Monday, April 29, 2013

Lantern Tour in Historic Troy Village

A portion of Troy Historical Village. They did a fine job in their recreation of a 19th century village by using actual restored structures from the surrounding area.
I really enjoy participating in lantern tours and am always honored when asked to do so. There's just something about being in a period setting and dressed correctly while teaching about history to interested groups, you know?
After a year's hiatus, the Troy Historic Village (in Troy, Michigan) held its second lantern tour, and, just as two years ago, it was a great success.

Here I am in front of my General Store and Post Office.
Once again I portrayed the postmaster. This year, however, it was a bit more authentic for me than in 2011, for I was situated inside the general store where an actual antique post office was restored, which is much better and more accurate than my make-shift set up I use at reenactments. Because of this I was able to speak about not only the importance of writing letters and the delivery/pick up of mail during the 1860's, but also able to include a bit about the general store itself. Although I have visited numerous 'old-time' stores many times and have taken to researching and studying them and how they functioned, this whole store owner thing as part of my presentation was something brand new for me.

Note the authentic post office inside the store

But I must say, I really enjoyed it. I suppose it's because I've been the postmaster in the local reenacting community for so long (nearly 10 years!) that it almost seemed to be getting monotonous. I love changing up my presentation here and there and enjoy being able to venture off the beaten path of strictly the post office & mail and be able to speak about other things of the 1860's as well; within the past two years or so I have also included in my presentations what it was like to travel by stagecoach as well as a description of staying overnight and eating in a tavern.
But with the additional information that I have found in my research of being a general store owner I was able to add a new realm to my 1860's occupational life, and thus enjoyed incorporating the post office and general store and began my presentation to the public by saying, "Welcome to my store where I carry cradles and coffins and everything in between!" (I stole the 'cradles & coffins' thing from a book I own.).

Why, yes, I do have canned beef. How many would you like?
It seemed to go very well, and the store owner/postmaster thing went hand in hand with each other. I was asked numerous questions about both of my occupations and was only stumped once. (Unfortunately, I forgot what the gentleman's question was - I had hoped to find the answer lest it comes up again... ).
I bounced back and forth between 1st and 3rd person during my presentations. This allowed me the ability to show the good folks in a more effective manner the differences between the 1860's to our modern time. And it did make it easier to answer questions.

Young ladies setting on my porch before they tend to the wounded soldiers in the local church. (The young girl on the right is my daughter)

Aside from my post office/general store on this lantern walk, there were also Union and Confederate camps, a grieving mother in mourning, the U.S. Christian Commission with wounded soldiers, and a laundress. The visitors on the tour seemed to really enjoy what they saw and heard and were very interested in history being presented this way.

This poor soldier had a pretty nasty head wound. It was a hard row to hoe, but he survived, due in no small part to...

...the care of Mrs. Morgan, the wife of the local pastor.

The Union was camped just on the outskirts of town, making an abandoned cabin their headquarters

Mrs. Cook and her daughter eek out a living doing laundry for the soldiers in town. With her husband succumbing to disease, the two lost everything and are now at the mercy of the local storekeep and postmaster - me - in allowing them to set up next to the shop. I have decided to hire the young lady on as a domestic servant.

Poor Mrs. Parr, who's husband is off fighting to squelch the rebellion, lost a toddler to whooping cough. The village was there to comfort her during such a trying time.

I really enjoy presenting in this way, for it "strongly encourages" all who do to learn even more about everyday life in the past - to expand our social history knowledge.
By doing tours and other presentations such as this has personally taken me much deeper than I ever would've imagined into this world of a long ago time. Heck!----I really don't even call it reenacting anymore - it's living history to me now. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought that joining a reenacting unit would turn into what it has become for me.
Never.
And it's getting better all the time...

Please click
HERE,
HERE
and HERE
for a few more examples of my living history excursions.

And click HERE to learn more about 19th century general stores.







