Sunday, November 9, 2014

Waterloo Farm Harvest Supper 1864: Spending Time With Folks From the Future

I've written about Waterloo Farm Museum numerous times before and how it is consistently one of my very favorite places to practice the art of living history that we love to do. The kind folks in charge of Waterloo *almost* carte blanche gives me free reign and run whenever I am there with my group of living historians. We've earned their trust and respect over the years, and they know we take great care in what we do, how we present ourselves, and, most importantly, how we treat their historical house and the antiques within.
The idea for a harvest supper was rooted last summer when I mentioned to one of the museum board members that I would love to be able to eat a dinner or a supper at the dining table there sometime. She thought about it for a bit and then returned later with the suggestion of having a sort of fund-raiser where people of the 21st century could purchase an "evening in the past," and I, with a select few, would be their portal to the year 1864.
Hey! I'm game! I'll do nearly anything at least once (ha! as if me dressing as an 1860s widow didn't prove that, right?).
I've never done anything quite like this, but what the heck!
When it comes to immersion-type living history, I usually don't have to look too hard to find willing participants, for in my own unit (21st Michigan) we have some of the best. As you know, my good friend, Larissa, usually portrays my reenacting wife, for my actual wife does not care to do 1st person.
But, you see, Larissa is due to have her 2nd child any day now; I don't believe any of us are prepared for that type of authenticity. (But what a cool story: "Yes, son, you were born on a historic farm during an 1864 living history excursion." Talk about taking it to the limit! Authenticity at its finest.)
With Larissa out of the picture I needed another wife.
I didn't have too big of a problem finding someone willing to take on the role. And all the planning went well until the night before the event was to take place; my "new wife's" son, who is in the military, came into town for a surprise last minute visit.
Reenacting rule number 1: family (and health) always comes first.
Not even a question.
So, being in the pinch I was in, my real wife, Patty (remember her?) volunteered to help me out.
Yeah...I owe her...BIG time!
Welcome to our home.
Add to that two other 21st Michigan members: Kristen (who has portrayed my eldest daughter many times before and does an excellent job) and Jillian (a first-timer in this sort of situation, portraying my youngest, but I've seen her do a wonderfully natural depiction as Ginnie Wade a few months back so I knew she would do well here).
We were set. 
So off we went to Waterloo Farm, a 90 minute drive from our home near Detroit to way out in rural central lower Michigan.
To elaborate on what this 'event' was about, Waterloo offered to sell tickets to two 21st century couples who would be interested in spending time in the past. I worked out a realistic scenario of our farm being on the road in which a stage coach heading to or from the town of Chelsea travels past. Sometimes the need for the travelers to stop and spend the night may arise, and I had worked it out with the stage coach company to board those should the necessity arise.
This is a historically accurate scenario, by the way, and on this cold dreary early November afternoon, we found ourselves in the company of two couples heading to Chicago.
Doing 1st person in an immersion style can be difficult enough amongst other reenactors, but try staying period in 1860s thought and action with people who act and dress from the 21st century can be a difficult task indeed. I had written out an outline of our lives and passed along, just as a guide, topical and familial ideas for discussion.
Once arriving, we had an hour before the guests would show so we immediately began to move into the 1st person mode. I also knew that cameras would be off limits for me so we took some time to pose for photos of ourselves doing "Victorian" things, though I was able to inconspicuously get an 'outsider" to take some during the actual event, and then once all was over, a few more poses took place.
And what I have here are the best of those pictures with, of course, my ever-present commentary and story-telling to accent the images.
Hope you like them:
Built in the mid-19th century, the Waterloo Farm House became our home on November 8th. Because of the kindness and trust of those on the museum board, it really does become our home anytime we reenact there. Do you see my daughters in the upper windows?
Here is my wife actually portraying my wife! She does not care for immersion or 1st person very much but has helped me out in a pinch when needed. She really does a fine job, by the way. Although she loves presenting, 1st person is not her thing.

