Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kalamazoo Living History Show 2017: A Reenactor's Paradise

"Is that a real fire?"
"Are you really going to eat that?"
"Aren't you hot in those clothes?
These are probably the top three questions that we, as reenactors, get asked by visitors, wouldn't you say?
But there is another question I do get asked quite frequently:
"Where do you get your 'old-time' clothing (or, ahem, costumes) and historical accessories?"
Yep...that query certainly is brought up often. 
I also hear now and again that many reenactors are leaving the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Civil War to head forward in time to the 1940s and World War II. I have been told that people aren't interested in bringing the distant past to life, that it takes too much time, work, and research to do so.
The smallest of the three halls
Well, judging by the upwards of 10,000 living historians who made the trek through rain, sleet, and snow to the Kalamazoo Living History Expo, I would say the reports of the death of reenacting pre-20th century America are greatly exaggerated.
From where I live just north of Detroit, it's almost a three hour drive to the city of Kalamazoo where the living history show is held. Nearly 300 of the finest artisans and vendors of pre-1890 clothing, supplies, and related accessories and crafts from throughout the United States and Canada come together to sell their wares to those who practice the art of living history. Most of the items found at this exposition centers from around the French & Indian War era (1754 - 1763) up through the time of the Civil War period (1861 - 1865) and everything in between, and all of this takes place inside three very large halls/rooms.
My friend, Susan, and myself.
Susan is new to the colonial period,
but seems to be enjoying the period
quite a bit!
Since I have most of what I need for reenacting the 1860s - I've reenacted the Civil War for over a dozen years - my purchasing priorities tend to be more 1770s. And there is plenty of everything for those of us who are interested in that era.
One must remember that there aren't many places we can go to that specializes in the much-harder-to-find colonial accessories to the extent the Kalamazoo Living History Show does.
Hence, the reason why over 10,000 people attend every year.

It's been a few years since I've worn my period clothing here, but a friend kind of convinced me to do I did.
I received many kind comments, and even a few tips, of which I am always grateful for, as long as they are given in kind.
The other reason why I wore my colonial duds was to break in my new shoes. And break them in I did - oh yeah, my dogs were barking after three and a half hours of being on my feet and moving throughout the three giant halls of vendors.
Since I have two complete sets of colonial clothing, I can spend more time looking for items either to accent my presentations at reenactments or maybe find a cool "museum piece" for my own home decor.
And that's what I did this year: I found what I think will go perfectly with my replica of the lantern "shewn" in the steeple of the Christ "Old North" Church - - - - -
As I moved along the rows and of tables filled with literally thousands of different reenacting collectables, I came across this collection of powder horns. 
Now, even though I do not own a musket from the Revolutionary War period, I admire the "art" and love the historic presence of the powder horns.
One in particular here caught my eye - - - 
Can you guess which one...?
Here is the original  William Waller's Powder Horn
Bearing several popular slogans of the War of Independence, including LIBERTY or DEATH, APPEAL TO HEAVEN, and the sobering KILL or be KILLD, this engraved powder horn was carried by a Virginia rifleman named William Waller, who was captured by British and Hessian forces after the fall of Fort Washington near New York City on November 16, 1776.
(picture from the Museum of the American Revolution, to be opened on April 19, 2017)

And here is the replica that I purchased:
Not bad, eh?
I know it's not exact, but it is as close as any out there. I am very satisfied with it and, like I said, believe it will go well with my Christ "Old North" Church "lanthorn" that was made for America's Bicentennial celebrations in 1975 and 1976:

The duplicate lantern made in 1975 by the Concord Historical Society.
It's almost like I am creating my own mini-museum of early American history!
Why, yes, I am a proud patriot...and love having my history surrounding me.
Here is a little history of this once so important musket accessory:
the powder horn was a container for gunpowder, and was generally created from cow, ox, or buffalo horn. The wide mouth was used for refilling, while the powder was dispensed from the narrow point. The horn was typically held by a long strap and slung over the shoulder. The inside and outside of a powder horn were often polished to make the horn translucent so that the soldier would be able to see how much powder he had left.
The use of animal horn along with nonferrous metal parts, such as tin, aluminum, copper, nickel, or even an alloy such as brass, ensured that the powder would not be detonated by sparks during storage and loading. Horn was also naturally waterproof and already hollow inside.
"KILL or be KILLD"
In America, a number of period horns dating from the French and Indian Wars throughout the American Revolution and beyond, have been preserved in private and other collections. Many decorated examples shed light on the life and history of the individuals that used them, and can be classified as a medium of folk art. 

