Monday, April 28, 2008


We have been planning our trip to Gettysburg since January, and it came and went much too fast. To help keep those four days in that great historical town with me, as soon as we returned to our home in Michigan, I wrote a day-to-day journal of our experiences:

Wednesday April 23, 2008
As planned we were on the road by 4 a.m. and all went very well on the ride out. That is, until we got to East 30, which takes us into town. It is an extremely steep (ascending and descending) mountain pass that makes the engine smoke going up and the brakes smoke going down. It’s so bad in fact that they have gravel run offs for the truckers (and cars, I suppose) who lose their brakes. I was really worried about my 1997 Ford Econoline - can't afford to have anything happen to it.
We finally made it into Gettysburg by mid-afternoon and checked into the Quality Inn and, as soon as we got our suitcases in the room, we were off walking down Steinwehr Street, going in the shops. We ate a late lunch at the Dobbin House Tavern (built in 1776), a great atmosphere in which to dine, then it was off visiting the town and shopping once again. Late in the afternoon, Patty and I went off to the Corner Clothiers so I could pick up my new period correct sack coat. It’s AWESOME!!! Oh, Man!! I Love It! It's from an 1861 pattern. Kara does phenomenal work!
By nightfall we were back at the hotel where everyone but me went swimming in the indoor pool (I chose not to swim but watched Patty and my two youngest), then watched TV. Very un-19th century but the kids loved it.
A warm and sunny day.

Thursday April 24, 2008
We woke up early and we all put on our period clothing (including me in my new awesome sack coat!), and remained in our period clothing for the next three days. After our free breakfast (courtesy of the Quality Inn), we checked out of the motel, and then took a ride up Taneytown Road. We drove nearly 5 miles to the exact location where my time-travel story that I have been writing takes place – it was so cool! The lay of the land is very close to the description in my story…and I’ve never been there before! I was even able to visit Mt. Joy Lutheran Church, which is also in my story! How cool is that?
After our Taneytown excursion we parked in the back of the Tillie Pierce House in the middle of town (since we were going to spend the night there) at the corner of Baltimore and Breckinridge streets and went on a guided Civilian Tour to hear what the citizens of the burough experienced during the great battle. We had the same company and guide ( - ask for Pat) as we did back in ’05. We really enjoyed it tremendously. It really puts the whole battle into perspective. Many people do not realize just what went on in that town during the summer of 1863, and this tour will give you that understanding of what took place on the streets. It could be a movie unto itself

It was then back to shopping, this time on Chambersburg Street and around the “diamond” (town square).
From there it was to the Farnsworth Inn for lunch. It was built in 1810 with an addition in 1833.
Mid-afternoon we checked into the Tillie Pierce House Bed & Breakfast Initially we had some concerns: it was pretty warm, the room we had, although fairly large, was too small to accommodate all seven of us, and Rosalia had a fear of staying there (she told Ashley she could feel someone staring at her…someone who couldn’t be seen). Another concern was trying to keep the kids busy with no TV to watch. But the owners, Keith and Leslie, were extremely nice and, since there would be no other guests staying there that night, gave us – at a reduced rate – another room for the overflow. In fact, it was the actual bedroom of Tillie Pierce herself! They also gave us a couple of roll-away beds to use. Now, if that isn’t courtesy, I don’t know what is. Keith also promised to have the air-conditioning on for us when we returned from our day out (which he did). So, it was off to shop and walk around town once again and, upon returning, everything was set up for us perfectly and comfortably.

