Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Charlton Park 2014: "The Immersion Zone"

Most writers tend to wait to the end of their posting to thank the people for making events happen, but I am going to thank the powers-that-be here at the beginning, because without them, none of this would have happened at all.
My first set of "thank you's" goes out to a few who play a very important behind the scenes role: if it weren't for Sally, Sheri, and Samantha from the 24th Michigan, as well as Shannon who works at Charlton Park, none of what you are about to read would take place at all. For it's through these ladies that I receive approval to take over the historic 1858 Sixberry House during the Civil War reenactment.
The busy ladies mentioned here know me well enough from past experience, and they know that we who use the house treat it with the utmost respect and care.
But it's not only what I do in the Sixberry House - these wonderful women help make the Charlton Park event in general run so smoothly for all reenactor participants, and have for years.
All of us who take part thank you for all of your hard work.
Second, it takes very special people to bring history to life.
I mean bring history to life!
And I am honored to say I have been blessed to work with and befriend the best!
First and foremost is my friend, Larissa, who will, a couple times a year, portray my wife during a reenactment. My real life wife, Patty, does not particularly care for 1st person very much and has given her blessing for the two of us to present history in this family way. Larissa's husband, Mike, does not reenact at all and also has given his approval, so given the fact that we are married to such wonderful and trusting spouses makes it very easy for us in our portrayal.
Then there is Larissa's mother, Violet (yes, her actual real life mother, and when Larissa plays my wife, Violet becomes my mother-in-law), who falls right into whatever role she may be given or chooses - especially as a grandmother to "our kids" - and through knowledgeable casual conversation greatly helps to bring the mid-19th century to life. And she does it well and willingly.
Another member of our organization, Jackie, joined in as part of our family by becoming my older sister, and she greatly enhanced our many discussions throughout the day. She can and does keep us in a period mode. And she does it so well!
And then we have Candy, our domestic servant. Candy has been portraying a servant for nearly a year now and has found her way and purpose as such and really knows the do's and don'ts of her life of servitude. And she can cry on the spot, should the need call for it.
The youngest living historian in our group, Sarah, had never experienced doing 1st person before this event, but you coulda fooled me! She fell into her role as our daughter quickly and comfortably and she played it perfectly - it was easy to see she has studied the role of a young lady's place during the Civil War and treated her elders - especially her, ahem, father - with utmost respect.
We also had numerous friends (whom you shall meet momentarily) come to visit and added greatly to our everyday life on the homefront scenario.
Enjoying a peaceful morning in our back parlor.

One more thing before we get to all the photos and story:
A lot of preparation goes into bringing history to life in this manner. It would be nearly impossible to go into an immersion without knowledge of everyday life of the times. So we research.
And research.
And research.
We do our best to get a deeper understanding of the lives of those who lived during the time of the American Civil War: their manners and mannerisms, thought patterns and mindset, modes of speech, etiquette, and ideals. We study the tools & trades and how they would have played a role in our everyday lives. We learned about what it was like to travel, what kinds of seasonal food to eat, political turmoil of the time, about mourning etiquette, and, well, about our everyday lives in general. We have period-dress meetings multiple times each year to work exclusively on bringing these long-dead folk back to life in a non-Hollywood history way, and in doing so we try to turn off, as best we can, our 21st century thought process. 
And besides utilizing the shared historical knowledge and being in an authentic period home, what helps us maintain the authenticity that we strive for is that we don't come out of our immersion; whether there are people around or not, we remain in the 1860's.
To help keep us in this frame of mind for Charlton Park are the notices I put up on a few different reenactor group pages on Facebook to notify participants of our plans in case anyone wanted to visit us:

Good day Everyone -
A few of us will be in the Sixberry House on Saturday. We will be portraying a southern-sympathizing family and are planning to be in immersion.
We are asking our fellow (and fellow-ette) reenactors to act accordingly upon entering the house.
We would love to have friends come calling, and although it's not a *must*, we are asking any reenactors who do visit to act as if you entered our real home in the summer of 1864 and stay in period.
We will have a servant who will answer the door upon knocking, by the way.
Thank you!

