Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Reenacting 2010 Has Begun

OK - the time machine button has been pushed and I am swirling back to the 1860's. Yup! The reenacting season has begun. Our first *actual* reenactment took place in mid May (at Walker Tavern - see previous posting) and the fever is high. It's a fine location for living history and there were a number of unusual set ups mixed in the civilian camp, including a bath house (how awesome is that?) and someone else who had a period (replica?) coffin in front of their campsite. Ok, now, you are going to think I'm strange, but I actually climbed in the coffin, folded my arms, and closed my eyes while my good friend and 'brother from another mother' snapped a few images of me. When he had finished and I opened my eyes I found several people standing over me, not really believing that there was someone crazy enough to actually climb into a coffin! The pictures are very creepy to look at - I'm not posting, them at my wife's request, so please don't ask.
Well, I guess I am trying to experience everything from the era at least once. Next will hopefully be a bath in an actual period tub - yup! She does charge and one can really 'clean up' just like in the days gone by. I also hope to experience a shave from a straight razor - that just might put me in a coffin for real!
This weekend, which is Memorial Weekend, we have another event, this time at Greenfield Village. I will post photos of that event next week sometime.
This season promises to be full of surprises and, for me, the most exciting events ever (there's a civilian only - life on the homefront - event taking place at Crossroads Village in Flint in July - you can bet I'll be there!!).
So, with the button already pushed, I am finding myself traveling on my journey to the past. And what a journey it will be!


Thursday, May 20, 2010

Walker Tavern - The Next Stop Along Michigan's Detroit-Chicago Road

I'd like to write about what I guess could be considered a kind of part two to the Eagle Tavern blog I wrote of a few months ago. This posting is about another local tavern from the 19th century, just down the road a ways from where the Eagle Tavern once stood. On the 15th and 16th of this month, I attended a Civil War reenactment on the grounds of Walker Tavern, and I was able to take quite a few pictures and gather some wonderful information as I toured this historic building.
Walker Tavern is still located in its original location on the historic Old Chicago Road' (U.S. 12) and has been restored to it's mid-19th century appearance.

A little bit of history:After the Erie Canal opened in 1825, thousands of settlers flocked to the Michigan Territory. Two roads moved pioneers west from Lake Erie: the Monroe Pike, running from Monroe to Jackson, and the Chicago Road. These two roads intersected at Cambridge Junction, which made it a great location for a tavern. From 1836 through 1855—when a stagecoach ride from Detroit to Chicago was a long and arduous five-day trip (I vehemently disagree with this statement. It was more like 10 to 15 days to get from Detroit to Chicago. I'm not sure where they got this info from, but it certainly is not true)—a favorite stopping place to change horses, relax, enjoy a meal, or spend the night was this farmhouse tavern. Purchased by and named after owners Sylvester and Lucy Walker in 1843, the tavern also was a convenient site for local political and religious gatherings.
Walker Tavern became a prosperous business and a thriving community hub. Two stages stopped there each day and at any one time there might be ten to twenty wagons lined up waiting for accommodations. One of the stagecoach drivers, Francis A. Dewey, recorded, "Men of every class and condition of life from the earliest times would stretch out their day's drive to reach the hospitable roof of the Walker's hotel ... People flocked in each evening to receive their mail and hear the news brought in from the east and from the west ... Sometimes the crowd numbered 50 or 75 and oftentimes their drunken shouts resounded far into the night."

However, travel was arduous; roads were full of ruts, bogs, and tree stumps. A stagecoach driver's goal was to travel fifty miles in a day, but many times there were complications. As one traveler in the 1830's pointed out, "As soon as we had entered the woods, the roads became as bad as, I suppose, roads ever are. Something snapped, and the driver cried out that we were 'broke to bits.' "
By the 1860s trains replaced stagecoaches as the fast and
fashionable way to travel and the railroad line bypassed Cambridge Junction. Stagecoach driver Francis Dewey purchased the tavern and he and his family farmed the land for over fifty years.
Today the tavern serves up a dose of Michigan history. Still located at the
crossroads of US 12 and M-50 in the green and rolling Irish Hills, Walker Tavern has been a wayside inn, a roadside tourist attraction and is now a state historic park.

