Wednesday, April 28, 2010

American History DVD's and more

One of the Civil War units I belong to is doing a presentation for the middle school building where I work. It's a great time for us and for the kids, for we do our best to bring history alive, and the kids really seem to enjoy it. They come out to the field in groups of around 50 each and begin their journey to the past with the military.

This is where they will learn about the everyday life of the northern American soldier of the 1860's: from their forage caps to their brogans, the complete uniform and accoutrements are explained in great detail. The firing of muskets also takes place, much to the delight of the young teens. And, finally, a description of the effects of a leaded bullet entering a body is told.

Then it's the civilians turn to explain life on the northern homefront.

A young farm girl of the 1860's explains to children her age from the 21st century about her chores, including spinning wool.

We will usually touch on the many local aid societies of the time - the Christian Commission and so forth - and of all the time and effort the folks at home put into ensuring as much care and comfort to the boys off fighting. Everyday lives of children their age is also discussed, including daily chores and games.
We will then spend time speaking of battle towns, usually of Gettysburg, and what happened inside that borough during and after the three day battle. We try to bring to life just what those that remained in the war-torn towns had to deal with afterward, including the bodies left on the fields, in the streets, and in the homes; the amputated body parts tossed out the windows of the makeshift hospitals, the excrement from over 150,000 men in a town that normally had a population of 2400 people. Dead and wounded horses. And then the stench of everything mentioned roasting in the hot July sun.
We try to bring the realities of that war to life for these kids who just seem to have to learn facts and figures without the human details.
The best part is, if you know anything about middle school kids, they can be quite a challenge. Their hormones are raging, they are stuck between being a little kid and becoming a teenager, and they have ATTITUDE!
But, by our words and even our actions during our presentations, we capture their full attention and keep a hold of it for the duration.

The preacher of the 21st Michigan, Mike Gillett, keeps the kids enthralled with his tales of a preacher's duties during the Civil War.

Normally, the school PTO will pay us to come there to put on our little living history exercise, and they plan to again this year as well. But, unfortunately, this will be the last time we do our event at this particular middle school, for it will shut its doors for good when school lets out in June. Because of the shift in population and the State of Michigan's lack of school funding, a number of schools throughout the state will be closing up for good come June. In this city, only one middle school will remain (from three only 25 years ago) come September.
So we in the 21st Michigan decided that we will take the money given to us and purchase numerous American history DVD's to donate to the one remaining middle school. We wanted to give to the kids a well-rounded selection of American History, showing the ups and downs of this nation.
I'd like to share with you what we selected as well as reviews of each:

Desperate Crossing - This History Channel presentation of the pilgrims is two and a half hours of a well-known and very important part of our American history, although you may not realize how little you actually do know of these separatists and of the times they lived. In fact, it certainly is more movie than documentary and, although interspersed throughout are historians filling in the gaps, this docu-drama is as engulfing and riveting as any full-length period movie I have seen. The lives and times of these early European settlers are authentically portrayed by use of English Shakespearian actors, and the quality shows. Never have I seen any other film put flesh on the bones of the pilgrims to the extent this one does. A social history extravaganza! The clothing, lighting, effects (especially while on the Mayflower), and, at times, even some of the speech patterns are reflected fairly accurately. I did not see the typical revisionist history so often reflected in many of today's historical depictions. They were very religious folk bent on keeping their practices, even if they had to cross the ocean to do it, and this movie shows that in no uncertain terms. The Indian dramatization was done very well for the most part, although I would have preferred to have their speech in their original (or close to their original) language and include the use of sub-titles. Oh well, can't have everything.
For teachers and lovers of history I recommend this docu-drama very highly. A wonderful way to learn about our early American history.

Three Soverigns for Sarah - (this review is from the product description) - This is a true story. Nineteen people were hanged and one old man pressed to death, while hundreds of others suffered in jail cells during the "witch hysteria" of 1692. Three Sovereigns for Sarah is the most accurate portrayal yet. Each character you will see actually existed, actually spoke many of the words you will hear. Original transcripts of the trials are woven into the dialogue. All of the costumes, locations, buildings and props offer a rare, authentic glimpse of the late 1600's in America. Each viewing will reveal something new, never before seen. Most important, it is a powerful and moving story about three loving sisters who are accused of witchcraft. Academy Award winners Vanessa Redgrave, Kim Hunter and Phyllis Thaxter portray those sisters. The youngest, Sarah Cloyce (Vanessa Redgrave), tried to clear her sisters' names.