Powder horns were often decorated usually
with engraving, making a form of scrimshaw, 
which was sometimes supplemented with color.

It was the father of the man you see here who made the
replicated powder horn I purchased. Since the father was 
not at the show, I photographed the son in his stead.

So, now that we have seen and learned a bit about powder horns, let's check out the guns that were not only for sale, but were also being made right there on the spot:
I did not have the time (or motivation) to ask questions about making a gun. It was just too busy and there were so many vendors to visit in the short time I had. But, if you use your imagination, you can see the wood here have all been carved into the general shape of a gun...

Here we see the metal barrels to be inserted...
...and this photo shows that process being done.

Looking more like toys here rather than the real McCoy, the muskets are not quite ready for the market just yet.

Here we see the flint-lock mechanism.

And, finally, some finished pieces.

Just like reenacting events aren't only about the wars, neither was the Kalamazoo Living History Show.
I always enjoy seeing artisans working their craft...
...including a weaver working on a loom.

Hides were tanned.

Here we have a spinner.
As my wife is a spinner, I am used to seeing this craft,
but I wanted to get a picture of the wheel.

Meet Richard Heinicke the Blacksmith.  
For all your open-fire cooking needs, he has quality product
and is good for most pre-20th century events.
You can find Richard at many of the major 
reenactments of both eras.

This guy was making axes, knives, and other such items out of stone.

Tinsmith Dennis Kutch was taking a bit of a break when I was in his area, but I normally see him tapping and cutting and bending tin into all sorts of period items of importance.
His business, Kutch's Tinsmithing and Blacksmithing from Indiana (e-mail:, is always at the Kalamazoo show.
And he has quite a collection for sale:
Dennis will sell some of his items through such places as Jas. Townsend & Son
Everything you see here Dennis Kutch made by hand.

This artisan was one of the most fascinating to me - he was making Windsor-style chairs! Oh, if I could only afford one, but just knowing they were all made by hand tells me the price is worth it.

I almost bought a new cocked (tricorn) hat. I watched this woman fold and tie a wide-brimmed hat into the famous 18th century style, but, alas, it was a bit too large to fit properly on my head.

And then there are the vendors. I must apologize - I really should have taken pictures of more of the sellers but I was also looking for items to purchase, too!
All three halls were packed with both buyers and sellers!

There were, of course, cocked hats for sale, but I wanted one that was brown like the woman in the picture a couple above this one was making.

I'm no judge of lady's bonnets, but these look to be Regency or a bit later to me.

Here I am with who I believe is the owner of Jas. Townsend & Son, a wonderful place to purchase clothing and accessories for the reenactors of 18th and early 19th century America.
Here, check out some of their great videos on replicating early American life:

The young lady on the left is Alicia who owns LBCC Historical 
(a period apothecary, cosmetics, and skincare shop). 
She's wearing a 1780s Italian gown. 
The woman in the middle is Amber, and she owns Virgil's Fine 
Goods (a Georgian and Regency accessory shop). 
Her gown, like the lady on the right, seems to be the 
fashion of the 1810s (Regency era).

There wasn't much that a living historian could not buy here. Some vendors carried a variety of items, as you can see here.

Period dolls amidst everything else.
Though you will find a few items that may be "out of time" here and there at the different sutlers, most are pretty on when it comes to the product they have for sale.

