis walked through to see Mrs. Jordan.
Business was not yet brisk and she was glad to see a new lodger. She escorted me up the narrow winding stairs and into a large room at the front of the home. Although I did not know it at the time, I came later to the conclusion that the room she gave me was the best she had. It looked over the porch and had an additional window on the far side, making three windows in all. The furnishings were plain but ample - large clean bed, commode with wash bowl and water pitcher, bureau and a few chairs. Board and room, I learned, were to cost five or six dollars a week.
This is the room I suspect was the one Mr. Jehl describes here, for it matches his description closely (he only mentions one bed and no roommates)
I accepted the room at once and after unpacking my satchel by candle light and hanging up my clothes, went downstairs and took a seat in the dining room where two or three men were already at the table. By that time darkness had fallen and a coal oil lamp furnished the light for our supper.
Perhaps a brief explanation about the plan of Mrs. Jordan's boarding house might not be out of place here. It comprised two separate apartments, each unit in itself. One was shut apart from the other and the communicating doors were usually kept locked. In one half lived Mrs. Jordan and her daughter, and the other was given over to the boarders. 
"Aunt Sally's" (as the boarders affectionately called her) family sitting room
This is where the boarders gathered for relaxation
Occasionally the door between the two front rooms downstairs was unlocked and that on the family side was made available to lodgers or visitors as a sitting room. The influx of lodgers taxed the capacity of the little dwelling and it was necessary to use the original sitting room as an overflow dining room to make possible a second dining table at meal time.
The whistle, calling the mechanics and workmen to their tasks in the machine shop, blew at seven o'clock in the morning. Those working in the laboratory with Mr. Edison did not follow its summons for they were likely to remain long after hours; but no matter how late they worked the night before, they usually rose early in the morning to be on hand for breakfast. The first who got to the table had the choice helpings and sometimes could squeeze in a second helping before the late comers arrived.
Supper was a bountiful meal with meat, vegetables, and fruit framing the main dishes. The big meal of the day - dinner - was at noon when soup, potatoes, and the pies, for which Mrs. Jordan was noted, were served.
This is where the men would eat
After the meal we sat for a time in the living room while Mrs. Jordan and her little ten-year-old daughter did the dishes in the kitchen just beyond.
Mr. Edison used to walk down the street past the house when he returned home after the long hours at the laboratory. Frequently at night after I retired in my room I heard his footsteps on the walk as he trotted homeward. On such occasions as he passed the house during the day, he stopped to chat with Mrs. Jordan, or with those of us who happened to be loafing on the stoop when the weather was nice."
Original photo taken sometime between 1879 and 1882 (The year Jehl left for Europe). That's Francis on the far right, Edison in the white shirt on the right, and Mrs. Jordan 2nd from left