The War that Made America: The Story of the French and Indian War - (this review is from the product description) - What if the French had won? Almost 250 years ago, French and English armies clashed in the primeval forest of western Pennsylvania as they struggled to control the most important piece of real estate in 18th century North America. The army that controlled the forks of the Ohio, a confluence of mighty rivers that would one day become Pittsburgh, held the gateway to the entire continent. Native Americans boldly tried to manipulate the balance of military power between the English and the French. It was the French and Indian War, and an inexperienced Virginian soldier named George Washington, serving under the British flag, learned battle-scarred lessons that would indelibly shape his life.

John Adams - Upon reading many of the reviews of this series I am having a difficult time understanding the reviewers who do not care for this set. It seems there are three main reasons for them not to like it: *It's all drama* *the quirky camera angles and shots* *the 'stiffness' and language of the actors* First off, yes, it is mostly drama with very little physical action. But that does not make it bad or boring - instead this is what brings the viewer in. And, with the inclusion of the (mostly) period-style language, one feels almost as if they were in the company of our nation's fore-fathers themselves. It seems that people in today's society need blood and guts action for them to like a movie. That's unfortunate, because just like in "Gods & Generals" (the Civil War flick), it's the drama that greatly enhances this movie. Yes, I would have liked to have seen a couple of battle scenes, but showing the wounded after the battle was just as moving. As for stiffness of the actors: someone stated in one of their reviews here that ordinary people of the late 18th century didn't act like the people shown in this series. Research shows that, yes, folks did act very similar to what's portrayed. You have to watch a movie like this not with a 21st century mindset but with the realization that people didn't always socially act the way they do today. It amazes me how so few people understand this. And speaking of personalities, I believe that all the actors - sans one - fit their parts well, especially Benjamin Franklin. The one I was slightly disappointed with was the actor chosen to portray the younger General George Washington (during the 1770's). Although working well as the older PRESIDENT Washington, I feel they needed a younger man to play the part during the Rev War. The man chosen is just too old for the 1770's scenes. But, Thomas Jefferson was spot on! I do agree to an extent with other reviews that the way the film was shot can get a bit frustrating: angle left this scene - angle right the next - run with the camera the next scene...a little too overdone. But, you learn to over-look this. A minor thing in my opinion. By the way, the sets (computerized and otherwise) were so accurate - the details were amazing: true candle lit rooms, pulling the curtain past the door to help keep the cold out, the hat racks, framed silhouette pictures, the furniture and the rooms of the houses themselves, the "extra's" in the streets (vendors, animals, etc.)...I could go on and on - all as accurate as I have seen in any movie. And the clothing was perfect as well. Not a detail was missed. It seems as much went into the sets and clothing as into the acting and dialog. How refreshing. All things considered, this is a phenomenal work that has just blown me away. The best American History film I have seen yet.

The Crossing - (this review is from Amazon) - Every American knows that George Washington crossed the icy Delaware River in the War of Independence, if only from Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's famous 1851 painting. The made-for-cable-TV historical drama The Crossing, scripted by Howard Fast from his novel, corrects at least one piece of historical invention--Washington did not stand and pose for the occasion of Leutze's portrait--but, more importantly, it frames the event in the real-life drama that made it a decisive moment of American history. Jeff Daniels makes a fine General George Washington, the quiet, dignified, and increasingly desperate leader of the volunteer Continental Army. By December 1776, six months after the Declaration of Independence was signed, the tired and hungry army had retreated to the far banks of the Delaware River, a mere fraction of the original 20,000-strong force. Knowing that defeat means the end of the revolution, Washington takes the offensive in a dangerous surprise attack that turns the tide of the war. Like the sprawling Civil War epic Gettysburg, The Crossing takes one incident of the Revolutionary War and digs into the whys and wherefores that make it vital history. It brims with rich historical detail and comes alive with the stories of officers, soldiers, and a very human George Washington.

Gods & Generals / Gettysburg - (this review is from the product description) - Key battles of America's Civil War thunder across the screen in two richly scaled, rigorously authentic, powerfully compelling epics based on acclaimed historical novels by Michael Shaara. Gods and Generals reveals the spirited allegiances and fierce combat of earlier Civil War struggles, framing its tale with the fateful clashes at Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. The tide of the war changes during three fierce days of combat at Gettysburg, the gripping saga of the tactics, command errors and sacrifices behind the bloodiest battle ever fought on U.S. soil. These sprawling films remind us of the people, passions and heroism that fanned the flames of a country at war with itself.

