Wednesday, August 5, 2015

County Fair 1865 - Port Sanilac 2015

"This is going to sound really cheesy, but I think some of you will understand! When I was little, I was obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie TV show (I think that had a big part of why I do what I do today!). My favorite episode was when they had fair day in Walnut Grove and Pa let the old guy win the sawing contest. I wished so bad that I lived back then! This weekend I felt like I got to do what I always wanted to, and taking part in the county fair was awesome! So thanks to Ken and everyone who came together and let me feel like a kid again! It was so great to see everyone come together and be a community like they would have in the 19th century."

21st Michigan member, Larissa, wrote the above commentary of how she felt the day following the 1860s county fair our unit hosted at our annual reenactment up in Port Sanilac, Michigan.
I believe she hit the proverbial nail on the head in her assessment of what occurred, for it really did feel as if we were in another time and space. As living historians, isn't this what we strive for? Don't we want to "be there"?
But being "there" doesn't always mean being in 1st person. Many times it's just the overall feeling one gets when the surroundings and actions are aligned just right.
And that's what happened at the county fair. our living history county fair. 
Because this event is hosted by the Civil War group I am in - the 21st Michigan - we can pretty much do what we want as far as historical ideas. So this year it was decided that we would put on a Country Fair. Now, I must tell you, even though it was a 21st Michigan idea, it took many people from the differing units to make it a success: 4th Michigan, 17th Michigan, 24th Michigan, the members of the Zouaves, a few independents, Confederates, and a few groups I (apologetically) missed, I'm sure.
It's all of us working together that makes it happen. It's finding a good idea that can encompass all members of a unit (not just men or not just women, but everyone together) that will make the past come alive. We in the 21st Michigan have done it a few times before here at Port Sanilac as well as at Charlton Park and Wolcott Mill...and even our Christmas gatherings, and have had nothing but great success. Our ideas include the entire "student body" of the civilian contingent.
And it works wonderfully well.
So this year of 1865, being the end of the War and all, we had a County Fair to celebrate.
All participants in the baking activities received a yellow ribbon as a souvenir. We also had blue ribbons for the winners.

Preparing to spend the day at the fair!

"We're heading to the fair, too!"
As long as I've been Civil War reenacting (over ten years), I've not seen a county fair put on in these parts, so I relied on numerous sources to help me to bring it all together. And this was the best part: the more seasoned living historians mixing ideas with the "newbies" - everyone working together to make this thing happen. And then hearing participants say, "Well, I'll take care of the pie contests," and "I will display everyone's quilts," and "I will do the baskets," and "I will take care of the ribbons," and on and on...not "who will" but "I will."
That's what made this whole thing come together in the way that it did - everyone pulling together; the reenacting community as a whole is why our first county fair was such a success.
So, let's take some time and check out a few of the many photographs that were taken at the 1865 county fair (thanks to Steve Hainstock, Lynn Anderson, Larissa Fleishman, and Mike Gillett for contributing):
A gathering of friends, family, and neighbors: although modern visitors were milling about (and very welcome to), seeing dozens of period-dress reenactors is what gave our fair the authenticity that brought the past to life.

The young ladies here are preparing a few of the quilts for the contest.

Next we have the baskets some of the ladies made and wanted to show.

Here we have the talented young Miss Cary making a basket of her own.

What would a county fair be without a pie baking contest? And-boy!-did the ladies come through with some delicious pies!

Mr. Lupher served as our judge for the best tasting pie. As you can see, his plate was full, and so was his belly by the time he was through enjoying the fruits of the baker's labors.

The ladies wait with great anticipation as to who's pie was going to place.

"Do you know what she put in that mock pumpkin pie?"

Homemade jams and pickles!

These two ladies made ketchup from an 1860s receipt. I didn't get a chance to taste it but I heard it was very good.

The "judge" enjoyed it very much.

Amy won 1st place for her cherry pie!

And here is our 2nd place winner with her "Jefferson Davis" pie, Mrs. Alto.

And guess who won 3rd place with her peach pie? Yep---Larissa!

Sofia won 1st place with her peach preserves.

And...yes! My daughter was very happy with her 2nd place performance for her jam that she made on what happened to be one of the hottest evenings of the year! But I am very happy for her.

For 3rd place we have Mrs. Alto once again with, well, I'm not quite sure what flavor preserves she made, but they were obviously very good.

Another 1st place winner for her pickling vegetables, Mrs. Paladino!

Mrs. Paul made won 1st place for her canned peaches before she began freezing fish sticks.