Mr. Jehl became one of Edison's close workers and was among those who helped the "Wizard of Menlo Park" develop the electric incandescent light during its early laboratory stages.
This photometer was used by Edison to measure and compare the amount of light produced by light bulbs
As history has shown, the experimentation finally paid off on October 21, 1879. But the rest of the world would have to wait a couple months before witnessing this lighting miracle.
Shortly before the New Year's Eve 1879 public demonstration of the electric light, Edison invited the local newspapers to witness beforehand what he planned show the world. This is how one paper, The New York Herald, described it in the December 21, 1879 issue:
From this...
By this story it will be seen that Mr. Edison has finally elaborated a lamp for the use of electricity that is simpler than any lamp in common use in the houses of the people; as simple as the gas burner itself and more manageable; a lamp that cannot leak and fill the house with vile odors or combustible vapors, that cannot explode and that does not need to be filled or trimmed. 
Once more, therefore, the public may reasonably anticipate a time when they will be free from nearly all the annoyances and grievances of ordinary lighting apparatuses and in the full enjoyment, besides, of a light compared to which every other, save daylight itself, is a mere glimmering and gloaming...
...to this.
People generally knew the soft glory of the light electricity would make, but they never dreamed of the possibility that it could be applied without an apparatus so complicated that it would need a special education to enable them to take care of it.
And the article goes on to explain how the electric light is, perhaps, Edison's great achievement not only because of the invention itself but of its simplicity to use.
Imagine the excitement Jehl must have felt - in under a year's time he went from an ordinary laborer to taking part in an invention that changed the entire world.
Fifty years later, Mr. Jehl, along with Edison, supervised the reconstruction of the Menlo Park laboratory inside Henry Ford's historic Greenfield Village. Ford spared no expense in reconstructing the laboratory.
You must understand, Thomas Edison was Henry Ford's life-long hero and, as adults, were very close friends. So when Mr. Ford formed the idea for his magnificent museum he knew he wanted to pay tribute to this greatest of all inventors. What better way to do this than to restore the "factory" where so many of his greatest inventions took place?
In March of 1928, Ford began the restoration process. He wanted to reconstruct the Menlo Park complex as it was during the period when Edison and his skilled helpers worked at inventing "the future" - 1876 to 1886 - and he wanted it correct in every minute detail.
To give a quick bit of history of the lay out of this laboratory, the first floor was used for mainly testing the products as well as measuring and processing. A small cubby was also used for Edison's original office.
It was on the 2nd floor that the real excitement took place, for it was here that Edison's workers had separate work stations for specific projects, oftentimes working throughout the night on experiments.
Edison had a pipe organ installed for entertainment during their few breaks. The men - Edison included - would take turns picking out a tune on the organ while everyone else sang.
Can you hear the men singing "Old Dog Trey" or "Rose of Alabamy" while the organ played in the background? I bet the sounds could be heard clear over at the boarding house!

It was unfortunate that the original site was nearly completely dismantled not too many years after Edison's move to West Orange, New Jersey in 1887 by neighboring farmers. In fact, it was only a year after Edison had removed himself cows began to wander amongst the buildings of the complex, and a chicken farmer even allowed his flock to make the laboratory their home! Soon after, many local residents began using the quickly dilapidating building's boards to repair their own deteriorating barns and hen houses. A severe storm blew what was left of the building over in 1913.
Luckily, with Mr. Edison's help, many of the original boards were found, including some that were in storage, while others were regained through purchase of the sheds and other farm buildings mentioned above.
Through the aid of photographs and of the memories of those who worked there, Ford was also able to locate or find exact replicas of the furniture, tools, and other artifacts that once played an important role inside the lab.
Edison & Ford inspect the ruins where the original laboratory once stood in Menlo Park, New Jersey
Excavators dug through the original ground and not only found thousands of pieces of Edison's trash and other original "relics" from the lab that had been thrown out (which were gathered and shipped to Dearborn), but they could also see how the original buildings were positioned.
Once they were aligned in Greenfield Village in the same directional orientation as they were in New Jersey (including carloads of New Jersey clay from the original grounds!), the buildings became the focal point on what would be called "the greatest and most significant single preservation effort in America."
After the restoration was completed (with Francis Jehl's help), Mr. Ford asked Edison what he thought of the reconstruction. Mr. Edison replied that it was 99% correct. Wondering about that 1% that wasn't right, Ford questioned Edison what was not correct.
"It was never this clean!" Mr. Edison told him.
Here is the entire Menlo Park complex, situated exactly as it was in New Jersey. The brick building out in front was the office. Ford even brought tons of New Jersey clay for the structures to sit upon!
As you can see, the chair Edison sat upon is truly nailed to the floor!
Although the laboratory is not 100% original, it was close enough to perfect for Edison and his former helpers. Many of the items, the bottles and such, that are now upon the shelves are the very same that Edison had in the laboratory in the late 1870's and early 1880's. The idea that it was in this building (in all reality, it really was in this building when you think about it) that Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light, the phonograph, the stock ticker, a forerunner of the telephone, and over 400 other items, is enough to send chills down one's back upon entering the complex.
In 1929, Edison reenacted the lighting of the first incandescent light on the very same date that it originally took place 50 years ago in this very same building. Henry Ford and President Hoover were right there in the room with him while this event was nationally broadcast on radio. After the glorious moment took place, Ford ordered his men to have the chair upon which Edison sat for the reenactment to be nailed to the floor as is.
To celebrate the invention and the inventor's importance to our modern times, Ford named his new museum The Edison Institute.
Menlo Park truly was an invention factory - Edison didn't necessarily invent everything himself; he surrounded himself with the right workers such as Francis Jehl and others who had the right amount of curiosity and know-how. And together, just like the unsung workers in Ford's automobile factory 30 years into the future, came up with the inventions that changed the world.