It's with these films/dvd's that a variety of American History can be witnessed, as accurately as available, and will hopefully give the middle school kids a greater understanding of times past in this great country.
What do you think? Any other possible suggestions for historically accurate (as far as TV and films go) movies?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

No Shortage of Michigan History

Lately I have been blogging quite a bit about Michigan's history. I am quite proud of the state in which I live (even with the sad economy we have!) and I enjoy writing about its past.
A couple years ago I wrote the original version of this week's posting, entitled "If You Seek History, Look About You," and pointed out all of the wonderful history that we have in the southern lower part of Michigan.
Last June I repeated it with a few additions.
I'd like to repeat it here once again, for I have gained new followers since, and I also have been letting my "facebook friends" know about my blogs as well. Michigan is much more than cars and industry; history is spread throughout this much maligned state and I would like to share this with folks that might be planning summer (and even autumn) vacations. I have added links to many of the places - be sure to click on 'em for further details:

"A Night to Remember" Bed & Breakfast in Lexington, Michigan

What people never seem to consider when they think of Detroit or southern lower Michigan is history.
Well, what most folks don't realize is that we have plenty of history all around this area. More than you may know.
In fact, I would put our collection of historical institutions against most other states - well, except maybe for the east coast. They seem to have the corner on pre-20th century American history. But, for the north central region of the U.S. (sorry - I don't consider us the 'midwest' - north central is more accurate), I don't believe you will find another area with more history.
First off is Greenfield Village the open-air museum in Dearborn. It's probably the most famous in the U.S. - right up there with Colonial Williamsburg. I have written plenty about GFV so, if you are interested, please see my blog dedicated to to the museum at

Connected to Greenfield Village is the Henry Ford Museum, second only to the Smithsonian for historical artifacts, including the actual chair Abraham Lincoln sat in when he was shot by Booth at the Ford's Theater. It also has hundreds of old-time cars, a few full size locomotive trains, many carriages, period guns, furniture from long ago, wood stoves, a 1940's diner, camping gear once belonging to George Washington...

George Washington slept here...literally!

...there's so much to see - it's a full day's visit or more to just visit the museum! I will eventually have a blog on the Henry Ford Museum. (for more on the Henry Ford Museum, please click here The Henry Ford Museum)

About an hour and a half north of Detroit, in Flint, is Crossroads Village. Crossroads is another open air museum, although on a much smaller scale, but, in many ways, more accurately depicted than Greenfield. It has dirt streets rather than cement paved streets, wood-plank sidewalks rather than cement paved sidewalks, and is more accurate in its portrayal of mid-19th century life in that it has a very rural, small-town atmosphere. It has a 'downtown' area, numerous Victorian houses, a working gristmill, an icehouse, a carriage barn, church, school, a working blacksmith shop, and a 45 minute train ride.
An immersion experience for sure - - -

- - - - Crossroads Village is truly a worthy trip back to the 1880's. Here's my site in progress dedicated to Crossroads

A little closer to Detroit - Mt. Clemens - has the Crocker House Museum. Run by Kim Parr, this shining example of Victoriana at its best is a very busy place indeed. Ms. Parr, historian extraordinaire, keeps this beautiful and authentically furnished 1869 house hopping throughout the year as numerous activities, including Wallow and Wassail at Christmas time, a mourning presentation in the late summer/early fall, teas, home tours, and a number of other events take place that bring the past to life.

Folks in period clothing help to keep the atmosphere correct at many of these events here at the Crocker House. Kim has a passion for history and it shows.

Historic Fort Wayne, in downtown Detroit, is a true gem in the heart of the city that very few folks think about, much less visit. Built in the 1840's, this actual fort never saw any battles; however, it was the place that most soldiers in lower Michigan, from the Civil War era through Vietnam, were mustered into service. Imagine being able to visit a place right here in Michigan that has a major Civil War connection! The officer quarters, the barracks, sallyport, guard house - all are still there as they stood in the old days, ready for visitors to take a walk through. The sallyport is my particular favorite part.

Some restoration is still needed but many local historians and preservationists have donated their time and money - and continue to do so - to keep this true historic gem alive. You, too, can donate to keep this part of Detroit history alive.
By the way, during the summer (this year July 10th and 11th), a Civil War muster takes place.