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Saturday, April 20, 2013

Opening Day at Greenfield Village

Closed since the last evening of the wonderful Holiday Nights at end of December, Greenfield Village reopened its gates on April 15, and it was like a "Welcome Home" celebration for so many of us. As annual paying members of the Village, we frequent the place quite often (this cannot be a surprise for my readers!) for a variety of reasons:
~just to be in the midst of all that history
~seeing our presenter friends after nearly a half year
~a place to walk and clear one's head
~and so many photo opportunities - - - - - - 
I have cited every one of the above reasons for visiting quite often, by the way.
But another, um, excuse for visiting as often as I do is seeing the way history is presented seasonally.
For instance:
spring - plowing, harrowing, planting, and cleaning
summer - harvest, candle making, 4th of July celebrations, and period baseball
autumn - harvest and storage of food, wool spinning & dyeing, and winter preparations
Christmas - period decorating, music, nighttime homes lit by candle & oil light, food, and general festivities
(They used to be open during the daytime during December, but that ended a few years ago. Click HERE to read about that)
And, of course, the types of food they ate seasonally.
The only season the average visitor is not able to enjoy in Greenfield Village is winter. We used to many years ago. But they now shut down for the first four and a half months of the year, and so those of us who love "seasonal history" in this part of the country either have to travel to some place like Old Sturbridge Village (Massachusetts is quite a ways to travel for us in Michigan) or just read about old time winter activities.
I personally would love to see maple sugaring, for instance. It would also be neat to see everyday winter life at the 1760's Daggett home and the wintertime farm preparations at the 1880's Firestone Farm. And how cool would it be to take a horse and sleigh ride throughout the Village? - now that's something that one rarely sees or experiences in our modern age.
They wouldn't have to be open all week long, but maybe only from Friday to Sunday - special themed weekends, even once or twice a month from January through March - and then re-open per normal in April.
Ahhh...but I suppose that's just a pipe dream I have. Maybe one day...
Anyhow, due to the fact that they are closed for so long, Opening Day is cause for celebration for us history buffs. Yeah, let the media clamor over the Detroit Tigers' opening day; million dollar sports stars ain't got nothing on our country's past!
On this April 15th here in 2013 we had sunshine and beautiful 60+ degree weather for our excursion. Yes, a number of us accented our visit by dressing, as we've done often before, in our period clothing, which was a hit amongst our presenter friends and many of the other visitors.
I had my ever-present camera with me and took plenty of photographs of our fine day.
Here, please allow me to show you:
Not everyone in our group dressed in period clothing: my daughter-in-law and my daughter did not on this day. But they did enjoy petting the cows at Firestone Farm!

Preparing the land for planting by plowing and harrowing in an 1880's manner was beginning to take place at Firestone Farm

My friend Lynn and I enjoyed a few minutes relaxing in the Firestone's sitting room.

The Firestone ladies were busy cooking dinner for all of the family and farm hands

Being that this was Monday - wash day - Jill ensured the fire would be good and hot to heat the water so the day's laundry chore could be done.

Doug did a fine job shining up the buggy. He's brand new to the Village and has taken his job working as a farmer at Firestone to heart.

"Hey! If you want to have some cake you better get out of your fancy duds and finish your chores!"


"Yes, mother!"

Our next stop was the Ford Farm - the birthplace of Henry Ford.

It was good to see more of our presenter friends inside the Ford home.

The edge of town can be seen from the window of the Ford Home; you can make out the front of the Wright Brothers Cycle Shop building. Of course, these structures were originally hundreds of miles from each other back in the old days. The continental shift brought them together inside Greenfield Village. Either that or Henry Ford might have had something to do with it!

This is how Rebecca sees herself upon looking in the magic mirror while shopping in Mrs. Cohen's Millinery Shop.
 
My daughter-in-law could not find any ipods, cell phones, or other electronic devices at all inside JR Jones General Store. She just wasn't sure what was going on! She just wasn't sure about life in the 19th century.
 
Miss Rebecca and I awaited for our group to be called in to eat.

Mrs. Anderson and Mrs. Lum were not sure just what to order from the menu of the Eagle Tavern. The rabbit certainly sounded enticing, however!

Those of us that had dressed in our period finest gathered at one table for a photograph (Mrs. Lum had left by then, unfortunately, and was not in this picture). Though most of us wore the styles from the 1860's, Mrs. Dye (in the center) wore clothing from the 1880's.
 
Mrs. Dye, in her 1880's finest, asked the barkeep for a temperance drink, I'm certain!

After our dinner at the Eagle Tavern, Mr. Dye and I awaited outside on this spring day and compared his time in the 1880's with my rime in the 1860's. (photo by Lynn Anderson)

A 1760's treat awaited us at the Daggett farm: dried apple pie!

