Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Road Home: My Journey to Christmas Past 2017

"Ken!" you say, "Christmas is over! It's the New Year! Why are you still writing about Christmas?"
Because, technically, Christmas isn't over until January 6th (or sometimes January 5th), which is known as Epiphany/Three Kings Day/12th Night. Plus, many of my Christmas activities took place the week following December 25th.
So...the celebrations continue...
Where does this road lead?
I remember, as a young pre-teen child, wanting to experience "an old-fashioned Christmas," just like those I read about in my books and sometimes saw on TV.
I remember, as a teenager, wanting to experience "an old-fashioned Christmas," even though many of my friends thought of me as being un-cool for wanting to do so.
I remember, back in 1983, when I began dating the woman who would eventually become my wife, making my first attempt to experience "an old-fashioned Christmas" by taking her to Greenfield Village for their evening program, which was a horse and carriage ride out to the Eagle Tavern, dining on a scrumptious repast of cornish hen, vegetables, desserts, and hot cider, and an enjoying period entertainment by a string band. And when it had all ended, we followed lit lanterns back to the village gatehouse (now the ticket building) - there was no night time activity at that time.
Firestone Farm during the
Holiday Homes Tour days
I remember, as a young married man, wanting to experience even more so "an old-fashioned Christmas," only this time with my children, and visiting Greenfield Village during their Holiday Homes Tour - a daytime extravaganza where the houses throughout the Village were decorated as to the year they represented (Firestone Farm 1880s, Ford Home 1870s, Wright Bros. House 1903) and getting decorating ideas for my own home.
I remember, not long after, wanting to experience "an old-fashioned Christmas," and attending Greenfield Village's new "12 Nights of Christmas" event, and, even without period clothing, immersing myself mentally in Christmas Past like I never had done before.
Then the 12 Nights of Christmas event had its name changed to "Holiday Nights," not due to political correctness like a few believe, but because with "12 Nights" so popular, they increased the number of dates to 14 nights, and, as of this year, Holiday Nights is a full 18 nights.
Now, through - and due - to my many years involved in living history, I have fully experienced "an old-fashioned Christmas." In fact, I have for two decades now, and continue to do so multiple times every year.
In other words, my Christmas dreams have come true.
This year of 2017 was no different. In early December I found myself immersed in the 1860s with my reenacting family (click HERE), and, in the days following Christmas Day itself I kept the holiday spirit alive by visiting, once again, Greenfield Village's Holiday Nights affair. Twice. I find that I prefer going the week after Christmas because, with a few exceptions, the crowds are lower and one can actually enjoy the presentations in a more intimate way.
For a living historian, it really is like going home for Christmas.
What you will encounter in this week's post is a picture-filled journey to Christmas' Past...the road home.
I hope you enjoy it.

Let's begin by seeing city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in early 20th century holiday style:
You enter the gates, cross the railroad tracks, veer right...and, just past the birthplace of Henry Ford, the lights of Christmas past guide us to a city...a city from a time long ago.

Listen as the saxhorn band plays Good King Wenceslas...
Okay, so I didn't record them, but imagine the sounds coming from old instruments into the bitter cold December air for all to hear and enjoy.

It sounded wonderful!

I see on the left the Cohen Millinery Shop, making fine hats for the ladies to wear during the happy holiday season. 

Since Greenfield Village does not depict one particular time in history but, rather, over 300 years of our nation's past, so we will be jumping about between eras in time here.
For instance, the Cotswold Cottage, built in England in 1620 and brought over to the Village in the 1930s, shows us a British home taken over by the American military during World War II.
Members of the British Army greet visitors and give them an over-all scenario of what was occurring in the War at that time in preparation before entering the house.

Inside the Cotswold Cottage, Christmas 1944 is very well displayed.

Jillian reenacts, pert-near perfect, an American Red Cross nurse trying to give our fighting men a little bit of "home" while stationed oh-so-far away from their loved ones back in the states. She gives us a lively explanation of her job as a Red Cross nurse and her importance to the American men stationed here.