Traveling about an hour and a half west of Detroit, another small collection of historic buildings are waiting to be visited by the public, Waterloo Farms. A log house, a bake house, an icehouse, a granary, and a mid-19th century farmhouse (among a few other buildings) help to show what farm life was like in Michigan 150 years ago. Throughout the year the group that runs Waterloo Farms holds various events, including one for the American Indian, a pioneer days, and a Christmas gathering.

Near Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum is the Dearborn Historical Society collection of buildings, including the Commandent's Building, restored to its 1833 - 1875 appearance as well as the Gardner House, built in 1831 and is the oldest structure built in Dearborn that is still standing. It is furnished to a mid-19th century appearance.

To visit these buildings will cost you nothing but donations are accepted. It is worth the trip to see these few original Dearborn landmarks - my wife and I did and the tours of each building together totaled about two hours. The historical society has done a fine job in the restoration of these beautiful old structures.

Traveling two and a half to three hours outside of the metro-Detroit area is another historic village called Charlton Park, and this is located in rural Hastings, Michigan. Similar to but smaller than Crossroads Village, Charlton Park is home to mid-19th century Michigan structures, including a 19th century few houses with period furnishings, a barber shop, a general store, a church, bank, school, a cooper shop, a blacksmith shop, and a small mainstreet collection.

As I have only visited the Charlton Park during Civil War reenactments, I don't know if the docents are in period clothing or not, but don't let that stop you from visiting this place. The (mostly) 19th century homes and buildings are well worth the scenic drive.
Check out there informative site:

If you enjoy driving, taking a ride on US 12 from Detroit to Chicago - heck, even Dearborn to Jackson - is well worth your time and gas. Traveling through authentic 19th century towns where many original structures still stand gives one the opportunity to see this stage coach road as it once a way. It is a modern street now, with modern autos zooming by. But, while driving along, stop and visit some of the Victorian towns along the way. One of the best restored buildings on the trip is Walker Tavern, at the junction US 12 and M 50. This restored 1836 tavern, still in its original location, is open to walk through telling the story of all taverns and stage coach stops along US 12 - well worth it. It is a part of the Cambridge Junction Historical Society collection of farm buildings as well as the Inn itself.
US 12 has other historic stopping points as well. And if you love antiques, these small towns have plenty of antique shops. Visit the site dedicated to this "Chicago Road."
Traveling about two and a half to three hours north along the very scenic shoreline of Lake Huron, near the tip of the thumb, you will find another small but authentic historic village called Huron City, where most of the original late 19th and early 20th century buildings are still there as they stood a hundred plus years ago, including the seven gables house, a general store, a log cabin, a church, and the nearby Point Aux Barque lighthouse, among other structures.
Tours are given during the summer season. I have never taken the tour, but I have walked around the buildings and, I believe, the next time I am out that way I will take the official tour.

By the way, on your ride up to the tip of the thumb, please visit the Victorian Villages that dot the shoreline: Lexington, Croswell, Port Sanilac, Forester, etc.

Now, I know that throughout the local communities there are many historic structures - train depots (Holly and Mt. Clemens have two beautifully restored depots), schoolhouses (my hometown here in Eastpointe has a restored schoolhouse from 1872), log cabins, and other pieces of history - that belong to (or are cared for by) the various historical societies, and they are very happy to give tours. And, many of the smaller towns and cities throughout the area, such as Romeo, Mt. Clemens, Clinton Township, Port Huron, Saline, St. Clair Shores, Holly (the list could go on), all have beautiful original historic structures (Wolcott Mill in northern Macomb County comes to mind), Victorian homes and even mansions still standing and restored.

One town, Marshall, Michigan near Battle Creek, even has a yearly historic home tour. I have never taken the tour myself but friends who have say it's excellent! Here's a site in case you want to get more information

I realize I haven't even touched on the northern towns and villages of Michigan, such as Mackinac Island and the town of Mackinaw at the tip of the mitt. I haven't been there in many years, but I am centering today's blog on places I have personally visited within the last few years. When I do travel that far up north, however, I will give a full report.

I also know there are many historical places in the area that I have missed, and I apologize if I missed your site (especially if I've been there!).
I hope this has helped some locals to visit their local history and may entice out-of-town history lovers to come to Michigan for a historical visit. Or even seek out historical sites in their area.
No, I don't work for a travel agency - I just like to pass along historic info and places to visit for those interested.


Friday, April 16, 2010

ZAP! You Are Now In 1877 - - - What now???