The landing on the 2nd floor has a small shrine to the namesake of the home. It's really kind of cool, in an eerie sort of way (see the above picture). The rooms, just so you know, are filled with antiques, including the beds we slept on. It was great – a dream come true! Dressed in period clothing and staying in an actual Civil War house in Gettysburg. It does not get any better! And it didn't matter that we didn't have a TV because everyone was so tired from the day's adventures that they all went right to sleep. No problem!
By the way, Keith and Leslie did an amazing restoration job on the house and I highly recommend staying there if you get a chance. Awesome!
As we hung around the house I got a phone call from JEB from the 21st Michigan (he, Bruce, and Ray also went to Gettysburg – separately from us, of course) inviting us to Little Round Top to watch the sunset. We accepted and drove out there in the early evening. That really set a great mood – how beautiful!! Patty said that was one of her favorite parts of the trip. I took loads of pictures – most of which turned out really good.
When we left there we went back to town and ate at a pizza place called “Tommy’s.” It was so-so – pretty greasy - but we were hungry.
Back to the Tillie Pierce House where, as I mentioned earlier, everyone but me went to bed. I decided to stay up and read for a bit. While in my period clothing, I went to the un-used darkened front bedrooms (all bedrooms were on the second floor) to look out to see Gettysburg at night. Below us and also across the street I could see there were ghost tours going on. Gettysburg is considered the most haunted town in America, in case you didn't know. So I decided to see if I could scare anyone by just standing there in my period clothing, maybe looking like a spirit from the past, but no one looked up at the window I was in. I even moved the curtains to try to get attention but, unfortunately, no one noticed, so I went back to the room. I found out the next day that Tommy did the same thing and got the same response that I got - nada. He would have been even cooler, being dressed as a Civil War soldier. That would have been a riot if we could have given a bit of a fright to a few folks on a ghost tour.
Later, while lying in bed, I heard a few creaks, a couple of raps, and slight footsteps up in the garret (attic). Tom said he heard the same thing. Could it be? Hmmm... Probably the oddest thing I heard was the ticking of the wind up clock (that was already in the room when we got there) became very loud for about a minute – yes, LOUD – then quieted back down. Was it a ghost? If it was a spirit of some sort, I think it liked us. Maybe because we were in period clothing - who knows? Whatever the reason, I felt very comfortable and slept great. Rosalia fell asleep very quickly, considering how afraid she was initially. They say kids can see and feel things better than adults. By the way, Keith told me that he heard groans the previous morning – I didn’t tell anyone else in the family.
Another day of beautiful weather.

Friday April 25, 2008
We had a wonderful omelet breakfast - cooked by Leslie - that we ate in that beautiful period dining room. A fine meal, that was!

What was neat was that we had the dining room to ourselves - kind of like it was ours'. day maybe...

Unfortunately, because they were going to have a full house for the next couple of nights, we could not stay another night there (there was no way we could all fit into one room – even the large Elizabeth Thorn suite that Patty and I slept in), so, by mid-afternoon, it was back to the Quality Inn. But, I want to, once again, publicly thank Keith and Leslie for what I consider my favorite part of our vacation - staying in that historical house. What an honor. And also for their courtesy and kindness.

After leaving *sniff* the Tillie Pierce House, we met with JEB, Bruce, and Ray for a personal battlefield tour. If you want a detailed tour of the Gettysburg battlefields, it doesn't get any better than hitching up with these three guys.

We went to Spangler's Spring, Culp’s Hill, and the west end of Reynold’s Woods, at Willoughby Run. We also went to the Sachs covered bridge (off the beaten path – built in the 1850’s). JEB said that General Longstreet hung three deserters there and supposedly their spirits remain.
It was a beautiful bridge.
I got reservations to have us all eat lunch at the Cashtown Inn (built in 1797). Out of the way, but a historically beautiful place.
After lunch, we split from the the other 21st members and went to the area of Pickett’s Charge. Patty, Tom, and Rob walked the entire length (me, Ashley, Miles, and Rosalia stayed at the van and slept – I walked it two years ago - no need to do it again). While they were walking the length, there was a Boy Scout troop walking it also and when they saw Tommy they “shot” him with their toy guns. He, of course, “died,” which they thought was great. The scoutmaster came up and thanked Tommy for making their day.