Now that's a pile of wood that IS a pile of wood! The Daggetts sure know how to stack 'em!
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Being associated with Greenfield Village, and history in general, is something I take great pride in. And in that summer's issue (June 2013) of Early American Life magazine I accomplished both; Tess Rosch, the author of an excellent article about the average height of our 18th and 19th century ancestors, needed a photograph to accent her story. While reading one of my blog postings she came across a picture she thought would work well.
Here you go - my passion for history, Greenfield Village, and even my love of photography all rolled into one!

This was a photo that I took of Larissa and another Daggett Farm worker a couple of years ago. I told her to portray a nagging wife while I took the picture. You can barely read my name as credit on the right side of my photo
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I hope you enjoyed this posting on a special day for fans of history in the general metro-Detroit area. The reenacting season is nigh and dressing in period clothing on Greenfield Village's opening day was just a preliminary to what's ahead.
I can't wait!








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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Four Seasons of Michigan

Over the course of a year I worked on a photographic project by depicting the four calendar seasons of southeastern lower Michigan. And what better place to show our ever-changing year than on a farm? Though Michigan is known as being part of the 'rust belt,' it's actually more agricultural; there are more farms here than anyone can imagine. According to the State of Michigan website, we have approximately 56,000 farms covering over ten million acres of farmland!
So I chose to do this little project at the historic (1880's) Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village for a number of reasons, first off being that it's, well, historical! Plus I don't believe private owners would appreciate me traipsing out to their property every month to take photographs of their land.
Finally, it gave me a reason to visit Greenfield Village more often - - as if I really need an excuse to do that!
Of all the pictures shown here in this post, there is only one that I did not take, and that is the photo showing the snow covered ground during January. That one was taken by a friend of mine who works for the Henry Ford. Greenfield Village is closed from January until mid-April and therefore I have no access to the farm or anywhere else there during that time; I sent him copies of the photos I had previously taken as a guide - which he matched up wonderfully!
Anyhow, I hope you enjoy my year-long project.
WINTER - January: preparations for spring plowing and planting begin


SPRING - mid-April: plowing takes place. This is where the corn will be planted.

SPRING - May: The corn is just beginning to peak out of the ground.

Late Spring-Early Summer - mid-June: Everything is looking fresh and coming up "rosey".

SUMMER - July: the corn is looking good.

LATE SUMMER - early September: the corn is ready for harvesting

Early Fall - Late September: Harvest time

FALL - mid-October: the corn shocks are now standing, curing.

LATE FALL - The fields of November: all the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.

This was perhaps the longest it ever took me to write a post!
But it was fun - - I'll have to try to get an early March picture just to sort of complete it.
Anyhow, thanks for stopping in - - -








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Friday, April 12, 2013

Heating Stoves and Wall Pockets: Items That Made A House A Home

Accurate period clothing is of utmost importance at a reenactment, this we know to be true.
But we can't forget the other side of this *hobby* - knowledge of the period is every bit as important. Which is why this posting has the title that it does - to get you thinking about your life in the 1860's.
As one from the 21st century, how much do you know about things you have on your home? I'll venture to say quite a bit: the TV, computer, DVD/Blu-Ray player, microwave, ipod, cell phone...
But have you thought about your wall socket...you know, that funny looking thing in the wall you plug your electrical appliances into? Or your thermostat? Heck, how about your dirty clothes hamper??
You probably never give any of these a second thought, yet each one plays a significant role in your home life, I'm sure.
Now, if you were from 1860, how much would you know about your own home? Not just the big and well-known items (sofa, oil lamps, tables, etc.), but some of the seemingly insignificant things. Do you know what is in each room of your 1860 house? Do you know what the items are used for - what their function is? How important are they to you and your home?
These are the things we need to be thinking of and learning about (and teaching to spectators) every bit as much as our clothing: our everyday mid-19th century lives. For instance...

