Sunday, February 28, 2010

For Social History, Don't Over-look Books Geared Toward the Youth

I have a pretty large history book collection...literally hundreds. No, I don't sit and read each one front to back. Rather, I pick and choose what I'm interested in at any particular time. In doing so I never cease to find other wonderful bits of information that'll keep me bopping around in the research mode.
There are a few books, however, that I do read front to back. My latest is a wonderfully condensed version of the life of the Lincolns called The Lincolns: A Scrapbook Look at Abraham and Mary by Candace Fleming - a wonderfully engulfing (and quick) read that gives a fine overview without going into minute detail on the lives of Abraham and Mary. It is loaded with original photographs, which helps greatly to visually bring the Lincoln's to life. I also have last year's book about our 16th president,
A. Lincoln: A Biography by Ronald C. White, and found that to be much more detailed and yet not boring in the least.
I can tell you, however, when I am looking for that certain something I need about Mr. Lincoln, chances are I will grab the scrapbook, for it's lay out is very user-friendly and, dare I say, geared toward a younger age of readers.
I have found history books for the youth market can be much more interesting and, in most cases, they cover different aspects of history than the so-called scholarly books. For instance, Bobbie Kalman has written countless social history books, covering angles in American history that most adult books over-look. If you recall my blog from last September, History in School Musings, I wrote how I did not do well in history class while in school. Covering all of the political dealings and many of the wars just didn't pique my interest as much as learning about everyday life of the settlers and pioneers. But, there were very few books around at that time that dealt with everyday life in American history (that has changed quite dramatically in the decades since - there are quite a few new social history books readily available today thankfully). And those that were available - this is during the early 1970's - were so hard to find. That's probably why I enjoyed going to Greenfield Village ( ) so often, because it actually dealt with the lives of the average people in history (OK, I know that Thomas Edison, the Wright Bros., and Henry Ford were not your average everyday people, but they began that way!).
So, authors such as Bobbie Kalman and others have, over the last 20 years or so, printed books that deal strictly with the social history of the 18th and 19th centuries. Ms. Kalman's collection includes Early Schools, Early Pleasures and Pastimes, Early Travel, Early Artisans, Early City Life, Early Farm Life, Early Village Life, Early Health and get the idea. She has many more than what I've listed and they are written for the youth but have enough detailed information that adults can enjoy (and learn from) them as well.
There is another book in which I am particularly fond of. It's called and I can't think of a better book that puts flesh on the bones about this era in American history.
My own review of this book on states,

"There are times when history books written for the younger set are wonderful sources of information that most 'adult' (or mature) history books do not touch upon. And "A Pioneer Sampler" is one of those books. It is written in storyform about the daily lives of the Robertson family, pioneers living on a backwoods farm in the 1840's. Throughout this 237 page book we learn, in a fun and interesting way, how this family dealt with the everyday living that a typical family of the time might have lived: their chores, crafts, eating habits, their spare time. Tools used, how to milk a cow, making maple sugar, harvest time, visiting a general store, building a much interesting historical living written in a very simplistic manner. Interspersed throughout are sidelines of information pertaining to the subject being written. For instance, there is a chapter about a peddler's visit to the family and the families reaction to this traveling salesman. But, at the end of the chapter, there are a few pages thrown in speaking of individual peddler's trades and how they do their crafts. Most of the chapters are set up in this way, which adds greatly to understanding more fully the chapters. I would love to see more books in this form for other era's in American history, as this style or history writing can entertain and teach all - kids as well as adults - who have an interest. Highly recommended."

Then there is the fantastic collection of books by Eric Sloane ( many of which deal with tools
A Museum of Early American Tools, covered bridges and barns American Barns and Covered Bridges, and numerous other over-looked factions of everyday life. In one particular book he expanded on this concept in a unique way toshow life in 1805 America -
Diary of an Early American Boy: Noah Blake 1805, in which he uses a unique and interesting idea: take a diary of a 15 year old boy and write a virtual living history book around it by interspersing the original 1805 writings of Noah Blake with Mr. Sloanes own knowledge of the period.
But, I must say, my favorite books by Sloane are The Seasons of America Past, Our Vanishing Landscape, and
American Yesterday.
I have written reviews for the Seasons of America Past and American Yesterday on Amazon and shall like to present them here:
The Seasons of America Past
"Possibly as a result of long dependence upon strong electric lighting, we seem to have much poorer night vision today than the average man had a century or two ago."
It's this sort of historical information that brings the past to life. As a social historian (not accredited, mind you, but I'll go against most any so-called history major), I spend much time and money searching out tid-bits of this type to help give me the understanding of the ways and lives of times past. Seasons of America Past by Eric Sloane is an excellent source of American life in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Taking the reader through a full year of everyday life - month by month - Mr. Sloane shows through his many sketches and fluid writing so many aspects of the lives of our ancestors (including what was most likely considered mundane by those who lived it!) that most supposed historians do not even touch upon. Put into a seasonal order, one will see how each of our four seasons affected the lives of our long past relatives. Here are a few more bits of information strewn throughout this book: "May was once the season for sending May baskets, now a forgotten custom. The first spring flowers were gathered by young girls and left in baskets on the doorsteps for their parents..." "The American farmer...drank cider daily at his table instead of water or milk..." "Plow Monday was the first day after the end of Christmas festivities, when the back-to-work spirit started with getting all farm equipment in shape." "Stump pulling was one of the few cash businesses, and at twenty five cents a stump - the standard price in 1850 - a man could pull twenty to fifty stumps a day and make a most exceptional living." "Independence Day...was first ushered in by bell-ringing and shooting. When Chinese firecrackers entered the scene of Independence Day (in the early 1800's), bell-ringing vanished." "Today the word PICKLE brings to mind a prepared cucumber, but pickle in the old days was a verb that referred to the...process and not to the actual product." 149 pages filled with everyday life of times gone by. Winter clothing, ice houses, broom making, sugaring time, seasonal cooking, wells, farm sleds and sleighs, spinning wheels, gathering of splint wood for baskets, herb dyes and the colors they made, and so much more packed into an easy to read format. With this and other books by Eric Sloane, as well as the wonderful 'Everyday Life' books (such as 'Expansion of Everyday Life') one can almost feel as if they can live in a different time."