As you can see, Greenfield Village spared no expense in recreating a scenario right out of mid-20th century.

And American soldiers were there as well, explaining their thankfulness at all who helped to bring a little bit of "home" their way. Coca Cola in bottles, Lucky Strikes cigarettes, a camera, magazines, and even Armed Forces Radio gave the sense of realism to the visitors.

This year was kind of extra special for the Menlo Park Laboratory, a perfect replication of the original that once belonged to Thomas Edison - the very same lab where he perfected the incandescent light bulb and invented the first recorded sound. For maybe the second time since the structure was re-built here in Greenfield Village back in 1929, the beautiful pipe organ, which sat silent for nearly all of its 88 years, was brought back to life.
That occurred on the day of the eclipse, August 21st.
And I am happy to say that I was there on that day to hear it.
According to the Detroit Free Press, the original organ was placed in the lab in 1878, a gift to Edison from the Roosevelt Organ Works. There are those who believe the organ was intended for Edison’s home. But his wife, Mary, would have none of it. So Edison moved it to the lab, where it became a popular diversion for his employees.
The organ is a very detailed replica of the original and was placed there when Henry Ford opened Greenfield Village to selects guests, including Thomas Edison himself, back in October 1929.
Edison, by the way, said that the replication was 99% perfect. The only difference was that the lab was never as clean as presented.

We can see the organ in this photograph from around 1880, when Edison's workers posed for the camera.

And now let's step back to a Christmas during another war.
The Civil War was also represented at Holiday Nights, and on this night the inside of the requisitioned school house was packed with visitors, and the few pictures I took did not turn out so well, so, instead, I snapped this shot of the men outside, warming themselves by a bonfire.
That's my son, Robbie, on the right.
They all spoke of the War itself as well as how they spent their Christmas and winter days in the 1860s.
Coinciding with the American Civil War is the presentation given by the Ladies Aid Society, and they were located inside the Smiths Creek Train Depot.
The Smiths Creek Train Depot, built around 1858 in Port Huron, Michigan. Thomas Edison was thrown off the train at this depot when he accidentally set fire to the baggage car while working on one of his chemical experiments. 
But on this night, the depot is being used for other things.
Peaking through the window, we see a beautiful young lady taking a break from packing Christmas packages for the men fighting the Civil War.
The young lady here? Why, that's my wife!

Lorna (on the left) and my wife, Patty have become quite the Ladies Aid Society team here at Greenfield Village. Both know their presentation well due to the fact that they have been researching and reenacting the Civil War for many years. They have also been doing this presentation together for more than half a decade.

Now we will jump up to Christmas 1900 and visit the Wright Brothers House.
Even though the home is decorated as it was in 1900, the presentation does speak of Orville and Wilbur's accomplishment from December 1903.
You know...the aeroplane?
The black and white photograph you see here was taken inside the Wright Brother's home during Christmas 1900. It was the family's first Christmas Tree.
Now look at the color picture below and compare it - - 

There is very little...slight...differences. No, I didn't use photo-shop coloring techniques.
It is a replication of the tree by the curators and historians from Greenfield Village. They went to minute detail in ensuring the placement of each ornament, present, and even tree shape would be exactly the same as it was in 1900. In fact, Orville Wright donated the family Christmas ornaments to the Village back in the 1930s when his family home was brought there, and so most of what you see in the modern picture are the same ones you see in the original photo.
How cool is that? 

Now, let's head back, just for a quick moment, to the 1830s - -
We have had a very wintery December here in Michigan, and this scene of the 1830s Loranger Gristmill shows just that! Much of the millpond is frozen due to the extreme cold that has turned our state (and all of the Midwest) into a frozen tundra.

What you see here is the birthplace of not only the man who began Greenfield Village, but the founder of the Ford Motor Company: Henry Ford himself!

I can just imagine Christmas 1865 at the Ford Home, and a couple of lovely ladies - cousins perhaps? - stop in for a holiday visit.
On such a cold night the warmth emanating from the Ford Home enticed us to stay until our toes thawed.