We can't leave out the Civil War; here is the place that many consider to be the best of the best when it comes to 1860s clothing, fabric, and accessories: 
The Dressmakers Shop.
Kim and Jim Lynch, the proprietors, are some of the nicest people in the business as well as in the reenacting community.
They can be contacted at the website HERE

One of the nice things about going to the Kalamazoo Living History Show is meeting up with friends one hasn't seen all winter long:
My friends, Steve and Angie, are Civil War reenactors 
who have chosen to take on an additional era. 
You see them here dressed as mid-to-late 18th century frontier folk

Here I am with my friend Sandy. I have known 
her for over a dozen years, but as an American 
 Civil War reenactor, not colonial. However, she 
also, at times, reenacts the mid-1700s as well. 
Since we were both in clothing of the 18th century 
for the first time ever together, I had to get a 
picture of us.
By the way, check out my new "straight last" shoes!  
I recently purchased them from Fugawee...
The following information about my new shoes comes from the website of Fugawee:
According to their site, in 1757-58 a British army was on its way to attack the French stronghold of Fort Duquesne, later known as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  
Delayed by the weather, they established winter quarters at the Fort. A nearby creek was used as a refuse dump, and a flash flood in January or February, 1758 deposited a load of clay that sealed the contents of the dump for two hundred years.  
In 1958 the dump was discovered and opened. Among other things, a great number of shoes and shoe parts were discovered. Units of that British army had recently been stationed in Bermuda, Ireland, Britain, Philadelphia and Charleston. Their shoes had been made in all of those places, reflecting the supply system of the British Army at the time. 
The discarded shoes showed fourteen toe styles, an equal number of tongue styles and latchets (straps) from 3/4 inch to 3 inches in width. There were no boxy square toes found there. 
From the original list, (Fugawee) selected the most common or predominant features. The result was a round-toed straight-last shoe with a low or moderate heel, short tongue and latchets of 1¼ inches.  
That is the shoe Fugawee makes. It can serve for a military or everyday shoe from about 1740 to 1800. 
In Colonial days, leather was brought to thickness by "currying" or scraping over a wooden beam.

Now, I have researched this story outside of the Fugawee web site and have found it to be true, which is why I chose this particular style of colonial footwear.
But that's not to say there were not fine shoes sold by the vendors here in Kalamazoo - - it's all preference, you know?
There were plenty of colonial/RevWar era shoes
and buckles. In fact, I saw more shoes here 
this year than last year.

Here we see members of the King's 8th and the 1st Virginia, mixing and mingling.
Native American Indians were 
represented as well. I do not know 
which tribe this man belongs to, and, 
with all of the excitement at the show, 
I did not think to ask. But he certainly 
gives off a superb impression.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am often asked where I get my period clothing and accessories. Most people do realize what we wear does not come from a costume shop. They can usually see that the quality is much higher.
Of course, I do have a variety of answers: the internet, from sutlers at the reenactments, from very talented family and friends, or...from the Kalamazoo Living History Show.
I look forward to attending this annual event, which takes place the third weekend in March, and begin stocking my money away months before. Sometimes I have items in mind I want to get while other times, like this year, I go and walk around to see what catches my eye. You saw above my main purchase - the very cool powder horn replica.
Plus there are books of all eras, glassware, knives & hatchets, jewelry, furniture, buttons, fabric, patterns, historians willing to help you out...
If I had one suggestion, it would be for the clothing vendors to carry a larger variety of sizes and styles. Not everyone wears a size 58, you know.
And hats - more hats are needed. Particularly brown cocked/tricorn hats!
This aside (and it's a minor aside), the Kalamazoo show certainly is an event worth attending, for if you actively participate in bringing the distant past to life, I would highly recommend you saving your money to check it out, for I've never seen anything else like it.
Living history indeed!

And a bit of a fun ending to the day:
In my packed van of people, I was the only one dressed in period clothing. On the way home we decided to stop and grab a bite to eat at a burger place called Culver's near Battle Creek.
Of course, I was stared at by everyone inside the restaurant, but the girl taking my order acted as if I were in a t-shirt and jeans rather than in 1770s fashions. After placing my order, she asked if I would "like it for here or to go?"
I replied with, "I would like to eat it here please. It would be difficult for me to eat while riding my horse."
Without skipping a beat, she replied, "I bet it would."
Ha! I love this hobby!

