Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stories of the Tillie Pierce House of Gettysburg

The restored Tillie Pierce Home

Tillie Pierce at the time of the battle

I am dedicating this post to Tillie Pierce of Gettysburg, one of the unsung and fascinating citizen heroes of that town during the horrific battle that took place there on the first three days of July in 1863. And for weeks before the battle and months after...

First, I'd like to begin by presenting segments that she wrote years after the events took place, eventually released as her remembrances in book form entitled "At Gettysburg, or What a Girl Saw and Heard of the Battle" under her married name Tillie Alleman.

Tillie Pierce was born in 1848 and, up until early adulthood, had lived all her life in the village of Gettysburg. Her father made his living as a butcher and the family lived above his shop in the heart of town. Tillie witnessed the entire battle at the age of 15 and published her observations twenty-six years after the event.
Tille attended Rebecca Eyster's Young Ladies Seminary, a finishing school near her home. She was in attendance at the school on June 26, 1863 when the cry, "The Rebels are coming!" was heard throughout the city streets.

"We were having our literary exercises on Friday afternoon, at our Seminary, when the cry reached our ears. Rushing to the door, and standing on the front portico we beheld in the direction of the Theological Seminary, a dark, dense mass, moving toward town. Our teacher, Mrs. Eyster, at once said:

'Children, run home as quickly as you can.'

"It did not require repeating. I am satisfied some of the girls did not reach their homes before the Rebels were in the streets.

"As for myself, I had scarcely reached the front door, when, on looking up the street, I saw some of the men on horseback. I scrambled in, slammed shut the door, and hastening to the sitting room, peeped out between the shutters.

"What a horrible sight! There they were, human beings! Clad almost in rags, covered with dust, riding wildly, pell-mell down the hill toward our home! Shouting, yelling most unearthly, cursing, brandishing their revolvers, and firing right and left.

"I was fully persuaded that the Rebels had actually come at last. What they would do with us was a fearful question to my young mind.

"Soon the town was filled with infantry, and then the searching and ransacking began in earnest.

"They wanted horses, clothing, anything and almost everything they could conveniently carry away.

"Nor were they particular about asking. Whatever suited them they took. They did, however, make a formal demand of the town authorities, for a large supply of flour, meat, groceries, shoes, hats and (doubtless, not least in their estimations), ten barrels of whisky; or, in lieu of this five thousand dollars.

"But our merchants and bankers had too often heard of their coming, and had already shipped their wealth to places of safety. Thus it was, that a few days after, the citizens of York were compelled to make up our proportion of the Rebel requisition."

On July 1st, as the sounds of the battle increased and the fighting neared her home, Tillie joined a neighbor, Mrs. Shriver, as she and her two children fled to her father's (Jacob Weikert) house on the slope near Round Top. Tillie's parents remained in town.
It was quite a treacherous journey along Taneytown Road.

"At last we reached Mr. Weikert's and were gladly welcomed to their home.

The Weikert Home, at the foot of the Round Tops

"It was not long after our arrival, until Union artillery came hurrying by. It was indeed a thrilling sight. How the men impelled their horses! How the officers urged the men as they all flew past toward the sound of the battle! Now the road is getting all cut up; they take to the fields, and all is in anxious, eager hurry! Shouting, lashing the horses, cheering the men, they all rush madly on.

"Suddenly we behold an explosion; it is that of a caisson. We see a man thrown high in the air and come down in a wheat field close by. He is picked up and carried into the house. As they pass by I see his eyes are blown out and his whole person seems to be one black mass. The first words I hear him say are: 'Oh dear! I forgot to read my Bible to-day! What will my poor wife and children say'

"I saw the soldiers carry him up stairs; they laid him upon a bed and wrapped him in cotton. How I pitied that poor man! How terribly the scenes of war were being irresistibly portrayed before my vision."

During the battle's second day fighting shifts to the area around Little Round Top. Tillie remains in the Weikert home carrying water to passing Union troops while others bake bread for the soldiers. Towards noon she witnesses an incident at the front of the house:

"This forenoon another incident occurred which I shall ever remember. While the infantry were passing, I noticed a poor, worn-out soldier crawling along on his hands and knees. An officer yelled at him, with cursing, to get up and march. The poor fellow said he could not, whereupon the officer, raising his sword, struck him down three or four times. The officer passed on. Little caring what he had done. Some of his comrades at once picked up the prostrate form and carried the unfortunate man into the house. After several hours of hard work the sufferer was brought back to consciousness. He seemed quite a young man, and was suffering from sunstroke received on the forced march. As they were carrying him in, some of the men who had witnessed this act of brutality remarked:

'We will mark that officer for this.'

