Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Me and Miss America

Yup - here's me, dressed in my 1860's finest, with 2008 Miss America Kristen Haglund, dressed in her 2007 finest, when she was only still just Miss Michigan. The pic was taken by my good friend, Mike, at the Oak Park 4th of July festivities and parade last year. I had my picture taken with the previous Miss Michigan the year before - I figured if I continued, eventually one of the Miss Michigan's would make it. Who'd of thought it would only take two tries?

Friday, January 25, 2008

More on Time Travel (and How to Accomplish It)

My wife and I as we are in 1863

Well, not actual time-travel per se, but as close as you will come to it - - - -

I partake in a form of time travel in a variety of different ways, most notably by re-enacting the Civil War era as a civilian. Re-enacting as a civilian is also known as living history mainly due to the fact that civilians do not normally "re-enact" an actual event, as soldiers do in the battles, but portray everyday life at an earlier time and place.

To do living history correctly, and to get the most out of it for not only yourself but for others around you, "full immersion" is, to me, a must. What's full immersion? This is where everything you see, think, feel, say, eat, &c., is of the period you are portraying.

And, yes, this is nearly impossible to attain, but it can be done.

First off, for me, my clothing must be accurate to a fault, from the wearing of period undergarments to outerwear to my shoes and socks, hat, shirt, collar, and on and on. This has taken quite a bit of research on my part. And I have also subjected myself to being critiqued by nationally known clothing historian Bill Christen. In fact, when I mentioned that I was going to ask Mr. Christen to critique me, I was asked repeatedly “Are you sure you want him to critique you? What if you have to buy a whole new wardrobe?”

My answer? “So be it.”

You understand that the clothing under scrutiny cost me quite a bundle, and any possible mistakes in any part could cause me to lose that much more of my hard-earned cash.

After looking at my garments through and through (and me just having that strong feeling that I ‘flunked’), Bill stepped back and told me that, as far as he was concerned, I was accurate and that he could see I ‘did my homework.’

Yes, after I let out my breath I practically jumped for joy, and my good friend told me that I had guts for even doing something like that.

With that out of the way, it was time to ensure my “esposita” was accurate as well. My wife, God love her, thoroughly enjoys our trips to the past during our re-enactments. Unfortunately, with our weekday work schedules not coinciding with each other, time spent on researching is extremely limited for her. Therefore, I research for her. I now know much more about 19th century women’s clothing than any man should. But, she, too, is as accurate as any female living in 1863. She even made her own day dress last year from a pattern bought off of Mr. Christen’s wife, Glenna Jo, who is a women’s clothing historian herself. So, my wife now looked the part as well. That is, except for her eyeglasses. Yes, her glasses were pretty “farby” (meaning not period correct) and would remove them upon our walks out of camp or when our photograph was taken. Thankfully, a sutler (one who sells items for re-enacting), Blockade Runner, had the correct eyeglasses for our time. But, knowing that sutlers, being in the retail business, are out to make a buck and will sell many items that are not correct, I emailed numerous folks in the know to get their opinions and was able to order an accurate pair for her. I had found a lens specialist who can put her prescription lenses into the frames, and, once that is done, she will be period correct inside and out.

Let’s not forget our children. My two oldest are no problem, considering they do military and their Civil War uniforms are pretty much laid out for them. But, our two youngest, once again, needed to be researched. Glenna Jo and a member of the Michigan Soldier’s Aid Society helped us out here, and my very talented wife made our two youngest their clothing.

But, what good is accurate 19th century period clothing if you are still going to act as if you are living in the 21st century? Nothing will take away from your authentic persona more than the very contemporary earrings (especially if they are located at the top of your ear), or an unsightly nose ring that, as far as I know, no woman ever wore during the era of which you are supposed to be representing. At least, no respectable woman. (I do know of one who wears a nose ring but, to be honest, it is so small that, if it’s noticed at all one would think it was a freckle).

Nail polish, lipstick, a wristwatch, cell phones, bottled water – ahem…PLASTIC bottled water - anything plastic (barrettes, toys for kids, &c.), - them stupid “phone buddies” that the robotic humans keep in their ears…the list goes on and on.

In fact, if it’s not wood, bone, or glass, you probably should not have it. Well, OK, certain metals are acceptable.

Conversations - - - - nothing can ruin a moment worse than hearing folks supposedly from the 19th century speaking about the latest DVD they copied onto their computer. Yes, I know we live in the 21st century but, while you are taking part in a Civil War era re-enactment / living history event, you are from the mid 19th century – please act like it. Save the modern political conversations for the tear down or a get-together on an off weekend. I will admit, I have been guilty of doing this myself (I picked up a period guitar and began playing the riff to "Locomotive Breath" by Jethro Tull while there were patrons about. I have since beat myself over and over for that - it will not happen again).