Until next time, see you in time.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Citizens of the American Colonies: Bringing the Past to Life

 ~ I haven't written an opinion piece in quite a while. I suppose I'm over due ~

No...we do not shop at the Payless Shoe Store
(Photo courtesy of Lynn Anderson)
As reenactors, we certainly live interesting lives, don't we? We can experience times past in ways most folks can't even imagine. And many of these same people think we are totally off our rocker for what we do!
I suppose, in a way, we are.
Bonkers, that is.
But then, all the best people are! (Yes, I swiped that from the Alice in Wonderland movie)
Maybe the thought of our own sanity being questionable isn't very far off.
~ we spend thousands of dollars on our historic clothing, making sure it is as period correct as possible (debt be damned!)
~My period display~
Note the barrel filled with "apple cyder,"
the heirloom apples from the 18th & 19th
centuries, and newly-dipped candles 
drying on the stand.
~ we purchase "must-have" accessories to accent our tent home or our presentations - again, spending, at times, an exorbitant amount of money to have the look and feel of period correctness
~ men will grow their hair long so it can be worn in a queue (ponytail/braid), often accented with a ribbon
~ we will spend hours upon hours with our faces buried in books researching every minute detail of lives past (who else owns a book entitled "18th Century English as a Second Language"?), especially during the winter season as we 'perfect' our period lives so we can spend our weekends in the past
~ we think nothing of how far we must travel to get to the reenactment site...and our family vacations may even center around a reenactment
~ we, as living historians, will also hone our historical skills; we find ourselves learning trades of earlier eras not very often practiced in modern society. Benjamin Franklin, for instance, was a chandler (candle maker) early in his life, an occupation he did not much care for. You may find chandlers (me, for instance) making candles the way they did "back then" using real beeswax. Then there are those who will practice the art of a pewterer or tinsmith, rope making, farming, spinning wool into yarn on a spinning wheel, tanning hides, pottery, canoe building, etc. 
Ahhh...such is the life of a living historian, with the accent on "historian," for we really do spend countless hours delving into the history of our preferred era and, in doing so, we become "knowledgeable specialists."