Much of the information from this posting came from the following:
The Benson Ford Research Center
Menlo Park Reminiscences by Francis Jehl
As well as the various Greenfield Village guide books I have collected over the years



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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Day Steeped in History...

Saturday, April 14, 2012...

The day 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.
 
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 important 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 rocker President Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot on April 14, 1865
 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 say this and gathered around the display to eye the chair with a bit more reverence.

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')
Nickel Pot
Bowler Hat


A wool work shirt
Perfume vials with stoppers

Toothpaste bowl lid
Razor and case













Replica of 3rd class plate

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


 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.

 
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...

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Postscript:
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






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Monday, April 16, 2012

Out of My Mind on Monday Mornin'

Years ago Bob Talbert was a daily columnist at the Detroit Free Press. He wrote about every day life in a fun and sometimes fascinating way. One would just have to read a few of his writings to get an idea of what life was like during the 1970's, 80's and 90's. My favorite of his columns was his "Out of My Mind on Monday Moanin.' " This was when he would break from the usual columnist format and just put snippets of thoughts, comments, and information he would gather from the previous week. It was a fun read and he would jump all over the everyday-life spectrum.
What I have done here was to gather bits of my own from blog postings that I have begun but never completed, therefore never published. So I copied and pasted the best parts of these unfinished articles and gathered them here, all in one place. I also threw in some of my own thoughts and quotes to add a bit more color. 
Nothing of which you are about to read are connected except that most pertain to history in one way or another. That's their only connection.
In a way this is my own personal tribute to Mr. Talbert, who died back in 1999. I suppose you could think of this posting as sorta along the lines of outtakes from old musical groups or salvageable film that never made it to the theatrical version of a movie but have been released as extra's on a special multi-disc set.
Or not...

Out of my mind on Monday Mornin':
Whenever I peruse Facebook, anytime I see a new posting from Old Sturbridge Village, Connor Prairie, Colonial Williamsburg, or Greenfield Village I get very excited. Almost giddy! History is alive!!

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As one who has attended two open-air museums at the same time that Thomas the Train happened to be there (GFV and Crossroads Village), I can attest that the kids and their parents rarely venture beyond the "Thomas" realm, therefore receiving very little historical anything, which is a shame. Here, parents have a chance to show children, in a very real way, much of our country's history. But, no, they'd rather keep the kids "where the action is" and hear Thomas stories instead...such a shame.They just don't know how exciting history can be, especially when presented by the docents of Greenfield Village or Crossroads Village.
The youth of today have been raised with instant everything attitude with an expectation of being entertained. I realize museums struggle with that thought and do understand the need to attract the youth market. However, sometimes these hallowed places of history can't see the forest for the trees.
Here is an e-mail I received from a friend on how modern museums are vying to get more youth into their buildings by way of modern technology (computers, kiosks, face painting, Thomas the Train, etc.):  "As one of those in the... er... younger generation, I can say that I for one, do not need all this technology to "entertain" me at a museum. I'd rather see the items, or read/hear the 1st hand accounts of things before my own century. I am part of that 'younger generation', and I'm not that interested in history during the 20th century. When given a choice, I will invariably pick much earlier than that."
My daughter enjoys computer inter-action at the Driving America exhibit inside The Henry Ford Museum.
By the way, the Henry Ford Museum's revamping of the Automobile in American Life display (now called Driving America) earlier this year - and their With Liberty and Justice For All display - both of which utilizes inter-active computers, kiosks, and other technology, is wonderful, proving that modern technology and history can go hand in hand when done right. 
Now...about Thomas...