If you recall reading from a previous blog about the Eagle Tavern I wrote, "There is a story told of a stage that left Clinton's Eagle Tavern for the west one morning loaded with passengers. The road was very muddy and the coach had managed to get a mile from the village. The passengers walked back to the inn to spend the night, and early the next morning returned to the coach. During the second day it got three miles from Clinton. Again, the passengers returned to the Eagle Tavern. On the third day the coach must have reached another tavern, for the passengers did not return. "
That other tavern would have been Walker Tavern, which was the next stop for these very patient travelers.

As if roaming the inside of Walker Tavern wasn't interesting enough, on the way home, while we were driving through the town of Clinton - around 12 miles east of the Walker location - I noticed a state historical marker that made me wonder...could it be? I pulled over and my assumption was correct: the marker showed the exact original spot of the Eagle Tavern (known also as The Clinton Inn when Henry Ford first purchased it), now, of course, relocated in Greenfield Village! How cool was this? I had now traveled the same road as the stage coaches did all those years ago.

Oh, I know, millions travel upon it yearly. But, I wonder how many actually think about the road that they are driving upon, with all its twists and turns and hills, and just how treacherous and uncomfortable a journey it was back in the days before the automobile. My thoughts did a little drifting as I rode along the U.S. 12 Heritage Trail, imagining what it was like back then.
Yes, I was also paying very close attention to my driving as well, lest any of you think I wasn't!

It never ceases to amaze me just how much history still stands and is within a short drive of my home. And, with the internet, it doesn't take much effort to find wonderful social history, the kind that makes the buildings seemingly come to life.
So many stories to be told...are you listening?

(all photos except the historic marker were taken at Walker Tavern)

If you are interested in learning even more about Michigan's Taverns, please click HERE for a more in depth posting)


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Our 25th Wedding Anniversay Celebration

2010... ...or 1863...
Where to begin…?
The day started off being very windy, cold, and rainy – not the kind of day one would want to have to celebrate a wedding anniversary, especially one as important as their 25th!
But, we heard improvement was on the way.
Our good friends - our best friends, the Gillett's - showed up around 1:30, as did another good friend, Miss Graber, shortly after, then it was off to the hall for all of us except my dear wife, our daughter, and Mrs. Gillett, for they had to ready themselves for the big party. At the hall the rest of us put up the decorations, reenacting photos that I enlarged and matted as well as some of our original wedding pictures in a photo album, tablecloths, and the table goodies and treats (Hershey’s Kisses, mints, cashews) along with the flower centerpieces.
Although a bit cool, the sun was now fully out and remained until sunset, making for a perfect looking day.
This is the 1872 school house in which our renewed nuptials took place
4:00 came around and it was decided that we would get to the schoolhouse, for the ceremony was to begin at 5:00, and we knew our guests were to arrive shortly. I was ecstatic that my whole family showed (except for a few nephews and nieces) which made my mother pretty happy. Of course, since we were replicating an 1860’s wedding, nearly all attendees were dressed in period clothing…except my siblings and a very few non-reenacting friends, which was understood.

My wife, with help from a good friend, made her gown. Since we were already married, it was okay to see each other before the ceremony!
As we spent some time getting a few photos taken by local tintype image maker Mr. D. Green, pianist Mrs. Purdue began to play a few select numbers – "When Thou Art Near" , "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" , "Air on a G String" - all by J. S. Bach – on the old schoolhouse piano.

When she began Pachelbel’s Canon in D that was our signal for the renewal of the vows ceremony to begin. With Preacher Gillett officiating (being an ordained minister), our kids went from the back of the schoolhouse to the front in age order – Tom, Rob, Miles, then Rosalia – as our witnesses.
Then my dear wife and I stepped out and everyone in the congregation stood up, which totally took her off guard.
She looked more beautiful than ever in her period correct wedding dress / ball gown – one that she had spent this spring making herself, with help from another good friend, Mrs. Root. My eldest sister said that she had an inner glow.

