Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Charlton Park 2015: Celebrating Summertime USA the Historical Way

It's been trying times lately. With all the hullabaloo about the Confederate flag and our Nation's history being somewhat attacked, it certainly can hang a dark cloud over the living history community. Oh, I know this situation entails more than just reenacting, but the far-reaching tentacles affect nearly everyone in some way or another. But we're a tough bunch - those of us who time-travel can handle anything thrown our way. And this year's Charlton Park proved just that.
I am very privileged in that the good folks who run this open-air historical village in a rural part of southern lower Michigan allows me the opportunity to use a mid-19th century house as my "home" while I am there. But I like to think of it as an earned privilege, for those of us who participate here have worked very diligently over the last few years in putting together a "family" - a realistic 19th century family - and do our best to stay, for the most part, in first person to bring the past to life for not only the visitors, but for ourselves as well. We also make sure we leave the house in the same (if not better) condition than when we first enter. It is a historic home and, therefore, we take great care to treat it as such.
So...we did it again this year; yes, we created a family to help bring the past to life, and (again!) the visitors loved it! Part of the reason for our success is a few of us have been working together in this capacity for a number of years and, because of that, there is a naturalness in our roles. Since my real life wife really dislikes doing immersion/1st person, I have - with her blessing - a reenacting wife who happens to enjoy this style of reenacting. I have also gained a mother-in-law and two daughters (again, my real life daughter does not care for immersion) as well as two older sisters. Yes, I actually do have two older sisters, but neither of them would even think of doing something so nutty as reenact.
And then there are our neighbors and servants....
It has taken time but I feel we have put together quite a "19th Century House" - a play on words for all of the "house" shows PBS has put together.
So, would you like to meet my family and see how our time in the past went? Well, then, let's begin this photo journey through time without hesitation, though I must warn you, it's not all going to be serious:
From back left: there I am, standing in clothing to beat the heat, for it was 90 and humid on this day. The two ladies to my left are our neighbors, Agnes and Candace, who have come by to help us during the summer harvest. Sitting  down on the sofa in the center is my "sister" Jacquelin, who was widowed a few years back. Next to her is my "wife" Elizabeth. To Elizabeth's left is her mother, Violeta. Sitting next to "my" mother-in-law is my eldest "sister" Caroline. The two lovely young ladies sitting in the front are mine and Elizabeth's daughters, Jill and Christine. The two littlest ones belong to the lady photographer who took this image. They insisted on being in the picture. We, of course, obliged and received quite a deal on the photograph!

Here you see "Elizabeth" and I. With the summer harvest complete, we had taken an afternoon to enjoy spending time with family and neighbors.

And here are our daughters. Both young ladies have portrayed our children before: Kristen (Christine) on the left has been my daughter quite a few times since 2012. As our story goes, she is my child from my first wife who, sadly, died not too long after giving birth. But Christine considers Elizabeth her mother, for she was very young when we were married and does not remember her birth mother. Jillian, on the right, has been my daughter once before. Here, as Jill, she is the only child of Elizabeth and I. Jill plays a wonderful spunky younger sister to Christine, who she adores, kind of like Anna from "Frozen."

You see, Christine lost her husband in battle at the beginning of the year and is now in mourning. Being that she is so very young to be a widow - barely out of her teens - she is having quite the time following the etiquette of mourning and we sometimes need to remind her.

"Mother, there is a barn dance this evening. I have not been out in ages. May I please go?"
“No, child. Being in mourning, you know how frowned upon it would be for you to attend such an affair while in your state. What would people say?”

"Oh! Mother! I am so bored and sad. I need something to pick me up."

“Do you wanna build a snow man?”

Click this link above for some real farby silliness. Hey! You gotta have some off-the-wall fun once in a while, right? Every-so-often we do...

Poor Christine. Even Jill's spunkiness could not bring her out of her doldrums. But it will only be a few months before she can begin to rejoin in the festivities of her community.

To make matters worse, a downpouring of rain came upon us suddenly. Luckily, we had finished our summer harvest the day before.

On a day filled with hopes of a family picnic, the rain dashed away any thoughts of the kind.

Violeta bides her time with sewing projects.

"You know, Caroline, we should pass the time with parlor entertainment!"
“Why, I think that is a perfectly wonderful idea, sister!”

Click the links below to see and hear our rainy-day parlor entertainment:
Ah yes, Jaquelin so loves to entertain us with her "Irish accent."

"Oh my! Auntie Jaquelin makes me laugh!"

And now...our daughters...our wonderfully overly-dramatic daughters...

In the 19th century, men and women practiced archery.
"Is this how I would hold a bow for archery, Christine?"
“No, I believe it’s more like this.”
“Girls, there is no time for foolishness. We have too much work to do on our farm to be concerned about such frivolities as archery.”
“Oh, Papa…”
One of the more interesting parts of this day occurred while I was speaking to Jill about a book she had borrowed from someone in town. She told me a young man loaned it to her. When she was asked this boy's name she could not tell us, for she didn't know.
"You borrowed a book from a young man who's name you do not know?"
Her mother and I were quite upset at this and had a serious discussion about the matter. Even her aunts joined in and lectured her a bit on proper etiquette.
Just then, some young man was let into our home - - it was the same boy who loaned Jill the book! It just so happened that Caroline knew this boy and introduced us - including Jill - to him.
That's when the fun began.
I began to drill the possible suitor to the fullest extent, with Jill's mother whispering some of the questions to me; we preferred this to be a 'man-to-man' conversation if he had any interest in courting our daughter:
"What does your father do?"
"He's a farmer."
"What do you do?"
"I am in the Zouaves."
"What are your future plans once you leave the military?"
"To farm, like my father does."
"What are your intentions with our daughter?"
"What is your religious background?"
"I'm a Catholic."
"No - not a good answer!" (Elizabeth and I both said this at the same time)
And on it went for a good ten minutes or so, which must have seemed to him, I suppose, like forever. But it was great fun for Larissa and I. He had no idea he had walked into a hornet's nest and fell head first into immersion. You see, the young man in question is, in real life, Jillian's boyfriend and he only wanted to step in for a moment to give her a quick message.
Heh heh heh - - - nope! It don't work like that 'round here!
Great fun indeed!