"It is a pretty well established fact that many a brutal officer fell in the battle, from being shot other than by the enemy."

July 3

Lee aims his attack at the center of the Union line. The ferocity of the battle forces Tillie and the others to flee to a farm house farther from the fighting. Late in the day, as the battle subsides, the family decides to return to the Weikert farm:

"Toward the close of the afternoon it was noticed that the roar of the battle was subsiding, and after all had become quiet we started back to the Weikert home. As we drove along in the cool of the evening, we noticed that everywhere confusion prevailed. Fences were thrown down near and far; knapsacks, blankets and many other articles, lay scattered here and there. The whole country seemed filled with desolation.

"Upon reaching the place I fairly shrank back aghast at the awful sight presented. The approaches were crowded with wounded, dying and dead. The air was filled with moanings, and groanings. As we passed on toward the house, we were compelled to pick our steps in order that we might not tread on the prostrate bodies.

"When we entered the house we found it also completely filled with the wounded. We hardly knew what to do or where to go. They, however, removed most of the wounded, and thus after a while made room for the family.

"As soon as possible, we endeavored to make ourselves useful by rendering assistance in this heartrending state of affairs. I remember Mrs. Weikert went through the house, and after searching awhile, brought all the muslin and linen she could spare. This we tore into bandages and gave them to the surgeons, to bind up the poor soldier's wounds.

"By this time, amputating benches had been placed about the house. I must have become inured to seeing the terrors of battle, else I could hardly have gazed upon the scenes now presented. I was looking out of the windows facing the front yard. Near the basement door, and directly underneath the window I was at, stood one of these benches. I saw them lifting the poor men upon it, then the surgeons sawing and cutting off arms and legs, then again probing and picking bullets from the flesh.

"Some of the soldiers fairly begged to be taken next, so great was their suffering, and so anxious were they to obtain relief.

"I saw the surgeons hastily put a cattle horn over the mouths of the wounded ones, after they were placed upon the bench. At first I did not understand the meaning of this but upon inquiry, soon learned that that was their mode of administrating chloroform, in order to produce unconsciousness. But the effect in some instances were not produced; for I saw the wounded throwing themselves wildly about, and shrieking with pain while the operation was going on.

"To the south of the house, and just outside of the yard, I noticed a pile of limbs higher than the fence. It was a ghastly sight! Gazing upon these, too often the trophies of the amputating bench, I could have no other feeling, than that the whole scene was one of cruel butchery."

The battle's aftermath:

Hearing that her family is safe in town, it is decided that Tillie should remain at the Weikert farm for a few days after the battle. On July 5, Tillie and some friends climb to the crest of Little Round Top and survey the battlefield below:

"By this time the Union dead had been principally carried off the field, and those that remained were Confederates.

"As we stood upon those mighty boulders, and looked down into the chasms between, we beheld the dead lying there just as they had fallen during the struggle. From the summit of Little Round Top, surrounded by the wrecks of battle, we gazed upon the valley of death beneath. The view there spread out before us was terrible to contemplate! It was an awful spectacle! Dead soldiers, bloated horses, shattered cannon and caissons, thousands of small arms. In fact everything belonging to army equipments, was there in one confused and indescribable mass."

And, upon her return to her home on Baltimore Street:

" find no less than five Union soldiers in the house. They were all sick and disabled; two of them were captains, and were very badly wounded.. Mother nursed and dressed theur wounds during all the time of the battle..."

The book Tillie wrote afterwards has much more detail than the few lines here and is an incredible 1st person depiction of what the citizens of Gettysburg witnessed first hand.

The Weikert home still stands, although, from what I understand, it has gone through quite a bit of renovation over the years.

As you can see from the picture at the beginning of this post, Tillie's family home remains standing also. Through the 145+ years since the great battle, her house, too, has had extensive renovation applied, including a second front door when it was turned into a college dorm.

Tillie's home before restoration -compare this photo with the one at the top of this post

In 2006, new owners Keith and Leslie Grandstaff, took upon themselves the monumental task of renovating the historic home back to it's original 1860's splendor, inside and out. Once completed, the building then became the Tillie Pierce Bed & Breakfast and opened for business in 2007.