American Yesterday
"Folks, these books by Eric Sloane are a wealth of information at such a reasonably low price. If you are interested in the way our ancestors lived, or just have a want in knowing about the daily lives of average Americans from the late 1700's through the early 1900's then these series of books by Mr. Sloane are what you are looking for. In "American Yesterday," Mr. Sloane explores the church, home, town, and occupations of the above stated time period. In particular, he writes of the details that many historians never seem to think of. For one small example, in the chapter about the church, descriptions of the pews that those from the past sat in are given in great detail. He also describes what a typical Sunday sevice was like, from the tolling of the church bells to seating arrangements to heating (or lack of, as the case may be). The homes that our ancestors lived in are given equal time as well. He goes into detail in describing the differences between city and rural (or farm) houses. He tells of clapboards, hipping joints, lean-to's, and braces, as well as the different stylings and shapes of the homes. Full descriptions of furniture are given, from pine-rockers to bedsteps to dressers to tubs to cradles. The pantry and its use is explained in great detail, as is the cellar. Next we head into town, and not even many living history museums can show what it was like in comparison with Mr. Sloane's descriptions. From traveling the distance to the village (over the rough roads, through a covered bridge, etc.) to the sights and sounds of the village - it's all here, and written in a way that one can envision with all their senses what it was like. Even a history of streets is given! The section on occupations gives the reader the knowledge that not everyone was a farmer or merchant in the old days. Ice cutters, grindstone workers, sandwich sign men, loggers, wrights (wheel, mill, carriage, etc.), blacksmiths - so many jobs that no longer exist, for better or worse, because of modern technology. I find interesting the comparisons from yesterday to today that are interspersed through out the text. Eric Sloane's books are easy to read and fully illustrated by his own sketches. If you want to know in detail of times past then you cannot go wrong in purchasing any of Mr. Sloane's books."

And here's a quick story about how I found the final book I am including in this entry: As a public school custodian, one of the rooms I clean nightly is the elementary school library, which caters to kindergarten through 5th graders. As I was vacuuming the carpet, a book on display caught my eye - it was a book about mills, something I had never seen in any of the school libraries. I have a keen interest in mills, especially gristmills, due to their over-looked - yet so very important - positions in virtually every aspect of our pre-20th century history. I glanced through the pages quickly - I knew I had to own it. I wrote out the info, went home after work, and immediately ordered it. The name? Mill by David MacAulay. After reading the entire thing I wrote another Amazon review:

"This is a fascinating account of the life and times of a millwright and his trade. Details on choosing a location for the mill, building the mill, and how the machinery to grind the grain worked puts the reader in the position as the millwright himself. This book is written as part history book, part informational, and even part journal, using fictional diary entries to give the reader a sense of the everyday life of a miller. A touch of drama is thrown in as we read of mill-workers who are injured and/or killed while on the job -
"1864 August 15: Mary McDonnell was drawn into the machinery by the belting today and lost her right arm below the elbow. I fear the heat will not help her recovery
August 17: Mary McDonnell died today, the infection having spread too quickly from her injury. I will send her wages on to her mother in Southbridge."
This book is supposedly written for children - I first discovered it in an elementary school library - but I find it more suitable for adults. I have found that many history books geared toward the younger set can have information not found in the more adult-oriented books. The Mill by David Macaulay is one of them. The illustrations themselves are very well done, and the details of running a mill is probably the best I have seen thus far.
Great reading about the lifeblood of a 19th century community."

When searching out social history, remember not to over-look the books meant for school-age children. There are wonderful gems waiting to be found amongst them that the so-called scholarly books rarely seem to touch upon.

(I'll write an entry on the fine social history books that have been written for the adult market soon.)