Continuing on the street called Confederate Avenue, we passed by the Round Tops then stopped at the Weikert home where Tillie Pierce stayed during the battle – I took lots of pictures of it. It is located right near the foot of Little Round Top – imagine what they saw while staying in that house on July 2, 1863!
More walking around town took place until the late afternoon when we went to the Gibson Photography Studio to have our tintypes taken. It was so cool (yes, I know I’ve said that word quite a bit, but it’s true!). The guy uses an actual 1867 camera and posed us authentically. The tintype turned out excellent.
Rob Gibson is a well-known modern "period" photographer who has done covers for Civil War Historian magazine as well as taken tintypes of the actors from Gods & Generals and Cold Mountain.

Back to the motel for the evening.

Saturday April 26, 2008
Tommy, Robbie, Ashley, and I began our day by going to the Evergreen Cemetery to search out the local graves. I took photos of many of the grave stones, including citizen patriot John Burns and Jennie Wade, who was the only civilian killed during the battle. We also found many of the graves of the citizens mentioned on the Civilian Walking Tour from a couple days previous.

After a bit more of walking the town, I split off from the rest of my group and took a tour of the inside of the Farnsworth House (known as the Sweney House in 1863), including the garret where a Confederate sharpshooter was stationed and (as the story goes) shot Jennie Wade from the window. It was chilling to be in that actual spot knowing what happened. The feeling one gets when in an area like that is indescribable. Again, I took loads of photos.

While touring the house, I met up with a couple of guys from Richmond, Virginia, and began telling them some of the civilian stories that I heard (and read) about and took them to the Tillie Pierce House to introduce them to Keith. They hadn't realized all that happened in town during the battle - most folks don't seem to know that, unfortunately.
Back with my family and, for dinner, we ate at a greasy spoon – I don’t recall the name of the restaurant, but it was cheap and filling but not that great.
In the evening, Tommy, Robbie, Ashley, and I took a Ghost Tour of the town. If you have never done one of these my advice is to do it because it was another really good time. Unfortunately for us, rain poured the whole tour time but we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying ourselves. I’m not complaining since it was the only time it rained like that during our whole time there. The stories told of the most haunted town in America were pretty cool. They kind of make you look over your shoulder a bit more, if you know what I mean.

Sunday April 27, 2008
Up at 6:30 and on the road by 8, we had a very good (but lo-o-ong) ride home. We made it back by 5:15. I didn’t take East 30 (or, rather, West 30) back – I took the longer way around as I didn’t want to possibly have any problems with my van. Too scary - I don't need any damage done to my van. It has to last me a while yet.


Visiting Gettysburg is a fantastic experience that I never get tired of – even three times in four years! I always learn something new. And, what really helps the experience is wearing period clothing, which we did the entire time from Thursday morning through Saturday night, even when we went out to eat at fast-food joints. We were stopped so many times by folks so they could take our picture, and the residents certainly appreciated it as well.
I can’t say what my favorite part of this year’s vacation was, but I really enjoyed staying in the Tillie Pierce house – an actual house that was there during the battle that has been restored back to its original 1863 splendor. I also really liked watching the sun set from Little Round Top. The two tours we took (civilian and ghost) were both excellent. I guess I just liked it all, just being engulfed by all that history.
Unfortunately, this will be it for Gettysburg for two or three years. *sniff*

We are planning a Lincoln Tour in Springfield, Illinois for next year.

Monday, April 21, 2008

My Favorite Scene from Cold Mountain

I am writing this blurb for no other reason than because. It has no bearing on anything except it's a favorite scene from a pretty good (but very sad) movie.

My absolute favorite scene from the movie, "Cold Mountain" is where Ada Monroe is in her house playing the piano while her minister father is out in their yard working on his sermon for the following Sunday. As Ada is playing music she notices that it has begun to rain - hard. She calls for her father to come in but, as she looks to find why he is not answering, she sees that he had slumped over while sitting in his chair, dead. His heart had given out. The rain shower becomes a down pour as Ada runs to him, calling his name to no avail.

