Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Our Own Snug Fireside - Historical Presentations

Welcome to historical presentations at its finest.
 Welcome to “Our Own Snug Fireside”
Paul Revere and Sybil Ludington

A 19th century farming couple
(yes, this is really us!)
You all know the living history and reenacting I do, right?
Well, I've become one half of a partnership we call "Our Own Snug Fireside." My friend and fellow living historian, Larissa, is my partner on these teaching excursions, which usually take place at schools, historical societies, libraries, museums, and anywhere else that has people who are interested in learning about social history.
We've even done a fair in northern Michigan!
Look! Here we are!
I don't believe I could ask for a better partner in this venture, for Larissa has been presenting early American history at 19th century Firestone Farm and 18th century Daggett Farm, both located in Greenfield Village, for over 15 years, and has an extensive knowledge of the daily life of each era.
I, too, have studied intently the every day life of folks living in the same time period, though I've never been a historic presenter inside a museum.
So between the two of us we pretty much cover a considerable amount of information on the "ordinary" lives of our ancestors.
Larissa and I have been doing historical presentations together for nearly two years and have had success in this endeavor, whether speaking to children (as young as kindergartners) through senior citizens groups and everyone in between.
Giving a presentation in the basement of the Crocker House Museum in Mt. Clemens.
And we've done our talks as most presenters tend to, sort of like a show-n-tell where we'll speak about our period clothing and of the various artifacts that we bring (for example, a butter churn, ice cream maker, oil lamps, chamber pot, wash pitcher & bowl, etc.) and will relate them to the daily lives of the audience to which we are speaking. For instance, if we are in front of lower elementary school students, we won't give the same presentation that we would give to high school students or to adults. Instead, we'll gear it to the general age of our audience. One of my great pleasures is my "ice breaker" when speaking to elementary age kids:
"How many here are the youngest member in your family?"
Many little hands raise up in the air.
"Did you remember to empty the chamber pot before you came to school today?"
Looks of confusion from the kids and chuckles from their teachers.
"Uh oh. By the looks on your faces, I would say not. P U! Your house is going to smell awfully bad when you get home!"
Of course, at that point I explain to them just what a chamber pot is.
Oh man! The looks on their faces is so priceless! And even better when I tell them they must empty their brother's, sister's, parent's, and grandparent's pots as well!
"Eewww!!!"
Speaking to third graders at Crescentwood Elementary School in Eastpointe.
And then we'll speak of their other daily chores and activities - the way they may have lived from dawn til dusk had they been around in the 19th century - and the kids almost cannot comprehend the idea that, had they been living "back then," they would have had to actually work much of their day away, whether trimming the wicks and filling oil lamps, or feeding the animals, milking cows, helping their mother or father in their daily routine, and any other chore to keep the household running functionally.
And, of course, their clothing.
As stated above, our talks are modified to fit whatever age group we may be speaking to, and the reception we receive is always enthusiastic, even with the younger set. In fact, we will sometimes bring a few pieces of clothing for kids to try on, which they love.
So, no matter what the age, we can get them excited about history!
Yes, we use numerous artifacts  - reproduction and authentic - to accent our presentations.
 We do colonial presentations, too!
And there you see Miss Ludington on the right. 
She fits right in with the other teens, doesn’t she?

Our business is becoming a competitive one, with numerous other reenactors I know also giving presentations. And knowing these fine folk the way I do, I'm sure they do a pretty darn good job.
For us to stay ahead of the game, Larissa and I came up with something a little different than the usual: we decided that since we often do immersion at reenacting events - where we act as if we are actually from the past - that we would like to bring that style and feel to our presentations...you know, bring history to life for a captive audience.
And that, my friends, was the basis of our new program: Farm Life - City Life.
(Click HERE to learn about immersion and HERE for our back story).