Now, if you recall, I have written of late of my and my family's vacation in Gettysburg in April of 2008. We had been there twice before in the two previous years. The big draw for me, this third time, was to be able to take the opportunity to stay in this historic house while wearing period clothing - this house in which the infamous Tillie Pierce lived, this house that saw the Yanks and Rebs, this house that became a Civil War hospital, this house that President Abraham Lincoln surely saw as he rode by on his horse to give his Gettysburg Address - - - a truly historical house in every sense of the word...and WE were going to stay in it!
It just doesn't get any better!
And, once we got there, it was everything I had hoped it would be. Here is what I initially wrote, along with some additions as I remember more:
We initially we had some concerns: it was pretty warm, the room we had, although fairly large (the suite), was too small to accommodate all seven of us, and my seven year old daughter, Rosalia, had a fear of staying there. As soon as we entered the home she began to cry. When asked what was wrong she said she could feel someone staring at her…someone who couldn’t be seen. Upon speaking with her afterwards she told me that whatever was there kept following her/us.
She was absolutely freaked out.

The front entranceway inside the Pierce home

Another concern was trying to keep the kids busy with no TV to watch. But 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 our family 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.

My brave daughter on the stairway

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!

After getting settled - and getting Rosalia to stop crying - we were invited by other members of our Civil War unit (we planned this vacation together) to watch the sunset from Little Round Top. And what a beautiful site that was!

Sunset from Little Round Top - my wife and son Tom

After, it was back to the Pierce home.
Everyone but me (or so I thought) 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 my 20 year old son, Tommy, did the same thing and got the same response that I got - nada. He would have been even cooler for a ghost hunter to see, 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 - nothing unusual in an old house -, a couple of raps - hmmm... -, and slight footsteps up in the garret (attic) - OK! Tom, who was in Tillie Pierce's room, said he heard the samething.

Tillie's Room where Tom slept

Could it be? One has to wonder...

Then there are the hallway lights. They kept shutting off. I would turn them back on, and minutes later they would shut off again. Do timers work in this way? Not any that I have seen.
My wife, by the way, refused to walk in the hallway alone. She did not like the feeling she had and would have me join her if she needed a towel or another item from the hall closet.

The upstairs hall leading to our suite

The tribute to Tillie at the staircase didn't help matters much for her!

This can be a little spooky at night with a single light shining upon the picture

My two other children, Rob and Miles, seem to take everything in stride and had no problems whatsoever.

Aside from the lights and the clear sound of footsteps, probably the next oddest thing I heard was how 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. As this occured, I made noise - rustling of paper, clearing my throat, etc., to see if extra sounds would make a difference. It didn't change a thing. The ticking remained very loud. Was it a ghost?
Hard to say. If it was a spirit of some sort, I think it liked us. Maybe because we were in period clothing and knew we were paying homage to them in a respectful way - 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 mentioned to me that he heard groans the previous morning – I didn’t tell anyone else in the family, and I asked him to do the same. 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...

Not too long after our excusion at the Tillie Pierce House, ghosthunters from the A&E show "Paranormal State" recorded their show from the house.
Now, if you'd like to see what they themselves had witnessed, watch the three clips (or google A&E Paranormal State).

What I found most interesting was when the ghosthunters on the show said the spirits seem more active when visitors are dressed in period clothing. And there we all were - seven of us, just a few months earlier, dressed as if it were 1863!

Some things they had happen to them did not occurr while we were there; the banging at 3 a.m., for instance.
But, my daughter's initial reaction, of which she still speaks of, really gets me to thinking. You must remember, this little girl grew up visiting period homes (monthly visits to Greenfield Village, Crossroads Village, as well as the various other museums around our area), so old homes and antiques are an everyday occurence for her.

I can't really explain what actually went on in that house. But, something did - three of us in my own family witnessed it, and the ghosthunters experienced something paranormal as well.

Staying in the Tillie Pierce House has truly been a highlight of any vacation I have ever taken so far. As one who loves history, this is MY Disney World, MY Caribbean cruise, MY tropical paradise.

A Family Photo taken by owner Keith Grandstaff

Would I stay here again after what we (and others) have experienced?
Oh yeah...without hesitation!
AND I would in period clothing to boot!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Participating in Living History Events

I participated with my military unit (as a civilian, of course) in a "Mourning Lincoln" presentation at the Plymouth Historical Museum in Plymouth, Michigan this past weekend.
Numerous events took place throughout the day, including a lecture on mourning practices of Lincoln's era in which the speaker, Elizabeth Kirstens, gave a fine and very interesting speech on that subject. Michigan's own Senator Jacob Howard (portrayed by living historian Dave Tennies) gave a speech that the actual Senator Howard originally gave back on April 25, 1865 - the same month and day as our event - although he cut it down dramatically from its original hour length (orators were very popular during this time and were highly sought after).