The 1872 Schoolhouse was the perfect location for our renewal of the vows

The ceremony itself was absolutely perfect – the good preacher asked me afterwards if he "did good." I told him “no,” that he didn’t do good…he did GREAT – far beyond our expectations! The biblical passages he used were from the very traditional old-time weddings - Ephesians 5:22-29 - (except his using the word ‘again’ – “Ken, do you take Patricia again to be your lawfully wedded wife?” What a hoot! Everyone loved that!).
I explained to him that he helped to make our dream wedding come true. My wife and I had spoken of having a wedding like this way back before our original marriage, but we knew nothing about reenactors or period clothing at that time, so our renewal was truly a gift, and to us more than a renewal. And, to make it even more special this time around, just before the vow renewals were spoken, we had our eldest son, Tom, play his guitar and sing “In My Life” by the Beatles – not period correct, of course, but the words are absolutely perfect:

There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more
(Here's a link of Tom singing it at another location so you can hear what it sounded like)

Everyone loved it! My wife had tears in her eyes. I must admit, I did, too. I told the congregants that it wouldn’t be an event for us if we didn’t have the Beatles being a part – they laughed.
Then we renewed our vows and I never felt more in love with my wife than at that moment! And, to have our children be our witnesses…it just doesn’t get any better – what a wonderful feeling!
See our daughter as the flower girl?
The ceremony had ended with a prayer and we were "announced" with a round of applause. Looking out at the congregation sitting in that old 1872 building – most dressed 1860’s – gave off the wonderful appearance of a time gone by. The old schoolhouse was the perfect location for our special period renewal.

The ladies of the 1860's
Once the ceremony had ended, many more photos were taken and then it was off to the VFW Hall just down the road. Although a modern hall, those of us in period clothing - and the music - helped to transform it back into another era of 150 years ago.

My family - and there were numerous other family members who could not attend!

Upon entering the hall doors, another good friend, Mr. Cook, “announced us” and everyone clapped once again. Just as was done 25 years ago.
The food, although not period, received many complements: 2 Marcos Meats 6 foot sub sandwiches, plus goodies that family and friends pitched in and made for us: tuna noodle, a variety of cookies, our “wedding cake” made by my sister-in-law, potato salad, greens salad, potato chips, and many other fine edibles. As this was not a formal dining-type gathering, I went around to the tables to let the guests know they could eat whenever they were hungry.
Another preacher friend, Pastor Purdue, said a beautiful grace.
The Michigan Ruffwater Old Time String Band: A fine group of period musicians!!
Glen Morningstar’s Michigan Ruffwater Old Time String Band, an absolutely amazing group of period musicians, began to play shortly after 7 and the Grand Ball began with the Grand March lead by President and Mrs. Lincoln (the Priebe’s) – we didn’t feel comfortable enough to lead in the grand march – but practically every guest in attendance, including all of my siblings, my mom, and non-reenacting friends (!), joined in.

From there the regular period ball and contra dancing began, which included “Spanish Dance” (Haste to the Wedding), Contra Dance (Guilderoy), Circle of Couples (Jenny Lind), The Fan Dance, Quadrille with ladies chain (Oh Susannah & Road to Boston), A March Cotillion (Buffalo Gals & Camptown Ladies), The Virginia Reel (Sir Robert de Coverly), and the “Spanish Waltz”.
These last two are mine and my dear wife's absolute favorites. But, a special moment happened during the Fan Dance: our third son, Miles – yes, our Miles (who has Aspergers Syndrome)! - joined in, and the for the first time he actually ‘danced’ (more like walking...but still...) down the line (with his cousin)! And, the second time he actually ‘skipped’ (with young Miss Purdue, the daughter of the pastor and the pianist, who kind of coaxed him into putting a little more kick in his step).
The Fan Dance
Everyone whooped and hollered as he did this – our photographer told me he noticed this right off and really admired the way our reenactor friends treated and cheered Miles on. He said he could see that our little living history community are truly like family. That was so special – a major step for Miles!
And my other children also danced the evening away - - - - these old dances are much more fun than the modern ones, I must say.