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I like to think of this avocation of putting on period clothing and making the attempt to live in the early 1860's more as a part of my life rather than something to do on the weekends. As my friend Mike put it, "Our time in the past is interrupted only by our time in the present."

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Mind your p's and q's - - - -
Some say this expression was originally from sometime in the 18th century; while serving patrons, a barkeep in a pub or tavern had to keep a keen eye on giving drinks to paying customers and had to "mind his p's and q's" since the liquor was dispensed in tankards holding either pints or quarts.
Others say this expression was meant for the typesetter in a printing office to be careful when setting the type because the p's and q's could easily become mixed up.
So, which is it?
Probably both, if you ask me!

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James Cameron lived up to his perfectionist reputation during production of his movie, Titanic. The attention to detail became meticulous throughout the interior set design. Rooms, hallways, gangways, and decks were all exact replicas. Oak was used for the grand staircase and furniture, rather than more cost effective plywood because, if oak was used in the original, Cameron wanted oak too. The company that had woven Titanic's original carpet 1912 did it again for the movie. Crockery was authentic, down to White Star Line's logo stamped on each piece of cutlery. Deck heights and widths on the exterior were built to scale. Like the carpets, stage one's davits were also built by the same company that provided them to the original.

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Quotes worth noting from the diary of Rachel (Bowman) Cormany
~spelling and punctuation left intact~: 
"September 29, 1859
After supper we took a walk through the principle part of town, went into the museum then returned to the hotel pretty well tired, and soon found ourselves easily fixed on the sofa and engaged in a tete a tete, where 10 oclock found us before we were aware of it, then drawing out his watch, and seeing the time it surprised him..."
Notice she wrote "watch" and not "time piece." Many in the reenacting world insist on saying "time piece" and have told me that "watch" is incorrect. 
Hmmm...not necessarily so.
~
Here's another:
"April 26, 1862
This has been a rather sad day to me. My Sml. (her husband Samuel) has another attack of dyptheria. Yesterday morn. when he wakened his throat was sore. still he went out to the sugar bush & worked hard all day & did not take time to attend himself. he ate no breakfast, but ate dinner & supper."
Ahhh...another source for discussion is the dinner and supper exchange. Some say it's dinner and supper, with dinner, eaten in the early afternoon, being the main meal of the day, while supper - the evening meal - was leftovers from dinner. Others say lunch and supper (or even lunch and dinner) with lunch, eaten in the same manner as dinner mentioned above, being the main meal of the day.
I was also told by my very elderly cousin named Bud, who knew and remembered my great great grandmother (who was born in 1858) that she called the afternoon meal dinner. However, while her father, a farmer, was working the fields, she would take a lunch out to him to eat. Bud told me that a carry out meal such as this was called a lunch.
In house was dinner.
That does make sense doesn't it? When Henry Ford worked the midnight shift at the Edison Illuminating plant in the 1890's he would eat at the Owl Night Lunch Wagon, an actual horse-drawn wagon which showed up for business at 6 pm and left by daybreak.
Owl Night Lunch Wagon was a carry out only joint - not in house.
I suppose, however, whichever term for dinner or lunch is used could also depend on one's location...

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My family and I have spent three out of the four times we have visited Gettysburg wearing our period clothing the entire time we were there...and it was not during a reenactment. It is the only way to visit that historical place.

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I had an interesting discussion with a former co-worker fairly recently: his "grandfather-in-law" passed away recently, and the remembrances flowed. The one memory in particular that stood out was how grandfather flew bombing missions over Germany during WWII...at the age of 23. My friend remarked, "By the age of 23 my wife's grandfather had flown six bombing missions over Germany! I couldn't imagine that!"
And neither could the rest of us who were there, for to compare a 23 year old from 1944 to a 23 year old in today's society is like comparing apples and oranges.
Somewhere, somehow young adults stopped being young adults. They stopped taking responsibility not only for their actions but for their life's direction as well.
Maybe because they believe they live in the age of entitlement, asking "what can my country do for me?" instead of "What can I do for my country."

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Did you know that in the 19th century hollyhocks were planted around the necessary/privy/outhouse? In this way, the respectable lady could say, "I am going to visit your hollyhocks" instead of saying "I have to use the necessary."

