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 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 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..

1 comment:

Fiber addikt said...

Wow, I am truly impressed. I try with each and every event to be more correct, and I take classes at the genteel academy for period correct sewing techniques and items, and I take advice from several NSSA "Delaney Award" (highest honors in the complete outfit top to bottom for accuracy, workmanship and period correctness) winners from NSSA. It's rare to find those that take this seriously as do I. Thanks for sharing!