Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tiger Stadium

For those of us over the age of twenty who live in the southeastern part of Michigan, I'm sure memories of Tiger Stadium, that glorious structure built in 1912, are firmly implanted in our brains. The last time I was there - 1994 - I sat with local Free Press newspaper celebrity, Bob Talbert ("Out of My Mind On Monday Moanin' "). Being with Talbert was in itself pretty cool, but looking back on it now, and not actually knowing that that would be the last time I would be at the stadium, well, the memory means even more to me.

The first time I ever entered the gates of Tiger Stadium was in the summer of 1968 - yes, I got to see the fabled '68 Tigers: Willie Horton, Al Kaline, Denny McClain, Bill Freehan, Gates Brown...all of my childhood sports heroes.

Between 1968 and 1994, I traveled to the park to watch my hometown team a number of different times with the Cub Scouts, my girlfriend (who eventually became my wife), and a few other folks whose names I no longer recall.

Fond memories.

And now, typical of Detroit, this classic stadium - one of only a few classics left (Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, and Yankee Stadium are the others) - just like so much of Detroit's past, has met the wrecking ball.

(Here's a link to an excellent site about Tiger Stadium, as well as the other classics http://www.baseball-statistics.com/Ballparks/Det/Tiger.htm).

I have always said that Detroit loves to tear down its past because, it seems, many (but, not all) blacks in the area feel these classic old buildings - anything built before (Detroit's first black mayor) Coleman Young's reign is not worth saving.
Yes, I have read this but finding the actual quotes about the razing of the J.L. Hudson building (among others) have become nearly impossible.
Fortunately, I do still have very recent quotes about the demise of Tiger Stadium, from a Detroit Councilwoman nonetheless!
From the Detroit Free Press July 16, 2008:
A number of people who have posted comments today on the story about the deadline for preservationists to save a portion of Tiger Stadium are attacking Detroit City Councilwoman Barbara-Rose Collins. Some of the comments are vicious and personal.

These readers are angry because Collins, who supports razing the entire ballpark, was quoted as saying she recalls when the Tigers were one of only two teams that refused to sign a black player. She said this: "I know there's a lot of nostalgia for it, and people are crying. I don't have any fond memories of it."

In other words - she doesn't like it so she voted to get rid of it. She's offended by it so voted to get rid of it. Screw those folks that it meant so much to and supported it (and, thus, supported the city). Let's forget that the ball club more than made up for not hiring black players initially since the era in which she speaks - the 1950's! - which, ahem, was 50 years ago. This is so very typical of society of all races in general today, and that's sad.

Here's another comment: I once had fond memories of Tiger stadium and even saw Fidrych get his Bird act on as a kid in early 78, but the hidden past of racism and the ghosts of those of color turned away at the gate has changed my feelings completely. Tear it all down and good riddance to the old rat infested hate house that cracker Cobb and other mean spirited haters built and ran under the auspices of a "glorious" past. Long live Commercialca Park???

Um...calling Ty Cob a cracker? Isn't that like the pot calling the kettle black (so to speak)? So you got your wish - Detroit has torn down or destroyed nearly everything built before Coleman Young. And what've you got left? A high crime wasteland of a city with the biggest racist ever to grace the mayor's office - Coleman Young - and the biggest crook to ever grace the same chair - the hip hop mayor himself, Kwame Kilpatrick (who is also a racist) - at the helm to tear down the past and rebuild it with poorly made modern, classless buildings built by people who call white folks cracker.

How far we've come, eh? At least the mayor in between Young and Kwame, Dennis Archer, was for all people.

Well, folks got what they deserved when they voted for the cool "hip hop" mayor.

I will sit here and wait for people to write me to tell me how racist I am for writing something negative (but truthful) about an outspoken group of black people in Detroit, and how, because of my comments, I committed a hate crime. But that's for a future blog.