So, here you are, planning to cook a nice chicken dinner for your family. You walk to your fridge, pull out the sealed-in-plastic chicken you purchased from your local grocer, clean out the innards, rinse under the faucet in the sink, salt and pepper, then throw it in your oven and turn the dial to your desired temperature setting.
As simple as that. 
But, suddenly, you find yourself transported through time...back to the mid-19th century, and pretty much everything you know about cooking a chicken dinner (or anything else for that matter) no longer means anything. You can no longer purchase chickens from the cooler in your local store, but, instead, you head out to the coop in your barn. You also no longer have a fridge to keep the meat cold for an extended length of time, for there is no electricity in houses. Your cellar works OK but still cannot keep meat for too long. Nor is there running water inside your house to rinse it off. You must go out to the pump out back, pour water in a bucket, and bring it inside your house. Your stove? A woodburner. But, on this stove you don't turn a dial to 350 to get that particular temperature. Instead, you regulate the temp by the type of wood, the size of wood, and how much wood. You test the temperature by the tried and true method of heat on your hand:

if you put your hand
inside the oven and you can keep it there without too much discomfort, it is not nearly hot enough for anything, if you can keep it in only a short time, maybe to the count of six or seven, well then you have a good baking fire. But, if you cannot keep your hand inside the oven for more than a moment – in and out quickly - now you have a good fire for frying. There are also the flues and dampers to help control the temperature.
You have to eat - - you have to survive - - what do you do now?

Fear not, for I am here to help. If, by chance, you should find yourself transported through time 150 or so years, take heed of what I am about to write - -

Now, let's cook that same chicken 1877...

Do not feed poultry the day before killing; cut off the head, hang up by the legs, as the meat will be more white and wholesome if bled freely and quickly. In winter, kill them three days to a week before cooking. Scald well by dipping in and out of a pail or tub of boiling water, being careful not to scald so much as to set the feathers and make them more difficult to pluck; place the fowl on a board with the neck towards you, pull the feathers away from you, which will be in the direction they naturally lie (if pulled in a contrary direction the skin is likely to be torn), be careful to remove all of the pin-feathers with a knife or a pair of tweezers; singe, but not smoke over blazing paper, place on a meat-board, and with a sharp knife cut off the legs a little below the knee to prevent the muscles from shrinking away from the joint, and remove the oil-bag above the tail. Take out the crop, either by making a slit at the back of the neck or in front (the last is better), taking care that everything pertaining to the crop or windpipe is removed, cut the neck-bone off close to the body, leaving the skin a good length if to be stuffed; cut a slit three inches long from the tail upwards, being careful to cut only through the skin, put in a finger at the breast and detach all the intestines, taking care not to burst the gall-bag (situated near the upper part of the breast-bone, and attached to the liver; if broken, no washing can remove the bitter taint left on every spot it touches). Put in the hand at the incision near the tail, and draw out carefully all intestines; trim off the fat from the breast and at the lower incision; split the gizzard and take out the inside and inner lining (throw liver, heart, and gizzard into water, wash well, and lay aside to be cookedand used for the gravy). Wash the fowl thoroughly in several waters (some wipe carefully without washing), hang up to drain, and it is ready to be stuffed, skewered, and placed to roast.This was taken from a facsimile of an original 1877 cook book called 'Tried and Approved: The Buckeye Cookery and Practical Housekeeping - Compiled from Original Recipes 1877." According to the back cover, this was "Ohio's premier cookbook of the 19th century." But, it wasn't just a cookbook, for it also provided "detailed information on the fundementals of everything from bread baking to omelets to medicinal remedies" - "a treasure trove of forgotten knowledge."
It also delves into housekeeping, and tells, room by room, the how-to's in cleaning your house, as well as the cellar and ice-house. Cleaning of utensils, the fireplace hearth, kid gloves, laundry and so very much more is also covered.
One interesting chapter is called "The Management of Help." It's here where one can learn how to hire and keep a domestic.
"In all families whose style of living demands help in the household duties, the management of 'girls' is the great American puzzle. 'Girls' come and go like the seasons, sometimes with the weeks. The one who is 'such a treasure' to-day, packs her trunk and leaves her mistress in the lurch to-morrow, or, if she happens to have a conscience and works on faithfully, she becomes the mistress and runs the household in her own way, her employer living in mortal fear of offending and losing her. Too many American women who ought to know better regard work as degrading instead of positively elevating and ennobling when it is well and conscientiously done.
Is it wonderful that 'girls' catch something of this vicious sentiment, and that it poisons their minds with this false view of life, until they look upon their work as brutal drudgery, and strive to do as little of it as they possibly can and collect their wages?