Why is this dreary scene my favorite? Because it shows a distinct part of 19th century life that so many of us in the 21st century cannot comprehend: total helplessness. If we see someone who needs immediate attention, we have the ability to whip out our cell phones and call an ambulance or the police and, within a matter of minutes, help has arrived.
Not so during the Civil War era (and before). What could Ada do? No phones or electronic communication of any sort. She couldn't drag him into the house - I'm sure she wouldn't be strong enough to do that, especially on wet grass. So she had to leave her father - a man she loved and admired dearly - out in the soaking rain. (The movie doesn't show this but I am sure, if something like this had actually happened, it was what she would have had to do).
Can you imagine what went through Ada's mind - that total helpless feeling?

This brings the hardships and survival skills of the era to life under no uncertain terms. It's what we Civil War reenactors/living historians emulate, to a certain extent, and attempt to portray in our impressions.
But, after a reenactment, we can go to our very modern homes. Ada (or an actual person of the time) could not - this was her life - it was all she knew.

Well, anyhow, I just thought I'd pass around that thought, which came to me during my work day today. I'm always thinking something about social history it seems.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Save Our History

Why does southeastern lower Michigan consistently tear down its past? Why is it that every time I open up the newspaper it seems that I am reading another article about a historic building being razed for one reason or another (parking lot, Rite Aid, to "save money", etc.)?
Just last week, another part of our past is now literally history
And, from what I understand, the schoolboard members, contrary to what is in the article, were high-fiving each other. Here is a segment from an email I received, written by Kym Janowicz, leader of the Friends of the Murphy House (

"What is even more disturbing today was that three of the five school board members who voted to demolish the building stood under the arch at the west entrance of the high school laughing and joking while watching the Murphy House being razed. President Greg Murray, Larry Humphrey and Joe Rheker turned out for what appeared to be a victory party at the site of their destructive triumph.

Those of us who were able to stay through the duration of the demolition had good conversations with members of the wrecking crew. They were aware of the controversial nature of the demolition and were incredibly kind and respectful, which is more than I can say for the school board members. The crew picked through the rubble and handed onlookers bricks and roof tiles over the fencing. We learned from the wrecking crew that they had offered in their proposal to go through the building and salvage anything of value. That offer was rejected by the school board. The board wanted the cheapest price and had no interest in salvaging anything. Shortly after that conversation the crew excavated a chunk of the green Pewabic tile from the fireplace."

How so very sad.
Unfortunately, this is only one of many - too many - historic structures lost forever due to folks who just don't give a damn. There are many groups and societies who have proven a willingness to care for these buildings, but the powers that be only see dollar signs - money that, in most cases, they really do not need.
And, one has to admire how these money hungry fools work: ignore a historic structure long enough and it will soon enough "go away" (beyond repair, in some cases) and they will build their cases upon the idea that the dilapidated building is "beyond repair" and necessitates razing. The Monroe Block is a prime early example of that
And so was the razing, back in 1961, of Detroit's old city hall
and the Hudson Building just a few years ago
and the Clinton-Grove Cemetery Caretaker's Home just last year, once again, in Mt. Clemens (I cannot find a link to the razing of this structure, but I witnessed the tear down preparations myself).

In fact, so many local historical buildings, homes, etc., have disappeared that most of our local history is only available now in the "Images of America" books published by Arcadia Press or other local history books.

So, why does this continue to happen? "Progress" we are told. "We can't live in the past! We must move ahead to the future!! We need the money!"
And they go ahead and replace the 100 + year old buildings with either a parking lot or cheap cookie-cutter structures with little or no personality made to last, like modern cars, only for a short while (when was the last time you saw a Gremlin, Maverick, or Pacer on the road? Heck, one sees autos 50 years and older many many times more than the aforementioned 1970's classics!). These new structures are hideously bland and ugly - just drive down Gratiot, Woodward, or any other main thoroughfare in this area and you'll see what I mean. Ha! Just take a drive from 8 and Gratiot all the way to Mt. Clemens (about 9 miles) and you might as well be driving in the desert of Nevada - that's how exciting the buildings are.

