Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas at Waterloo Farm 1861

That's our the left (I wish!)

The Christmas Season's time-travel activities is now in full force and virtually every weekend this month will have another opportunity to experience life in the past - at least for a day or two at a time. One of the most special Christmas weekends took place this past (get it?) weekend at Waterloo Farm Museum. You may recall when I wrote the following last summer:
throughout the year the Waterloo Area Historical Society that runs the museum holds various events, including pioneer days, log cabin days, and a Christmas gathering. My favorite spot on the farm is the farmhouse, which is filled with accurate period furnishings that give the homestead a very authentic feel.
And now, to paraphrase another line in that same blog:
imagine my surprise when I was told that my family and I, along with a few friends, could set ourselves up in the house as if it were our own and present ourselves as family living there with friends coming to call during the Christmas Season of 1861!

A dream come true! To me that is as 'progressive' as a civilian living historian could get without actually sleeping inside the home (that, good friends, would be considered 'hardcore' and the ultimate reenacting experience for someone like me!). For a civilian, to have a period house to reenact in doesn't get any better! And at Christmastime to boot!
The home is heated by a wood-burning stove in the kitchen and a wood-burning heating stove in the dining room, and the good folks who run this museum did a fine job keeping us warm on such a gray, dingy, flurry-filled - and cozy! - day. Well, except for the upstairs where the stoves wouldn't be lit until bedtime (if we were actually staying there!).
We worked out a scenario where I was the owner of the farm, my "sister" (friend Mrs. Cook) from Pennsylvania was staying with us, our friends from down the road a piece were visiting, as well as our domestic were all helping us to prepare for our Christmas celebration.

Each of us had an opportunity to speak with visitors as they toured the house, and we stayed in 1st person nearly the entire time. We would step out of character here and there to answer a question or to give information on a certain subject that would have been too difficult to give while remaining in 1st person. For instance, when visitors asked about the feather tree in the sitting room, friend Larissa, who has extensive knowledge on feather trees, shared her knowledge about their history and ultimate future.

Some of the Ladies of our farm

My "sister" spoke of her arduous travels to my farm by way of steamboat (across the Great Lakes) and stage coach (from Detroit onward). We used the tried and truthful story of the stage getting stuck in the mud, broken wagon wheels, and other historically accurate travel adventures.
And our domestic explained her daily duties in great detail, much to the disbelief of the young ladies listening.
The farmhouse was decorated tastefully in the manner of the mid-to-late 19th century including hanging greens and above-mentioned feather tree.
The patrons were also interested in the spinning wheel being used as well as my wife's crocheting. Of course, we explained that she was crocheting a scarf and hat for our boys fighting to preserve the Union!

A special treat was when our friends from 'down the road' - Mrs. Fleishman and her mother - entertained all by showing their musical prowess on the ancient pump organ sitting in the formal parlor. The beautiful strains of "Silent Night" hummed beautifully and allowed us to hear what our ancestors heard over a hundred years earlier.

During the slower moments I pulled out my hard-cover copy of Dickens "A Christmas Carol" and read aloud from it for all to enjoy.
I feel that we succeeded in presenting, to the best of our current knowledge, what life was like during Christmas 1861. Oh, there were a few mistakes made here and there (I made a ridiculous comment that need not be repeated, but it was one of those "uh do I get out of this?" I did joke about it afterward), but, for nearly the entire time we demonstrated our familiarity of the past in a fun and entertaining - yet authentic - manner.
I feel thanks must be given to the many folks at the Waterloo Historical Society, for it's because of their trust in us that we were able to spend a weekend in December 1861. We were told to make the house our home, and we were made to feel at home. And because of this we received, in a way, a wonderful early Christmas gift!

My wife and I with our two youngest



Christine said...

Oh how fun! I had hoped to attend a Christmas walk at Fowler Park in Terre Haute this past weekend but we had a nasty snow storm that prevented us from travelling. I am going to try to attend the same at Conner Prairie this coming weekend.

I love your wife's shawl, if she knows where I might find a pattern for it I would much appreciate the direction. I learned how to knit socks this past weekend and look forward to portraying the making of soldier socks next season.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Christine! I'm sorry that your event didn't pan out. I guess snow at Christmas time is as good a reason to cancel as any, wouldn't you say?
Anyhow, the pattern info is as follows:
Robin Stokes Dressmaker - -
"A Lady's Knitted Vest"
based on Godey's Ladies Book and Magazine January 1862
The ladies Treasury: An Illustrated Magazine - London November 1860.
I hope this helps

Christine said...

Excellent, that is exactly what I needed to know. Thank you.

AprilG said...

Ken, now I'm jealous. I can't figure out what was my favorite part of your re-enactment. I guess I really appreciate that you were able to step out of character in order to make explanations. For me, there's a perverse pleasure in staying in character and really making a point of the difference between now & then, but I think it's far more important to take the guest's hand and help them over that hurdle, rather than making them jump alone.

It's precious to me that you're able to satisfy your own impulse to step back in time, and simultaneously share that with those who just want to "dip a toe."


Historical Ken said...

Thank you April, for your kind comments and for giving us the opportunity to make the farm our home - even for only a weekend! It was my favorite moment of the season (so far!).
Merry Christmas!!