The three ladies you see here are reenactors (and either past or present historical presenters). They are also my good friends, and if you are frequent readers of my blog, you will recognize at least the two in the middle as not only fine living historians, but purveyors of shenanigans as well.

A feast of desserts were laid out on the table in the Ford dining room.
They should have a contest, and the winner(s) can enjoy eating some of these delectable delights!
They looked so good!

Larissa and Melissa. (Say that three times fast!)
Greenfield Village has top-notch presenters, and it would be impossible to choose the topper-most of the popper-most, but you can bet these two ladies would be very strong contenders, for they do such a grand job in their explanations of a Ford Christmas in 1876.
In fact, they do a wonderful job no matter what historic building they present in!

Back in November, on Black Friday, I mentioned that long-time Greenfield Village presenter (and Abraham Lincoln interpreter), Fred Priebe, was retiring from the Village after 31 years of service.
Well, on this night, December 30, 2017, he did his final presentation for Greenfield Village, as J.R. Jones, proprietor of the 1880s General Store once located in Waterford, Michigan.
This man, who I am proud to call my friend, has taught me so much, not only of history but on becoming a historical interpreter myself (as Paul Revere).
Fred, again, thank you for all you have done at Greenfield Village for us visitors - you truly brought the past to life in your lively and fact-filled presentations.
God Speed.

Put another nickel in, in the nickelodeon....
But...there were no mechanical nickelodeons in the mid-19th century, as far as I know - - -
However, there was live music!
Here I am with my period vocal group, Simply Dickens. As you may or may not know, we specialize in old world Christmas carols from the medieval times up through the Victorian period. Some of the carols we perform you would know, such as Silent Night (in German!), God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and One Horse Open Sleigh (now known as Jingle Bells). But we do plenty "non-hits"  you might not be aware of such as All You That Are Good Fellows, The Huron Carol, Gloucestershire Wassail, and The Boar's Head Carol, for just a small example of what's in our repertoire.
And with each carol we do I, as a sort of emcee, give a short history lesson to allow our audience to have more of an understanding and background of the song they are about to hear. 

Rebecca is not only a member of Simply Dickens, a historic seamstress, a sometimes Model T driver, and historic reenactor, but she is also my friend.
Plus, she is willing to pose with me in freezing weather. But as she mentioned, we do look pretty "fantastic" in this pic, don't we?

And then the road that we have been on leads us back to my own home where, though we are a modern sort, we still have plenty of Christmas past in our celebrations
Back in 1999, I had an addition put onto my home, a fairly large room to store my antiques and the like. It was built not only because we needed more room, but because I found myself in a state of depression anytime I came home after visiting Greenfield Village. And as you can see in this window shot, I have a few items that could fit in well in any number of the historic houses at Greenfield Village.
It's my place of solace.

I took this expanded picture of my room shortly before Christmas dinner was placed upon the table. Many times during the bleak winter months we will eat our meals by candle light, including on this special day - Christmas!

My friends, I simply love Christmas. When I wrote earlier that I was thought as un-cool as a teenager (and even as an adult), it is 100% true. I mean, I was laughed at!
Yes, I certainly was.
But I didn't care. And I still don't. I've gotten snarky comments for most things I do (including reenacting, practicing traditional family living, my musical tastes, etc.). But none of it bothers me, and I laugh right back!
So, yeah, I do what I enjoy no matter what, and celebrating Christmas the way I do is one of my great pleasures.

Anyhow...with that I will say, until next time, see you in time.
Before you sign off, let's include a little enticement for my next post, where we head back...back to about 1770.
Here we see the 18th century Daggett house where the fifes & drum of a Revolution are not stilled on a winter's night, and a New Year is nigh.
But more on that coming very soon...

~   ~   ~


The Victorian Girl said...

I would love to attend Holiday Nights someday! It looks fabulous!

Suzanne said...

Ken, you have well encountered a few kindred old-fashioned Christmas lovers at Take Peace. I usually will attend events at Old Sturbridge Village and Historical Deerfield to get that old-fashioned feel to it. Let them laugh, for we are the happiest!

Historical Ken said...

Thank you both!