My, how times have changed...

The Buckeye Cookery is really an amazing "1st person" collection of everyday home life from another era. If I was truly able to time-travel, this would be the one book I would consider to be a necessity!


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The World of Two 19th Century Rural Michigan Teachers

The following journal/diary entries are taken from the book "Michigan Voices." It's a fine collection of Michigan history stories compiled by Joe Grimm, written by those who lived it. This is the third in my series of Michigan/midwest social history entries - my attempt to breathe life into the folks who once lived in this general area in the mid-19th century.

In the mid-19th century, Michigan schoolhouses were one-room buildings, and the teachers were mainly young single women who were paid $3 to $5 a week in the wintertime, and $2 a week during the summer months. Most teachers boarded at pupil's homes - a diiferent home every week or month, depending on the agreement made - which could be very lonesome for the young girls, whose families were likely many miles away.

This first collection is from the 1857 journal of Elizabeth Wilcox, age 22, a homesick teacher living in Macomb County (the county, north of Detroit, in which I now reside!):

The 1872 Halfway Schoolhouse, located in Eastpointe, Michigan (formerly Halfway, Mich.) in Macomb County. No, this is not the schoolhouse of Miss Wilcox

July 5 - Mr. Cone came for me. I was soon ready and in a short time arrived at my new home, when I was possessed with a feeling of loneliness which I could not overcome. And to-morrow morning I am to enter upon my duties for the coming summer. 'Tis a dread.

July 6
- A little more reconciled to my lot. To-day I met eight of the scholars that are to be trusted in my care for a few weeks. Eight strange faces and as many different dispositions to become acquainted with.

July 10
- At Mr. Hill's again to-night. Oh dear me, the miseries of school teaching. Here am I, afflicted most to death with the toothache. And what is still worse, I have been obliged to play sociable for the last two hours. But to every day there follows a bedtime and how glad I am it has come so early to-night. Now I am left to myself. No one to speak to me and if there was, I should be uncivil enough not to answer.

July 11
- Back again at Mr. Cone's. It is almost as good a home as my own. I could ask for no better, at least no person can find better when away from their own home and friends.

July 13
- To-day I had five new scholars. To-night am to Mr. Gibson's. I made my appearance unexpected to them as the little boy forgot to tell them I was coming.

Photograph taken in the late 19th century of the inside of the Halfway Schoolhouse
(courtesy of the East Detroit Historical Society)

July 14
- To-night went to Mr. Brant's from school. Never before has my courage so failed me as it did the moment I entered his house. Mrs. B. came running up as though she was going to take off my bonnet and shawl for me and at last pointed me to a seat. I soon found there was to be no formalities as each one was to help themselves. After dinner, a brother of Mr. B's came. Just returned from Kansas. Also two gentlemen from Detroit and one from the old country. All gentlemanly appearing Dutchmen. All was gibberish and jabbering, and with the tobacco smoke which I had to endure, for all were smoking. Was a little more than I could stand, so I excused myself to Mrs. B and made my way back to Mr. Cone and here I shall spend the remainder of the night unless there is an army of Dutchmen coming or something else of importance to prevent.

Miss Wilcox overcame her homesickness and taught in Macomb County until 1862, when she married Charles King and moved to a farm near Port Huron, Michigan.


Next we have Eliza Moore, a young lady who was living on her family's homestead farm, located between Belleville and Pullen's Corners (now Romulus) Michigan (about 22 miles west of Detroit). Word came to her that Smithville, located in Hillsdale County, near the Ohio border, needed a teacher.
The following comes from Miss Moore's 1866 diary:

Scotch Settlement School of Dearborn, Michigan - built in 1861 - now located in Greenfield Village. This is not the schoolhouse in which Miss Moore taught.

Jan. 2 - Father and (brother) Jasper butchered three hogs and started with two of them for Detroit about 9 o'clock this evening. I don't envy our folks their ride to Detroit tonight.

Jan. 3
- Our folks came home about dark, cold, tired, hungry, and sleepy, which is apt to be the case in riding so far. They sold their pork for $11 per hundred weight. Oats 37 cents per bushel; butter 31 cents per pound, eggs 35 cents per doz. Mother and I knitting in the evening. Our folks gone to bed.