And, near the end of the day, another speaker (who's name escapes me) spoke of the death of Lincoln and of the events which immediately followed. There was an exact replica Lincoln coffin on display as well, of which our men in blue guarded throughout the day, taking turns at half hour intervals.

It was a day well spent in the past. It was a day where one could learn beyond what the school history books teach.
It was a day where history, once again, came to life.
Unfortunately, there are reenactors who do not like these types of living history presentations and refuse to participate. They prefer to be on the battlefield or (if civilian) only at a large reenactment.
To them I ask, "Why?" Events such as Mourning Lincoln are perfect for us to teach the public about our 19th century lives in an intimate setting. And it is ideal for us as living historians and reenactors to learn through the lecturers more about life as lived during the time we are representing.
Presentations such as Mourning Lincoln would almost never take place at a large reenactment, and that means the opportunity to present a very important scene in our nation's history is almost never shown.
Unfortunately, some feel it's just playing "dress up" when we do this sort of event.
To that I say "Hogwash!" (Sorry, Ladies, I hope I did not offend you with such language!)
Certainly we enjoy dressing up in period clothing. If we didn't, we'd be plain old ordinary modern day folk talking about the past - - - just like most history teachers in the public school system, in other words.
Dressing up in our 1860's (or whatever era you are recreating) clothing first of all gives the patron the (hopefully correct) idea that we are specialists in our field, that we have studied the era in which we are portraying. Dressing in accurate period clothing gives us an air of credibility.
Second, seeing folks in period clothing should also give the patron the feeling that they just may have stepped into the past, or at least has given them the chance to peer in on an in between past and present level. "Are these people really from the past? Are they ghosts?" Yes, we hear questions like this once in a while from the youngsters. Pretty cool, in a morbid sort of way.
Third, it gives many who may never attend a bonafide reenactment the opportunity to have a small glance at what one is like. It can help increase interest in our history passion, and that's a good thing.
And fourth, it gives us, as living historians and reenactors, the chance to teach history in a much more realistic way while giving us the opportunity to show history as lived and to teach the small nuances that history books in school never touch upon.

Whether we are at a major reenactment or at a small living history gathering, we are history come to life for the visitors. They are our captive audience. Remember - they have, more than likely, come to see us out of choice, not because they have to.
When you have a chance to participate in a living history presentation - especially one that may be the kind that could not take place at a regular reenactment (such as our Mourning Lincoln) - I hope you will consider doing it. You'll be in period clothing, you'll be with your friends and other like-minded people, and you just might teach someone a wonderful history lesson while learning one yourself!
Have a great reenacting/living history season!!


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

California Dreamin' - NOT!

I little political aside - - - -
I realize in the whole scheme of life, this may be considered trivial, but, in a way, it does impact everyone of us. I'm talking about the 21st century Obama-style lack of freedom of speech. I'm talking about the fact that even something as minor as a Miss USA contestant not being allowed to answer a question truthfully without having the media and the politically correct hound dogs come crashing in on her. Just in case you've been asleep:

When asked by judge Perez Hilton, an openly gay gossip blogger, whether she believed in gay marriage, Miss California, Carrie Prejean, said "We live in a land where you can choose same-sex marriage or opposite. And you know what, I think in my country, in my family, I think that I believe that a marriage should be between a man and a woman. No offense to anybody out there, but that's how I was raised."
In a video blog posted Sunday night, Perez Hilton called Prejean "a dumb b----." He later apologized in the blog, offering to take Prejean out for coffee and a "talk." (Yeah, after public backlash at his reaction backfired on him!)
"It did cost me my crown," Prejean said of her response on Billy Bush's show.. "I wouldn't have had it any other way. I said what I feel. I stated an opinion that was true to myself and that's all I can do."

Now, before anyone begins to tell me that those who disagree with her have the right to speak out, let me tell you something - yes, you do have the right to be against what she says. But, that's not enough. You folks will do your best to not just disagree with her, but to obliterate her, to make sure she'll never work again, to make sure she can never show her face again in the public eye.
That's not what freedom of speech is all about.
One of the more interesting comments made were from Keith Lewis, who runs the Miss California competition. He said. "As co-director of the Miss California USA, I am personally saddened and hurt that Miss California believes marriage rights belong only to a man and a woman," Lewis said in a statement. "I believe all religions should be able to ordain what unions they see fit. I do not believe our government should be able to discriminate against anyone and religious beliefs have no politics in the Miss California family."
Um..."religious beliefs have no politics in the Miss California family?" Is that what he said? Then why ask a loaded political question?
It was a set up by the left, folks. But, just as with the Rush Limbaugh set up a few weeks ago, it backfired on them. Middle America - the silent majority - is making some noise lately. We see the direction our country is heading and we're speaking out (the Tea Parties across America last week was a fine example!). Government and media are both losing their control over mainstream America. Thomas Jefferson said that "Every generation needs a new revolution," and I believe that one is about to start.