Thursday, February 25, 2010 Reviews and Why I May Stop Writing Them

I used to frequently write reviews on the shopping site. As of this writing I have 181 items reviewed, from CD's to books to DVD's. Most are pretty positive reviews.
But, I'm not writing reviews nearly as often as I used to. The reason for that is a few years ago the powers that be at Amazon decided to allow comments to be made from readers about the reviews written.
I didn't like that.
I found that there are those who just want to cause a stir no matter what. There is name calling, accusations, major bantering, snide remarks...even on good reviews.
For example, I wrote this review a number of years ago on a book called "Inventing Christmas: How Our Holiday Came to Be." I liked it so much I gave it the highest rating - 5 stars.
Here's what I wrote:

This book is such an amazing find! It tells the whole celebration of the Christmas holiday, from it's pre-Christian pagan celebrations, through the 20th century. Particularly interesting is how it became a Christian Holiday a few hundred years after the birth of Christ. But the book also covers how Santa Claus came to be, the history of the Christmas Tree, carols, and a pretty extensive article on Charles Dickens 'A Christmas Carol.'
The author, Jock Elliott, is probably the foremost collector of Christmas memorabelia, and through many color photos has shared some of his extensive collection with us. The man even has his letters to Santa from the 1920's! But, most impressive of all (to me!) is his 'A Christmas Carol' collection. He has a copy of the original first edition from 1843, as well as the original newspaper advertisement for the book from that same year! And, yes, Mr. Elliott shares this with us, too.
I've compared his history of the holiday with other books I own and I feel I can safely say that Mr. Elliott has done his research. His writing style is very entertaining and easy to follow, so the younger set can enjoy this book, too.
All in all, this is one of the most entertaining books I've read on the Christmas holiday. I guess if I had one complaint it would be for Mr. Elliott to maybe add a bit about the Reason for the Season - Jesus Christ.
Very highly recommended.

Do you find anything wrong with this review? It's upbeat, gives snippets of what the reader will find inside, and comes highly recommended.
But look at a comment I received on my review (printed here exactly as written):
christ is not the reason for the season. In fact the book is showing just that. chirstianity adopted the holiday but they do NOT own it, nor is this book about making you feel safer in your current beliefs. It is about learning something new... obviously you are not capable of that.
Nice, huh?
I did respond, explaining (nicely) that the commentator was obviously...not capable of comprehending what I wrote in my review.

There are numerous other comments made to many of the other reviews I have written, too many in a stand-offish manner.
By allowing these comments Amazon has taken the fun out of review writing.
So, I pretty much stopped.
I have no problem of people voting on the reviews. That's a mainstay and I actually like that. But, I do not like being attacked...even on what I thought was a decent review. And I have no choice at what comments are printed. I had asked if certain comments could be removed due to the what I felt was an abusive tone, but was told that there was nothing threatening and were just opinions.
At least on my blog I can choose not to publish whatever comments I deem 'unworthy.' I have yet to do this, however, because the few I have received that were unfavorable were written respectfully. I can accept constructive criticism and differences of opinions if written respectfully, which can be a rarity on Amazon.

What does this have to do with history you may ask?
The greater majority of my reviews are of items historical in nature: period dramas on DVD, social history books, etc.
Maybe I'll just write my reviews here instead and include a link for anyone who might be interested in purchasing the item.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tales of a Male Civilian Coordinator

I have been told that I'm a rarity - I am a male civilian coordinator.
Yes, you heard correctly: a male civilian coordinator.
"But, aren't men supposed to be in the military, fighting?" you may ask.
Most are, and that's a good thing. It'd be hard to have a Civil War reenactment without the men fighting the battles, right?

Civilian Men of the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society

But, in reality, the average guy fighting in the American Civil War was around 25 years old. I am nearly twice that age. Yes, I do realize that men my age fought, but that was pretty rare. Plus, I have two sons in the military unit already. Muskets aren't cheap, you know. And neither are the leathers. And, to be honest, I'd rather spend my weekends with my wife. I mean, I work 40 hours a week, usually opposite hours of my wife, who also works 40 hours a week, so we don't get to see each other as much as we'd like. So, by portraying a male of the early 1860's I can spend more time with her. And, in this way, she will enjoy these time-travel excursions a bit more.
Now I have found that virtually every other unit I know that I reenact with have women as their civilian coordinators. And their civilian contingent is made up of mainly women as well. Like there were no males left at home in the early 1860's.
Slowly, however, we are finding more and more men taking on the impression of a civilian during the Civil War era. And, for someone like me it's a welcome sight. When I first began my civilian impression, men in the civilian contingency were few and far between, and those that spent their time in the civilian camps were often referred to as "one of the women" by the men in the military. A supposed dig.
But, guess what? Over the last few years more and more men are joining the citizen ranks, giving the visitor a more well-rounded lesson of life on the homefront.

Home crafts such as rag rug making was an everyday occurrence in the 1860's

In a way I was a sort of pioneer, I guess.
And I continue to be voted in as the civilian coordinator!
This all came about due to the growing civilian contingency. The 21st Michigan (one of the units in which I belong) decided to add a civilian coordinator to it's roster of "leaders." I was asked, was elected, and now have served five years in this position. In that time we have grown from a wallflower-type group of less than a dozen civilians to an out-front large collection of progressive living historians. I like to think it's because that we hold period dress meetings where we practice our 1st person, study period-correct clothing, and work on our impressions. And I feel it's because of these meetings that we now have a farmer, a mid-wife, a postmaster (yours truly), a laundress, a school teacher, a Michigan senator (Senator Jacob Howard), a Quaker abolitionist (Laura Haviland), a preacher's wife, a watergirl, fiddle player, and, coming soon, a sheriff based on an actual Michigan sheriff.

The 21st Michigan Laundress
"Two cents to wash a pair o' socks. 'Course, it's half off iffin' you only got one leg!"