Monday, July 28, 2008

My Grandfather, the Proud American Immigrant

On my mother's side of the family, my ancestors arrived on these shores in 1713. They were Quakers and, as non-conformists in their homeland of England, were not accepted there. So they crossed the Atlantic and settled in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where folks of all religious denominations were accepted.
Whether they wanted - or intended - to or not, they helped this land of their new home become the United States. As Quakers, they would have spoken with the thee's and thou's that they were known for, and outspoken against war - all war. This is what their religious beliefs dictate. But, even with their religious differences, they assimilated and became friends with the society around them.
Unfortunately, most descendants on my mother's side either lived very far from where I grew up, or died before I had the chance to know them well.
Or they just never associated very much with family.
However, I have loads of information on them dating back, as stated above, to the 18th century (and before, in one case).

On my father's side, my ancestors immigrated much more recently - 1912. This line came from Siciliy and, if you know anything at all about American history, you know that the Italians were not very much liked by the other nationalities. Because the Italians were culturally different from most of the other European immigrants and "natives," hostility towards them reigned, even worse than the Irish hatred of the previous century.
And my grandfather, bless his soul, received his share of the ill will from the moment he arrived on these shores in that year. But, grandpa, who was sixteen years old at the time, persevered. He worked long hours at the Detroit Stove Company, married a young girl named Rosa, who bore him two children, and bought not one but two houses. Eventually, he also bought a summer cottage (followed by a second a number of years later) on the banks of Lake Huron.

Grandpa (and grandma) also became a legal American citizen.

But, one thing he never did that his siblings did - he never returned to his homeland of Siciliy. He had opportunities, but declined them all. He was an American now and this was where he wanted to remain. He learned the language the best he could. No arrests - not even a traffic ticket. His two sons both served their country during the second world war.

Grandpa kept some of his old ways - how could he not? - but he was a proud American and he was proud that his children and grandchildren were all Americans. He understood the importance of hard work - how one will earn what one deserves through employment and not through hand outs. Except for his monthly social security checks (after working at the Detroit Stove Company for around 40+ years), he received no other funding. He didn't need to - his houses and cottages were paid for, and, just as important to him, he also had a massive vegetable garden. We all enjoyed the fruits of his labor, believe me. He very rarely went out to eat - a waste of money for poor quality food that was never cooked to his satisfaction. You see, grandpa was a cook beyond compare. He put on spaghetti dinners for the local churches and communities; he cooked for his extended family - all the cousins came over frequently and never left with an empty stomach.

Grandpa also was a peacemaker. Once, as a pre-teen, I got my butt beat by some bully who lived a couple blocks over. When I told grandpa, instead of going after this kid like I had hoped, he, instead, invited him over for cookies and milk! I didn't understand grandpa's motive at the time and was quite angry with him. It wasn't until I was an adult that I understood - grandpa showed this angry young boy friendship and a kind heart. It worked - the kid never beat me up again (whew!).

Why am I bringing up all of this about my grandfather? Well, besides the fact that he, except for my father, was the greatest man I have ever known, he was also a proud and true American; he was what every American should strive to be, despite all that was literally thrown at him when he first immigrated to this country.
And that makes me proud knowing that I am descended from someone like this - someone who made something of himself because of the opportunities he saw and grabbed. Not because of some government handout.

Now, why can't immigrants today be the same way? Why do so many get government handouts and breaks, in many cases, because of what country they may have come from? Why do the new wave of immigrants, instead of assimilating into our society, try to change it to suit them?

And why do we put up with all of the illegal immigration? Why can't these illegals come over legally like our ancestors? I mean, even my earliest ancestors came over "legally," so to speak - they got the approval from the King to sail to Pennsylvania.

My grandpa was a great man - his life lived is proof of that - and I hold him high on the American pedestal. He was what all legal immigrants (and native born Americans as well) should strive to be like.
Unfortunately, most seem to be just the opposite.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Simply Dickens