To some this may sound silly.
"As adults, you're acting like little kids pretending to play house!"
Yeah...I guess in a way we are.
But why should the kids have all the fun?
'Grown ups' need to have fun, too, or is our fun strictly limited to only "adult" things like card playing, going to the bar, or attending a sporting event?
That may be considered fun for many, but not these grown ups! In fact, we take our 'pretending' to entirely new levels!
At the Charlton Park event we had numerous reenactor friends who had never done living history/immersion/1st person before, and they were all coming up to us afterward glowing in how great an experience it was for them. A few said that was as close to "being there" as they'd ever been!
And isn't that what we are attempting to do, to get "there?"
With that being said, please allow me to take you on a journey through time and space - - - - - -
you are now in a farming community somewhere in Maryland...and the War Between the States is etching have entered---the Immersion Zone.
Welcome to our home here in Maryland. I had it built only a few years ago, back in 1858.

Here is our family. I am surrounded by the ladies of the house: my wife Elizabeth on the left, her mother Violet next to her, Candace our domestic servant in the back, our daughter, Sarah, to the upper right, and my dear older sister Miranda there on the right.

My sister and mother-in-law arrived by train and coach on this day and, as this is considered to be a special day, we decided to wear our Sunday Best. The Maryland summers can become as hot as a steam engine, and today was one of those days, so after the initial arrival of my relatives, I succumbed to the heat and removed my jacket.

This is Elizabeth, my wife. Although we have no children together (our daughter Sarah is from my first marriage - my poor first wife had passed away ten years ago during the birth of what would have been our second child), Elizabeth has taken to Sarah as if she were her own flesh and blood and has helped to raise her with a firm but loving hand.

We had some very serious (and very *real*) family conversations during our immersion. An example of a pretty intense discussion was one we had with daughter Sarah of her want of the frivolities of the finer things in life, including a new silk dress and bonnet, ideas which came about after visiting her Aunt Sarah (my first wife's sister) last Christmas in the big city of Annapolis. Her Aunt put ideas of living a grandeur life of silk dresses and bonnets into my daughter's head, and went so far as to be given, without our knowledge or consent, a catalog book of life's supposed finer things.
Our daughter, Sarah, joined us in our back parlor.
Elizabeth found this booklet in Sarah's chest of drawers, and was none too happy upon doing so. One must understand that since we have no sons, the help of our daughter in the running this farm - inside and out - was of utmost importance to us, and we needed to banish these foolish ideas from her thoughts immediately.
Elizabeth read to us some of the advertisements listed in this "book of folly" she found in Sarah's room. Now we knew where our daughter was getting thoughts of foolish living ideas.
So Sarah was called down from her bedchamber and was confronted of our concerns of late.
Her insistence in wanting such fine things caused me to become most stern:
"You must get these foolish thoughts out of your head!"
"But Papa, I can wear a new silk dress to the local ball."
"Sarah, you know we have barn dances here, not balls. If anything, I will get you material to make a new work dress. That is much more useful than something as frivolous as a silk dress and bonnet."
"But Papa..."
"Another word and I will send you to your room to memorize bible verses!"
Meekly, looking down, "Yes Papa..."
To back me up, her mother read from The Mother's Book by Mrs. Child, which, in part, says "A dress distinguished for simplicity and freshness is abundantly more lady-like than the ill-placed furbelows of fashion. It is very common to see vulgar, empty-minded people perpetually changing their dresses, without ever acquiring the air of a gentlewoman."
Sarah thought about this for a moment and seem to understand. She then looked at Violet in hopes of lifting the mood and asked, "Grandmother, how was your journey here?"
And, thus, went our day. Very real.