We also have various members that demonstrate period-correct crafts such as a spinster, a woodworker, knitting, crotcheting, quilting, tatter, rugmaking, and a butter maker. And, as I said, we also work on our 1st person language...doing our best to stay away from words and phrases not used during the era we are representing. It's really not as hard as one might think. We study letters, diaries, and read books written in the period. And, the replicas of the actual etiquette books truly help with our mannerisms. By mixing it all together we feel we are fairly close to what the one from the early 1860's may have been like. Well, we still have to work on it, of course, but we're getting there.
Then, after the discussions and practicing is done, we'll play a parlor game such as Questions and Answers. Great fun!
I hold these meetings twice a year - in the spring at my home and in the fall at another member's home. We all dress in our period clothing (except for the newbies, of course, who may not have period clothing yet, but are still welcome), use no electric lights, eat period-correct food and snacks, and in this way, we can do our best to work on what we need to give as accurate impression to not only the public, but to help us time travel. I found that folks will concentrate more while dressed correctly - they get more into the spirit of the era.
Members of other groups have taken notice and have actually come up to me and asked me "what's your secret?"
Well, what I wrote above is it: to be period, one must dress and act period. Study the language, the mannerisms, the activities, the everyday life of those who we are attempting to emulate. Read of their world - not necessarily of the rich and of all the politics, but of the average person of the era. Then throw you're own personality into the mix and what will/should turn out is what I would consider a fine representation of a middle class citizen of the Civil War era.
It has worked great for our group. I bet it will work for yours as well!

The good Senator Jacob Howard speaks to his fellow Michiganians
"Vote for Me!!!


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Random Thoughts and Recent Conversations (A Continuance of Recent Posts)

I enjoy watching well-done period movies showing life as it was. At this time I'm in the middle of watching two separate movie series - John Adams and Into The West. Both are very well done (although I do have my complaints about the ways the whites and the Indians are portrayed in some parts of Into the West ) and depict American life of an earlier time with few flaws, as far as I can tell. In both series' there are many very sad and downright awful (but truly historically accurate) scenes, including amputation, a mastectomy, illness, bloodletting, death, etc. I think I enjoy watching these kinds of movies because I admire just how strong our ancestors were, and I wonder if I could have been as strong spirited. I admire their talent in woodworking, tinsmithing, blacksmithing, wagonmaking, even their traditional farming methods...all by hand and a talent passed down generation to generation.
I admire their drive, their will, their inventiveness.
I admire their morals and values - - yes, their morals and values as a whole seem to me to have been much stronger and higher than ours' are today. Mind you, I'm not saying all of those who lived back then were the epitome of humankind. We know that many were not.
A young lad of 13 would have known how to
hunt for food with his gun without question

And the government was every bit as rotten as we have today, if not more.
But, if our population in number was comparable to the mid-19th century, I believe that the greater majority of those back then were of a higher moral standard. One knew right from wrong, instead of this gray area mentality we seem to have today.
Many folks here in the 21st century feel that the high morals and values of folks back then is a myth, however. I don't think it is. We tend to think of ourselves as living in this wondrous age of enlightenment. Well, we're not. I don't believe most of us could hold a candle to their way of life in all its good and its bad.
A female friend of mine told me very recently, during one of our many history-laden discussions, that she likes the way "everyone had and knew their place back then." Now, before you go jumping all over me about people "knowing their place," understand that is not a jab to keep anyone into a submissive state. On the contrary, it was meant that family members had a job, knew what that job was, and did it. Whether it was emptying the chamber pots in the morning or chopping wood, whether it was cooking or washing clothes in the kitchen, whether it was filling the water basin or hunting for food, or whether it was harrowing the land or plowing acres of vegetables in the field, or maybe even spending the days at the mill, everyone's part was important.

One of the many jobs of an eight year old girl of the mid-19th century was to gather water for drinking and washing face and hands.

Could I hack it?
If I suddenly found myself living 150 years into the past I am certain I could survive, knowing I had no other choice. Humans have been known to do amazing things under stress and duress (although I am embarrassingly out of shape - that would quickly change now, wouldn't it?). And, I suppose I would eventually come to, living during that time, especially if the time travel experience included my wife and children.
We have numerous conversations of this sort, my friends and I.
But, I will be the first to admit in those conversations we tend to put people from the past on a higher pedestal than those from our present time. For me, I believe that goes back to my feelings of today's spoiled and whiny society: "As long as I got my big screen TV I'm fine," (etc.) right?
Oh, I'm just as guilty as anyone else in this attitude; I am not placing myself above or below the general modern populace.
On the other hand, I find there are folks here in century 21 who have meshed together the present with a strong dose of the past, and even a touch of the future, and they live wonderfully satisfying lives. They are the true minority.
It's these people who are the part of modern society, by the way, that I admire most.
Why are you not surprised?


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Workin' Workin' Workin' Day and Night

"As a woman, I say they can keep the 'good old days'. I like having basic human rights, my own property and not being afraid to die in childbirth...Ever watch the PBS series 'Victorian House'? Being a woman, you were pretty much chained to the stove, that is unless you could afford to hire some poor unfortunate and make her work 14 hours a day for mere pennies. Phooey! Give me my washing machine, bank account and modern medicine!"

