Thursday, October 20, 2016

Wolcott Mill: An 1860s Harvest Thanksgiving Presentation

I can hear it now:
Ken, in the title of your post, what do you mean, "A Thanksgiving Harvest?" It's only October. Thanksgiving is over a month away!
Yeah, it certainly is! But in the old days, before 1863, a Thanksgiving celebration could be celebrated nearly anytime after the harvest was in. After all, this was, perhaps, the most important time of the year for the farmer and his family; it was the culmination of a year's worth of work, and hopefully ensured his survival for another year to come.
And that's just what we, the civilians of the 21st Michigan, tried to emulate for the third year in a row at the Wolcott Mill Civil War event in rural Ray Township, Michigan - the celebration of the harvest in as much of its 1860s glory as we could.
I believe we were successful once again.
With my 'stealth camera' in tow, I made an attempt to capture the feel of what occurred at this, our last "official" event of the season.
Of course, my commentary will follow each photo - -
So let's begin at, shall we?
There was no mistaking what was going on in our neck of the woods. The 21st Michigan certainly knows how to put on a harvest display. Even our "Harvest Home" sign was made from the wood of a hundred+ year old barn - perfect!

Under the fly of my tent, as you can see, I have apples - heirloom apples - as a display. As I told visitors a bit of the history of this fruit, many of the folks began to realize its importance in our development as a nation. 
Also on display were the beeswax candles, recently made by my daughter & her friends by dipping as well as from a mold. 
Oh yeah, there's the cider barrel!

It's kind of hard to see from this angle, but the 21st Michigan's cider press is sitting in front of the barrel.

Here are the heirloom apples I chose to display this year:
Roxbury Russett, Cox's Orange Pippin, Pitmaston Pine Apple, 
Ribstin Pippin, Maiden's Blush, and the Hubbardson Nonesuch. 
Photo taken by Charlotte Bauer

I gave presentations on the apples, the candles, 
and even the cider press.
Photo taken by Larissa Fleishman

Adding to the realism of this harvest event, I had 
a glass plate picture taken of me holding my scythe.
It's fun to use the computer to create period-looking
photos, but, as the song goes, there ain't nothing like
the real thing, which this image is.
Photo taken by Robert Beech: period photographer

My wife spent the afternoon spinning wool into yarn on her wheel.

And, yes, she also drew many visitors as she explained the process of spinning.
Our next door neighbors had a very "fall flavors" display at their site.

They presented a few items pulled from their kitchen garden as well as some of the foods they were canning.
And here are two of those who live there:
Larissa and Beckie had their tin type taken 
by period photographer Robert Beech

The neighbor on the other side of our tent was downsizing her reenacting collection, and she set up a small sutlery.

A few doors down we had the local basket weaver.

There was another farmer across the road.

As you can see, they had a bumper corn crop this year!
 All of our civilian members who came to Wolcott participated 
in the harvest in some way or another.

Churning butter did not make their son a happy camper.

But shelling corn is a family affair, and it seriously kept the kids busy for hours.


Over yonder is our local poultry farmer, who sells his eggs in the city. He was also making candles in preparation for the long, dark months ahead.
I am most proud of  the fact that our 21st Michigan members are ready and willing to portray farmers. It absolutely gave this event a very period fall feeling.
Better than going to the cider mill!
Speaking of cider...
Our unit has a cider press, and one of our biggest pleasures 
is to make pure unadulterated apple cider!
The kids really enjoyed taking part in the process of 
turning apples into the finest drink this side of the Mississippi!


Between the cider press, the corn shelling, and the wool spinning, we garnered quite a crowd.

It seemed that every visitor inside the park was crowding around all of our presentations, as the view from under my tent fly attests.
It was quite a draw.

Period music on the fiddle from Miss Pearl
Pearl's fiddle

This particular apple will soon be an apple crisp dessert as part of our thresherman's dinner.
A thresherman's dinner was the celebration meal in which the ladies of the house prepared a fine serving of food to the farming men, including neighbors who helped with the harvest. Oh! It was a grand spectacle of a meal, and wonderful servings of fresh vegetables and fruits abounded, along with fowl and other meats.

