Thursday, November 25, 2010

A 7 Question Meme

OK, a friend of mine did a meme out of boredom...I'm not really bored, but I kinda enjoy doing these.
If you decide to do one as well, please let me know so I can read it!

1. Do you prefer Thanksgiving or Christmas? Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday, but I do prefer Christmas. No, not because of the commercialization (buy! buy! buy!), but because of the music, the traditions, and I get to watch the various versions of "A Christmas Carol" (and read the original as well!).

2. If you had to choose between your computer and your television, which one would you get rid of? The television. In all honesty, the only thing I watch on TV are movies from the DVD player (OK, I do watch iCarly when the kids have it on). And I can watch most movies on my computer if I needed a movie fix. The internet/computer has played a role in my making new friends and in my historical research. Plus, I enjoy photography immensely, and computers have opened up a whole new world for photography.

3. Which book hero/heroine do you think is the most like you? Wow! This one's a tuffy. I don't read too many books other than history/informational books or "A Christmas Carol." I also have read some pretty good historical fiction, but most of the 'heroines', and I would feel odd stating that I was like one of them. So, since I'm assuming this is supposed to be fictional then I will choose either Ghost of Christmas Past (for obvious time-travel reasons) or the Ghost of Christmas Present, because of how upbeat - yet serious - he is.

4. What is your ancestry? My paternal side came from Sicily to New York to Detroit in 1912. My maternal side were non-conformist Quakers that came from England to Bucks County Pennsylvania in 1713. I'm proud of my heritage.

5. What's your favorite flavor of Pringles? The regular Pringles - - plain and simple.

6. Are you old-fashioned? you even have to ask? More than anyone I know, if only in mind, for modern city living (and Pringles) tend to creep in all too often.

7. Do you prefer shopping online or in stores? Definitely on line - I love I despise the mall or any mall-type stores. I do, however, enjoy antiquing or visiting used book stores.

Well, that's the questions that I saw. I would enjoy seeing your answers should you decide to do your own.


Monday, November 22, 2010

My Annual Thanksgiving Homage

I repeat this story every year only because the feeling of frustration still engulfs me whenever I think of how people truly believe that Thanksgiving is not a religious holiday.
So, here it is again for another run - - - - - -

A number of years ago, around 1993 or '94, we had a discussion at my previous job about the Thanksgiving Holiday. A co-worker made a comment that of all the holidays of the year, he loved Thanksgiving the best because it was about eating and family and only about eating and family. I threw in that it was also about giving thanks to God, hence the name Thanksgiving. He adamantly denied this, stating that religion had absolutely nothing to do with this holiday. I asked him who did he think the pilgrims were giving thanks to, of which he replied, "To the Indians!"

I told him, “No, not to the Indians. Being puritans who advocated strict religious discipline, the pilgrims would not have given thanks to the Indians themselves, but rather to God for sending the Indians to them to ensure their survival.”

Now, anybody who has an ounce of knowledge about the puritans would know they would not give thanks to mere mortal man. this point, other co-workers stepped in and took sides against me. As seems to be the norm in this day and age, I found myself in the minority in my belief - even with all the proof I had - and pretty much smiled and nodded and said, "You can revise history all you want, but the truth is there to be found if you'll search for it. But, I know you won't, so you'll go on believing what you perceive to be correct but in reality, is false."

I do realize that not everyone celebrates Thanksgiving as a religious holiday, but that doesn't take away the fact that it truly is a religious holiday, and thanks was given to God for the bountiful feast at hand and for those who helped in the growing and harvesting of it.

A bit about Thanksgiving feasts:
Although this feast is considered by many to the very first Thanksgiving celebration, it was actually in keeping with a long tradition of celebrating the harvest and giving thanks for a successful bounty of crops.
Native American groups throughout the Americas, including the Pueblo, Cherokee, Creek and many others organized harvest festivals, ceremonial dances, and other celebrations of thanks for centuries before the arrival of Europeans in North America.
Historians have also recorded other ceremonies of thanks among European settlers in North America, including British colonists in Berkeley Plantation, Virginia. At this site near the Charles River in December of 1619, a group of British settlers led by Captain John Woodlief knelt in prayer and pledged "Thanksgiving" to God for their healthy arrival after a long voyage across the Atlantic. This event has been acknowledged by some scholars and writers as the official first Thanksgiving among European settlers on record.
Whether at Plymouth, Berkeley Plantation, or throughout the Americas, celebrations of thanks have held great meaning and importance over time.