Back to the past the next blog - - - - - - -

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Get Your Family Stories While You Can

"When I was a kid, we didn't have TV's. We listened to the radio!"
I must have heard my mother say this over a hundred times. As a kid, it was difficult for me to imagine life without TV. I am part of the TV generation, and to think of evenings without one was unfathomable.
I also remember, as a youngster, looking at pictures of Model T's. My grandfather picked up the book and proceeded to tell me (in his wonderful Italian-American broken English that I can still hear to this day) how he witnessed a man getting run over by one of these horseless carriages. After the ordeal, the 'victim' picked himself up from the road, with little more than a few cuts and bruises.
I remember my father telling me about how poor they were during the depression in the 1930's. One of the treats he and his brother wanted badly was to have 'Wheaties' cereal - "the Breakfast of Champions." Unfortunately, their parents would not splurge on such a wasteful product so, instead, the brothers would have cookies, cake, and any other homemade treats their mother and father baked and mix it all together in a cereal bowl with milk. That was their cereal! And my dad continued eating his 'cereal' that way his entire life.
These are just a few of the many precious memories I have of my parents and grandparents. My mother, lucky for me, is still alive and of sound mind and body, and is still telling tales around the supper table. But, my father and grandparents have been gone now for many years.
I write this to try to get any reader of this blog to sit themselves down and write out the memories they have of their parents, grandparents, and even great grandparents (if they can). Also to speak with uncles & aunts, great uncles and great aunts, elderly distant cousins, etc., to get even more stories of their family history. No, not the gossipy ones that were once only spoken about in whispers, but the fun stories that can be passed on to the next generation.
I'd like to share one such story about my great great grandfather, Nelson Robertshaw, as told to Nelson's grandson Bud Monterosso. It takes place around the year 1860 in upper Canada:
Nelson gave Bud a glimpse of his early life that we in the 21st century may find very difficult to comprehend in comparison to a child’s life today. In the 19th century, children began working almost as soon as they could walk. In many cases, they were even apprenticed out - actually living with their teacher - to learn a trade. I’m pretty sure Nelson was not apprenticed out, but I do believe that he did live with his ‘teachers,’ the lumbermen, in the lumbercamps. According to Bud, Nelson began working with the local lumberers when he was only eight years old. He began his ‘career’ by using an axe to strip the smaller branches off of the trees that had been felled by the lumbermen. (Can you imagine giving an eight-year-old an axe today? Social services would be knocking on your door in a heartbeat!). He then would take those branches and drag them into a large pile on which to build a bonfire. I would imagine that in the long cold months of early autumn through early spring in northern Ontario, the bonfire was the place to be! Besides the heat from the fire, a nip of whiskey was also a good way for the lumbermen to keep the chill off in the Canadian freeze, and Nelson, at that tender age of eight, was given his first drink while working with the lumberers. They’d say to him, “Take a drink, it’ll warm you up!”
I spoke with Bud a few dozen times to get stories such as this. You see, Nelson and his wife lived with Bud's family in the 1920's and 1930's so Bud, ever the family historian without even realizing it, would ask his grandparents questions and, luckily for me and other descendants of Nelson (and his wife Linnie) remembered their answers. Bud is no longer with us, having passed away three years ago, but because of him I have been able to put flesh on the bones of my great great grandparents.
And this is exactly what I am trying to get you folks to do!
And do it now, before it's too late. If I had waited just a couple years longer, many other stories from other relatives would have been forever lost.
Please take some time and talk to the elders of the family. They enjoy speaking of the past - digging into the recesses of their minds - and to have an avid listener to boot will truly make their day!
And then write down your own memories for your descendants...something like, " When I was a kid, our TV was in black and white - we didn't have color - and we only had 5 stations..."


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't You Just Love the Media?

Here is the headline in the April 4 edition of Newsweek Magazine:

The End of Christian America

The percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 points in the past two decades.

And the article goes on to explain how the number of Americans who claim no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990, rising from 8 to 15 percent.