And here is my 1864 family (taken by a circuit-riding photographer who happened by on this day): Christina (aka Kristen), center left, has portrayed my daughter many times, and she & I work well together in that capacity. The young lady standing next to my wife, Josephine (aka as Jillian), has not had nearly the practice the rest of us have had in 1st person. But she became Gettysburg resident Ginnie Wade this past summer and did such a fine, natural, unscripted job. I knew she would be a good fit as my daughter. I was right.

Mother and I took the opportunity to have our likeness taken by the circuit-riding photographer.

In our modern life, my wife and I have three sons and a daughter (and a daughter-in-law and grandson!), but in our 1864 lives we only have the two daughters. Thus, I have always treated our oldest, Christina, as I might a son, and she willingly helps me with the farming chores, including the mending of broken fences.

Yes, I know she is dressed improperly for this sort of work, but she wanted to look her best for when the stage coach dropped off our overnight guests. Our home is on the stage route and we willingly will take in passengers who are in need of some food and a room for the night. Of course, we do charge a fee for the room and board.

Christina is always willing to work with me at the drop of a hat whenever I need it. She is of great help during spring manuring, plowing, harrowing, and planting, summer harvest & tilling, fall harvest, and winter repairs. A son could not help more!

It didn't take us very long to repair the fence. There, now our house was ready to entertain.

Modern Jillian became 1864 Josephine, our youngest child. At age 16 she is definitely more "girly" than her older sister, Christina. Josephine helps her mother with the household tasks such as cooking, cleaning, as well as spinning and carding. Oh! She is also the musician of the family and can play the organ and sing.

Here she is in the food safe gathering items to prepare a meal for the guests.

Josephine was taught at a young age to cook, and I must say she is every bit as good as her mother! She will make some young man a fine wife one day.

Josephine loves to play our pump organ and is practicing for the Christmas service at our church. My wife enjoys singing along to the music. Both have lovely voices.
Unfortunately, Christina not only takes after her father with the outdoor farm chores, but vocally as well. Yes, she is blessed with her father's singing voice! It's best that she enjoys what she hears rather than participate.

So, instead of singing, Christina entertained herself by looking at the images through the stereoscope.

With most of the chores done for the day, spending a Saturday afternoon relaxing in the sitting room before the guests arrived was something we enjoyed. With Josephine playing the organ, it was a fine afternoon for us.

Of course, idle hands are the devil's workshop, so mother ensured no hands were being idle for too long!

As Josephine carded wool that came from our sheep, her mother spun it into yarn. With winter being nigh, new mittens, socks, scarves, and hats would be made for family as gifts.

Speaking of gifts, Christina spent some of her time making Christmas presents.

Uh oh! Time to see how the hollyhocks were doing!

Mother also felt the need to visit the hollyhocks!

Sister! I believe I see the stage coach coming up the road! The guests are here!

Just in time, too, for the food was ready! Doesn't the table look beautiful and very period correct?

We enjoyed ham, potatoes, cabbage with bacon, greens, beets and other vegetables, apple butter, marmalade, bread, cider and sweet cider...

My wife and youngest daughter truly outdid themselves on this fine repast!

After supper clean up time! Yes, dishes needed to be done.

After supper had ended and the dishes cleaned up, we opened up our formal parlor where my daughters entertained all with a fun reading of a poem. This type of entertainment was very popular in the evening during the Victorian period, and I believe these young ladies did an excellent job! In fact, if you click the link below, you, too, can enjoy an evening's entertainment in a Victorian parlor!

Here is our sitting room at night time. The camera setting I used expounded upon the little light given from the oil lamp - it kind of makes it look brighter than it actually was!

Another part of our sitting room, beautifully lit by oil lamps.

Isn’t this a beautiful scene?
"If the only light and heat comes from candles and fireplaces because of a power outage at your house, it is frustrating and annoying - but when it comes in the form of an intimate tour of a 19th-century farm house, it is charming and peaceful."