The Mayflower Compact:

"In ye name of God, Amen. We whose names are underwritten, the loyal subjects of our dread soveraigne Lord, King James, by the grace of God, of Great Britaine, Franc, and Ireland king, defender of the faith, etc."

"Haveing undertaken, for ye glorie of God, and advancemente of ye Christian faith, and honour of our king & countrie, a voyage to plant ye first colonie in ye Northerne parts of Virginia, doe by these presents solemnly & mutualy in ye presence of God, and one of another, covenant & combine our selves togeather into a civill body politick, for our better ordering & preservation & furtherance of ye ends aforesaid; "

"and by vertue hearof to enacte lawes, ordinances, acts constitutions, & offices, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet & convenient for ye generall good of ye Colonie, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience."

"In witnes wherof we have hereunder subscribed our names at Cap-Codd ye 11th. of November, in ye year of ye raigne of our soveraigne lord, King James, of England, France, & Ireland ye eighteenth, and of Scotland, ye fiftie fourth. Ano: Dom. 1620."

And this, by the way, from President Lincoln 1863:
"I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union."

Abraham Lincoln

Happy Thanksgiving to all of my blogger friends! May God Bless and keep all of you.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Camping vs Motel Militia

So, at your reenactments, are you a camper or part of the 'motel militia'?
For me, I sometimes camp, but usually I either head home when bedtime comes (if the event is close enough) or I will hit the nearest motel. When I do sleep in my tent it's usually at the three day Greenfield Village Civil War event, where - sleep be damned! - I can awaken amongst the historic buildings of American history.

Our camp site (aka the Reenactor Post Office)

To be honest, however, the whole camping thing is really not for me. I prefer being indoors on a bed rather than a cot or sleeping bag. And, it's nice to have solid protection during inclement weather.
Okay...I'll admit it here: I prefer being part of the motel militia. I am noticing a large (and getting larger) group of reenactors and living historians who are prefering sleeping in comfortable surroundings rather than in a tent.
1. "But, you're not really reenacting if you 'don't do it all!'"
So, I can't portray a real living historian if I don't sleep all night in a tent? Since when? As I said, I do spend the night in my tent a few times a year, but I don't sleep well at all when I do. If I sleep in comfort, get a decent nights sleep, and awaken refreshed I give a much better presentation than if I am only getting only three or so (more or less) hours of sleep.
I have seen 'real reenactors' spend more time with their tenting and camping than on their presentations, many times ignoring the public in the meantime (if they have a presentation at all - many feel the camping experience is their presentation - this I do not understand!).
2. "You're not experiencing true 19th century living if you don't sleep in a tent!"
And, pray tell, when did northern civilians on the homefront (or even most southerners) sleep in tents during the Civil War? I represent a middle class postmaster of the 1860's. I am able to provide for my wife and children a good life, no fear of want, and even have hired a domestic for cooking and laundry. Do you think we would be sleeping in a tent? One would think that if I were traveling far from home in the 1860's I would, except under rare occurrences, sleep in an inn or a tavern, right?

Part of my post office set up

Let's expand on this a bit more...understand, please, that I do set up a wall tent at the events where the opportunity to reenact in a period home is not available; I need a place for my 'post office,' as well as a spot to be our home base. Also, we must be able to hide the farb, right?
It's this situation that I ask the modern visitor, when the availability of using an actual period home is nil, to use their imagination and to think of our tent as sort of a wood frame house. Most seem to understand.
As I have written in previous postings, I have been able to perform living history presentations inside actual period homes and structures at numerous events, and these have been perhaps the best of all of my reenacting experiences. To be in an actual mid-19th century home while wearing period clothing and remaining in a 1st person mode clearly is as close to time travel as one can get - for the living historian as well as for the modern visitor.
Tell me that's not experiencing true 19th century living...!

My post office set up at the Mason Tavern in Crossroads Village

If a visitor asks me whether I spent the night in my tent, I will answer truthfully: sometimes yes, but other times I tell them that I am staying at the local inn (they don't have to know that the local "inn" is the 'Comfort Inn'!). And, this can actually lead to a very authentic conversation about traveling by coach.
The following comes from an older posting I wrote about the Eagle Tavern:
"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."