Reading journals, diaries, and replica newspapers of the period are three of the four best ways to not only understand the time of which you are attempting to "travel" to, but to learn how the people of the period spoke - their language was a bit different than our own. Certain words were rarely - if ever - said. For instance, "hello" was not the greeting as we know it to be today. And "excitement" had a different meaning as well. These are just two examples of very common words used frequently in the 21st century, but would not work as we know them to be in the 19th century (if that makes sense). There are a great many books of the journals and diaries available, especially on Amazon.com. To me, these are a must.

The fourth way to give a very accurate impression and feel and seem (to others) that you are from the mid 19th century is to read history books so you have an awareness of what was contemporary to the people of that time. Learn what inventions were not invented yet and do not speak of them (the electric light or phonograph for instance). Know what important events took place within the previous ten years of the Civil War. Here in the 21st century, we can speak of 9 11, of the election fiasco, of the poor economy. As a 19th century person, you should be able to do the same of that era, especially if you are a male (sorry, but most - not all, mind you - women did not bother with that sort of thing - they were too busy running a house and family to give a hoot).

Given the fact that time travel is not (and probably never will be) something that can ever happen, participating in living history and re-enacting is the only (and best) way to "physically" travel into the past (unless you can afford to move into a period house, farm the land, have a horse and carriage...um...become Amish, in other words). But, if you truly want to feel that you are in another era, that you have time traveled, so to speak, then you need to be with folks that have the same passion for the past that you yourself have so the feeling comes..

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Time Travel Thoughts

Just a quick thought that kind of harkens back to my very first post a few months back where I speak a bit on time travel.
I have had many discussions on the possibilities of a human traveling back in time. I personally don't believe that could ever happen, at least not in the way that we know it. By that I mean, for a person of the 21st century to literally travel back, say, to the colonial times where he could partake in associating with the folks of the era would/could never happen. As the well-worn scenario goes: if one meets up with one's own grandfather as a child and murders said grandfather as a child, how can he be born to go back in time to murder his grandfather?
But, can a "time-traveler," instead of physically going back in time and perhaps changing an event, go back and witness an event 'as it happened?' In other words, if I were to travel back to the time of, say, the Civil War, maybe I would be able to watch the Battle of Shilo as it actually occurred but yet not be able to take part in it, for fear of changing history.
Or am I going off the deep end here?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Fighting Depression in the Bleak Mid-Winter

This is a tough time of year for me. I enjoy the Christmas Season so much - especially this past one - and keep so busy during November and December that the January/February months are a major let down for me. January is especially a drag because what follows January? FEBRUARY!! Oh boy. At least March, with its lengthier daylight and slightly warmer temps follows February. At that point you know it's up hill. For now, though, as I look out my window and see the couple inches of freshly fallen snow, the downhill slope is mighty steep!
This year, however, I've been keeping busy with my passion - history (yes, I have passion for my wife, but that's a different kind of passion!). I received a great many history books for Christmas - The Illustrated 1776 * The Postal Age in 19th Century America * 1607: Jamestown and the New World * Tavern at the Ferry - and have just begun to intently study them.
I have also continued writing my time travel story with great fervor, going over what has already been written and expanding/improving on the descriptive aspect. Researching upcoming scenes by contacting historians and specialists in the particular area of need has been a learning experience as well. Great fun.
After a three month break, Civil War reenacting has re-entered the picture, and I have been working on my impression as a 19th century postmaster for future events. I have also been planning events as well, such as a presentation to our local historical society of life for soldier and civilian during the Civil War. Then there is the Civil War Roundtable in Lansing this coming weekend and our unit's annual meeting in early February.
And, also in February, our local historical society will also be presenting 19th century clothing historians, Bill and Glenna Jo Christen, for a presentation of period clothing.
Throughout the fall and continuing on into the winter I have continued to make the attempt to slowly turn my home into a pseudo Victorian home. Our Gathering Room is almost there, so now to begin on the rest of the house.
So, I have quite a bit on my plate, which is good as it's only mid-January. And it's this historical business that will keep me going until the warmth of spring returns.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Final Thoughts on Christmas 2007

I realize this is two weeks after Christmas, but it is 12th night so I guess I am still in keeping with the Holiday Season.
I often hear folks repeatedly say that they hate Christmas - the gift giving, the music, the TV shows, crabby shoppers, and even the religious aspect. I also hear folks say that Christmas is never like what is portrayed in books, movies, or Currier and Ives & Norman Rockwell paintings.
Why, then, is Christmas at my circa 1944 bungalow house "just like the ones we used to know?" Why have I had numerous friends tell me that a visit to our house "makes their Christmas"?
I'm not being boastful here, just truthful.