Now, smack dab in the middle of the article, the author says this:
Let's be clear: while the percentage of Christians may be shrinking, rumors of the death of Christianity are greatly exaggerated. Being less Christian does not necessarily mean that America is post-Christian. A third of Americans say they are born again; this figure, along with the decline of politically moderate-to liberal mainline Protestants, led the ARIS authors to note that "these trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more 'evangelical' outlook among Christians." With rising numbers of Hispanic immigrants bolstering the Roman Catholic Church in America, and given the popularity of Pentecostalism, a rapidly growing Christian milieu in the United States and globally, there is no doubt that the nation remains vibrantly religious—far more so, for instance, than Europe.

And then says: fewer people now think of the United States as a "Christian nation" than did so when George W. Bush was president (62 percent in 2009 versus 69 percent in 2008).

Don't you love how the media can twist and turn words - headlines - and then contradict themselves within a few paragraphs?
If - and it is a very big IF - religion is faltering in America, it is because the very same lemmings who follow the obama regime and worship at the feet of opra winfrey believe what the media shove in their faces. Why else would the percentage of believers change in such a very short time?
It's been over the last few years that the media has been pushing their anti Christian / anti religion / anti tradition in general - quite heavily - and promoting - again quite heavily - all things secular. Sometimes in subtle ways...for instance, here we are in the most holy of Christian holidays - Easter - and what is the Disney Channel showing this evening? "Hallowe'en in April" movies. Hallowe'en, a most decidedly non-Christian holiday, being promoted on the most Christian of Holidays.
Um...Hallowe'en's in October. Keep it there.
(This is not a knock on Hallowe'en, by the way, lest anyone thinks it is).
Where are the religious movies that the stations used to show every year (The Ten Commandments, Jesus of Nazareth, The Greatest Story Ever Told)?

Although many deny it, the media truly does control the lives of the majority, and not just in our belief system. Another good example is how they promoted obama's run for the presidency:
Time has featured Obama on its cover 14 times since Jan. 1, 2008. Newsweek was close behind, featuring the now-president-elect on 12 of its issues. Time has had 52 issues in 2008, so Obama has been featured on more than one-in-four of its covers, or about 27% of the time.

That number, though, goes even higher if you include how many times Obama has appeared in the "skybox" -- 11 times.

That means Obama's face or name has somehow made it onto the cover of Time just about half of the time this year (25 out of 52 issues -- 48%)

Newsweek has had 49 issues this year so far (through Dec. 22), so Obama has been featured on about a quarter of its covers as well.

In contrast, the Republican nominee, John McCain, made the cover of Newsweek just four times the entire year, and twice he shared it -- once with Obama and once with Sarah Palin.

Tell me there's not a media bias - if you do you are either fooling yourself or have your head in the sand.
(By the way, I am not a McCain fan - The Constitution Party or even Ron Paul was/is more my speed. But, neither one made any media inroads. Hmmmm....)
Hence my point - the media chooses and the mindless lemmings follow.

As for me, I follow my Christian beliefs that Jesus Christ is the one and only way, no matter what the media spews. I don't follow their so-called popularity polls.
As for me, contrary to what the media (and the actors) says, I believe in the tradtional family.
As for me, I vote for who I believe to be the best person for the job. I must admit, however, that if I see the media rallying around a certain candidate or "idea" as they did during the 2008 election, I immediately become skeptical.

Anger toward media is not a new phenomenon, by the way. Here is what Thomas Jefferson, our Nation's third president, had to say about newspapers:
"I do not take a single newspaper, nor read one a month, and I feel myself infinitely the happier for it.
"Advertisements contain the only truths to be relied on in a newspaper."

Our forefathers were truly smart men.

PS Don't even get me going on the THEORY (remember, it IS a theory) of evolution that the media passes as actuality!


Friday, April 10, 2009

Are You a 9 to 5 Reenactor?

My daughter is a true living historian, even when I took her picture here at Crossroads Village at the age of seven.