Do yourselves a favor - if you feel as passionate as I do about saving our history, please get involved. Support your local historical society by donating whatever you can monetarily - even if it's only $10 bucks - whatever you can afford. You can also support them by attending their functions and meetings, as well as visit their historical sites. The more support we show and give, the stronger the historical societies will become. The stronger they become, the greater the chances and opportunities will be to save our past.
I know I sound like a bleeding heart (I don't mean to, honest!), but saving our local history for the benefit of the future generations is a charity that truly is a worthwhile cause.

It's a sad state (literally and figuratively) that we live in.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Crossroads Village

As I stated in a blog last month, we here in southeastern lower Michigan are blessed with having not one but two open-air museums. Most people know of Greenfield Village in Dearborn, of which I did a blog on late last year. Because auto-magnet, Henry Ford, had the wealth he was able to create a village beyond compare anywhere else in the United States, and probably Canada, too. I love Greenfield Village immensely, but, unfortunately, they have changed it quite a bit from Mr. Ford's original vision, adding cemented curbs and sidewalks and removing buildings that should not have been removed (the cooper and cobbler shops are but two that have been scrapped). There is a Disney feel to it now, and that has taken away the Victorian ambience one got as they strolled through the village streets. Fortunately, the majority of the houses remain intact and are more accurate in their presentations inside and out than ever before. They did their homework for this portion and it shows.
However, the younger, poorer, not nearly as famous open-air museum known as Crossroads Village located in Flint will give that Victorian feeling immediately, as soon as you enter the gates. The whole look and feel of the place just takes you right back in time, as you can see from the picture above. Yes, this is what you see as you step through the wooden ticket booth.

As you move past the original cars of the 19th century railroad (of which you can actually ride upon), the wood-plank sidewalks take you through the "town" part of the village, the main street, which looks exactly like you would expect a main street to look like. It has stores, an opera house, a barber shop, a hotel...

And then there's the tavern on the outskirts of town.
Of course, every town (even one without horses, unfortunately) needs a blacksmith shop. Here is where one can watch the smithy work his trade, just as in the old days. And, as with a blacksmith, most period towns had a gristmill. It's here that one can watch as the giant stone wheels grind the grain into flower. It's here where one can hear (and feel) the deafening roar of the water turning the magnificent equipment to turn the wheels. And, it's here where one can purchase flour made right here at the Atlas Mill.
Without refridgeration, ice houses were a necessity in keeping ice available (covered in sawdust) throughout the warm weather months.

As you move out of town you'll enter the neighborhood and see the houses - mostly farm houses - of Crossroads. I swear you fill feel as if you had literally stepped through a time travel portal.

The milk cow was as important as any livestock a farmer could own. It's great that they show how a cow is milked for those of us living in the city.

And, of course, the picturesque church. For some reason, they feel that this church should not have a cross lest they offend any non-Christians. Let's face it, by far and away the greater majority - without question - of the population in the 19th century in every state had a minimum of one Christian church. Of course, folks today like to change the past for the people of the present due to politically correct mumbo jumbo. But, we all know...

There is plenty more to see than what's pictured here - much more. And about the only couple of things I would change would be the addition of horses and carriages and probably a few more shops and houses - cooper, cobbler, etc. And, the addition of a cemetery (only the tombstones, of course) would be that touch of realism that no one else has (Mike Gillett's idea, and it's a great one!!!). They also need more period accurate presenters - you get what you pay for. Not that they are terrible but there is room for improvement.

They do have a carriage shop, barns, more houses, a lawyer's home, a doctor's office - all of the period.

Now, if only they would bring back the Civil War weekend!!!