The Eagle Tavern - an original picture from the 19th century

The above is a true documented story of mid-19th century travel, and I have used this tale as my own when speaking to the public about my travels to the location at hand.
Bringing the past to life. All while being part of the motel militia.
So, whether you prefer tenting tonight on the old camp ground or motel militia, the opportunity to present 19th century history is there either way.


Friday, November 5, 2010

My Passion for History Did Not Begin With Reenacting (or...And How Long Have YOU Been Into History?)

This is a posting I wrote a couple of years ago. I recently came across it as I was looking for something else and thought that those of you who might not remember it - or maybe have never read it before - might be interested. I added a bit more to it to add a touch of color.

My wall oil lamp
Conversations around the supper table - - - - - - -
Recently I asked my mom, who lives with us, how long have I been into history. She replied that she thinks I came out of the womb into history.
I believe she's right. I cannot remember a time when history wasn't on my mind. Thinking back to the late 1960's (which, I guess, is now ancient history in itself for many!) when I was learning to read, I asked for (and received) a couple of books from the school book fair. One was called "If You Lived In Colonial Times," and the other book was about Christopher Columbus. And I read those two books over and over from cover to cover. Every year from then on, I would purchase more books with a historical theme: "The Cabin Faced West," "The Ghost of Dibble Hollow," "Father's Big Improvements," and others I can't remember at this time, as well as the yearly "Guinness Book of World Records" with lots of historical facts and figures.

Then, in the early 1970's ('73, I believe), the Detroit News celebrated its 100th anniversary and put out a series of replica front pages of the newspaper covering the great events from the first front page through most of the 20th century. Of course, I collected every one - still got 'em.
And around the same time, Life Magazine printed a book called "The Best of Life," covering the period from the late 1930's through the early 1970's - not exactly my favorite era in history, but it was cool nonetheless.

As silly as it may sound now, I also ate up every TV show that had a historical theme. I say silly because, well, do you remember when Samantha and Darin on "Bewitched" went back in time to the Plimouth Colony? I loved it. How about when Aunt Clara brought George Washington and Ben Franklin to the present? Great stuff! Or when they found themselves in the time of King Henry the Eighth? Not American history, but still history.
If history was involved, I was glued to the set.
Of course, "The Waltons" and "Little House on the Prairie" were watched weekly, although I would never admit it to my friends. Teen boys wouldn't be caught dead watching those shows!
Even the dumb nostalgia TV shows like "Happy Days" - not really history - was fun to watch, at least for the first two seasons. And, of course, "Bonanza" was a family favorite, as were any of the John Wayne westerns that were shown. My father and I together would sit and watch every one of them whenever they were shown on television in this age before VHS, DVD, and DVR.

Aside from the TV and books, I, without realizing it, sort of practiced an early form of living history.  No...not pretending - there is a difference. You see, the house I grew up in had two fireplaces and, after reading about how Abraham Lincoln would study by the light of his cabin's fireplace, I tried to do the same. I would turn off all the lights and sit at the hearth with a book and make the attempt to read. It was tough but, I figured if Abe could do it, so could I. So rather than pretend to read like young Lincoln did, I actually made the attempt to do so.
No other of my friends willingly went to this extent to get a feel of what it was like to live in the past. I was the sole 'nut.' In fact, they really weren't into history at all, and if they were they certainly didn't show it.
Yup - I was the odd man out!
Besides the fireplace (that my dad would have lit continuously from early autumn through springtime) my mother would begin to burn candles right after Labor Day, and that would also continue til about Easter time. They were normal everyday candles, not the perfumed fancy garbage that are 'in' today. It seemed like we had firelight flickering from the fireplace and from the candles nearly as often as the electric lights. Well, maybe not that much, but it was quite often.
And when I found out that our 1941 home was actually built with bricks from a 19th century building, I was elated! That was almost like living in a Victorian home! least in my mind it was.........
It's the bricks from this late 19th century structure that were used to build the 1941 house I grew up in
It was during this time (the early '70's) that, while playing outside, I would also pretend to be living in the colonial and pioneer days. If it was a good day, I could get a friend or two to begrudgingly play along with me.
Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit did not leave much for pioneering but one of our neighbors up the street from us had a privacy fence that ran from their property through their next door neighbor's property. Behind this privacy fence there were trees and underbrush - the perfect spot to play pioneers of 18th and 19th century America, which we did. We would tromp through this "forest" pretending that we were explorers or pioneers of the past etching out a new life. Sort of our own early form of reenacting, so to speak. And this sort of pretending was especially fun if we were up at the cottage in Lexington (Michigan) where woods, creeks, and trails abounded. Now that made for great "living history!"
We would traipse through wooded paths or along the Lake Huron shoreline, acting as if we were Lewis and Clark finding the Pacific Ocean, or Daniel Boone in Kentucky, or any number of other historical heroes. Sometimes we just might be pioneers following the path along the crick. My friends did actually enjoy it when we were pretending in this way. Man! We would come back soaked up to our knees and as filthy as if we had spent weeks out there!
(I would also pretend to be one of The Beatles during this time, but that's another story!).