Not an unusual comment that many of us in the living history "hobby" - both female and male - hear every-so-often.
Technically, the writer is correct - the average woman did spend most of her time in the kitchen. And many (too many) died in childbirth. Surviving childbirth improved (thank God) for both mother and child as medical technology improved.
But, as for over-worked women, well, do those who feel this way ever take the time to research social history? If they had, they would know that the greater majority of all people worked long, hard hours on a daily basis - men, women, and children. There was little time set aside for daily frivolity, so they would do their best to make their chores a bit lighter, either by singing songs as they worked or turning the chores into a game. Boredom, although it did exist, was not a daily occurrence. Everyone had a role to 'play' in the family, and there was little choice in your part. It was called survival.

Now, you and I already know that, don't we? It still amazes me how many people don't, though. It still amazes me how many people believe every shred of one-sided information given by folks with an axe to grind who do not either do their research or will not present all facts given. But, when you read the diaries of those who lived in the mid-Victorian era, you will see that, for the most part, they didn't think of their lives as being so awful or too tough. They just lived, not unlike we do today and were thankful for what they had.
Comments from folks like the one at the top of the page tell me that too many people today place the 21st century lifestyle upon those from the past, and you just cannot do that when studying social history.
Were there women who didn't like the way they had to live back then?
A better question still, are there women in our time who don't like the way they live here in 2010?

An absolute YES would be an honest answer to both questions.
And the same for men as well, I'm sure.
The average person of the mid-19th century didn't have very many personal belongings in comparison to what we have in our modern day, but then again, they didn't need much either. To be honest, when you think about it, neither do we - a blogger friend wrote a wonderful post on just this subject the other day ( What do you *need* to be content?).
As far as free time folks from 150 years ago had in comparison to our free time today, I think of the time I spend - much of it totally wasted - doing "stupid stuff" on the computer. Or watching terrible shows on the 100 + stations on the TV.
Yes, I watch some fine TV, too, and I enjoy writing and working with my photographs while on the computer, but I really do spend too much frivolous time as well.
Too much.
You may ask, "Well, would you rather work the way people did back in the 1860's, from sun up til sun down, six or seven days a week?"
There is a part of me that does say, "Yes." Most of me will honestly answer "no."
But, I do believe that I could spend my spare time much more wisely.
I have to laugh when I hear someone my age state (quite seriously), "You, know, kids today couldn't hack living the way we did when we were their age. We only had 3 TV stations on our black and white TV - no cable - and there were no cell phones or home computers. They couldn't handle it."
Yes, I do remember those days - they sure were not easy times. I really don't know how we survived. Can you imagine only three TV stations on a black & white TV?? And how did we communicate without cell phones or Facebook? We actually had to dial a phone connected to the wall! And, to do homework we had to (oh man! I can't believe how rough it was!) walk to the library and then search for books to do research on any given subject instead of using google! I mean, what if it was Sunday and the library was closed?
We didn't have it so hard, but for some reason, many of my co-baby boomers tend to think we lived as cromagnons 'way back when.'

But, in the greater majority of letters, journals, and diaries that I own from the mid-19th century, most people tended to take their daily lives for granted just as we do today.
They survived.
We're surviving.
And folks will 150 years from now.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

CNN Article About "Time Warpians"

My friend Pam reads a letter
she picked up at my 'post office.
I received an e-mail from my sister, as well as from a friend, of an interesting article from the CNN News Site about living historians and how far some folks take their living history.
It's a fascinating piece, and I must admit, I can see myself along side the folks mentioned, although we don't actually live the Victorian lifestyle like some may do. My wife Patty and I, more or less, incorporate many aspects of the mid-19th century into our daily lives. And that incorporation grows yearly. I greatly admire those who have the opportunity to immerse themselves into their chosen era.
Anyhow, as much as I enjoyed the article, it's the comments (254 of them!) the readers made afterward that grabbed my attention.
I shall present here a few of my "favorite" comments ahead of the actual article itself:

We live on the same street as one of these evil time warpians. My children are not allowed to to play with their kids.

I think these people are insane. They are probably worthless mongrels who have absolutely nothing to offer society and need an escape from their pointless existences. The only positive thing about "timewarping" to escape reality is that they chose this absurd escape instead of choosing illicit drug use.

"Good manners" and "respect for women"?? I think this was the era when women couldn't vote, own property, get educated, have jobs, etc. Not to mention the brutal oppression of native populations, like what the British did in India. Not to mention child labor and sexual abuse were considered normal parts of life.

I used to belong to a Civil War reenactment group, and that was great fun. I wore hoop skirts and ballgowns, and dated guys who actually had 1860s codes of chivalry (whenever a lady walked by a group of reenactors hanging out, they all stood.) And these men knew how to dance! Not the Krump, I mean real 19th century contra dancing. Happy days...and yes, we were all well aware of how awful the Civil War was. That was another bonus, I could talk about history with guys who weren't intimidated by an intelligent woman. I highly recommend it to anyone fascinated by history. Most American cities have at least one reenacting unit, and the larger ones have several, both Union and Confederate.

These folks are totally incapable of dealing with reality...that's why the escapism! Losers would be a very accurate term to describe them. Wonder if they would have liked the decreased life span that existed back then when people died from diseases that are now curable.