So, here it is, the early springtime of the year. As a reenactor living in the northern state of Michigan, it's time to begin our preparations for the upcoming season of time travel. We're going to have our wall tent water-proofed (it's been years - it's due), my wife has been a crazy lady sewing her new dress as well as completing her bonnet - plus she wants to make me a new waistcoat!, we had our spring civilian meeting, and we're even going to a Lincoln mourning presentation in a couple weeks at the Plymouth (Michigan) Historical Museum.
One has to admit, a whole lot of time, effort, and money goes into our...ahem..."hobby."
And most of us want that feeling of "being there," do we not? We strive for that "seeing the elephant" feeling that comes on those rare instances where your mind and body seemingly gets transported back to the early 1860's - I LIVE for that instant!
I have found that it can be rather difficult to transport oneself back in time while the general modern day public is milling about. I mean, even though they are a big part of the reason we do what we do, the sight of shorts and tank tops does take away the time travel experience.
But, after the park closes and the public leaves, that's when one can truly make the attempt to "see the elephant." You look around and all you see are others dressed as you are - all in their 1860's finest. And in the distance you can hear a fiddle playing. maybe a parlor game is taking place in the tent a few down from yours.' And if you are lucky enough to be in a historic open air Village/museum, then the period structures will add to the "I am really in 1863" experience.
It just doesn't get any better!
Then, just as your mind and body are about to transport you, seemingly literally, back in time, you hear it - - - the sound of the baseball announcer on someone's portable TV. And, as you turn your head, someone else just pulled out there lap top computer and is sitting - in period clothing - under their fly, whittling away on Facebook. Now, you look over to another area and what do you see? Reenactors - not patrons who forgot to leave, but honest to goodness reenactors - in shorts, tank tops, sweat pants...
In my opinion, the reenactors/living historians that I am most impressed with are the ones who remain in the period clothing and personas for the whole weekend, including when there are not patrons about. We in my family do not even bring a change of clothing to any of the events, unless it's extra period clothing. I fully agree with a fellow living historian who said, "Nothing annoys me faster than the sweatshirts-and-tennis-shoes-at-5-O'clock-crowd. If you are camping in authentic camp you should stay in period dress all weekend. People that don't destroy the mood for the rest of us."

And I can just hear the whining - - "I'm so HOT!" "I've been in these clothes all day." And my favorite - - "YOU try wearing a corset all day!"
Well, we're all hot and sweaty. But so were the folks we're trying to emulate. And, yes, the women back then wore corsets all day and into the evening. The greater majority of men did not wear corsets, and neither will I (although there were male corsets still being worn during the Civil War era, but that fashion was fading fast). To be honest, my wife prefers her corset over her bra - she feels it's more comfortable.
Don't get me wrong, the sack coat does come off while in my camp, but it goes back on if we decide to take a nighttime walk.
Folks, this is not a 9 to 5 job. This is something that we all love dearly, that we work on and spend our hard-earned money on. If you must wear modern clothing, watch TV, or play on the computer, then get a camper, get a motel room, or go home for the night.
If you truly want to get into that historical persona that one would hope for, please leave your 21st century lives behind. It's only for a couple days.


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Music of the Civil War Era – to get you in the mood

The season is coming up fast - - - - -

It seems that most major wars tend to bring out the best in music. The Vietnam era of the 1960’s produced bands like the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Byrds, CCR, Mama’s and Papa’s, and the Rolling Stones, who amassed a remarkable collection of hit singles and/or albums, as did the Motown label in general. And we can’t forget all of the one hit wonders of the period.

The music of World War II is still as recognizable today by people of all ages as it was when first released. Who doesn’t know Glenn Miller’s “In The Mood,” or the Andrews Sisters “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy?” The big band sound flourished with other artists during this time period such as Benny Goodman, Harry James, and Louis Jordan, as did the vocal sounds of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, and Perry Como.

Thirty years before WWII was ‘The War To End All Wars,’ more commonly known as World War I. This period in time, too, produced a large selection of popular tunes that are still familiar to many people: “Over There,” “Oh Johnny Oh,” “How Ya Gonna Keep ‘em Down On The Farm,” and “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary.” Artists like Al Jolson, Billy Murray, and Nora Bayes were the rave of their day.

Musically, the Civil War era was not unlike war times of the future. In fact, many songs played and sung during the 1860’s are still, over 140 years later, well known today.

One must remember that music of the 19th century was not perceived in the same way as we listen to it in our modern times. Obviously, there were no records, tapes, or CD’s available: it wasn’t until 1879 that Thomas Edison was able to record for posterity the human voice (anyone know what that very first recording was? A recitation of ‘Mary Had A Little Lamb’).

To listen to music during the era of the Civil War was to hear it live, either by a fife and drum corp while in camp, a brass band play in the village square on a hot summer night, a family member who could play the guitar, piano, or fiddle, or even hearing a lone voice singing to pass the time away. Sometimes learned by ear or, in many cases, played from sheet music purchased at a store or from a catalogue, it was in this way that the folk music of the period was passed along, family member to family member, parent to child to grandchild. There were no ‘hit songs’ in the way we recognize the phrase. No top 40 or oldies. All music belonged to everybody. Songs that were popular during the Revolutionary War such as “Yankee Doodle,” “Soldier Will You Marry Me,” “Road To Boston,” or “Barbara Allen” remained popular 90 years later during the War Between the States. The music told a story in song, many times encapsulating the events of the day (“Fifteen Miles On the Erie Canal” comes to mind).