As the rains left us, the sun began to peak through the clouds, and visitors began to come over. We did not, however, expect such a visitor as this gentleman! Yes, it's President Lincoln, visiting our southern sympathizing home!

Another surprise visitor - one whom we have not seen in years - was Mrs. Martens and her young child.

The sun did finally dry out the wet enough so that the girls were able to go out and get some fresh air before dinner, of which their mother and aunts were preparing. We have a river right next to our home, and the girls love to go near to watch the ducks, geese, and swans as they fly and swim by.
"I am going to jump off of this stump and you can catch me, Christine!"
“No, Jill! Father and Mother would not approve.”
“Oh! You and your mourning! We must have some fun…here! Catch me!”
“No! Sister, don’t----!!”

One of the nice things about doing immersion is eating dinner as a family. And the food was simply out of this world excellent; we had chicken, onion bread, beans, salad, fruits such as strawberries, cakes...and I'm certain I am forgetting a few things, but it all was so delicious!!

And after dinner we had another treat...
...homemade ice cream! Elizabeth got the ball rolling and was the first to churn.

Mother-in-law took her turn to churn as well.

Jaquelin and Caroline helped one another and switched jobs, each taking their own churning turn.

Neighbors came from far and near to help make this fine delight.

A Yankee soldier gave a hand to churn.

As for our daughters: I believe I see a girls seminary school on the horizon for Jill. And for Christine, once she comes out of mourning we may have a nice farm boy waiting for her - Jon, the son of our neighbor, Mrs. Cary.

We really did have quite a churn out for this ice cream social!

Would you look at that! Creamy homemade ice cream!

Doesn't that look delicious?

I believe everyone agreed it was the best ever! Um...especially Elizabeth!

And around town - - - - - -
These lovely ladies - more neighbors - enjoyed the respite from the rain by playing a game of croquet

It was a very hot day that day - humid, too - so playing croquet under the shade of an old oak tree was the perfect remedy to the over-bearing heat.

It was a slow day for the barber. The obtrusive heat and the threat of more rain kept most close to home.

Over at the seamstress shop, Miss Mansfield gets measured by Mrs. Root. (Yes, I received permission to publish this photograph. It's me trying to be "artsy")

1865 is kind of a tough year to reenact, for the War is basically over, though there were small skirmishes here and there. People like to see battles, so why not give them one, right? And Michigan's own Fred Priebe is still asked to portray President Lincoln, though we all know that by the summer of '65 our 16th President had already been assassinated. However, having the President at an event is always a wonderful teaching tool for visitors and always adds so much to the reenactments.
So sometimes in certain cases such as this we just have to kind of do a time-blur and blend a couple years into one to accommodate historical occurrences.
Looking down the road from our home we could see Yankee soldiers marching through our Maryland town.
As we had a mix of Yankee and Confederate sympathizers living around here, some of us were quite nervous to see this.

However, it looked as though they were just marching through to get to their camp, for they walked past looking bedraggled, worn, and in need of rest. The abrasive summer heat was adding to their toil.

As southern sympathizers, we didn't want any problems. Our crops were all we had and there was great fear the Yankees would raid our barn where we had stored our summer harvest, so we did not show our southern pride. We, instead, sang "When Johnny comes marching home again hurrah hurrah! We'll give him a hearty welcome then hurrah hurrah!"

"The men will cheer and the boys will shout, the ladies they will all turn out, and we'll all feel gay when Johnny comes marching home."

And, finally, here is our family photo. It's much the same as the one at the top of this post, only the top one was hand-tinted for a way. But the tone of this photograph is how we felt: like a real 19th century family. As Larissa (Elizabeth) said on our way back to the future, "It felt like we really were a real family, just hanging out on a holiday or something when we did the normal stuff like eat ice cream and cleaning up!" Yep...that about sums it up perfectly.

As many of you know, we in the 21st Michigan put our all into this wonderful "hobby" of reenacting and living history. For the most part, we are pretty strict when we do immersion, and make the attempt (pretty successfully, I might add) to stay in whatever year we are portraying whether there are visitors in our midst or not. But I must say that every-so-often we do lighten up a little like we did this year at Charlton Park (but, as long as there are no modern visitors about). And we also try to accept whatever comes our way, especially with the weather; if it rains, you try to do what folks "back then" would have done. If it's too hot, you don't cook on a stove or over a fire. If you're stressed due to whatever reason (like so many of us seem to be these days), have some goofy fun to help relieve some of it.
Charlton Park is always one of my top events and I thank not only the above group of living historians for bringing the past to life with me, but to the directors of Charlton Park and to the ladies of the 24th Michigan for allowing us to do so.
With all my heart I thank you.
Until next time, see you in time.



Mrs. G said...

Your post made me smile, nice pictures!

Historical Ken said...

Thank you!