There is a wonderful vocal group in the metro-Detroit area that I just happen to be manager and music director of; a quartet that consists of two guys and two girls, and they perform period music. Their name? Simply Dickens.
Simply Dickens was formed back in the fall of 2001 when my son, Tom, who was just 13 years old at the time, and a young lady, Kourtney, who was only 14, got together to rehearse Christmas music to sing at the Holly Dickens Festival, held on the streets of Holly, Michigan, every weekend between Thanksgiving and Christmas. It was Kourtney that came up with the name Simply Dickens, due to the fact that they performed mainly at the Holly Dickens Festival. Their set list consisted of the 'old world' type Christmas music, songs such as "The Gloucestershire Wassail" and "Bring A Torch Jeannette Isabella" - music that was not quite as well known as the more popular "Rudolph" and "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." They were quite the hit among the festival go-ers and were asked to return the following year (and every year since!).
Jump ahead six months to summer 2002, Kourtney and Tom played at a dedication ceremony for an 1872 schoolhouse, songs such as "The Moustache Song, "Beautiful Dreamer," and "Bobby Shafto."
The attendees really enjoyed their performance.
By the fall of that second year we added a third member, another girl. This enabled expansion in their sound and structure and we increased the Christmas music repertoire. And by the summer of 2003 they began to increase their repertoire of 18th and 19th century music as well, while performing at a historical society garden party.
Summertime 2004 gave the group the opportunity to sing at festivals, including Erin-Halfway Days in Eastpointe, a world music festival (where they performed for the first time as a quartet and included Rennaissance madrigals as part of their set), and a Labor Day festival in Lexington, Michigan.
Simply Dickens at the World Festival

By Christmas of 2004, Simply Dickens' Christmas music selection had grown to include a German version of "Silent Night," the colonial "All You That Are Good Fellows," and even the Spanish madrigal of "Riu Riu Chiu." They even performed on Fox 2 News in December 2007!

Simply Dickens interviewed by Fanchon Stinger - FOX 2 News Detroit

And they continue to performed at various Christmas gatherings as well as at a few Civil War reenactments. In fact, their collection of 19th century music, like Christmas music, has grown tremendously and includes such numbers as "Faded Coat of Blue," "Shady Grove," "Some Folks Do," and "Just Before the Battle Mother."

In the spring of 2007, they put out a homemade CD of Civil War era music, available through me if any of you are interested.
But, their specialty is Christmas music, and a Christmas CD is forthcoming.
Simply Dickens at the Holly Dickens Festival

The third and fourth membership have changed over the years, but Tom and Kourtney have been the 'rock' of the group.
I am very proud of what this group has done in the few years of its existance. They have become well-known not only for their style of music, most of which is almost unheard in this modern day and age, but also to the fact that they perform in period clothing. To have a group of young people sing music that was written over a hundred years before they were born is a rarity, and this is, I believe, why they are continually asked to entertain at festivals, especially at the Holly Dickens Festival.
If you get an opportunity, make sure you come to see them perform. I think you will enjoy them.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

History, Genes, and Reenacting pt 2

Way back at my very first blog, I wrote how I believed that an ancestor's memory genes could be passed on in the same way that looks or actions could be passed on.

This is what I wrote back in November of 2007:

Why is it that the past enthralls me so much? I have asked myself that question many times but I have no absolute answers. I don't believe in reincarnation, but I do believe in the passing of genes. Of course, we know that genes are passed on from parent to child. What I mean is, (correct me if I'm wrong) it's genes that make us act like, look, even sound the way we do, right? "You have your great grandfather's talent for carpentry," "you sing just like grandma," or "I can't believe how close you resemble your grandfather when he was your age." We've all heard something similar, right? Then why can't genes be passed on that enable us to have the same feelings as our ancestors? I mean, if my great great grandfather truly loved his life and his era, then can that passion be so strong that it can be passed down? Can memories (or snippets of memories) be passed down as well?

Well, I have spoken to numerous people since writing this and I have found quite a few who, although they may not necessarily agree with my philosophy, admitted it gave them food for thought.

And then I also found more than I thought that did agree with me on this subject.

I believe in what I wrote with all my heart, which is why I do not believe in reincarnation. Those moments one has when they step into a certain old house or into a museum and they get that feeling of familiarity is when the idea of reincarnation seems to be tossed about. Well, I don't believe that at all. In fact, the medical world, without realizing it, tends to back me in my own personal theory about the transfering of genes rather than backing the reincarnation theory.