If you recall, last year I began a brand-spanking-new reenacting group called Citizens of the American Colonies, and, so far, it's been a pretty good success.
Like anything new, it's starting off a bit slow, with only about a half-dozen or so active members. But that's okay. It's quality I want, not quantity. That's most important to me.
At a time when the WWII/1940s era seems to be the next big destination  in time-travel, there are those of us who would rather find favor further in the past...back to our American roots - - at the time of our nation's founding.
Here is my attempt to look as authentically 
period accurate as possible.
Next to looking right is becoming 
historically accurate.
The cloak I have on was found on the 
"18th Century Trading Post" page on 
Facebook, and the mittens I am wearing 
my wife crochet for me from the raw wool 
she prepared, dyed, and spun.
This is the era that really does excite me - not that I want anyone to leave Civil War, mind you, for I continue to remain an ardent Civil War reenactor - but we in the 21st century seem to be in an era of political turmoil, and what better way to help teach about the times of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, along with the fight it took to allow us to have both of these documents, than to make the valiant effort to bring the era alive by those who continue to study and research that period in time. To me, it is an honor to do so, and I consider reenactments of this sort to be a celebration - yes, a celebration - of the generation that founded America, whether our ancestors were a "Founding Father/Mother" or a farmer.
In fact, that was one of the questions brought up at our second annual membership meeting held recently: "Who are we looking to be?"
My answer: "Citizens of the American colonies."
In other words, if you were a part of a colony in what would eventually become the United States, you are welcome to be a part of our little group.
Of course, I do have rules that I ask the members to follow, some of which may upset a few:
~dress as accurately as you can (a no-brainer, eh?).
~no phones or any modern technology except for emergencies (if you take a picture, pull the camera or phone out, take your pic, then put it away quickly. Don't keep it out waiting for the next moment).
~stay period in your conversations (there's plenty of wonderful period topics to talk about - research!! And please don't use silly idioms such as "I visited Mr. Kroger to get my pie," - Kroger being the local grocery store. "I have to check my portable telegraph" for checking your e-mail or phone messages. "I have a digital tintype" - for a camera. And "book of faces" for Facebook). Now, I will admit, I am as guilty as anyone for using these 'cutesy' idioms. But not anymore. Each of these lowers our purpose and makes a joke out of what we do. They are not acceptable in the Citizens group.
Here are some of the members of Citizens for the American Colonies
As you can see, we try to cover a variety of people and fashions in this group, 
hence the name.
The period-dress meeting was held at my "Victorian-style" house.
As noted HERE, living history can be a "very powerful tool for the promotion of cultural heritage, (but) with great power there also comes responsibility.
I have already urged my (membership) to pursue the highest level of quality and authenticity. But why do I so sternly insist on establishing and maintaining standards, when the visitors (and some reenactors) do not seem to care? Why should living history enthusiasts care about authenticity? Why should we bother?"
Lynn has more of a "French flavor" to her clothing. She
has participated with the Lac Ste. Claire Voyageurs for
a number of years, and she leans in that direction.
Of course, Dr. Franklin has always enjoyed the French!
Most modern visitors do not actually know what is authentic; they do have an interest in history, but will not devote the time to the meticulous study of details such as clothing and daily activities in the way we do. And because of this we must remember that the visitor tends to believe everything that he or she sees to be authentic.
Do you see why it is imperative to be as accurate as we possibly can?
Susan is new to the colonial period, and her clothing 
is her first attempt at making a 1770s dress.
Attempt? I would say she has it down!
What I really cannot stand hearing is, "Well, the visitor knows that we aren't actually from the past, so they'll accept seeing the modern inaccuracies."
Don't even go there with me.
In fact, get thee behind me!
Having a little fun - the ladies are showing off their fancy colonial footwear...
and their stockings!
Popular media and Hollywood movies do not help. They tend to perpetuate the myths we perpetually attempt to bust. They enjoy creating controversy because it's controversy that will get people talking, which will turn into a higher viewership, therefore more revenue.
Let's not be like that - stick to actual research - - - especially if you think you don't have to. If you feel you know it all, I guarantee you don't! 
Unfortunately, there are many - too many - who feel they do know it all and don't really feel the need to put their nose in a book or three.
I am here to tell you...yes you do. We all do. History does change. Constantly. Because there are always new things about the past to discover. And it's people like you and I - living historians/reenactors - who are part of the forefront of this research.
Please be careful with online sources, by the way - especially those who do not cite where they got their information from. And if they use citations, check them to make sure they come from reliable sources. This is imperative.
Susan helps Rae with her hat.
And those are my hopes for Citizens of the American Colonies.
I don't want us to go at it halfway.
It's all the way.
Rae has been a Civil War reenactor for a number of years,
but she also loves the founding era as well.
She has definitely started off on the right foot.
Hopefully the idea of researching to discover new things instead of passing on the old myths excites you.
It certainly does me!
Lauren has been a 'colonist' for many years. She will,
many times, travel to the east coast to take part in the big 
reenactments. But she also joins us here in Michigan
in our attempts to bring a little of the 18th century
to our local visitors.
But, It is, however, up to the individual.
Like I said, it makes no difference to me how many people join Citizens of the American Colonies. I want quality over quantity.
Yeah...I like mirror shots; the mirror you see here is from Colonial Williamsburg.
The circular tin below? Why, that's a candle box/holder. I am not sure the era of this style, though as far as I know they were around in the mid-19th century. But were they part of the colonial period? Hmmm...maybe a reader can help me with that answer. 
As living historians, we are given the task of educating the visitors at our events. Therefore I feel we should at least make the effort to educate them correctly.
Striving to create an authentic, historical environment also has helpful captivating perception with an immersion feel for both the visitor and the living historian, thus being immensely more enjoyable for all involved.

If you wish to take part in the reenacting hobby, please do your best to make sure to uphold to the highest standards of historical accuracy. Otherwise you are actively deceiving the modern visitor, passing on myths, and, in all honesty, ruining the fun for the other participants.
Time for dinner with my wife.
Yes, dinner  is our midday meal. Supper  will be eaten in the early evening.
This is what I hope the members of Citizens of the American Colonies will adhere to.
Because if we can't even attempt to "be there," then why do it at all?

Until next time, see you in time.

To learn more about a colonial man's clothing, please click HERE
To learn more about everyday life in the colony days, click HERE
Planning on doing some colonial traveling? Click HERE
Ever spent time in a colonial kitchen? Click HERE