"Aunt Sarah" in her silk dress
We presented Farm Life - City Life for the first time recently at a museum known as the Crocker House (built in 1869) at an afternoon tea. When the director of the museum gave us our introduction, Larissa and I came out in front of the audience already in full conversation about whether or not we should accept an offer to send "our daughter" Christine away to a seminary school for girls, which was the running theme of our program.
We spoke of the carriage ride from our rural farm to the city and what it was like for us to stay in an elegant home owned by my "sister" Sarah's husband. We talked of being waited on by servants and how out of place we felt wearing our cotton and wool clothing in comparison to the fine silk dresses and jackets my sister and her husband wore. Even our Sunday best was no match for their elegance.
But unlike other presentations, clothing was only a very small part of our program. Larissa and I, instead, concentrated on our farm life chores, season by season, and how important both daughters were to our livelihood since we had no male children.

A farm woman wears clothing
that is more functional to her living habits.
She probably would not
be wearing a silk dress!
Unfortunately, Christine's head was in the clouds, dreaming of living with Aunt Sarah and wearing the fine clothing she had to offer and being waited upon by domestic servants.
I noted often that since we had no sons I needed Christine to be with me helping with the preparation, plowing, harrowing, planting, harvesting and so many of the other duties a farmer has. Probably my favorite line was telling the audience of the look on Christine's face when I told her she had to come out to help me haul manure to the fields - quite a back-breaking and foul-smelling job! That certainly brought her head out of the clouds!
Larissa described her daily and seasonal domestic duties in great detail, including cooking, laundry, spring cleaning, rendering lard, making soap, feeding the helpers during harvest time, making syrup, mending... 
But it was not all drudgery for us. We also spoke of the fun of maple sugaring, of the fine 4th of July celebrations we have, especially when we make ice cream (click HERE to read about our 4th of July), and of the harvest gatherings we have after the harvest is in, including a barn dance. These are the things in which Christine does enjoy greatly.
Making ice cream on the 4th of July is quite the treat for farming folk!

It was ultimately decided that since there was so much to do throughout the year that we could not even think of sending our daughter away to such a place as a seminary school. She was needed at home.
And the audience all nodded their heads approvingly.
The best part about our Farm Life - City Life  presentation is, well, it actually was a real scenario. The link HERE will explain how we "lived" this adventure during a full-immersion reenactment in December.
And that really did make it all the more real.
Neither Larissa nor I were prepared for the wonderful reception we received afterwards. The people in the audience kept coming up to us with wonderful comments. Even the director said, "Don't change a thing! That was awesome!"
An audience member wrote on the Crocker House Facebook page:
"Your talk was awesome! My friends and I truly enjoyed every second of it. The question and answer period was very enlightening. Thanks for a great afternoon. We had a fantastic tea and a great talk surrounded by friends in a fantastic setting...the Crocker House. Thanks to both of you for sharing your knowledge on this topic."
We both walked out of there grinning ear to ear.
So...we began a Facebook page (Our Own Snug Fireside) so we can post pictures and information on upcoming speaking endeavors. And, yes, we do hire out...locally (within a couple hour drive from the metro-Detroit area).