The great classical composer, Amadeus Mozart, was (and still is) considered a child prodigy who wrote his first symphony at age eight. Reincarnation? Highly doubtful. More than likely it was a musical gene that was passed down to him from an ancestor of his, quite possibly from his own father, who was also a composer and musician.

My own son took to playing the guitar at the age of just about a year old - the videos we have of him are our proof - and, by the age of seven was already performing Beatles' songs. His first was "I Should Have Known Better" - once again, we have video proof.

Is my son a prodigy? Was he reincarnated from some past musician, maybe Jimi Hendrix?

Yeah, right.

You see, I play guitar and have played consistently around him since his birth, much in the same way Amadeus' father, I'm sure, performed instruments in front of his son. I began teaching my first born to play correctly at age seven and he took to it immediately. In the nearly 14 years since, he has become quite the accomplished musician and has taken on jazz and classical playing as well as rock and folk.

Now, there are old home movies of me as a youngster playing the guitar and the drums. A little family history research shows that my mother played the cello in the 1930's and my maternal grandmother and her sisters were child performers back in the 1910's and the early 1920's.

Genes being passed on.

So, back to my original question/thought/theory: can memory and feeling genes be passed on? Can a person of today walk into a historical place - even if it's one that neither they nor their ancestor had ever been in - and feel like, well, "this is right. This is the way it's supposed to be" or "I'm home"?

I get that feeling every single time I step inside nearly any historic structure, especially if it's from the late 18th and 19th centuries. I get that feeling every time I am near a horse with or without a carriage. I get that feeling when I re-enact.

And, I'm sure this would explain why I visit Greenfield Village a dozen times a year, along with my annual visits to Crossroads Village, old schoolhouses, and, yes, even my semi-annual journey to Gettysburg.

On our very first date, back in November of 1982, Patty (who would become my wife two and a half years later) and I, getting to know one another, spoke of our morals (both of us had very traditional "old-fashioned" morals), our interests - mine in history (and music) and she in traditional crafts like crocheting, knitting, and interests in quilting and spinning. We also spoke of the type of house we would like to eventually get (we agreed on either an old Victorian or a farmhouse). This on our very first date.

After 23 years of marriage we still have the same values, morals, and interests. Only now, due to re-enacting, we can "live" our dreams and passions, if only for a weekend at a time.

And due to our passion for antiques, we have tried to turn the inside of our 1944 bungalow into what I call a pseudo-Victorian. It will have to do until we can eventually get our dream home.

The thing is, all of this that my wife and I love - re-enacting, antiquing, old-time crafts, traditional morals - are all a part of these 'memory genes.
I think time will eventually show that I am correct in my assumptions.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

More on Revisionist - oops! sorry - Alternative Historians

Why oh why do folks today like to place their 21st century morals and values on those from the past?
Why oh why do they insist that those who lived long ago were every bit as raunchy and rude as so many in our modern society?
Now, before you start clobbering me about how I have blinders on, how they really were as crude then as many are now, please understand that I realize that pre-marital sex, obscene language, rape, and many other ills did exist in the "olden days."
It just wasn't nearly as prominent and open and, dare I say, accepted as it is today. Here in 2008, anything goes: if it feels good, do it. Just turn the channel! Oh, just give them a condom in the 6th grade - they're going to do it anyhow! 1st ammendment says I can say anything I want whenever and wherever I please. Hey! They didn't tell me the coffee was this hot - I'll sue!
Need I go on?
First of all, please understand that, per capita, there was much less pre-marital sex in the mid-19th century than today. Because of journals and diaries and birth records (for children born out of wedlock), we know this to be true. I have yet to find proof of the opposite. Yes, I know that amongst the men in the military VD was fairly prominent. But, that's just the men in the military. Men only around other men and no females about. At all. This is, after all, the 'old school' military when women could not join. Except for an officer's wife, a laundress, or one of the ladies that snuck into camp to give the men "pleasure," a female would have been a rarity. Naturally, upon seeing a woman after quite a while without seeing one would get any man excited.
And on the homefront, people worked from 12 to 14 hours a day, six to seven days a week, plus church (yes, church!) and family and visiting on Sundays. When would they have had time for extra-marital affairs?
But, the new "alternative" historian (I swear I saw someone with this as his bi-line on the History Channel!) would have you believe otherwise.
All that I can say is show me the proof. Real proof.