Now, please understand that we also had some great laughs during this immersion experience, just as folks would have had "back then." At times we had tears from laughing so hard (to write it out would not be nearly as funny, so you will have to take my word that it was a real LOL moment!).
And we enjoyed hearing of the travel adventures of Elizabeth's mother and my sister, including how they needed to sit away from the window in the train car because of the sparks flying in caused by the steel wheels upon the tracks.

Then there is my sister.
We are a southern-sympathizing Maryland family, though my sister Miranda married a man who, after moving to Michigan years before the War, joined the Union army. She turned Yankee with him!
Miranda's husband was killed in the summer of '63 and she has been wearing black ever since, though she is now in second stage mourning and shows a bit of white on her sleeves and collar. My sister has struggled to survive this past year but, alas, try as she might, she could not make it on her own, so she has come to live with us. This makes for interesting conversation, considering the differences in our loyalties between north and south.
My sister Miranda photo by Lenore Jordan

Aside from the constant bantering back and forth between Yankee sympathizer Miranda and the staunch supporters of the southern cause of Elizabeth & I, it was a pleasant afternoon, though sometimes the discussion became a little disconcerting to my mother-in-law.
One fun conversation, however, came when Elizabeth asked Miranda to tell stories of my youth. Of course, she had to tell of the time I went astray on the way to school one particularly cold winter morning. I sneaked over to the mill pond behind the gristmill and decided to slide on the ice. Well, I only got a few feet on it before falling through! Luckily for me, it was only up to my waist, but they had a heck of a time pulling me out! I knew if I went to school I would get the switch from old Mr. Chapman, and then another whipping after I got home. One whipping is better than two so I went straight home.
Yep - I got it good!
But only once!
Of course, I have my own tales to tell, like of the suitor, Mr. Bagley, who showed a deep interest in Miranda. Our father was well aware of this man and forbade my sister to be with him. Mr. Bagley came to our home late one evening and, in an attempt to get my sister's attention to secretly meet, threw pebbles at her bedroom window. Only it was not her window that the tiny rocks hit, but my mother and father's instead. You can imagine the look on Mr. Bagley's face when our father answered his call by showing his gun. Ha ha! Mr. Bagley skeedaddled out of there faster than a jack rabbit on hot coals! Father was none too happy and Miranda felt his wrath as well.
See? Stories can go both ways!
This is how our day in immersion went, with conversations and stories done much in the way we would imagine it may have actually been like.
And it was, simply said, a wonderful time-travel you are there experience for all involved.
Hey - when you work with the best...

Mother-in-law Violet, though a native to Maryland, has spent time in the northern state of Michigan visiting relatives. Upon hearing of my sister's plight, she chose to travel back home with her by train and by stage. It was arduous traveling, but with Maryland considered a border state, there was little trouble in getting here.

As you can see, we made the attempt to portray a normal family of 1864. We did so by reading aloud to each other, sharing stories of our youth, and hearing the tales of travels from Violet and Miranda. And we kept it real.

We lost our domestic servant, Agnes, to marriage last year - at least she married a local farm boy who also sides with the south - so we hired a new girl, Candace.

A born and bred Marylander, Candace cooks up a fine oyster stew and crab meat.

This day's dinner repast consisted of that fine southern-cooked Maryland ham, summer vegetables such as cucumbers and carrots, and fresh-baked bread from Candace's Prussian grandmother's receipt.

 What really made this day come to life for us was having visitors come over. Some, such as Miss Jones and Miss Mansfield (pictured here with young Cora and my sister) had never taken part in 1st person, but found themselves, not by choice necessarily, immersed in our world. They loved it!

Initially, 1st person can seem intimidating. But if you are surrounded by other practitioners of the art, it becomes quite easy to fall in with everyone else. And it's when you don't take part that you will feel uncomfortable. Miss Mansfield and Miss Jones did a fine job for their first time!

Our daughter (center left) and her friends - Miss Fross, Miss Mitchell, and Mrs. St. John - enjoyed a game of croquet.