As I type this, it is mid-April, and the temperature outside is only in the 40's and it's been raining. Yep - it's damp and chilly and the furnace kicks on every-so-often to keep the temperature inside my home at a cozy 68 degrees without nary a thought from me.
It was quite a bit different to one living in the 1860's, for their heating stove was of constant concern; the chopping of the wood and the consistent replenishing of the firebox was as much a priority as any other chore that had to be done.
Heating stoves were rare in most American homes prior to the 1830's. It was in the late 1820's and into the '30's that manufacturing techniques made stoves stronger, lighter, and less expensive. People bought and used the stoves to warm their parlor, bed chambers, dining rooms, and, if they could afford it, any other room in the house. They reached their peak of popularity by mid-century.
They were more efficient than open fireplaces and used a lot less fuel. Their cast iron surfaces radiated warmth more evenly and effectively - the heat stayed in the room rather than going up the chimney.
 And style mattered greatly - people wanted their stoves to not only be useful but eye-catching as well, for Victorian taste demanded that functional objects also be decorative. And, as you will see in the photos below, some were obviously designed specifically for use in the parlor, while others, called box stoves, could be used in any room of the home, including the parlor (as income allowed). Not only were box stoves popular in many homes, but they were also utilized in schools and the work place.
It wasn't until the 1870's that central heating began to be widely accepted and radiators replaced heating stoves, and by the turn of the 20th century, the heating stove became a rarity in most homes.
Here are some of the more interesting stoves from the 19th century that were, at one time, standing proudly in a parlor or bed chamber:

1854 Parlor Stove

1844 Parlor Stove

Mid-1850's Parlor Stove

1845 Parlor Stove - note the engravings on the front

Mid-1850's Parlor Stove

1847 Parlor Stove - Note the engravings


1848 Box Stove


Firestone Farm: Box Stove in the main upstairs bedroom

Firestone Farm: Box Stove in Grandmother's Room

Buzzell House Parlor Stove

Box Stove in the Apothecary

As you can see, some of the parlor stoves are downright beautiful! I would love to have one just for show in my own parlor. Ah...to have money to spend on such things.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Do you know what a 'wall pocket' is?
Well, until around a decade ago, I sure didn't! Yet most homes from the mid-19th century through the turn of the 20th century had one in their parlor. As the 1897 Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogue said: "Almost every housekeeper knows what a convenient receptacle a wall pocket is."
Not in the 21st century they don't!
Wall pockets, which came in a variety of styles, sizes, and quality, held letters, newspapers, magazines, and cards, and were usually hung in an easily accessible location on the wall - maybe nearest to where the man of the house would sit to relax in the evening and catch up on the latest news. I have seen them in the historic homes at Greenfield Village and have also seen them in sketches of period parlors as well. Generally, those that I have seen in historic homes were made of wood, though I have seen many made of pottery for sale on line (used now mainly as a planter).
Then there are the smaller wall pockets that were stitched together and held accessories such as sewing items. These were many times located in the ladies room or the bed chamber.
It's unfortunate that, except for the few lines written above, I simply cannot find any other information on wall pockets...anywhere. I've dug through my books and searched the internet...nada.
Thank the good Lord for my friends at Greenfield Village who were able to at least give me the little bit of the history you read here.
Here are some photos of 19th century wall pockets:

This is the wall pocket that I own. I was very lucky to find it - this is the exact style I was looking for!

On the left is the wall pocket at Firestone Farm
Here's a front view of the Firestone Farm wall pocket


On the right is Sarah Jordan's wall pocket

And here is that same wall pocket head on

This wall pocket, also in the Sarah Jordan Boarding House, is much smaller than the others. It seems to have been made to hold mail or pamphlets

The ca 1876 wall pocket at the birthplace of Henry Ford

A smaller stitched wall pocket in the lady's bed chamber. Yes, the black one hanging there - that's it! I'm sure the lady of the house kept her sewing supplies inside.

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On a similar note:
Recently I was at my son's apartment for a visit. What do you think I saw hanging on his wall? No, not a wall pocket, but the Old Farmer's Almanac! You see, my son desperately would love to be a farmer - a traditional farmer. During last year's growing season he turned half of my very suburban back yard and a quarter of his in-laws back yard into his vegetable garden. He also raises chickens, and is looking into the possibility of keeping bees as well. And, though we are into the second decade of the 21st century, he still reads the almanac for information. It is far better than the information the Monsanto-owned government would like one to use (he has his own blog HERE called "The Sustainable Patriot").
Anyhow, back during the time of heating stoves and wall pockets, The Farmer's Almanac was of utmost importance to nearly everyone - 2nd only to the Bible, from what I've heard.
And here my 21st century son is reading it just as he would have if he lived 150 years earlier.

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Well, hopefully I gave you a little bit of food for thought while you pursue your living history endeavors; hopefully I enticed you to look beyond the obvious and dig a little deeper to get a more realistic and less Hollywood feel for history.
Until next time...







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