With me begging and pleading, my parents finally took me, at about age 10 or 11, to Greenfield Village. You would have thought it was Christmas, that's how excited I was. Walking along the cobblestone and brick streets of the Village, horses and carriages clip-clopping by, Model T's chugging past, the steamboat's paddle wheel splashing, and the locomotive train ride that bordered the entire Village - I was in heaven. And then to go inside the old homes and every-so-often seeing period dressed docents milling about, and also watching the blacksmith pound the glowing metal into a horseshoe, made for a fine day in the past. I even got a souvenir, of which I still have: a set of picture cards showing some of the houses, cars, and other Village scenes.
A scene from Greenfield Village 1969 - that's the Ford Home on the right (this picture was taken from an old book I have)

Then came the bicentennial year of 1976. What a great time to be a history buff! The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press had weekly articles and specials about America's (and Detroit's) colonial period. I still have some of the newspapers, all yellowed and fragile. But, I would immerse myself in the written words therein.
The shows on TV during that historical year, with the movies and documentaries of America's birth, including something called 'Bicentennial Minute,' also swept me away into the past. Then there were the Colonial themed festivals and parades that took place where I could see and hear the fife & drum corps, colonial soldiers, and the colonial civilians.
There was even a replica of an old 18th century sailing vessel that blew through the Great Lakes. It was out quite far but I could see it wonderfully with grandpa's telescope.
And I was loving it.
Was I ever!
But, like most teens boys, driving and girls took precedence and I left history behind for a number of years to pursue, well, driving and girls.
But the past soon re-entered into my life in a way I never would have expected.
Let's jump ahead a few years to 1982 when I met the girl I would one day marry. Our first date consisted of going to see "E.T." at the drive in movie theater and out to eat at the local Big Boys. Our conversation was spent on the topic history - are you surprised? Actually, it was more like history lite - I didn't want to scare her off. But, guess what? I discovered she had a passion for traditional crafts, 'old-time' living, and she also revered the past as well. We even had the same dreams and hopes of one day owning a real Victorian home and living a traditional lifestyle.
No kidding.
I went home trying to figure out what I did right...I mean, when most young people - especially girls - tended to shy away from the olden day, I found one who actually had an interest in them!
Divine intervention, I would say!
That first summer together we went to Greenfield and Crossroads Villages. We went in the summer, fall, and at Christmastime. In fact, it was at the Greenfield Village Christmas at the Eagle Tavern gala that I began my pursuit of having an old-fashioned Christmas (click here and here).
In 1985, the year we married, we bought our first antique - a mantel clock from the 1880's. Since then we have continued to feed our thirst for antiquing and period living by purchasing one or two (if cheap enough) items a year. Oh, nothing of great value. But, objects from the past that were once a part of someone's everyday life.
See the clock on top of the desk? That is the first antique that Patty and I bought together back in 1985

Early in our marriage we lived in an apartment, and we would do our best to give it somewhat of an old fashioned look. It didn't always look the way I wanted it to, so I got the itch to get into an actual house.
Of course, we did our best to decorate this new house in a traditional manner.
The real fun began when we re-mortgaged and added a room onto it - my Greenfield Village room, as some called it. Now, upon returning home from the Village I had a place I could go to help me 'stay there', even if it was in a pseudo sort of way.
Over the years we have improved the room greatly and now it has a fairly accurate period parlor look to it:

It has that period feel, don't you think?

One would never guess this was inside a home built in 1944. place of solace...

And it was also during this time that I worked at a record store. At times I was ribbed quite often (and even sometimes chastised) for my musical tastes and in-store play: old time country, 50's & 60's rock and roll, big band, and then, in the early 1990's, record companies began to comb through their vaults and release ancient recordings on CD such as Nippers Greatest Hits 1901-1920 (RCA Victor's earliest recordings), original recordings of WWI, Music of the Titanic era, original piano roll music (ragtime & cakewalk) from the 1890's and early 1900's, 1920's collections...Man! I bought every one! True historical music!
Of course, as I'm sure you well know, we now reenact the era of the Civil War and are able to live in that period - one weekend at a time - much to our pleasure. And, yes, our pseudo Victorian house (as I call our 1944 bungalow) is heavily decorated in the mid-19th century style with (mostly) original antiques from that period.