Losers! You can always enjoy what you have right now and live a normal happy quality life. But to escape yourself into the past is only for losers. Don't be fool with Victorian era, there were no personal freedom, racist-arrogant white, sexist, no filtered-clean water, no real doctors, no education for most people, no human connection if you don't live in one of the few cities, and so so much more. So only losers would dress up like that.
Lady Gaga dressed as a sno-ball is accepted nowadays. Which ones are the freaks?

Why are we trying to normalize these outcasts? These bizarre social rejects can't fit into our current society so they've created their own little fantasy world. How sad that they can't find a hobby or activity in our own world.

Its sad how some readers view this reenactment as gay, not living in reality, a bunch of losers etc. These reenactors are just having fun. Is it possible that those of you being so negative lead routine lives but your condescension makes you feel like you are better than these people? Which of course your not.

And this is only a few of the worst comments. There are actually many more that are actually in favor of the harmless practice of what they call "time-warpians." (Two of which are also listed above).

My fellow reenactors portraying the Christian Commission cooling the brow of a soldier just off the battlefield. It was a hot and muggy day - believe me, the soldiers very much appreciated the cool water! Living history at its finest.

And now, here is the article:

Living in a time warp

By Henry Hanks, CNN
February 5, 2010 2:38 p.m. EST

(CNN) -- Social networking may be one of the biggest phenomenons of the 21st century, but for some denizens of the Web, it's a way to get in touch with the past.

Web sites like (with a membership of more than 5,700) and groups on Facebook allow people who enjoy past eras to connect with each other. But it goes beyond that: Some of them dress and live like they would decades, if not centuries, ago.

Step into Estelle Barada's living room in Providence, Rhode Island, and you might feel like you've traveled back to the 1890s.

Barada, a hotel caterer, sees it as an escape from her stressful job.

"I was the middle child and kind of like the dreamer, and for some strange reason I always dreamed of living not in America, but England," she explained. "I imagined having tea with the queen and touring the castle and that was my dream as a little girl."

Today, "Lady Estelle," as she likes to be called, lives out that dream by hosting tea parties for her friends while dressed in Victorian clothing, completely in character.

When going out, she's dressed in a more understated fashion, but still completely consistent with the late 1800s, with a long skirt and hat. "I always wear hats and when I go shopping, I get the attention of the older women, who say, I love the way you look," she said.

iReport: Fashions of a modern-day Victorian

"Eighteen-seventy-four should have been my birth date ... instead of 1974," said Raychyl Whyte of Hamilton, Ontario. Her fascination with the Victorian era began in childhood, coinciding with a pop cultural revival of Victorian themes in the 1970s.

Whyte and her "Victorian gentleman" began restoration on a circa-1898 house in 2008. Now they host 1800s-themed events there, where dress from the time period is always encouraged. They use to organize these events as part of the Hamilton Victorian & Steampunk Society.

Why would one live this lifestyle? For many of these iReporters, it's a reaction to modern society just as much as a love of the fashion and style of days gone by.

"I suppose others might call me an eccentric, but I just live the life I want to live and don't care about what others say or think about me," said Ray Frensham, a "Living Victorian," from London, England. "Even though I've felt increasingly disconnected from the modern world for many years now, I'm not retreating into some past nether-world seeking a kind of comfort-blanket."

Modern society in the United Kingdom can be "remarkably cruel and unforgiving," Frensham said. "There is certainly no sense of any kind of community anymore," he said. "People are purely self-centered, only in it for what they can get out of themselves." He points to the recent MP expenses scandal there, which led to the resignation of British House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin, as an example.

At the same time, something just feels right to Frensham when he wears a suit and bow tie, or more recently, an ascot. "It just creates a mind set that you're ready to face the day," he said.

Frensham is also the coordinator of the London Victorian Strollers, who take walks around the city while decked out in Victorian garb, and says that the reaction from passersby, especially tourists, is extremely positive. "It's quite extraordinary, people just love it."

Social networking certainly plays a large role, but Frensham also believes that groups like the Victorian Strollers (with its 125 members on Facebook) are emerging more and more lately. "I think it's just a lot of people saying 'I don't like what I see anymore, so let's create our own reality.' "

Carmen Johnson of Orlando, Florida, certainly sees that as being the case. She runs one of several social networking sites that bring together retro lifestyle enthusiasts of all stripes. "The first thing I ask [members of the Web site] is what they would like to bring from the past. Many of them say they would like to see the return of good manners and morals," she said. "They like the values of respect for women, respect for others. Now with the society we live in, anything goes."

Johnson, like Frensham, can trace at least some of what influences her to Hollywood. Growing up in the 1970s and '80s, she was a big fan of "Grease," Elvis Presley and "I Love Lucy," but "Back to the Future" captured her imagination. "Just thinking about traveling in time to whatever year that I always dreamed about was fascinating to me!" she said. Needless to say, the 1950s are her favorite era. This translated into her pursuit of art, which she described as both modern and retro.

When her love of this time translated into reality upon viewing a documentary about "time warp wives," she was inspired to start the blog, eager for the opportunity to interview women who live their lives as "traditional 1950s housewives."

iReport: Johnson's life as a "retro artist"

Now, those with casual interest as well as those who live their lives in a past era, what Johnson calls "timewarpians," interact on her site,, which boasts more than 250 members. "When people come to this site, they see that they're not alone," she said.