And, for the third year in a row, we made a gallant attempt to replicate this scenario.
Quite successfully, I do believe!
A line up of harvest foods and desserts! 
Photo by Larissa Fleishman

All of us farmers with our families joined in the feast...

...with the tables and chairs pulled out into the center of our pathway.
Yes, I do belong to the finest reenacting group around - my opinion - the 21st Michigan!

I'm not normally one to take pictures of my food - - but this was so good!
Or, if you prefer, we'll make my plate of food look like it was taken a long, long time ago with a period camera:

Once again, the thresherman's dinner was a great success. My heartfelt thank you to all who helped to put it together. 
We truly celebrated the past and did our ancestors proud.
And that's what it's all about, isn't it?

But wait---there's more - - - !!
Here are just some of the goings on around town - - - if it didn't rain on Sunday, I would have a quite a few more pictures....ah, well - - such is life, right?

The man in this next picture portrays a doctor not only in Civil War, but in Rev War as well.
The doctor is in.

There is a bit of a special story to this next photograph that I think you'll enjoy...and maybe even identify with. It was written by the gentleman you see in the accompanying picture, Ron Clary,who is a member of the fine 4th Michigan reenacting unit::
Heidi & Ron Clary
"For years (since I have been in the hobby) I have attempted (with little to no success) to get my wife to attend an event in period clothing, but after a while I came to realize that she would not, due to several factors (kids, work, and a perceived strong dislike for all things reenacting).
We have had several discussions on this topic, and I accepted the fact that she would never ever attend an event in period clothing. However, this Saturday (at Wolcott Mill), while in the middle of a battle demonstrations with muskets and cannon going off and me yelling at my guys to watch their feet, I hear a very specific whistle that my family uses to locate each other while we are shopping (works on the Pavlov's Dog principle), I looked up into the crowd and saw a female civilian reenactor  friend of mine, and to her left a woman dressed in period garb that kind of looked like my wife (but of course, it could not be her because she likes to wear make up, which is a strict no-no in the reenacting world). Upon closer inspection I realized it WAS her, and I damn near passed out! From what I gathered later, she had been planning this for some time to surprise me, and boy did she surprise me! We had a great day and were able to spend time together (she only stayed for a few hours), and we were able to visit with some of her friends in the community.
I believe (and hope) that she has gained an insight at how much fun you can really have at events."
What a great story, eh?

On to more pictures of this fall event:
Lest you had forgotten, this was a military reenactment as well.

The 102nd Regiment United States Colored Troops

Well, that's pretty much it for this week's post.
Unfortunately, it rained steadily on Sunday, and the powers-that-be cancelled the event, and rightfully so, because it was just a sloppy mess, so our last major reenactment for the season was cut short.
But at least Saturday did turn out to be a wonderful day, and Saturday night seemed to kind of give us a harvest moon (though the actual harvest moon occurred in September):
The moon through the corn stalks

Besides the photo above, I took a few other pictures of the moon that I was quite pleased with, including...
Moon Over Wolcott

There's a full moon rising
Let's go dancing in the light
We know where the music's playing
Let's go out and feel the night

Neil Young "Harvest Moon"

As far as reenactments go, Wolcott Mill is our last one until December when our 1860s Christmas at the Fort event takes place.
But, Wolcott Mill is always a top-notch event and I appreciate so much the willingness of my co-civilians in putting on a harvest presentation. It just makes the entire time feel like fall! 
And it brings a part of history to life that was so very important to our ancestors who lived back then.
Yessir, this is definitely a best ever event!

Many thanks must be given to the 4th Texas reenacting unit for being the hosts of this magnificent event!
You all are great!

Until next time, see you in time - - - - happy harvest to you!

To celebrate the Thanksgiving Holiday the way they did in the mid-19th century, click HERE



Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

May we display your header on our new site directory? As it is now, the site title (linked back to your home page) is listed, and we think displaying the header will attract more attention. In any event, we hope you will come by and see what is going on at

Historical Ken said...

Certainly - thank you!

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

Thank you so very much for giving permission. You can see your linked header under All, Historical and the United States. If you could say something (preferably good) about here and there, I would greatly appreciate it.