And charming & peaceful it is!

I wish we could have gotten this type of a photo with all of us dining. Ah well, maybe next time...

It's not often that we reenact inside a house at night time, so when we do, we use the technology of our ancestors. Imagine how creepy this would be if you suddenly found yourself stuck back in time 150 years!

But we chalk it up as another learning experience on life in the 19th century. As we habitually reached for the light switch in one of the bedrooms when it was time for us to gather our things to leave and no light switch was to be found (for there was none), we used an oil lamp instead to see what we could. Yeah...we do it right! I love it!

Here we all are, historical reenactors and modern guests: I must give a great big THANK YOU to the woman on the right (behind my wife), for it was she who put this altogether and was the chief cook and bottle washer! My hat is off to you Arlene!!

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 Now, let's show you some of our "blooper" photos - - - you know...the kind we take when no one is looking!
My bored daughters...sitting up in their rooms looking bored. Well, there's lots to do here on the farm! Josephine, help your mother with the carding and prepare supper for our guests! Christina, we have fences to mend, horses to care for and cattle to feed. Butchering time is coming soon. We have plenty to keep you busy!

Nuh-ahh girls! You are not leaving---there is too much work to be done around here! And any young lady that feels the need to show her underpinnings to get a carriage ride is certainly no lady! I see a girl's seminary school is in your future!

It's good that my eldest daughter is so mature and is ringing the bell to alert everyone that supper is ready.

Christina! That is NOT the way to ring the bell! Christina! My word - your younger sister Josephine is so much more mature than you! Christina!!

Okay - - - time to be punished! This will teach you a lesson you will not soon forget!
 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

This was not only a different type of event for us, but actually one of great fun and quite the challenge. I hope to do more like it.
I very much appreciate the trust that we have gained/earned from the good folks at Waterloo Farm (as well as from the wonderful people who care for the Sixberry House at Charlton Park and even at the Commander's House at Historic Fort Wayne), and because of that trust, we are some of the very few living historians able to utilize these historic houses as our own.
Imagine! Using a historic house as a period home!
For me, this is what it's all about - this is how to take living history to higher and higher levels. I'm already planning to include small yet important portions of 1860s life in future endeavors.
You'll have to stay tuned to find out.
Have a wonderful week!



Earlene L. said...

Ken you were all wonderful and thank you so very much for a wonderful event and yes Arlene worked hard and made us all a wonderful delicious dinner, oops,supper!!!!!!
Enjoy your blog!!!!
I know I was not very co-operative but I am very shy at these type of events.
But still enjoyed just the same.

Historical Ken said...

From larissa:
I'm so glad patty got to go...and spin some wool too! The only problem I have with this is that you left out "trophy!" I usually play your trophy wife!!!

Betsy said...

Several years ago, the living history museum in these parts (Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island, Nebraska) held adult cooking classes to teach how to operate and cook on a wood burning stove. Only myself and one other person signed up for the first class (lack of interest eventually shut the program down) and we showed up at 8:00 am to begin preparing a noon meal. It was quite fun, the teachers were museum reenacting employees and so were in costume, and the museum was open to the public that day so we constantly had guests trooping through the kitchen as we prepared everything from scratch and talked about 19th century food preparation methods. When everything was ready we ate our 19th century meal there in the kitchen with guests still trooping through, lol. It was a lot of fun! Reading your experience here reminded me of that day.

Jimio said...

So you have a Bed and breakfast or bed and dinner type of setup in your home? Does your home have a museum like status? Everything looks very authentic and that pump organ, does it ever need maintanance or was it expensive to get into working condition? I especially like that lamp above the dining table. And I saw a small piano or is that a harpsichord?

Historical Ken said...

Ahhh, Jimio! I wish!
This is the Waterloo Farm Museum and they allowed us to portray it as our home for a few modern guests who paid to experience the past.
My own home is a modern bungalow with an inside feel to the 19th century.