Johnson considers "Lady Estelle" Barada to be a great example of a "timewarpian." Barada hopes to pass on the manners, if not necessarily the fashion, of the era to the next generation by hosting parties with young girls and teaching them about etiquette.

As for her own granddaughters, she said they love paying a visit. "They ask their mother if they can wear a pretty dress and go to grandmother's house."


My wife and I along with some very good friends of ours many times have stopped off at a restaurant after a reenactment while in our period garb. I can say with complete honesty that we have yet to meet anyone who treated us as if we were freaks. In fact, it has always been quite the opposite, some even taking pictures of us.
And we do enjoy milling about the modern world looking like specters from the past!
As for some living historians living their reenacting era while not at a reenactment, well, it's a choice right? What harm is there for anyone to live in a way that makes them happy? Besides, it truly is a great release from the rigors of our modern daily life, one that can include entire families. I cannot think of a better way to spend your time. As I said, I know a number of people who have incorporated the past into their present-day lives. And these are some of the finest people I know because of the meshing of the two eras.
God Bless 'em!

The men of the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society

(By the way, Lady Estelle, mentioned in the above article, is one of my blog followers. You might enjoy reading her blog as well!)


Friday, February 5, 2010

An 1860's Village Celebration

Imagine taking over an entire historic village.
Seriously literally taking it over.
Well, that's what we did back in July of 2010. (Never mind the date above the headline in this post, for I finally, in the fall of 2014, updated it to include, through many, many photographs, an account of this amazing weekend.)
As you may have noticed, the event itself actually took place five months after I wrote the original article that was here (in February 2010), which, in looking back, really meant nothing as it was; it was a short blip speaking of what we hoped to do that summer. 
So, since I really never grabbed the opportunity to write about this event when it occurred back in July of that year (for varying reasons), I'm using this post to rectify that situation.
It's never too late, right?
I hope you enjoy it. ~

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

One thing I noticed in recent years more than previous years is a definite increase in civilian activities in virtually all of this year's events. It seems like the good folks that do the coordinating are realizing and fully accepting the fact that civilians do play a viable and important role in Civil War era reenacting. We "complete the picture" so to speak.
Not all military feel this way, however; many from the "old guard" still hold a disdain toward civilian living historians. A few still feel that if you're a male you should shoulder a musket, and if you're a female you should cook for the men and be their "eye candy." But, the greater majority enjoy the overall scenarios that the civilians portray and welcome all of us with open arms.
That year of 2010 was a banner year for those who enjoyed participating in living history. A friend of mine - Sandy - put together what became the reenacting event of the season, or, as she put it "A living history event for the serious historian."
Sandy and her husband, Mike
 It took place in July at Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan - one of the most authentic open air museums I have visited or even read about.
Sandy was hoping for it to be the ultimate time-travel experience for all involved. She encouraged first person impressions and the Village allowed usage of the period houses and buildings to accent interpretations. Military men were invited as well, without their muskets, as the civilians gave a hometown celebration of their return from the War. Other activities on the agenda included a welcome home parade for the men in blue, a political rally and town meeting, authentic activities for children including school, and numerous other features. All civilian participants had to have a period impression - no camp sitters. I had my role as postmaster inside the tavern - - - cool!
Sandy, you must understand, is a mid-19th century social historian extraordinaire, one who many look up to for her extensive knowledge of not only the era of the Civil War, but in the 19th century manner in which she carries herself daily. She knew this event had to be as close to perfect as any could be, for her name was on it, you know? Therefore, whoever would participate would be asked to fill out an application/invitation to be approved by a panel of three people. I did not see the application but I knew the expectations were be high - higher than many events usually are. Strict attention to authenticity in dress and in the applicant's period impression was a priority; as I said, she wanted no camp sitters - only folks "with a purpose." And that purpose could be most anything, from a politician to a laundress to everything in between.
If you have read my postings here in Passion for the Past, you will know that it's this sort of idea that I have to imparted upon the civilian members of the unit I belong to. I mean, there's nothing worse than seeing and hearing a civilian tell a visitor, "Well, I'm just here because my (significant other) is here."
And, yes, I have heard that, believe it or not.
I am hoping that many living historians will see what can be done and just how close time-travel can be when living history is done right.

The Stanley Schoolhouse at Crossroads Village
(Yes, that's my daughter getting water!)

My hat is off to Sandy for putting this together. She has taken a great weight to carry in putting this event on.
And I can't wait!
~ ~~ ~ ~~ ~

 ~ So, after nearly five years, I decided to update this posting and show you just how wonderful this time-travel excursion was! What you are about to see are scads of photos taken on this magical weekend back in July of 2010. This was the benchmark of all that followed for my own future presentations.
I hope you enjoy what you see ~

Here is the Mason Tavern, built around 1850, of which I called home for the weekend. No, I didn't sleep here, but I did utilize it as my home and place of business. Not only was I the tavern owner, but this building also housed the post office (with me as the post master) and served as a stage coach stop as well.

Here is the main room of my tavern.

Here I am standing near my post office set up inside the tavern.

Looking out my window and all I see is the past. I love it!

Travelers and locals find ways to entertain themselves and others on my porch.

Here I am with two friends Amanda and Tonya. It's obvious which side of the Mason-Dixon we are on!

Later on I found the two ladies shopping together at the local General Store.

One of our many farm families.

Here is our school teacher at her first job standing proudly in front of her school.