Folks today also do not take responsibility for their own actions - the woman who successfully sued MacDonalds because she didn't know their coffee was HOT is a prime example of the stupidity of many in this modern day and age.
It's HOT coffee, and is advertised as such. Not warm. HOT! Let's think about this. Hot means hot. Oh! But not that hot, right? No - hot means hot! Look it up in the dictionary.

Language abuse. Does anyone know what the 1st Amendment concerning freedom of speech really means? Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
There - that is the full text of the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Besides proving the myth of separation of church and state to be wrong and a lie, it also tells us that we have a right to freedom of speech. But, do you believe that (A) in an age (colonial and Victorian) where openly saying what was considered foul language in public could get one put in the stocks or in prison, our forefathers meant for this amendment to protect the right of one who spews obsenities every other word? Or do you think that maybe - just maybe - (B) they wanted us as Americans to be able to speak out against our government without fear or retribution? Hmmm...no brainer.
Unfortunately, there are those who feel A is the correct answer. I wish these mis-guided folks would study up on their history, especially their social history. They would then understand what our forefathers truly meant. Here is a quote from Thomas Jefferson, our third president, in a letter written to William Johnson in 1823 (taken from the book Thomas Jefferson: Writings Autobiography / Notes on the State of Virginia / Public and Private Papers / Addresses / Letters): “On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
I am pretty sure we all know the probable reason this freedom of speech amendment was written.
By the way, "blue" language was considered a crime until the late 1960's or early 1970's.

When I hear people - especially so-called alternative historians (alternative / revisionist: same difference) - express the opinion that our morals are no different from the average citizen making a living in past centuries, I say, "show me the proof!" I can show you (and already have) my proof.
Just as I thought. They can't.

I really believe that in this everything goes society in which we live in today that we are not only harming ourselves with this attitude, but future generations to come. Our society has been sliding down hill "like a snowball headed for hell" (as the country song goes), and no president or whoever that says they're for change is going to stop it.
We are the only ones that can stop it.
I pray that we do.
The answers really do lay in the past.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

"History is Bunk!" - What Henry Ford Really Meant, and the Beginning of Greenfield Village

The year was 1914, and Clara Ford, wife of Henry, watched children play one day as they made their way home from school. A childhood rhyme suddenly came to her, and she said it aloud: 'Hear the children gaily shout, "Half past four and school is out!" '
Henry and Clara both thought the rhyme came from one of the William McGuffey Eclectic Readers, first published in 1836. After a futile search to find which Reader it came from, and through it all amassing a rather large and complete collection of the 145 different editions, he found he had a penchant for collecting. He already had a rather large collection of clocks and watches, which he loved to tinker with as a child. And, he had accumulated objects of his hero, Thomas Edison. So the McGuffey Readers were just another extension of what was quickly becoming his passion.
It was around this WWI era that, in part, due to his strong pacifism during that "Great War," a number of newspaper articles were published expressing Mr. Ford's anti-war sentiment, called him an anarchist, among other things, and quoted him as saying, "History is more or less bunk..." which has been repeated often ever since. What most folks don't know is that this "bunk " comment was stated for reasons other than what the press said. It is here that I quote from the book, A Home For Our Heritage by Geoffery C. Upward: "...what (Ford) meant and explained many times in later years was that written history reflected little of people's day-to-day existence. 'History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with...wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk and I think so yet."

It was shortly after the war, in 1919, that Ford found that his birthplace home was in danger due to a major road expansion through the property of his family's farm. The house lay directly in the path of the road. Ford and family decided to prevent this awful occurrence by moving his house and barns out of harms way. But, they didn't stop there. They also restored the old homestead back to the way they remembered it being in 1876 - the year Henry's mother passed away. They searched high and low for every artifact that matched their memories and soon found many more items than necessary. Mr. Ford kept them all, and then some.
According to numerous sources, the idea for preservation and the displaying of the everyday items he had (and continued to acquire) came sometime in the mid-1920's. But, before he could put that idea into a reality, he was asked to restore The Wayside Inn in South Sudbury, Massachusetts, built in 1686. Ford bought the inn and 2600 acres of the land surrounding to not only restore the historic structure, but to preserve the setting in which the inn was located.

