Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Night FOR the Museum: March 2015

I'm a reenactor, not an actor!
So why was it that I found myself preparing to be in a play - a skit, rather - and studying a script on a daily basis to make sure I got my lines memorized?
I'll tell you why - - - because I really enjoy having an opportunity to help out for a good cause, and there are few greater causes in my mind than historical preservation.
In this case, the skit was to help the Plymouth Historical Museum in Plymouth, Michigan raise money at their annual auction fundraiser.
Kristen (Blanche Shortman), me (Phil Markham), and Darlene (Mrs. Carrie Markham): living historians-turned-actors.
We were the entertainment!
So this skit I was in had me playing the part of a philanderer - a man who was married to one woman while openly in love with another, much younger woman.
The skit was based on a true story; I portray William "Phil" Markham, the 50-something man who invented and popularized the modern BB-gun, Darlene plays my very straight-laced wife, and Kristen, who usually portrays my daughter during reenactments, was Blanche Shortman, the much younger woman who caught "my" eye. 
What you are about to read in this week's post was taken from a variety of sources. It will help you to understand the dramatic photographic poses included:

The time period is roughly 1900 to 1912:
William (Phil) Markham applied for and received a patent for the first commercially successful air rifle. His Markham Air Rifle Co., started manufacturing BB guns in 1886. The patent came in 1887. His BB guns, made of wood with a brass and later steel tube in the barrel, were an instant hit. He was making money.
But Markham had a problem; he was not a happily married man. It was his wife, Carrie, who was a good woman but could not, or would not, adjust to the more lavish lifestyle of success that Markham preferred. She was as committed to her own beliefs as Markham was to his, only in the other direction. Carrie became intensely involved in the local WTCU, for many years as president.. From an article in the November 1999 issue of The Gun Report: “Things were not well in the Markham household. Phil Markham and his wife, Carrie, had been living together for years under strained circumstances. Carrie was what we would call today a religious nut. She believed it was a sin to dance, party, smile too much, or be idle in any form. She was a devout member of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and at one time served as its local president. Phil Markham, on the other hand, was just the opposite. He loved to dance, to party, to join in with others for picnics and get-togethers; he enjoyed good wine, good food, good conversations, and good friends. He financed construction of an athletic field for the local high school, and often played trumpet in the town band. Phil believed in working hard, but he also believed in enjoying life to its fullest. In short, the Markhams were totally incompatible in every way."
And then Blanche walked in. It was 1900, and Markham had just hired a new secretary. Her name was Blanche Shortman, and she was young, brunette and very pretty. He soon fell madly in love with her. As the marriage drifted, Markham turned his attentions to his work and eventually to the pretty young secretary. 
Blanche and Carrie have words. I try to convince Blanche to let it be.
Time and nature took their course, and Markham soon asked his wife for a divorce. With strict societal attitudes toward divorce as her buttress, not to mention the responsibility of tow children, Carrie would not agree. So in 1901, Markham did what seemed to be the next best thing, thereby shocking that little Victorian society down to its proverbial bustle. Not only did he build what was called a “temple” for his mistress in town, but he constructed it at the apex of Kellogg Park, literally just a stone’s throw from his own home on the park which was situated where the Box Bar is now.
Carrie snapped and tried to grab me away from Blanche
Markham built the house, a big Queen Anne-style building with tall columns and large first and second-story windows overlooking Kellogg Park. There is a story often retold that the women of Plymouth were so disgusted with Blanche Shortman that they made nasty remarks when she sat on the second-story porch. Kids threw stones at her. So Markham had wooden louvres made so passersby couldn’t tell when Blanche was sitting on the porch.
But I chose to go with the much younger Blanche rather than hard-nosed Carrie. Can you see the beautiful house I built for my Blanche there in the background?
The women of Plymouth, who had sided with the first Mrs. Markham (who died in 1910), refused to accept Markham’s now second wife, Blanche. Markham, who was then 60, decided to pull up stakes. Leaving E.S. Roe to run his air rifle plant, he and Blanch moved, in 1911, to California where he bought land on what is now Hollywood.
Bah! We'll sell the company and move away from here - we'll move to California!
Over the years, Markham was able to parcel off the land he had purchased in Hollywood to movie moguls and ended up becoming worth the equivalent of $25 million in today's money.

I was very glad to be able to help out the Plymouth Historical Museum, and though I much prefer living history - pre-20th century living history - to acting, doing something like this skit every-so-often is great fun for a change of pace.
And, no, I am not a philanderer in real life!!
I must say, however, it was strange having such a young woman as my girlfriend/wife. Both Kristen and I agreed that the father and daughter scenarios suit us much better.
But, we did help to raise a lot of money for the museum.
And we brought a piece of Plymouth's past to life, if only for a short while.
That's the important thing...
See you next time in time.
(Thanks to the Plymouth Historical Museum for the great pictures!!)

And HERE IS A VIDEO CLIP of our skit


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