Jan. 6 - J.L. from Smithville came here in search of teacher for Smithville school, their teacher having left.

Jan. 18
- About 11 o'clock Mr. B from Smithville came to see me about teaching school there. I agreed to teach for $5 per week and board to commence next Monday.

Jan. 21
- Very cold this morning, almost too cold to venture out, but teachers must go in all kinds of weather. Father started about noon and had rather a cold ride. The roads are so icy that it is very hard traveling for a horse.

Jan. 22
- School commenced this morning. I have 25 scholars of all ages and sizes. They are strictly speaking rather a rough set, but I hope they will improve. There is plenty of room for improvement. One of the inspectors called at school this morning. He asked me some questions this evening and is to give me a certificate.

Jan. 29
- Instead of washing day as usual, it is school day. I have several large boys who all seem to try to study, for which I am very glad. I was intending to go to Mr. L to-night but it is so sloppy that I went to Mr. B, which is not so far from the schoolhouse. I have now 38 - rather a larger school than expected.

Jan. 31
- Some colder this morning and not as good a fire at the schoolhouse as Freddie generally has.

Feb. 5
- Now have all the scholars that the schoolhouse can conveniently hold and now I have to crowd them together as I have 89 names.

Feb. 9
- Another sleigh ride to school this morning. I am lucky. School has passed off as usual except the smoke the stovepipe has given out, and we had more smoke than I agreed for, but it was not as bad as might be.

Feb. 20
- A teacher living around has a good opportunity of observing the government of children. How many different ways there is of doing the same thing and no two persons govern alike. I can tell by being a short time in a house whether obedience from children is through love or fear, and there are some who have no government at all. I like to see people at home to judge of their good qualities or bad ones. Some have two faces, one for home and one for abroad. The face at home is usually clouded by a frown and every word is harsh. But while they are away, smiles are on their faces always, and all say what a pleasant person that is, but little do they know the real character.

The 1863 Stanley School from Genessee County Michigan, now located in Crossroads Village

In 1868, Eliza Moore married Zurial Monroe, a Civil War veteran who served in the 5th Michigan Cavalry under General George Custer.

I hope you have enjoyed this excursion into our social past. And, more importantly, I hope it helps to bring the past to life for you as it does for me!


Saturday, April 3, 2010

For Those Who Are Interested, Here's A Guide To Help Accent Your Reenacting Experience

The reenacting season is getting ever-so close for us here in Michigan, and I got the fever, especially with this beautiful weather we've been having of late. So please pardon me if I write a bit more on the subject, as this is a great outlet for me while I wait in great anticipation for our first event to take place.
Understand, please, that I do not consider myself any great authority on living history (although I hope to be one day!), nor do I claim to be. I do, however, study social history and have spoken with not only other reenactors, but have consulted living history museums as well in the hopes to perfect my impression. I know what has worked for me and many others of whom I associate with, and it just might work for you as well.

As you may already know, the two Civil War units I belong to take great pride in authenticity, and I like to think that I have played a small part in raising the accuracy bar, at least for one of the groups.
For this posting I would like to present a few ways to accent your living history experience, and thus, will not only (hopefully) take you to a new level of reenacting, but may also accent the spectator's experience as well.

How inaccurate living history would be without children

To me, the goal of the living historian is to make the visitors feel as if they stepped back in time to the early 1860's, to do our best to give an immersion experience. In other words, to give the visitor (as well as ourselves) the feeling of connecting with their past in such a way they have never encountered...almost a time-travel experience for all involved.
The first and most basic step in completing this immersion excursion is to be vigilant in the accuracy of your appearance - clothing as well as your setting. If one does not look authentic, everything else is for naught. Remember, you yourself constitute a vital element of this atmosphere. You must do your utmost to ensure that your appearance, actions/mannerisms, and manner of speaking evokes the past. This tells so much of the story.
As for the site in which we are presenting ourselves as one from the past, we must remove those things that remind folks of the 21st century, whether the items are upon our person or within our site. This vigilance allows living historians to maintain the appropriate appearance for the era they represent, in this case, the early 1860's. One can do this in numerous ways, the most effective being to learn what is appropriate and what is not, not only in appearance but also in mannerisms. This is harder than it sounds, but there are plenty of knowledgeable living historians about to guide you on this as well as numerous period etiquette books.
Remove non-period items from the visitor's (and your own) sight. Step to the edge of your site and look around. Do you see anything that might be considered farby? If so, how can you hide or disguise it? Sometimes it can be done as simply as covering a cooler with a cloth.