The friendly game did not last very long before Sarah came running into the house with great consternation, letting us know they were seeing soldiers marching down our road!

And, yes, the war was ever so near. In fact, it was in our own back yard: the soldiers were sitting on our back porch! Yankee soldiers! What to do we did not know. I did my best to keep everyone calm, but it was very unnerving.

Just look at what we saw outside our window! The War has come to our home!
We did our best to entice the reenactor soldiers into our world of immersion by showing our concern by continuously watching them, asking questions of what their plans were (they did not know, they only do what they are told), and letting them know that there were people inside this house including frightened women - and the concern was great.

There is more to this photograph than meets the eye. Look up into the second floor window. What do you see there?

Yes, young visitors felt safer spying on all of the excitement from Sarah's bedroom window.

And there they were, right outside our back parlor window, men preparing for battle. Talk about disconcerting! My worried wife eyed the men with concern through the back parlor window. But it got worse...

Elizabeth called me to the front parlor. The artillery were stationed directly across the road from our house! Can you imagine seeing this looking out your front window? If so, then you will know how nervous we felt. Soldiers in the back and now the front of our home!

Our daughter's visitors were still at our home when all of this took place, and the fright - even though we were only "pretending" - became real. Remember when I said Candace could cry "on the spot"? Well, she did here, and it became all the more real for everyone.
I stepped out to the back porch and asked one of the men if they expected a battle in the vicinity. We were assured there were no plans of such a thing, but something told me he was not telling me the truth.

Seeing the men form up was very disconcerting.
Inside our house, we continued with our immersion, and you could actually feel the fright and helplessness. I commend all involved, for it was amazing.
The ladies sang hymns such as Amazing Grace and Nearer My God To Thee to help them to overcome their worry. 

My wife suggested something more upbeat such as "Ol' Susannah," but nothing seemed comforting. They looked to me for guidance and I assured them that should there be a battle that we would skeedaddle into town. This war's history has shown the safest places to hide is either in the cellar, though ours is very small, or in town, for the soldiers do not shell a town where there are citizens. At least they have not yet.
"When should we leave?" the ladies kept asking me. I assured them I had no plans to leave the security of our home unless we were in imminent danger. My wife, still spying out of the window, asked me, "How much closer can the War be to be considered imminent danger?"
It seemed the entire Union army was in our town!
Shortly before the battle occurs at this event, someone will let us know beforehand so we can take part as scurrying citizens of the town. This year, Sheri, from the 24th Michigan, let us know in such a way that we could continue our time-travel experience by pounding upon our door frantically, which actually did startle our house guests.
I did not wait for Candace to answer, but flung it open myself, expecting to see soldiers wanting our food, only to find our neighbors, white as ghosts, urging us to leave and find shelter away from the area, for a great battle was truly at hand! We wasted no time in gathering a few meager items and fleeing our place of solace...our home. I made sure the doors were locked tight - no thieving Yank will enter my home if I can help it!
As we hurried toward town we were told to hide between the houses, for the battle was actually taking place upon our village green!
So you can imagine how everyone felt seeing all of the soldiers in and around our home, then are told to run to the safety of town only to find this long line of Union soldiers marching down your very street!

 The battles at Charlton Park are some of the best I've ever witnessed! Even my son has said he would put Charlton Park battles on par with those from national events, though on a smaller scale. They utilize the town and townsfolk in ways not found at other local events. Usually civilians will go out onto the grounds where the devastation takes place and help the wounded and cover the dead once the battle has ended. For some reason this did not happen this year - I'm not sure why, because it adds a realism not seen at most reenactments.
But what you will see in the next few photos are frightened people watching as the horror of war unfolds before their eyes right in their town and around their homes. Believe me, the fright you see is real in a sense that all participants had worked their 1860's thoughts into that mindset.  
Is the fright real or imagined?

And the line of men kept on coming, stretching seemingly for miles. Where does one go when your entire town is in the midst of such a quandary?