He also purchased and restored the 1846 Botsford Tavern, located outside of Detroit. Henry Ford had first seen the tavern while courting his future wife, Clara, in a horse and buggy in the 1880's. Ford and his soon-to-be-wife were regulars at the Saturday night dances and became good friends with the owner. In fact, according to the Detroit News (from 1925): Mr. Ford was always a favorite and no matter how big a crowd or how many guests, there was always a stall for Henry's horse. The "young Ford boy" was granted another honor by Mr. Botsford, and that was permission for him and his sweetheart to place their wraps in the parlor, a place reserved only for the intimate friends of the proprietor's family.
This "young Ford boy" purchased the inn in 1924 and did extensive restoration, doubling the size of the ballroom, adding to the kitchen, and sprucing up the other rooms, all the while restoring them as close as he could to their original splendor. He, too, held grand parties and balls here, but seemingly all but forgot about the old building once the planning of his Greenfield Village commenced. Throughout the 1940's the Botsford was rarely used.
(A few years after Ford died in 1947, the tavern was sold by the Ford family to the Anhut family).
The restoration bug had bitten Mr. Ford, and it awakened a passion for social history like nothing ever had before.
One little known fact was that the city of Williamsburg, Virginia offered to have Ford purchase the more than a dozen colonial era buildings on the original sites in hopes of a financial backing to turn the original capital of Virginia into a living history extravaganza.
Ford declined. He had a better idea.
Once the decision had been made to build a museum like no other, he felt the land upon which he stored his antique collection would be the perfect spot to build this unique American village, and by October of 1927 construction had begun under chief architect Edward Cutler and the watchful eye of Henry Ford himself. The two men planned the lay out of the village together early in 1927, copying the traditional early American plans of a village green surrounded by a church, town hall, and, eventually, other buildings.

If you like what I wrote here, you might enjoy my newest blog site devoted to Greenfield Village
It is an ongoing history and tribute to this one-of-a-kind museum, unique beyond compare.
Please check it out and, like this blog, check back for updates and additions.

Click HERE to read about Mr. Ford and historical preservation


Sunday, July 6, 2008

A Very American Holiday

This year, my family and I had one of the very best 4th of July holiday weekends that ever!

It began, of course, on the 4th itself, when Patty and I, along with our two youngest, took advantage of the perfect weather and our Greenfield Village membership and visited the open-air museum. A rare appearance to the place in modern clothing!
Now, we have been to the Village countless times - being members we visit nearly a dozen times a year, enjoying all of the different activities each season brings. But, it's been a number of years since we have gone on the 4th of July.

So, this year, that's what we did.

During the summer season Greenfield Village has actors playing different roles to perform vignettes in numerous locations throughout the place: a "difficult customer" and how the proprietor deals with her at the J. R. Jones General Store; life as a slave on the Susquehanna plantation; 19th century school days in the Scotch Settlement school; and, at the Wright Brothers' home, the two brothers and their sister speak of that day in December when man, for the first time, flew an airplane. And we made sure to see each one.

They also had candle dipping, of which my daughter enjoyed participating in very much. She told me she wanted to wait to light her beeswax candles on her birthday in December. That's a fine idea, if I do say so myself. There were also period games for kids on the Village Green.

And for dinner (lunch), we ate at the Eagle Tavern, where it's always the year 1850.

To fill in the gaps in between the scenarios we entered some of our favorite homes: the houses of Adams, Giddings, Firestone (pictured above left), and the Carrol Family (Susquehanna Plantation).

Mostly, however, we just enjoyed the beautiful day, strolling the along the streets of the past.