If you haven't figured out by now, I absolutely love the Christmas Season. And I do my best to make it what I want it to be. This means, to me, giving it that old-time look and feel that people only dream about. I do this through a number of different means.
First off is the music. As I have written in a previous blog, I choose period-sounding old-world Christmas music, usually performed on authentic antique instruments such as a forte' piano, hammered dulcimer, fiddle, music box, and the like. Cd's of this type are readily available at Amazon.

Next comes the candles. When I was a child, my mother would begin to light candles right after Labor Day ended. It gives any home - no matter how recently built - that old-timey look.
Decorations...this is a tuffy. We have a mix of 19th and 20th century in our Christmas decor: garland around the ceiling with tiny lights inside, for instance, hangs in our living room and kitchen. Also, on our computer desk we have an antique (circa 1950) nativity scene. I also have a few of my Dickens Department 56 lighted houses on the piano - modern, yes, but they have that old, traditional look and feel. Now, in our back gathering room, we have our candle and electrically lit spruce Christmas tree, freshly cut down by my eldest in early December, with very period-looking decorations, including popcorn (not real but very real looking). I put up greenery (traditional cedar) without any sort of lighting attached throughout this room, and have my beeswax candles with the glass globe coverings on our table and mantle. Another manger scene, a nutcracker, and an old world Santa Claus completes the picture.
There are so many "Hallmark" Christmas decorations out there that many woman (sorry - not sexist, but that's who I have seen purchase most of them) just have to buy. Items like singing Christmas Trees, wreaths that speak, or the silly flags that show a snowman hanging from the front porch do not make for a traditional Christmas. I'll be honest, I personally do not even consider them cute. Now, I will admit to having a singing Christmas Homer Simpson, but he is kept near our very modern TV. And that's where he stays.

Greenfield Village has a wonderful tradition of presenting "Holiday Nights," where folks can visit the open-air museum at night and see homes of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries and how they would have been decorated (or not decorated, in some instances) during their time. (hint: this is where so many of my ideas have come from)

The Holly Dickens Festival is a fun way to spend a day as well, cavorting with the characters right out of Dickens' story and hearing Christmas music new and old performed live by singers and choirs. And the authentic Victorian setting of the beautiful Village of Holly cannot be beat. This festival is absolutely FREE!
The Crocker House in Mt. Clemens (built in 1869) has a Wallow and Wassail every year, with a minimal cost, that brings Christmas "home," so to speak, by way of roasting chestnuts on an open fire, live music (including a traditional pump organ and singing), great traditional food, homemade sugar plums, and, once again, a period atmosphere.
If you do not live in the Detroit area, I would bet there are similar events that take place in your area as well. A quick search of your newspaper or a call to some of the city halls in your area can direct you. Or, start one of your own. Yes, it is a lot of work, but the end result can be quite satisfying.

Christmas shopping does not have to be a chore. In fact, it can be quite fun. Here's what we do - first off, set a cost limit, and not too high, either, and make sure you stick with it. Second, make most, if not all, of your purchases on line. Amazon and eBay are my two favorite places to shop. You can get great items at a very low cost. We have been able to get twice as many things for us and our kids than if we went to the mall. And, that's the best part - you don't have to go to the mall!!

Another tradition, modern in a traditional sense, is to watch classic movies. I especially love Dickens "A Christmas Carol," and watch several versions AND read the book yearly. Great Victoriana.

At our house, Christmas dinner is eaten strictly by candle light. Being that we are Civil War reenactors, many times we will eat while wearing our period clothing. Talk about having the "look"! But, even without the old-time clothing, the candle-lit dinner certainly is an awesome atmosphere. And, having soft hammered dulcimer music playing in the background (the stereo is in another room) adds greatly to the desired effect. And, try some period food and drink - it wouldn't be Christmas at our house without my wife's wassail, a traditional Christmas/12th Night drink. You can add 'spirits' if you desire, for a more authentic taste.

And when gift opening time comes around, take your time and take turns, allowing one person to open one gift at a time per round. This way, everyone has the opportunity to enjoy everyone else's treasures. Yes, this can work with young children as well. Be a parent to them and insist that this is the way it will be done.

Don't forget the most important part of the Holiday: please take time - whether you attend church or not - to spend with the One Who's birth we are celebrating. Read the biblical passage of Jesus' birth (Luke 2: 1-20) if you are homebound, if for no one else's than for your own sake.

Oh, one more thing- do not be afraid to say "Merry Christmas."

Christmas can be what you want it to be, with minimal costs. Yes, you may initially get a few off-handed remarks (especially from family members), but they, too, will learn to appreciate what you have done for them.

Now, print this blog and place it where you won't forget it for next year.
Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Wassail to you all on this 12th Night!