Thursday, August 18, 2016

Our Own Snug Fireside: Historic Farming Presentation

As if reenactments don't keep me busy enough, but let's throw a presentation (or four) into the mix, right?
Paul Revere & Sybil Ludington
As many of you know, my living history partner Larissa and I do historic presentations and formed a partnership called "Our Own Snug Fireside" a number of years ago as a sort of off-shoot to our reenacting hobby. One of the historical presentations we do are as Paul Revere and Sybil Ludington - two actual figures in history who played roles at the formation of our nation during the Revolutionary War.

We also interpret as a farm couple.
Yes, we are married - but not to each other. However, we are a "married couple" in our farming presentations (and at some of our reenactments) because we find it not only easier for us as interpreters to tell our story in this 1st person manner, but also to be more interesting and more realistic for the audience rather than just give a lecture about life in the past.
We present at schools, libraries, historical societies, and now we can add a fair to our repertoire, for we were recently asked to do a historic farm talk at the Charles Olson Farm during the Port Oneida Fair, which is about a four and a half hour drive from my home (near Detroit). To those of you who aren't familiar with Michigan, it's near the tip of the mitt: northwest of Traverse City.
That's quite a day-drive!
My *real life* wife, Patty, and I were awake and on the road by 4:30 a.m. and made it there with little incident by 9:30. Larissa and her husband, Mike, had already been vacationing in the area so it wasn't quite the drive for them.
On this very cloudy (but rain-free!) day, we all arrived at the farm close to the same time and began our set up.
And how exciting to find that we were mentioned on the schedule board:
Look! Here we are! 
"Friday only - - farm life reenactment: 11:30, 12:30, 2:00, and 3:30."
Those who come to see us are folks of all ages, both male and female, with a few history novices along with accredited scholars thrown in, and they all usually respond enthusiastically.
At Port Oneida: People of all ages seem to enjoy our 19th century farm life presentation.
Our research of everyday life of the American colonists and Victorian era is pretty extensive. In fact, Larissa has had the wonderful pleasure of working on a historic 19th century farm for nearly two decades, so with the blending of our knowledge, we have a fine overview of rural life in early America.
~At the Charles Olson Farm in Port Oneida~
We do try to give a sense of realism in our presentations...but in a fun way. It's our hope that we can draw people into our world.
Just to give you a quick outline of the farming story we tell:
We portray a farm family of the mid-19th century. Unfortunately, we have been blessed with only two children - daughters. You see, it seems that all stories and movies show farm families as having a dozen kids - six boys and six know, the perfect farm family - and everything runs like clockwork. Well, we know that life wasn't always as Hollywood (or romance novels) like to show, hence the reason why we decided our story would have that bit of realism in it by having two daughters with no sons. And the audience definitely took note of that situation.
As our tale goes, my sister, who married a man that did very well for himself in the mercantile trade, offered to send our eldest daughter, Christine, who is 16, to a finishing school in the big city in hopes of her learning to be a fine lady instead of living the life of a farmer's daughter and eventual marrying a farm boy.
And that's where the conundrum occurs; because we have no sons, we've raised Christine as a boy, and thus, while our younger daughter, Jill, is helping mom in the kitchen with the food preservation, preparation & cooking, along with house cleaning, clothes washing, soap and candle making, emptying chamber pots, and other duties, Christine is spending the four seasons of the year out in the fields with me doing farm chores normally more suitable for the male sex, including manuring, plowing, harrowing, planting, harvesting, hauling, fence mending, making maple syrup, banking the house against the cold weather, and other necessities that need to be done.
And because of the help I need completing these chores, Larissa and I then discuss with the audience how necessary it was to have Christine remain with us. You see, at the end of our presentation, we leave it to the audience to help us in our decision by asking them what should we do - send Christine away to finishing school or have her remain with us.
More often than not, the audience votes to have her remain with us, for they realize how much we depend on her help.
In addition to our little tale we also speak about our clothing, show our farming tools and accessories, and throw in a little bit of fun humor to keep it lite.
At our presentations in Port Oneida, Larissa will dress a young girl in a farm lady's slat bonnet.
As you can see, we had good crowds for each of our four presentations.

And here we are with a few of our accessories to help accent our story:
Hmmm...I see a wash pitcher & bowl, a butter churn, an ice cream maker (to help us celebrate the 4th of July!), a candle lantern, an oil lamp, and tin candle mold, and a scythe (leaning against the tree). Not shown in this photograph is the hog hair scraper and oh-so-popular chamber pot.
Items all to give a hint of everyday life on a 19th century farm.
We had a wonderful reception at the fair.
It seems our story is engulfing and enticing enough to keep the audience interested all the way through til the end, around 45 minutes later. And we always save time for questions and answers.

Doing historical presentations is a wonderful addition to reenacting and living history; it forces us to bring our research information to the forefront, and it enables us to visit places we've not been and meet some very wonderful people.
Plus...well, we get to present, something we love to do!
The historic Charles Olson Farm up in Maple City/Port Oneida in Michigan. Inside, in the kitchen, we find the lovely Miss Heidi cooking on the early 20th century stove:

At one time I had hoped to become a presenter at one of the local open-air museums, maybe working on a 19th century farm. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be. But I have had opportunities to try certain farm jobs, including plowing behind a team of horses - which was very high on my bucket list - and this allows me to speak of this strenuous chore first hand.
Yep - that's me plowing behind a team of horses.
Does it look like a tough job? 
It is! 
I have such respect for those farmers from days of old, including my own farming ancestors.

The very cool thing is that even though I may not work at a historic museum, I still get to speak as a farmer during our farming presentations (or as Paul Revere, should the opportunity arise). Larissa and I have been doing this enough over the last few years that we have it down pretty good - so much so that many folks will not differentiate us from our 19th century selves - - they will ask us questions as if we actually are the 19th century farmers we pertain to be!
Do we look like a farming couple from the 19th century?
Living history is, to me, a gift from God which allows me to enjoy my own personal passion for the past, and to have the friends that I do that I work well with just makes it so much better. Many spouses might have great concern over the working relationship Larissa and I have, but Patty and Mike fully understand our love for presenting history in a fun and unique manner.
No worries about anything.
And if we can teach folks - young and old - a little something about our great American past, then we "done good."
Yes we did!

Until next time, see you in time.


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