One of the things I was adamant about was to have an endurance contest for the young men at the fair. What better way to test yourself than a two-man sawing contest? The good folks at Port Sanilac came up with two tree trunks - old dried pine - that we were able to brace, while a few folks brought their two-man saws. Teams were chosen and the young men went at it.
As Larissa mentioned at the top of this post, many of us may remember watching that Little House "County Fair" episode, and that's where the initial idea for the sawing contest came from. Then I looked it up and found that it was an actual contest that continues on to this day in some of the more country county fairs.
The following pictures (and even a video!) shows just how tough a contest this was:
The saws were whatever we could get, so they were not the sharpest, which made it even harder on the guys.

I was very impressed at the endurance of both teams. These guys busted butt in their sawing - I don't believe that I could do it for more than a few minutes.

My job was to sit on the log to ensure it didn't move.

My great great grandfather was a lumberman back in the 1870s and '80s and I had heard they, too, would have contests such as this.

It looks like Mr. Cary got hired on as a "log sitter," too!

The ladies of town cheered for their favorite team.

I've seen this done on a variety of 'history' shows (Little House, etc.), so this was one of those, "Wow! It's so cool that this is happening!" moments for me. And a few others, so I been told.

And we have the winners! Their arms were tired, their hands were filled with multiple blisters, they were all sweating profusely, but they did it. Yes, they are smiling.

And here is the 2nd place team (for they are definitely not losers) - even after the other team won, these guys didn't give up until they sawed through the log. Very impressive. And they, too, are smiling.
A few folks watching the log-sawing contest made comments about how long it was taking for them to saw through the logs. But that's what TV will do to you - it wasn't a five minute ordeal. But it's also what dull saws will do as well. I have to admit it was a very impressive sight to see these guys doing this, and I am willing to bet that years down the road each man who took part will, at one time or another, say "I remember the time I took part in a log sawing contest."

Directly following the log-sawing contest we had a hatchet throw.
Yes, a hatchet throw.
Now, there were some concerns when I first mentioned that I wanted to have this contest, but I assured those who were worried that all would be okay, that I would be there the entire time to make sure that there would be no one under the age of 16 participating, that all participants were reenactors, and to shoo out of harms way any persons not paying attention to where they were walking.
The good folks at the Sanilac Historical Museum kindly put together the wooden targets you see there on the right of the photo.

The first time I ever saw a hatchet throw was at a colonial/RevWar event around 20 years ago. I thought it was a pretty good way to test your aiming skills. My thought was if it was good enough for the colonials, then it's good enough for the Victorians.

If you look close you can see the hatchet in mid-air.

Yes, even a few of the women wanted to try their hand at this contest.

This skinny young man really gave it her...I mean his best. If you look just below the target, you can see that the sharp end of the hatchet is facing the wrong direction as it approaches the stump.

This young lady put her all into it, but it proved to be rather difficult. Her beau, however, did much better.

This is her beau. He was pretty darn good - he not only helped to win the log-sawing contest, but...

...he bested this challenger, who was no slouch himself and was also involved in the log sawing contest.

And here we have the two winners of the hatchet throw. Anthony, on the right, won this contest, though no other takers could come close to Charlie (on the left).

Next we have the pie eating contest. Yes, this is my beautiful wife you see here helping to organize it.

The four contestants: they could use their hands, but no utensils. Some didn't even want them to use their hands, but, well, they had no other clothing to change into and it could get pretty messy easting like an animal.

These four, er, gentlemen dove into their pies in earnest, though some took on the contest to enjoy the pie rather than win.

AND...we have the winners: from left - first place, 2nd place, third place, and "I really am enjoying this pie" place.

Kristen is not very happy. She wanted to get the 1st place blue ribbon for her painting in the picture-painting contest.

She was quite upset when the ribbon was placed on the other painting. Quite upset.

"But I deserve to win the blue ribbon! It's not fair!"

We didn't forget about the children. Oh no...
While they enjoyed watching the other contests, they couldn't wait to take part themselves.
It began with sack races. Oh, I know it looks like the bigger kids will be the winners hands down, but don't bet against any of the younger chill'un!

Though the boys initially moved faster during the egg carrying contest, ultimately, the girls won because they knew how to walk swiftly yet daintily to get the egg to the finish line.

Three-legged races are always fun to watch. You may have guessed correctly if you chose the two boys on the left to win.

We were hoping to have a watermelon seed spitting contest, but trying to find watermelons with seeds in the 21st century proved to be a little harder than expected so we went with a peanut spitting contest instead. Yes, this little fellow was just about to take his turn.

The youngest of the participants, Zane, didn't do half bad for such a little guy. I think his father may have to work with him a bit in getting this down right.

There was also a tea room available for anyone interested in attending a fancy tea run by Mrs. St. John.