Yes, the late 19th century bank building was also utilized, as Mr. Walker portrayed the banker.

And he was kept busy throughout the weekend as we used replica greenbacks to exchange for goods.

Mr. and Mrs. Root strolling along the walk on a fine summer's day. Mrs. Root was the founder of this event.

Now, the main theme of this event was to show a real 1860s celebration of our fighting Union men returning home from the War for a short time before they had to leave to fight once again. All of us who portrayed the townsfolk gathered at the train station to await the arrival of our boys in blue.
I hear the train a-comin'! There it is!

The welcome home sign was up in a flash in hopes the men could see how much they were missed.

Everyone was waiting in anticipation for their loved ones to step off of the train.

Here they are! The heroes of our little village! Welcome home, boys!

How elated the ladies were to greet their men!

Off to the Village Green we went where Mayor Morgan gave a rousing speech welcoming the men back home, even if their stay will be a short one.

What fun we all had, meeting and greeting our military heroes.

The honorable Mayor Morgan and his lovely wife.

Afterward, townsfolk gathered together to catch up on the latest war news, and the soldiers wanted to hear of the news of their hometown.
Our son made his way about the town to visit friends.

many friends and family gathered in houses throughout the Village. It truly was time for a celebration!

And celebrate we did!

My tavern was a hot spot for the young men and young ladies to gather.

It was also at my tavern, post office, and stage stop where citizens could read the latest news from the battlefront in the newspaper.

Some of the ladies gather water for the church picnic.

Pastor Purdue and mayor Morgan are prepared to meet the congregants of the local church.

And the Villagers came to worship.

The townsfolk were very thankful their men were home safe. At least for now.

And Pastor Purdue gave an inspiring and patriotic sermon.

With the service over, it was time for a picnic!

With our village being so small, practically the entire populace showed up.

Everyone was thankful for such a beautiful summer day.

Chicken, watermelon, bread, vegetables...all made for a wonderful meal.

A fun game of croquet took place.

Croquet is usually stereotyped as a genteel game, less a sport than a social function, and more suited to genial conversation and unfettered flirtation than strident competition. Nineteenth- century American periodicals and croquet manuals emphasized the sport’s placidity, as opposed to male working-class sports such as football, baseball, and rowing, which often seemed infected with the time-discipline or rationality of the workaday world. The Newport (Rhode Island) Croquet Club’s 1865 handbook proclaimed that the game owed its popularity to “the delights of out-of-doors exercise and social enjoyment, fresh air and friendship—two things which are of all others most effective for promoting happiness.” Croquet was portrayed as a morally improving and rational recreation; the New York Galaxy declared that “amiability and unselfishness are the first requisites of a good player.” Because croquet was not a particularly athletic game, it was considered ideal for children, older people, and mixed gender groupings. Thus, one recent historian of the sport decisively concluded, “In the 1860s, in a family and female sport like croquet, the etiquette of playing the game with grace and good manners took precedence over winning, sociable play triumphed over unprincipled competition.”

Yet was this, in fact, how the game was played on the croquet lawns of the nineteenth century? While authors of croquet manuals and magazines propounded trite encomiums to honesty, rationality, and fellowship, a perusal of visual and literary evidence reveals that a great deal of competitive spirit existed in the typical croquet match, that the use of deception to win was common, and that women were particularly guilty transgressors. Modern reliance on croquet manuals and a handful of periodical articles recalls the limitations of other nineteenth-century hortatory literature such as etiquette and advice manuals; that is, the ethos was only a code, not an accurate depiction of reality. Female grace and good manners may have been the ideal for the rule- and taste-makers, but on the croquet ground, a peculiar sort of gender reversal enabled women to temporarily jettison their passive role and dominate, if not humiliate, men. Women played the game seriously, enjoyed matching skills with men, and often emerged victorious. The fact that this image runs contrary to “Victorian” gender stereotypes suggests that a more nuanced approach is needed, rather than to declare some sports to be “male” and other sports “female” with all the formulaic and oversimplified preconceptions these adjectives imply.

Pastor Purdue and Mr. Bevard

Alas, the time had come for the men to say goodbye once again and head back to the train station. But before they leave, there is a grand send off.
Once again, the townsfolk gather on the Village Green and listen to the good mayor give another rousing speech to send off our men within God's good graces.

Listening to Mayor Morgan's speech.

The lovely ladies of town gather at the green.

A brother hugs his younger sister goodbye, perhaps for the last time.

It is a sad occasion.

The local ladies of the aid society gather with the rest of the townsfolk to see the boys in blue off.

Walking with the men to the train station...

As the men settle on the train, some wives just can't let go.

It takes another to pry their hands from each other.

It is a sad but patriotic celebration to see the men go off to war.

It was a grand spectacle indeed!
As you can plainly see, this truly was a "grand spectacle" of an 1860s Village celebration. We had hoped to have it continue and become an annual event, but, due to extenuating circumstances, it wasn't to be. But it was every bit as spectacular as the pictures show, and, though I had been experimenting with 1st person/immersion by this time, An 1860s Village Celebration was the catalyst for me personally to take reenacting to the time-travel limit, which I continue to do, for Sandy and this event showed me that there actually was no limit to traveling through time.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860s: those you see here brought the past to life in a way rarely seen or experienced.