As you can see, my interest in history didn't begin with reenacting; reenacting - and, even more so, living history - became the culmination (so far) of all my years of studying. And I still study history - I still collect history books, most of which deal with the social history of Americans, especially the everyday lives of everyday folks mainly from the mid-colonial period through the 1880's, and, due to the extensive research of modern historians, I have a much more vivid feel for the way the earlier Americans lived.
It's funny, however, that the stodgy old history books that we had to use in school rarely interested me. They spoke of names and dates, but, except for a few, they bored me. I was always interested in how people lived - how they lived their daily lives from sun up to sun know, social history. That's where most of my historical interests have always been. But, history was not taught that way.
Believe it or not, I didn't do very well in history class in school because of the manner in which it was taught.

To repeat a favorite quote (from Henry Ford):
"History as it is taught in the schools deals largely with...wars, major political controversies, territorial extensions and the like. When I went to our American history books to learn how our forefathers harrowed the land, I discovered that the historians knew nothing about harrows. Yet our country depended more on harrows than on guns or great speeches. I thought a history which excluded harrows and all the rest of daily life is bunk and I think so yet."
That's exactly the way I feel.

By the way, we burn an awful lot of candles, just like my mom, as well as oil lamps, from September through early spring. One day maybe we'll have a house with a real fireplace. *sigh*

Well, that's my story - my History.
I've been 'time-traveling' a long time. Maybe one day I'll actually make it!


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Busiest Season for Living History

(photo at left): a picture of me at the Plymouth (Michigan) Historical Society's cemetery walk)

For so many - too many - living historians, the end of the reenacting hobby for any year comes with the season of autumn. The leaves begin to change, a nip is felt in the air, and so the totes come out and in go the period clothing until April or May.

For some, I suppose, the warmer months of spring and summer are enough for them to reenact. Of course, those are usually the people that only go to a few events a year anyhow. Then you have the nuts! Enter...ME!

Reenacting in Autumn - I love it!

Yup - I am totally crazy over living history (as if you didn't know!), and I simply cannot end with the seasons. Those who we attempt to portray lived their lives the year 'round in their time, so, to me, it adds another bit of realism (is that the word I'm looking for?) to reenact in the 'off season.'
Here in southeastern lower Michigan the last 'official' battle reenactment took place in mid-October.

The Harvest Ball

Since then I have been to a Civil War ball, participated in my second cemetery walk (where I portrayed one from the mid-19th century), and conducted a period-dress civilian meeting.
November brings a non-period dress Michigan Roundtable meeting to discuss next year's Civil War reenacting activities, as well as Christmas at Crossroads Village, the Holly Dickens Festival, and a period-dress gathering of living historians at Greenfield Village.

Christmas at Fort Wayne - showing home life in Detroit circa 1863

Well, Christmas at Historic Fort Wayne where a few of us will portray a family in Detroit during the early 1860's (in an actual 19th century house) is a major highlight, followed the next day with Christmas at the Farm where my family (and a few friends) will become a farm family during the War - again, in an actual period correct farmhouse. Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village (twice!), a couple more dates at the Holly Dickens Festival, Ghosts of Christmas Past at the Crocker House, and then, finally, the 21st Michigan period Christmas party (in early January).

Yes, even President and Mrs. Lincoln enjoyed the Holly Dickens Festival

When you look at it, October, November, and December can actually be busier for living history than nearly any other time of the year!
Before you ask me when I have time for family, well, that's the best part: they join me at most of these events; there's nothing quite like time-traveling with your family!
And, yes, we do have our modern time - I happen to be a big movie fan and enjoy watching a good flick on a Saturday evening. That's the nice thing about winter events - they're usually day trips.

Enjoying a quick respite from the cold, a couple of Christmas Travelers have a warm inside the 1854 Buzzell House in Crossroads Village

If you go through reenacting withdrawals during the so-called 'off season,' then I encourage you to search out events that will enable you to get your 'fix' - or even come up with unofficial events of your own. Especially at Christmastime, it can put the holiday season in a whole new light!