Of course, during the Civil War, there were plenty of new tunes being composed such as “Dixie’s Land,” written shortly before the War began and was said to be one of President Lincoln’s favorites. Now just known as “Dixie,” it is as well known today as it was during the rebel uprising. But, although it has become the Southern National Anthem of sorts, the tune was written in New York City.

Like Dixie’s Land, many of the songs written in the period just before and during the war were distinctly north or south: Kingdom Coming, Battle Cry of Freedom, We Are Coming Father Abraham, I’m Nothing But A Plain Old Soldier, Marching Through Georgia, John Brown’s Body, and Just Before the Battle Mother were very popular in the north. Bonnie Blue Flag, The Bright Sunny South, Cumberland Gap, Goober Peas, and The Homespun Dress all have a decidedly southern flavor to them.

And then there were the songs that were very popular on both sides of the battle: Lorena, Johnny Is Gone For A Soldier, Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!, Why Have My Loved Ones Gone, Shady Grove, Wayfaring Stranger, and Bring My Brother Back To Me.

I also do not want to leave out what has become probably the most poignant tune of the Civil War – surprisingly written 130 years after the war ended – Ashokan Farewell by Jay Unger for Ken Burn’s phenomenal Civil War series on PBS. An amazing piece of music.

To listen to this music – both north and south – brings the Civil War home for me personally. One can hear the sorrow of the loved ones left behind as the boys marched off to battle in so many of the lyrics. And yet, the ‘pride for country’ in the patriotic numbers are as strong today as they were 140-odd years ago. To every Civil War event we head I throw on my music to help get me in the mood.

All of the above listed tunes are readily available on various CD’s and tapes by what I like to call musical re-enactors. A musical re-enactor, in my book, is one who faithfully interprets period music in the way that it may have originally been played or sung, whether in a music hall, home parlor, or in a camp.

For the Civil War era, here are a few musical re-enactors and their CD’s that I highly recommend. Most are available at many of the sutlers at the larger re-enactments like Jackson, as well as on or even at Greenfield Village:

Amy Miller & Carson Hudson Jr. - "Hard Times: Stephen Foster Remembered." My absolute favorite of any of my 60 or so Civil War era CD's. In fact, last year I dedicated a blog to this set. Stephen Foster Remembered It is very traditional - not professional - sounding, played on period instruments.

Camp Chase Fife and Drums – anything by them - the best out there for fife and drum music

Linda Russell – “Stephen Foster Civil War Songs” and “Stephen Foster Songs – Parlor, Minstrel, Dance, and Instrumentals.” Wonderful ‘upper-class’ style music done for the ‘rich folk.’ On period instruments to boot.

Wayne Erbsen – He has numerous Civil War CD’s, including “The Home Front,” “Love Songs of the Civil War,” “Ballads and Songs of the Civil War,” “Southern Soldier Boy,” and “Battlefield Ballads of the Civil War,” among others, all done in a very ‘little cabin home’ style.

Soundtrack: More Songs and Music from Gettysburg – Better than the original soundtrack. A mix of fife and drum, brass, and traditional vocals. Professional sounding.

Acoustic Shadows of the Blue and Gray – “Echoes Through Time”. Excellent sitting around the campfire style. All the hits all the time.

Dodworth Saxhorn Band – “Home Sweet Home.” Great brass band music – very traditional.

Jay Ungar & Molly Mason – “Civil War Classics: Live At Gettysburg College.” Another collection of the big hits of the period done in the traditional style. Includes ‘Hard Crackers.’

Soundtrack: Cold Mountain – This has perhaps the finest version of ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ I have ever heard, sung by Detroiter Jack White.

Jim Taylor – “The Civil War Collection.” A collection of parlor and dance instrumentals with period instruments.

Olde Towne Brass – “The Blue and Grey Olio.” Battlefield, concert hall, and parlor instrumentals. 36 known and not-so-well-known period dance tunes.

Camptown Shakers – “Tooth & Nail.” Very back woods with songs popular in both the north and south.

Colonial Traditions – “Early American Traditional Collection.” Colonial, yes, but many of the tunes were still played during the Civil War era. Hammered dulcimer instrumentals.

There are plenty more CD’s available. These are just a few of my particular favorites, and all are done as if they were recorded during that time.

Choose whatever style of music happens to appeal to you, but, as a re-enactor, do yourself a favor and purchase at least some period music. It truly adds to our moods as we travel to a re-enactment, and I’m certain it will do the same for you.