The Spanish Waltz
The non-reenacting friends and family that joined in the dancing literally "had a ball!" They've never been to anything like this so it was quite a shock in comparison to what they were used to at such an occasion.
During Ruffwater's intermission, my son Tom's vocal group, Simply Dickens, performed a small set beginning with “If I Needed You” – a non-period country hit from the early 1980’s by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams, but it was mine and Patty’s original wedding song 25 years ago, and to have my son and his group sing it perfectly for us was simply awesome. After they performed this tune (and Patty and I danced to it), Simply Dickens performed a few more numbers, actual period correct tunes: Shady Grove, Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier, Soldier Soldier Will You Marry Me, Hard Times Come Again No More, and Wayfaring Stranger. They only played for around 20 minutes but the guests loved them.

Period vocal group, Simply Dickens, singing into very non-period microphones - at least everyone could hear them!!

The Virginia Reel
We were told about (and then witnessed for ourselves) a number of people from connecting halls / rooms who were coming out of their party to watch ours’. I guess we were quite a hit!
Unfortunately, 10:00 came and the evening wound down, and it was time to say goodbye to our family and friends.. A few came back to the house with us – sort of an afterglow - and we all had wonderful, but tiring, visit.
It's not everyone that has President Lincoln attend their anniversary party! Here he is with my niece, who loves our 16th President.
Here it is, now, a few days after, and my wife and I are still on a "high." In fact, I am writing this on our actual wedding anniversary date: May 11th.
Feels like the first time indeed...only BETTER!! Our dream truly did come true...thanks to the greatest family and best of friends...ever!

What 25 years produced for my wife and I !!

I hope you enjoyed our very special day - a day which was every bit a wonderful (if not more so) that our original wedding day!


Saturday, May 8, 2010

Table of Contents

I finally did it - - I made a Table of Contents page for my Greenfield Village blog. So now anyone who is interested in any particular structure, event, ride, or anything else GFV can easily access it with just a click.
Check it out, won't you?
Greenfield Village Open-Air Museum

Friday, May 7, 2010

Random Historical Thoughts and Commentaries

Lately I have been engulfed in a wonderful book called "The Cormany Diaries - A Northern Family in the Civil War." As stated in its title, it is the diary and journal of Samuel Cormany and Rachel Bowman respectively, beginning with entries from before the two even met and continues through their courtship, marriage, and birth of their child up until the end of the Civil War. What I find thoroughly fascinating about this book, besides, of course, reading 1st person accounts of everyday life as lived during the mid-19th century, are the thoughts and feelings that show well the times in which these two young people lived. In particular it shows the morals and mores of the period. For instance, Rachel, who took a job as a school teacher and was boarding with a family far from her home, wrote in her journal on July 7, 1860 (around five months before her marriage to Samuel) (spelling and grammar intact):
"I have great things to write this morning. Last evening after I had been to my boarding place a little while Joanna Dickson came there. They were talking and laughing about something. at last Joanna said, 'Miss B. you did not know that Joab C. had become daddy." I was perfectly dumbfounded. I did not know what to say. I was to Mr. Carpenters on Monday night & about 12 o'clock at night some men came there. Marinda and I had just gone to bed. it scared us, we thought they were robbers, we were silenced by being told that they must be drunk. I have found out since that it was the Constable & that he came & took Joab off that night up to Orange station, where the girl lives. Early in the morning Mr. C went up to help settle it. I was at their house helping Marinda make her dress. On the 4th Marinda, Joab & I went to Columbus and never found a word of it out till last evening. I fear it will injure me some, being a stranger here. Although I never once went with him alone, still I was in his company. I can hardly bear to stay over here now, it makes me feel awful to think I had anything to say to such a man. I feel like taking a good cry."