Then, at five o'clock, we had to leave - which we did. But, we didn't leave the grounds: we stepped back out to the entrance area and got back in line, only this time armed with chairs, a blanket, and a cooler with sandwiches for a picnic, for we were going to spend the evening there, listening to music followed by a fireworks display.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to bring cameras in for this evening extravaganza, so I have no shots to show.

At 6, the gates re-opened and in we all went - eight thousand of us - and skedaddled to what we hoped would be the perfect location to see and hear the sites and sounds of America's 232nd birthday celebration. We chose a patch of grass on the hill directly behind Noah Webster's home. A festival atmoshphere ensued, with tents for food and drink, men riding the old-time high bicycles, strolling singers with Captain Banjo, and vendors yelling out their wares. The 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps marched up and down the sidewalk, performing Revolutionary War music. They were followed, on the stage set up in Walnut Grove, by the River Raisin Ragtime Band. Then, as the sun was getting ready to go down, a true 'heavy metal band' known as The Detroit Symphony Orchestra took the stage. Performing classics and pop standards for the next hour and a half, it was the perfect setting. During intermission, I took advantage of the darkness and strolled about the Village; peaking in windows of some of the houses while it's dark is eerie fun. And, I got to witness something I don't normally see in my suburban Detroit neighborhood - an arial display by the firefly brigade dancing to tunes no one knew (thanks to the Moody Blues for that line). Just excellent!

The DSO continued after the intermission with a medley from West Side Story and a few other classics, and then they completed their show with what is now a standard at most 4th of July musical celebrations - Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. The best part is they used real cannons for the BOOMS at the end. Awesome! Truly Awesome! My favorite part of the whole night, to be honest. But, the night still wasn't done: an amazing fireworks display, accompanied by the DSO, took place. Rosalia was in awe and wide-eyed as she watched the spectacle. And Miles, who fears greatly the loud boomers, even watched as I covered his ears.

This was probably the best 4th of July I can remember. It was as good as it gets!

Then, the following day, we packed up my clan (except for Robert, who is off in Gettysburg, fighting the rebs - more on him on the next blog posting) and traveled north - not too far north - to Lexington, just north of Port Huron. Our family cottage, which is now owned by one of my brothers, is on the banks of Lake Huron. What better place to spend a sunny and warm day-after-the-4th-of-July than at a summer cottage with family?

And to start this traditional day off, on the ride up we listened to WKNR and CKLW radio from the summer of 1967 - actual recordings that I have from that year 41 years ago. A perfect beginning.

Most of my childhood memories are of this place that my grandfather bought before I was born - I spent all of my summers here as a youth. Once again, the sites and smells took over.

Eating lunch at the local A&W, spending time at the beach, eating the traditional (in our family, at least) Italian soup and chicken, and, of course, visiting with extended family members made for a fun and relaxing day. Relatives that we hadn't seen in years paid us a surprise visit, which kind of made the day for me.

My son, Tom, pulled out his guitar and played a bit, a game of Bocce Ball was played, and, as twilight time took over on this day, a bonfire was lit. Marshmellow roasting and sparklers (for Rosalia and even a few of the adults) made for a fun evening.

It brought back very fond memories of my (not-so-long-ago) youth up there - the different phases of my younger days: grandpa and grandma, my dad, cousin Mike, and, of course, when Patty and I were first married and our eldest kids were little.

And that was my July 4th, 2008 weekend. A very American - or I should actually say, a very traditional American time - just like the ones we used to know.

Thursday, July 3, 2008


(For an update of this posting, please click here)

Recently, I had the distinct pleasure of taking part in what I'm sure would be considered a very unusual scenario: 19th century mourning. Specifically, Civil War era mourning. This living history event took place at Waterloo Farms in Waterloo, Michigan on June 28th and 29th.

Please allow me to explain a bit about mourning in the 1860's. First off, death happened quite frequently during the Civil War, and not only due to battle deaths (although over 600,000 men died either in battle or of disease during the four years of the war). Infant mortality rate was extremely high, in some cases nearly 50%; death during childbirth was the number one cause of a woman's death; and then there were the "everyday" causes: consumption (TB), influenza, cancer, pneumonia, etc.