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One great example of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's ability to feed off each other in their songwriting was in the 1966 tune "We Can Work It Out." Paul wrote the positive main body of the song

Think of what you're saying.
You can get it wrong and still you think that it's all right.
Think of what I'm saying,
We can work it out and get it straight, or say good night.
We can work it out

while John plays a touch of the pessimist

Life is very short, and there's no time
For fussing and fighting, my friend.
I have always thought that it's a crime,
So I will ask you once again

This happens quite often throughout their body of work. That's why the Beatles were/are the best!

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 Have you ever tried a full-immersion weekend in your own home? I mean, no lights but candles or oil lamps, no electronic devises at all to be used, no automobile usage - walk to the store for "provisions," no phones...all the while in period clothing?
It'd be interesting to see if you can voluntarily go from Friday evening until Sunday evening while in your own house immersed in mid-19th century (or before) living.

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If someone tells me they are a history major, that doesn't impress me a lick. It only tells me that they either borrowed or were given a whole lot of money to get that piece of paper that says they 'know' history. I know so many who are not college taught history majors who can and will stand toe to toe with them. And sometimes pull out front!
You see, it's when that knowledge goes beyond the college text book by learning the whys and wherefores and getting into the mindset of our forefathers and foremothers that will impress me.
Unfortunately, most accredited history majors do not do this. But for those of you that do, however (accredited or not), my hat is off to you.


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And along the lines of the above moan, a few years back I spoke with a period dressed docent who worked at Greenfield Village, who also happened to participate in living history, and she mentioned that an accredited history major she knows made a general negative comment about those of us who re-enact. She did not elaborate on what he said, only that he alluded to the opinion that we were not to be taken seriously; we are not true historians. In response she gave him a double-fisted knock upside the head and let him know that, although there are those who are just 'hobbyists', or spouses who only want to be near their husband/wife and look bored, there are those of us who take this "calling" we have to bring the past back to life quite seriously, and that there are many more of us in this vein than he might realize. And those of us that do are every bit the historian as those who have a college degrees.

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 I have found that I am totally turned off of the ultra-modern contemporary churches. You know the ones I mean: a full rock band playing very hip Christian music during service, and the use of computer technology to allow the dazzling photos, lyrics, and scripture to be put on screens for all to see, a very hip preacher - a reminder (to me) of the television preacher - ministering to his flock.
I prefer a more traditional church service with traditional hymns played on a pipe organ and old-time preaching.
 
Are you surprised?
I thought not!
My daughter and I were watching a "Little House on the Prairie" episode - the one where Mary Ingalls travels to a town 40 miles from her home to be a teacher, and the town doesn't accept her. Anyhow, toward the end, Mary's character recites scripture from memory. That so impressed my daughter! She told me that she, too, wanted to be able to memorize and recite bible quotes. So, on our own, she and I have begun a father/daughter bible study.
Just thought I'd throw this in.

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My wife and I - and many others in our circle of Civil War reenacting friends - speak quite frequently about time-travel. Some truly believe it can happen and that we just haven't found the means to accomplish it. Others feel that the past still exists but on another plane...or level...and that could also be the cause of ghostly sightings in older buildings and historic places; that they're not necessarily ghosts, just folks that still exist but in another era, living their lives, so to speak, oblivious to us here on this future plane.
My opinion? Well, it's right here in an earlier posting I wrote from a couple years ago.
What do you think?
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Ladies of the 1850's
When I was a kid and I saw old photographs, whether in a history book or from and old family album, I saw...old pictures.
That's it. Nothing more, nothing less.
But, as I began to study social history and learn more of the people that lived in another era - research their everyday living habits - these pictures, all of a sudden, came to life for me. I saw more than just an image of some man or woman or little kid who was probably old and dead now...I saw a living, breathing human, one with thoughts, hopes, dreams, and fears - not unlike my own. These pictures began to mean something to me, far more than I could have ever imagined.