We here in the 21st century look at the values and morals of Rachel's time and think them quaint, do we not? We feel that because we are more 'accepting' that we are better for it. And, because of this, we consider ourselves "enlightened." It seems in today's society that we become more 'enlightened' due to less values and morals.
Of course, values and morals change over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. I must admit that I am glad that folks who have children out of wedlock are no longer a scourge in our society. I only wish it wasn't quite as tolerable in the sense that it happens so often...too often.
And to be enlightened should not mean to be more accepting, but, rather, more aware.


For quite a while I have been hearing and seeing advertisements about the History Channel's extensive new 12 hour mini-series "America: The Story of Us," claiming that this was the first time in something like 40 years that such a task of telling America's history was undertaken. I really wasn't sure just how good it would be, I mean, this is the History Channel and we all know how little real history is shown. I also figured it would be filled with Howard Zinn-type leftist propaganda with nothing (or very little at best) to off-set his one-sided revisionist pap that seems to pass as actual American history, and I would probably find myself getting very frustrated watching it.
Well, I have watched the first four hours so far.
I'm giving it, at this point, a C-. But, not necessarily for its leftist leanings (not nearly as left as I thought it would be, I must say).
I guess I should have known better than to ever think the History Channel would do American history any real justice.
Again, I have only watched four hours of the 12 hour series - I have not seen the show in its entirety. But, since I specialize in early-to-mid-19th century living, with the colonial period a close second, I have to tell you that their coverage of this period so far is, well, pretty lame.
I have been sorely disappointed.
So let's speak of the content inside the program, or the lack thereof. As most know, it seems that history as it's told today only tells half of the story, conveniently leaving out information that would give a more complete understanding of the why's and the wherefores of our founding fathers. I was hoping that "America: The Story of Us," being 12 hours in length, just might finally tell us the whole story.
I was wrong.
In fact, I was speechless (if you can believe that) at the amount of American history that was missing.
First off, they forgot about the explorers; Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci, Ponce Di Leon, Hernando De Soto, and a number of others. Nada. Nothing. Totally ignored. The powers that be just do not seem to understand that good or bad, right or wrong, these men were a very important part of American history.
But, there was a piece on Jamestown. For about five minutes.
Oh, and the pilgrims received about 7 minutes of air time...maybe...
The French and Indian War? What? Was there a war fought in the mid-18th century? Do the good folks at the History Channel not realize the importance of this, ahem, forgotten war, and what a major role it was to the story of us?
Obviously not. Ice Truckers, however, they know about.
The show then jumped from the early 17th century to the Rev War in less than a half hour. This is including the opening credits and the speech from Obama. That's roughly 170 years in less than 30 minutes.
Something's amiss here.
The images on the screen (many - too many - computerized images) jumped and flashed and swirled in dizzying fashion as if I was watching an MTV-style program - the flashiness over-shadowed the content.
And I haven't even said anything on the poor choices for commentators: Sheryl Crow? Michael Douglas? P. Diddy? Donald Trump? Meryl Streep? The "Reverand" Al Sharpton? Since when does being an actor or a singer or a billionaire (or a loudmouth) make one knowledgeable on American history (or any other subject for that matter)?
Why would they not get actual historians for a project such as this? At least one could then take it a bit more seriously. And, please don't say it wouldn't be as interesting with boring old historians. Ken Burns has already proven everyone who thinks this way wrong!
The next episode is going to be about the Civil War. I am a Yankee tried and true, but I will be interested to see how the confederacy will be treated. Will they show both sides' opinions?
Ahhh...there I go again!
As far as the rest of the story, methinks that the last six hours that will follow the Civil War episode will be mostly 20th and 21st century. The first six hours were for the first 300 years, and the last six hours for the last 100 years (or thereabouts).
The story of us indeed!
I'll stick to my books.