As you can see, death during the 1860's was so very much a part of life - seemingly much more than in our modern society.

So, how did folks deal with death during the mid-Victorian period in American history? Here is a (very) basic mourning overview:

(from "Rachel Weeping: Mourning in 19th Century America" by Karen Rae Mehaffey) 'Americans responded to death as a constant companion, and even embraced it with resignation and ritual. Americans...were intimately acquainted with death. Victorians embraced mourning as a sub-culture. It impacted how people dressed, how they behaved in society, and even how they decorated their homes.'

'Women were responsible for mourning in the family, and carried the responsibility of preparing mourning garments and making sure everyone was dressed properly.'

Thusly, women went through several stages of mourning:

Deep Mourning - This was the first stage of mourning, and it immediately followed the death of a husband, wife, or child. A woman (let's say she's a widow) in deep mourning would wear all black, including, while out in public, gloves and a black veil over her face. She would not speak with anyone but her family or closest friends. She would not attend parties or get-togethers and would basically seclude herself from the public in general. She would stay in this deep mourning for at least a year and a day. Sometimes women would never come out of deep mourning.
Once the widow left deep mourning, she would then enter second mourning. At this stage she could stop wearing the veil in public and could begin to trim her bonnet with a little bit of white fabric. She could also wear decorative mourning buttons and jewelry.

The next mourning stage was called half mourning. This stage allowed the widow to reintroduce some color (purple, gray, lilac, etc.) back into their clothing. Dresses with bold prints were also acceptable fashion.

After a little over two years, the widow would store her mourning clothing and begin wearing her normal everyday wear.

For a man, mourning was quite different. Men were needed to take care of the family, therefore he was needed to return to his occupation as soon as the deceased was buried.

A male's mourning garb was his best (dark) suit with a weeper (made of crape) wrapped around the hatband of his hat. Although there are some differences of opinions, most agree that men also wore a black armband. A man might wear a black cockade on his lapel as well.

Once a widower's wife was buried, chances are pretty good that he might look for a new wife soon after - especially if he had young children at home. Here's the kicker: if he re-married shortly after his deceased wife was buried, his new wife would then mourn for the first wife, wearing all of the mourning clothing and going through the stages as descibed above!

I do not completely understand my interest in the mourning procedures of the 19th century, but I'm not alone in this infatuation. I have found many folks - especially in the reenacting hobby - who also have a strong interest in this as well.

During our mourning presentation in Waterloo, we not only showed what mourning was like in the home, but we also held a funeral, with a pall bearers, a procession to a graveyard, and a preacher reciting the 23rd Psalm - pretty much everything was accurate except a real body in the coffin (that's coming up in Hastings, Michigan July 19th and 20th!), and a burial.

As we proceeded with our scenario in Waterloo, I had more than one patron comment on how the respect that, at one time, was shown to the dead is long gone, that people would rather "party" instead of mourn, and the deceased is soon forgotten.

In many ways they are right. Oh, yes, we have the three day funeral and all that, but it is quite different today. I mean, I do believe that a party for the dearly departed is not such a bad thing. But, there should be more time and more ritual for the mourning process.
It's scenarios like this that help to bring history to life (so to speak!), hence the title "Living History." This is also why I reenact - this is my passion. And this is why I belong to more than one reenacting unit.

I must give thanks to Tonya Hunter (our "deep mourner") for putting together the scenario at Waterloo Farms where she is a member of the board of directors. You did an awesome job Tonya!

And many thanks to Sandy Melcher (our "half stage mourner" - see picture at left of both Sandy and Tonya) for all of her knowledge about not only the mourning practices of the 1860's, but her knowledge of the total social history of the Civil War era itself. As I told my wife (and, yes, to Sandy herself), I want to be the "male Sandy Melcher," and become this wealth of mid-19th century knowledge and information as Mrs. Melcher truly is. I have a lo-o-ong way to go to even be within the same league as Mrs. Melcher, but it gives me something to strive for!

Oh, and I cannot forget the mourning knowledge of my very good friend, Kim Parr, of the Crocker House Museum in Mt. Clemens. Another wealth of mourning knowledge!