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Why do folks leave their homes "to get away" and then turn their "get-away" into what they just left?
Why do they want to live "out in the country" only to spend their time shopping in the big-city-type malls instead of living the country life?
Why do people that want to live and to give their children a better life move out of a rough area and yet bring - or allow others of their ilk to bring - that rough culture with them?

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If this were 1862 instead of 2012 - - - - 
my birth year would have been 1811
My wife would have been born in 1815
We would have been married in 1835
My oldest son: 1838
My 2nd son: 1841
My 3rd son: 1845
My daughter: 1850

 

My father: 1777
My mother: 1779
My oldest brother: 1800
My oldest sister: 1802
My 2nd oldest sister: 1804
My 2nd oldest brother: 1808

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Why do people insist on thinking that the Disney historical movies (or most Hollywood history movies for that matter) are historically accurate? Really? As much as I enjoy such movies as The Patriot and Braveheart (much in the same was as I enjoy cowboy movies), I don't take them for their historical accuracies.
By the way, men from the 1870's did not dress like the Charles Ingalls on the "Little House on the Prairie" TV show. 

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And finally, for you living historians, here is something fun to do if you find yourself bored:
While dressed in period clothing, run into a store and ask what year it is. When someone answers, yell "It Worked!" and run our cheering.




Monday, April 9, 2012

Who Cares About Boring Old History?

So here we are in April of 2012. Modern technology has exploded beyond anything we ever could have imagined, especially with items such as the smart phone and all the amazing and cool things it can do.
In the 1960's and '70's it seemed that whenever anyone spoke of the future - life in the 21st century - they tended to focus on space travel, flying cars, and colonizing other planets. Rare were the thoughts of hi-tech homes. Well, except for maybe 3-D television and supper-in-pill-form ("Violet! You're turning violet, Violet!").
By the way, here's an excellent blog on the subject of what the past thought of the future.
And with all of this wonderful actual "future" that now surrounds us, history is being...um...left behind.
Or so one would think...
On the contrary, have you noticed that there certainly seems to be a lot of people "looking back" these days? For instance, last week the National Archives released the 1940 census.
Really? The 1940 census? Does anybody really care? I mean this is old stuff - 72 years old; no one is interested in stodgy old historical information, that's a plain and simple fact. In today's hi-tech 21st century technological world, who cares about boring old census information from 72 years ago? People are done with history. It's time to move on...

Well, according to CNN, on the second day of its release over 60 million people searched the 1940 census records within a three hour period.
Sixty million people. 
In a three hour period.
I would say there is at least a little interest in history, wouldn't you?

 
Over the course of the three days during the Memorial Weekend holiday, anywhere from 28,000 to 33,000 visitors pay $17.50 (for youth) to $24 (for adults) to enter Greenfield Village to see the Civil War Remembrance reenactment. Think of it: an average of around 30,000 people pay hard-earned money to walk through the gates of this famed open-air museum to see life during the Civil War for soldier and civilian come alive before their very eyes.
That's no small peanuts, doncha know. Especially given the fact that they can see most reenactments for much less or even for free.
But we do try to give the visitors their money's worth of living history when they come to Greenfield.
 
There is something special - almost an immersion experience - about seeing hundreds of these 'ghosts from the past' roaming in and around structures from the same era as when the Civil War took place.
Living history.

The Henry Ford Museum is hosting the Titanic Exhibit from now through September. With the 100th anniversary of the great ship striking the ice burg (April 14) and sinking (April 15) at hand, the museum and the exhibitors have gone all out to make this display as elaborate as they could, including not only actual artifacts retrieved from the ocean floor (including a shaving kit, dishware, and jewelry, amongst other things), but by recreating Titanic's grand staircase, 1st and 3rd class cabins, and even a hallway.  Because of the recurring popularity due to Robert Ballard's discovery and from the James Cameron movie, I'm sure you can rightly guess that this is a very popular destination for history buffs. Yes, I said history buffs; much to the chagrin of some, surprise of others, and delight of many, Titanic is history. And tickets to visit this historical exhibit marking its centennial has been selling out.

Stodgy, boring old history - no one except for a few, mostly old, odd balls are interested in it.
Heh heh heh...yeah, right...


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