Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Do I Have a Favorite? (and other ramblings about reenacting)

Recently I was asked where my favorite place to reenact is.
Now that's a good question!
With roughly twenty-plus places to time travel, I can't just give one answer, because each place is special in itself. But, you must understand, it's not only where one reenacts but with whom. For instance, I could be in the most authentically accurate house, decorated perfectly for 1860, but if I have some goof-offs with me who don't take living history seriously and are totally "out of time," I might as well be in a computer store.
On the other hand, I could be in a canvas tent, which, in all honesty, is pretty farby for most of us civilians when you think about it, and yet able to transport visitors back in time 150 years.
So I suppose it's not necessarily where I'm at but who I am with.
That being said, if I had to choose my favorite spot to reenact and am surrounded by those who will do their utmost to make the past come to life, I would have to pick Charlton Park in Hastings, Michigan as my number one choice.
I know some of you are pretty surprised at this; you thought I would choose Greenfield Village, right?
Well, let me explain why I chose Charlton Park:

This picture of the battle's aftermath says a lot, with the involvement of the townsfolk caring for the wounded, the dying, and preparing the dead. Charlton Park at its finest!
Because of the way this open-air museum is situated - and because the good folks that run the park trust the reenactors - many of us that participate here are able to bring the hobby of living history a major leap forward...or, if you will, a leap into the past. I annually post an article about this amazing event here in my blog and how we practice our living history skills there.
Every year the Charlton Park reenactment tends to lift Civil War reenacting up quite a few notches. And we, as civilians, have been right there, showing every day life as once lived as authentically as we can. My wife and I with three of our offspring, along with our domestic servant, Carrie, usually take over the 1858 Sixberry House, making it our home. It's a civilian dream come true! Now, I have to say that staying in a period home all the day long is fantastic, but to include eating in a period kitchen with just my family and our domestic serving us makes it all the more like a time travel experience. You see, by suppertime all of the structures inside Charlton Park close to the public so we are able to eat with all the tranquility of an 1860's family.

Yes, we were served by our domestic servant here. This is perhaps my favorite part of the Charlton Park event - all period correct.

It's as close to being there as one could be; pouring our drinking water from a pitcher on the counter, eating period correct food cooked over an open fire (not in the kitchen stove, mind you, but at a campsite), with all farb hidden.
And just us there.
I am getting goosebumps writing this!
But that ain't all - - - - !!
For the battle itself, the Union and the Confederates utilize the village structures to whatever advantage their leaders see fit, sneaking out from behind one building, ducking back behind another, encircling each other on the village green; it is truly as if one were watching an actual battle unfold before our very eyes. And, yes, we civilians sometimes will go running from our homes and stores, the women screaming and the men hurrying them along. It can be unlike any I have yet witnessed or have taken part in, at least not around these parts! Definitely so much more authentic than the battles that are normally held on what could be along the lines of a football field.
This is the only event that I know of (in our general area) where this sort of thing takes place, at least to this extent, so you can see why this would be my favorite.
Greenfield Village is a wonderful event - very high on my list - but it's also a high-profile one, where literally thousands of visitors come daily (for three days!). Yes, we are totally surrounded by historic homes and buildings, which really lends a period feel. But, because of the nature of this open-air museum and of the structures, we cannot utilize them in the same manner as Charlton Park, so we all basically remain at our tents. However, we do get to walk around the place and visit with other reenactors as well as the many patrons.

Here's our camp set up next to an early 19th century silk mill in Greenfield Village
There are other places that will allow us to use period homes, such as Waterloo Farm and Historic Fort Wayne, and they can be great places to show the past, especially at Christmas time. In fact, for me it's at Christmas that these two places really shine. The one thing lacking here, however, is the all-important (to me) opportunity to eat our dinner and supper inside.

We really did it right during Christmas at Historic Fort Wayne. I believe we really were there!
Yes, there are tent events that can be pretty swell, too, such as Wolcott Mill, which normally takes place in the beauty of autumn in Michigan. And then there's Jackson. The interesting thing about Jackson is they created a makeshift town; by building wooden false-fronts to place in front of the tents, the impression of an old-time town comes to life. It's a pretty impressive sight. What I like most is waking up in the early morning to watch the sun rise while sitting on my 'front porch.'

Notice the false front buildings. It really adds to our town, taking the extra step beyond a tent city.

So...my favorite event is not necessarily a place, but, rather, how we are allowed to utilize what we have. And because Charlton Park gives us such an opportunity, I have to say that, at least for now, that's my favorite.
  ~ ~ ~  ~ ~ ~
Now, into another topic:
What would you say to me if I told you that you were reenacting wrong; that because you sleep in canvas tents you are as farby as it gets no matter how accurately you're clothed?
You wouldn't be very happy, would you?
There are civilian reenacting groups out there that will not participate in tent events at all. If they cannot be in a period home, they say, then it's not accurate. And they will let you know under no uncertain terms that your tent is farby because "people didn't live in tents back then!"
Do I really have to explain why we stay in tents?
Okay...here we go...again!
As a civilian from Michigan I would have been safe and secure in my wood-framed or brick home, just the same as most folks of the era. But, since we cannot bring houses with us (or, except for rare instances as stated above, use real period homes), one has to use their imagination a bit and think of our tents as our wood frame home.
But, I admire this thought...this idea of no longer camping in farby tents, pretending that they are really our homes.
And, of course, the nose in the air attitude of some of these folks.
But I would like to take it a step further:
I expect the percentage of women who reenact to dress according to their husband's occupation:
About 58% of the workforce during the Civil War were farmers, and another large percentage were what we modern folk call grunts. I expect the civilians, especially the wives/women of these hard-laboring men, to dress accordingly.

These two ladies are not afraid to dress as so many of the 1860's female population did.

I also expect the civilian reenactors to know about their everyday lives of the period.
Ladies - no more talking only about your different types of clothing, but to really be accurate, you should show the public how you do your daily chores and activities as an 1860's woman as well.
Men, you better have a period correct occupation to present.

Over on the military side of reenacting, the average height of the Civil War soldier was 5 ft. 8-1/4 inches, the average weight was 143-1/2 pounds, and the average age of the Union soldier was 25 years old.
I expect the military to be in accordance.
The military men must stay for the duration in military camp - even sleeping in their own dog tents. They would not have come home for a visit every night. Heck, it's only on weekends, they can handle it. When they were not drilling, which made up a considerable portion of their time in camp, soldiers  passed the time writing letters, playing games like checkers, dominoes and poker, drinking, smoking, whittling, making music and praying. One soldier summed it up when he wrote to his wife, "Soldiering is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror."
I expect the reenactors to do the same.

Pretty authentic looking group of soldiers here, for the most part. Most are young, slim, and dirty.

This all sounds kind of silly doesn't it. I mean, if we went to this extent...there goes the (reenacting) neighborhood.
I am not, by any means, saying that anything goes, and that farb is okay.
What I am saying is that we must continually attempt to bring the past alive by doing our very best in all we do, through clothing, mannerisms, accessories, speech, etc. But there has to be some exceptions for things we have no control over to keep this hobby alive (i.e. tent cities, using inhalers, having a cooler to keep your meat cold, etc.) or you can kiss it goodbye.
Anyhow, those are my thoughts for the week. Next week: tons of photos from the Memorial Weekend/Decoration Day event at Greenfield Village.


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