These women have done a wonderful job in their very authentic portrayal of the U.S. Christian Commission

That your site can give the resemblance as if it's from 1862 is not enough, however. One must also pay attention to what is beyond the appearance of the reenactor's camp area. We must do our best, as difficult as this can be, to make sure the five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) of both living historian and spectator also give the impression that they are from the past. What could be worse to a living historian than having their cell phone go off while speaking to 1st person?? Turn the phones off, or at least put them on silent or vibrate to be viewed when the opportunity arises. I have seen first hand this happen, much to the embarrassment of the reenactor. (Of course, it does make for good teasing and stories to tell afterwards, now doesn't it?).
If the inside of your tent is filled with farby items then make sure you tie the opening flaps closed to ensure no unwanted visitors enter - also, be aware that when you enter "the farb zone" that the visitor's vision is out of line with the entrance way. They should never be aware of our modern, behind the scenes "support." If you need something from your cooler, use a code word. For instance, folks during the time in which we emulate had cellars. What did they keep in their cellars? Pretty much the same type of items we keep in our coolers. So, instead of going to your cooler, you are now going to your "cellar." How about that all-important item you left in your car or van that you must retrieve? "I will be back shortly," you say. "I must go to my carriage to get my...(whatever it is you need)."
Pretty simple.
Think of the movie "Somewhere in Time:" remember how things went pretty well (considering) for Richard in his time-travel excursion back to 1912? That is, until, unexpectedly, he pulled out a 1979 penny from his pocket, and that one little farb moment totally ruined all he had worked toward to meet this woman of 60 years earlier...and he found himself, beyond his control, hurdled back to his own time.

An ill father rests while his 'daughters' spend quiet time ensuring his comfort

There are, of course, exceptions to all of this. Besides our own enjoyment, we are also there for the public, to hopefully teach them history as best as our own knowledge will allow. One excellent way to do this is to incorporate a combination of 1st person and a 3rd person ideology, where, without stepping out of your 1863 zone, you can answer any questions a visitor may have, or even easily explain your impression. After all, we don't want to scare folks away either. If you're not sure what is appropriate to say, do not be afraid to pass along the visitor to a reenactor who might answer the question in the appropriate manner. Then observe...watching and studying others is the very best way to learn this process - - this takes practice and I suggest you do just this: practice, practice, practice. Have meetings (period dress, of course!) with your membership based on this. We have, at times, made it a game where if one says or does anything farby or unappropriate, a quarter must be put into a (hidden from the public) jar. Then afterward, the money can be used for whatever the group decides. Hopefully, there isn't enough in the jar to do much at all!
So, ask yourself a few questions for your living history/time-travel excursion: which of the five senses fit appropriately into your 1860's presentation? The sights, sounds, smells, touch, and, yes, even taste? Which don't? Are all farby items properly hidden? How do you carry yourself? Do you sound appropriate? Do you look and act like you belong? This mindset can help you maintain the period ambiance of your site.

Of course, there are some things we cannot control: an airplane flying overhead, sometimes modern vehicles rumbling by, or any number of 21st century intrusions. One must learn to overlook and ignore such distractions and carry on as if they weren't there. Again, not always easy, but necessary.
And for the visitor (for most of our events take place where the public enjoy roaming about and asking questions), remember when you were once the one roaming and asking questions. Did you feel you were welcomed into the reenactor's camp site? Did they willingly answer your questions? Or did you feel like you were intruding?
As a reenactor, do you treat the visitor how you would like to be treated? Do you answer the questions happily or do you come off like the visitor is bothersome? If a visitor is uncertain about entering your site, do you call them over or do you ignore them, hoping they'll go away?

Doc Ramus does an excellent medical impression and includes the public in his presentations

One of our newest members, before joining our group, thought one had to be invited or in some sort of a special club to be a reenactor. She had no idea that anyone could join. She said that she was ignored at virtually every campsite she went to.
That's a shame.
I wonder how many other living historian wannabe's were ignored in that manner?

Authenticity and accuracy in every way is of utmost importance in living history. Nothing farby about these gentlemen!

As living historians, the last thing we should ever do is to turn folks off of history. It should be our goal to turn folks on to history, in a friendly, fun, and accurate way.
Anyhow, that's my two cents, for what it's worth. I would never expect everyone to follow my lead, but if I gave you any ideas, then the time I've just spent typing this out was worth it.
Hope you all have a great season!