We also had quilting demonstrations...

...spinning demonstrations...

...and chickens!
The younger set enjoy hanging with the chickens.

Okay, that was the fair portion of the weekend. Now I'd like to show you a few photos of some of the other neat stuff that was going on at our Port Sanilac event. It wasn't all about the fair, you know...
We had a couple of fashion shows. Fashion shows are very interesting, but you know me...I like to take it down a different path...not the norm (last year's fashion show was called The Citizens of Gettysburg, where each "model" portrayed someone who was actually in Gettysburg in July of 1863 and had a story to tell), so while I was speaking to my friend Sandy about what can we do that would be different this year, she suggested a Fashions and Occupations fashion show.
What a fine idea!
The young lady on the far right (who will be smiling in nearly every photo) is Sue, who was our hostess with the most-ess:
After they are introduced onto the stage, the "models" speak of their own clothing and of their own lives as 1860s citizens. First up was a farming family. Larissa (on the left) and I also do farm presentations to schools, historical societies, libraries...just about any place that'll have us.

A tale of two servants: The young lady on the left is a domestic servant girl who spends much of her time laboring in the kitchen. The woman to her direct right portrayed a lady's maid. The bantering between these two ladies was priceless.

Our contest judge and banker (who forgot his hat!) was up next.

And then we had the banker's wife and daughter.

Samantha dressed in her "bathing costume" made of a thin wool - also used for lady's gymnastics

The woman in yellow does an Amelia Bloomer history presentation and explains quite a bit about the historical clothing designer. Mrs. Paladino (on the right) is also portraying the wife of a successful businessman.

Rebecca showed off her young daughter's dress that she had made...

...and then she proceeded to change from her dress into her wrapper. She did a wonderful, tactful, and tasteful showing of lady's 1860s underpinnings as she changed from one article of clothing to another.

And here we have a young lady ready for the evening ball. Vickie did a marvelous job explaining the differences between a woman's day dress and an evening gown.

We also had a soldier come up and tell the audience of his military uniform as well as about the accoutrements he wore.
We had a fashion show for each day - here are those who participated on Saturday...

...and here are Sunday's participants. The audience for both shows were very attentive and asked some very good questions. For many of these folk, seeing first-hand about how life and fashion go hand-in-hand is a rare learning experience, and I believe we gave them a lesson they do not receive in school or in most history books.

Next we'll show some of the other living historians that spent this wonderful weekend in Port Sanilac:
Okay, we'll begin with my lovely wife and I. Yes, this is my real actual wife. She's not only showing off her patriotic spirit, but her fancy new belt made by Miss Stephanie!

And here is my reenacting farm wife (on the right) and sometimes reenacting daughter on the left. Don't ask---it can get confusing! But it's all in good fun - - all for the love of history!

Ah, here we have Jackie and Carolyn, two long-time reenactors that continue to enjoy this hobby as well as continue their research to better their presentations. They also sometimes portray my sisters at a couple of the events.

Preacher Gillett (yes, a real-life man of the cloth) and the President of the 21st Michigan, Jim Cary. Jim can be funny when he tries.

There is a story behind this next picture. A few of us were in our camp across the road and watched as these two ladies had what seemed to be a rather intense conversation, though we could not hear a word they were saying. I said to Kristen, "You do the voice of Darlene" (on the left) and to Larissa I said, "You do the voice of Stephanie" (on the right). The story they made up as they voiced the two pictured ladies had the rest of us in tears. I tried to write it out here but it was one of those 'you had to be there' moments. Trust me, it was funny.
Darlene is a bit shorter than usual, and Stephanie is a bit taller than usual. This makes for a great picture!

I realize we're in the summer of '65 ("we were hungry and barely alive"), but it's always good to see our 16th President and his wife - two very fine people indeed.

The temperature was reaching into the lower 90s and, yes, were were hot in all our clothes. So a few of us decided to take refuge and enjoy some time under the shade of the trees. Maybe even have a sort of picnic.
Godmother and God daughter...

Hmmm...someone had gotten a hold of my camera whilst I was asleep on the blanket...I wonder if Larissa or Kristen may know who the culprit is....?

Being that it was one of those very hot and sultry weekends, some of the ladies, being the Victorians they were, found the best way to cool down was to do what most Victorian women did: soak their feet in a tub of cool water!
Shhh! Don't tell my two wives they are sitting next to each other!

The only way to cool down on a hot summer day...unless you are Samantha...