Another era that doesn't seem to get the attention it needs and deserves is the colonial/Revolutionary War period. In our neck of the woods so little is taught about everyday life in the 1760's and 1770's that we feel offering up a "Patriot Program" could very well be a popular topic.
We had been talking about expanding our presentation 'repertoire' from a mid-19th century farming family to include the colonial period. Since the sestercentennial of the beginnings of the American Revolution is at hand (the Stamp Act, which many consider the catalyst of the War, was imposed on the colonists 250 years ago this year), we agreed that now was probably as good a time as any to present this oh-so-important period in our nation's history. It helps quite a bit that Larissa is a living historian and also works as a "costumed presenter" at the 1750 Daggett House at Greenfield Village, which has taught her quite a bit about everyday life in the 18th century. As for me, I do colonial living history and have been delving more and more into the world of our 18th century Founding Fathers as a reenactor/living historian.
So now we portray two people in the colonial times - one known and one not so well know: I portrayed Paul Revere while Larissa portrays the "female Paul Revere" Sybil Ludington.
That’s me as Paul Revere.
I am holding a replica of the
lantern that was shown in the
steeple of the Old North Church.
(Yes, I realize Mr. Revere had not
seen the lanterns lit on that
night, but I brought it for effect).
Photo courtesy of the Macomb Daily newspaper
I had been studying Paul Revere pretty extensively over the last couple of years, so I knew what I wanted to do. And Larissa decided to research Sybil Ludington to not only shine a light on a female patriot, but to also bring out little-known heroics of one of the 18th century women. We plotted our course, worked out an outline, decided which accessories would be brought, and gave each other lots of encouragement.
And it works wonderfully!
We begin our presentations with the teacher reciting excerpts from the infamous poem by Longfellow, "Paul Revere's Ride." Unfortunately, most people don't realize that this poem written in 1861 takes liberties on facts, including the mention of what happened when Paul Revere made it to Concord.
Concord??
Um...Revere never made it to Concord that night of April 18th - he got captured not too long after leaving Lexington and his borrowed horse was taken from him. He ended up making it back to Lexington in time to witness the battle events.
And that's the point where I, as Paul Revere, interrupt the teacher, and ask him where he got such misinformation. The teacher responds with having me tell "my" story in my own words.
And that is where I take over and, due to time constraints, give highlights of Revere's life: birth, occupation, 1st and 2nd marriage, kids, and then some of the events that helped him to make a mark in history, including the Stamp Act, Sons of Liberty, Boston Massacre, his involvement in the Boston Tea Party, his warning rides before the "big one," and some known and little known details about the evening of April 18th.
I conclude my portion by speaking of all the great men who were my/Revere's contemporaries, such as George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, John Adams, etc.
And this is where Larissa, as Sybil Ludington, interrupts me to tell me it wasn't only men who made a difference and helped the patriotic cause, and then she'll proceed to tell her tale of duty to country, and how on a stormy evening in 1777, this young 16 year old girl volunteered to warn the countryside of the attack from the British Regulars in Danbury, Connecticut.
It so happened on that April night a messenger was dispatched from Danbury to Col. Ludington, Sybil's father, with the news of the attack, and he reached the Ludington home at approximately 9 PM. Col. Ludington began to organize the militia, but the men were scattered throughout the area in their homes, and it was well into the night. The messenger was exhausted and not familiar with the area, and would not be able to find all of the militia volunteers. Sybil Ludington was very familiar with the area, and left to sound the alert. It is unclear whether she volunteered for the task, or whether she was asked to do it by her father. Some accounts indicate that Col. Ludington had planned the route Sybil would take.
Sybil left for her now-famous ride at approximately 9 PM into the rainy night, traveling 40 miles from her home in what is now the town of Kent, south to Mahopac, and north to Stormville, before returning home near dawn the next day. Sybil not only had to avoid British soldiers in the area, but also British loyalists, and "Skinners", who were outlaws with no allegiance to either side in the War. Some accounts indicate that a church bell was rung in Carmel after she gave the alarm, and that a man offered to accompany her on the rest of her ride. These accounts claim that she declined his offer, but instead dispatched him eastward to sound the alarm in Brewster.
Col. Ludington's troops arrived too late to save Danbury, but fought with the British troops as they left the area.
Quite a fascinating story that history seemed to have over-looked.
But we're helping to bring it back to life.
We also speak to the kids a bit about every day life and of our clothing during this era in our history, and give time for a question and answer period.
And, of course, the opportunity for photographs to be taken.
I am very happy and proud of the way that Larissa and I present our Nation's history, and that we can direct it toward any age group, whether they are school age children or senior citizens or all the age groups in between.

When I first entered the world of reenacting over a decade ago, I never dreamed of where it would take me...of the adventures and opportunities I would have.
And this is but another path in which I am happily traveling down - - - 
"Oh, the places you'll go!"











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