It seemed as if the line of men went on forever.

Candace was beside herself with worry. My wife tried consoling her, to no avail.
As living historians, this makes it all that much more real for us. Again, we remained in our 1st person/immersion state. We continued on as if this were actually occurring before our eyes.
And, in a very real sense, it was.

Obviously, none of us would have been out in the open like this had it been an actual battle with real bullets and all. I called these ladies out and positioned them to try one of my "artsy" pictures. Maybe I can entitle this one "Battle Bonnets."

As you can see by these photographs, the historic town of Charlton Park is used very effectively.

Most "deaths" were very well done and gave the presence of what the townsfolk may have seen in Sharpsburg or Gettysburg, but on a much grander scale.

And the battle continued on, with more death and devastation...

The gallant southern men forged ahead, but their loss was many.

In the humid heat of July, the stench from so many dead bodies rose quickly and was nearly unbearable! Miss Mitchell kept a pinch of penny royal to her nose to help mask the awful odor coming from town.

At one point, Miss Mitchell fell to the ground, not moving and deathly white in color. Mrs. St. John swore she was hit by a stray bullet, but upon further examination, I found no sign of a wound - no blood or holes in her dress. She had passed out from fright or from the smell of death. Two men from the cavalry galloped up on hearing Mrs. St. John's calls for help, but I assured them the young lady would be all right. Photo by Lenore Jordan
Mrs. St. John's cries for help sounded very legitimate - authentic - and the two from the cavalry actually thought something was wrong.

After what seemed like hours, the battle was finally done. On a surprise note for my wife and I, we discovered the husband of our hired help, Candace, was a Yankee soldier!! So, what do we do? Do we keep her or let her go? We had a discussion with her about our concerns of her hiding her true sympathy. Again, through tears, she promised that she'd never let her alliance prevent her from her work. Elizabeth and I decided we would keep her on. After all, she makes the best oyster stew around! Candace later told a friend, "I work for such a nice loving and forgiving family!"

This event at Charlton Park is always top notch - I would not miss it except under dire circumstances. We've really worked at earning the annual use of the Sixberry House, and have been told it's "ours" for as long as we want it. Well, as long as we have the quality living historians that participate in this way to bring the past to life, we will continue on and try to come up with different, but real, scenarios each year.
We had a truly fine day living in the past and presenting it to the public of the future. It is also exciting and satisfying to challenge ourselves to do it as authentic as we can. I am proud to call all of the wonderful living historians you see here and in the other photographs my friends, and, in a sense, my family - my reenacting family. In our 21st century lives we call and visit each other frequently, and we've attended each others gatherings: graduation parties, weddings, holidays, and, unfortunately, even funerals of loved ones. And it doesn't get more family than that!

Not pictured but did participate as visitors were Jeannie and Patrick messenger, two people who fall into a 1st person as natural as if they were living in the 1860's. They, too, added so much to our day.
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Let's take a look at a few other fun things that occurred at this Charlton Park event:

A pie auction! Yep---we enjoyed a homemade peach pie for dessert after our meal!

A barn a real barn...with a real string band providing the music! (Yes, that's our Candace dancing with her beloved!)

What could be more fun than swinging while in a hoop skirt? Well, I could not tell you, for I've never worn one (nor will I ever!), but Miss Mansfield certainly looks like she is having an enjoyable time!

A fun series of what were initially innocent pictures that I took involved my friend Sheri. Sheri and her friend Brian were enjoying a simple conversation, and the scene just looked to be almost like a painting. That is, until someone yelled out that it looked like Brian was proposing:

My dear, may I have your hand?

Kind sir, I am spoken for!

But does your man have one of THESE???

And there you have it - our time at Charlton Park in July of 2014. It was, perhaps, the best one I've participated in yet. One has to wonder when the "best ever" feeling ends, for I see no signs of that happening at all. Not at events like this!
Until next time, see you in time.


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