Next up we have something a bit different: a young lady in a bathing costume. Yes, you heard me - I said "costume." That is what she is wearing was called.
As I mentioned this day happened to be a hot one, and while I was visiting Samantha at her camp I asked her if she wouldn't mind taking a short trip to the lake in order for me to take my photography of period scenes to another level. Samantha, ever the adventurous one, said, "Sure!" And off we went to the shores of beautiful Lake Huron - less than a five minute drive to an accessible beach - and here are a few of the pictures that captured a moment in time of one hundred and fifty years earlier: 
Samantha posed for me at a bench at the foot of the stairs that lead down the cliff to the beach.

We are truly blessed here in Michigan to be surrounded by the fresh water beauty of the Great Lakes. What you see here is Lake Huron.

After a "yelp!" because of the icy cold water, daredevil Samantha took the first steps into the water.

Not many people in the 21st century have witnessed anything like this. But isn't that what we, as living historians, are all about? Samantha, aren't you cold in all them clothes?

Yes, her legs became so numb to the cold water that she was able to wade out even further into Lake Huron.

Gotta have that fun pose, too!

Thank you, Samantha, for giving me the opportunity to photograph history. By the way, there were a few people on the beach and their curiosity got the best of them. Samantha happily obliged them and answered their questions.
Some of our membership are talking of making their own bathing costumes for next summer. Wouldn't that be cool to have a half-dozen or so 1860s women swimming on a busy 21st century beach? I think it would be such a hit! It would probably make the local papers, I'm sure.

And here we have baby Cynthia taking a bath...she loved it!
Tell me this little one isn't happy.

Evening...time to relax and enjoy the peace of country life...

Time for some photos that are always fun to take!
"Wilbur! Oh! There's my Wilbur!"

"Oh!" *hug hug kiss kiss* "Wilbur! I've missed you so!"

"Ma'am..I'm not sure who this Wilbur is, but my name is Lawrence, and you are making quite a scene."

“No! No! Wilbur! Oh, Wilbur! I know it’s you! Please don’t leave me!”
“Come, now, Christine. You must leave this young man be, for he is fighting to keep our country as one. You have chores to do---you must help your father with manuring.”

"Oh! He's gone! My Wilbur is gone! Whatever shall become of me?"

“I could just...just...die! The life is leaving me through my fingertips. Soon I shall be nothing but a withering grape clinging to a dead vine.
Or maybe I’ll take a nap right here in the middle of this road like mother and auntie.”

Off the military went, including

What would a reenactment be without a battle?
We didn't have as many soldiers as we had hoped - especially in the Confederate ranks - but they did a fine job putting on a skirmish for the folks.
Wait---what's that I see? A Confederate battle flag? Uh oh---better hide it before someone gets offended and they ban it from reenactments, too!

The Zouaves did a fine job representing the south.

The Union weren't deterred...and kept right on a-marching forward.

Ah...there's poor Lawrence, mistaken for Wilbur.

Young ones shouldn't witness war and death...even if it is fake. Their poor little minds will be scarred forever. This is so offensive! Oh the horror of it all. Ha! Yeah...whatever...

And the fighting rages on...

...with the soldiers running through our neighborhood! I always enjoy when the military include civilians in their skirmishes.
Next year we are planning to do 1st Manassas and include picnicking townsfolk to watch the "pleasant little battle."
This year, however, there was no specific battle/skirmish that was reenacted, just something to show the public, who certainly enjoyed it.

The Zouaves "exchanged" a prisoner - - it was Lawrence!!

And there you have it - - aside from some severe weather that was making its way to our area late in the afternoon on Sunday (we all got out safely before it hit, thank God) that was our first attempt at throwing an 1860s county fair during one of our reenacting weekends. Carrie, 21st Michigan member, gave a fine summary:

I wanted to tell you thank you for the hard work and great job you did with the county fair. It was a best event ever, I think. Everyone was able to contribute and participate. I felt a sense of togetherness that I haven't felt in a while. People weren't grouped up at their own tents; they were out and about socializing and enjoying the fair. It felt good. During most of the activities, I didn't even notice if there were spectators around. It just felt like a bunch of friends and family enjoying the summer day. It was very neat, to say the least. Port Sanilac is becoming one of (husband) Ian's favorite events as well... and we know how much it takes for Ian to get excited about things. Anyhoo, I just wanted to say good job!
Comments from good friends like Larissa and Carrie really lift me up - it's very hard work to put something like this on, but knowing the great people I have helping takes so much stress off.
Yes...great people!
You know who you are---and I thank you.
Until next time, see you in time.


1 comment:

Pamela Young said...

Wonderful photos and FANTASTIC activities. As for Samantha's dip into lake huron - No Sharks, No Salt - Great Lakes are the best! I was already to leave for Port Sanilac when I got called into work. I'm envious that I missed all the fun. NEXT Year - I'm camping out!

Pam Setla