Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Reenacting 2011 - January, Get Thee Behind Me!

We had our annual business meeting of the 21st Michigan Civil War reenacting unit. It was ok as far as meetings go. It's the only meeting we have that we don't dress up in our period clothing - and who would want to? It's a business meeting, and it can get pretty darn boring. There have been times where it's gotten pretty nasty, too. But, it's been fine the last couple of years.
It's at this business meeting where we vote for the events we plan to have our unit attend, and there sure are plenty of 'em to choose from for 2011. With the 150th at hand, it seems as if everyone has the bug to commemorate the anniversary of the worst war ever fought on U.S. soil.

This is not how the ladies of the 21st Michigan dressed for our business meeting.
Maybe it would help it along if they did!!

According to our attendance sheet, I attended 14 events in 2010. That's 14 21st Michigan events. In actuality, I also attended four events with the other reenacting group I belong to, the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society (MSAS).
But, that's still not everything!
There were also 10 events I attended independent of any unit.
That's 28 total events - slightly more than every other weekend for the year!

So, you might think, "His poor wife! Stuck in that corset and living the drudgery of a Victorian woman on her husband's account!"
To which you would be wrong.
I am blessed to have my beloved almost as excited at participating in living history as me, especially now that she knows how to use her spinning wheel and walking wheel. Out of the 28 events that I attended, she joined me in all but maybe seven or eight.
And now a new "season" of time traveling is creeping up. But, I'm stuck in this v-e-r-y ---- s-l-o-w time of year for reenacting.
I am getting the shakes.
I must be addicted!
By most accounts in the Civil War reenacting world, this year will be 1861, and most of the events are geared to that time.

To help authenticate this journey through the past, I purchased numerous replicas of the Harper's Weekly newspaper - a couple from each month of 1861, as well as from '62 through '65. A prop to keep it real, and it's neat reading the first-hand accounts.
There are also numerous new events that I am looking forward to doing, including civilian-only events, where I can continue to practice my living history.
Yeah, I'm really getting excited!
Now, if only the weather would cooperate...wait! What do you mean it's only January?!?

Well, I guess that's why I created a pretty authentic parlor in my help pull me through these bleak, cold, dreary winter days.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Altered History (or What Some People Won't Do For Fame)

I don't usually post news stories here, but I felt this important enough - and historical enough - to do so:

Press Release
January 24, 2011

National Archives Discovers Date Change on Lincoln Record

Thomas Lowry Confesses to Altering Lincoln Pardon to April 14, 1865

Washington, DC…Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero announced today that Thomas Lowry, a long-time Lincoln researcher from Woodbridge, VA, confessed on January 12, 2011, to altering an Abraham Lincoln Presidential pardon that is part of the permanent records of the U.S. National Archives. The pardon was for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion.

Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864, to April 14, 1865, the day John Wilkes Booth assassinated Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Having changed the year from 1864 to 1865, Lowry was then able to claim that this pardon was of significant historical relevance because it could be considered one of, if not the final official act by President Lincoln before his assassination.

The images and video are in the public domain and not subject to any copyright restrictions.

President Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army who was court-martialed for desertion. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives. ARC Identifier: 1839980

Close up of the altered date: Long-time Lincoln researcher Thomas Lowry admitted to changing the date of Murphy’s pardon, written in Lincoln’s hand, from April 14, 1864 to April 14, 1865. Records of the Judge Advocate General (Army) National Archives.

Close up of altered date and Abraham Lincoln “A. Lincoln” signature from a President Lincoln pardon for Patrick Murphy, a Civil War soldier in the Union Army.

In 1998, Lowry was recognized in the national media for his “discovery” of the Murphy pardon, which was placed on exhibit in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Building in Washington, DC. Lowry subsequently cited the altered record in his book, Don’t Shoot That Boy: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice, published in 1999.

In making the announcement, the Archivist said, “I am very grateful to Archives staff member Trevor Plante and the Office of the Inspector General for their hard work in uncovering this criminal intention to rewrite history. The Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team has proven once again its importance in contributing to our shared commitment to secure the nation’s historical record.”

National Archives archivist Trevor Plante reported to the National Archives Office of Inspector General that he believed the date on the Murphy pardon had been altered: the “5” looked like a darker shade of ink than the rest of the date and it appeared that there might have been another number under the “5”. Investigative Archivist Mitchell Yockelson of the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team (ART) confirmed Plante’s suspicions.

In an effort to determine who altered the Murphy pardon, the Office of the Inspector General contacted Lowry, a recognized Lincoln subject-matter expert, for assistance. Lowry initially responded, but when he learned the basis for the contact, communication to the Office of Inspector General ceased.

On January 12, 2011, Lowry ultimately agreed to be interviewed by the Office of the Inspector General’s special agent Greg Tremaglio. In the course of the interview, Lowry admitted to altering the Murphy pardon to reflect the date of Lincoln’s assassination in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2071. Against National Archives regulations, Lowry brought a fountain pen into a National Archives research room where, using fadeproof, pigment-based ink, he altered the date of the Murphy pardon in order to change its historical significance.

This matter was referred to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution; however the Department of Justice informed the National Archives that the statute of limitations had expired, and therefore Lowry could not be prosecuted. The National Archives, however, has permanently banned him from all of its facilities and research rooms.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld expressed his tremendous appreciation for the work of Plante and the Inspector General’s Archival Recovery Team in resolving this matter. Brachfeld added that “the stated mission of ART is ‘archival recovery,’ and while the Murphy pardon was neither lost or stolen, in a very real way our work helped to ‘recover’ the true record of a significant period in our collective history.”

At a later date, National Archives conservators will examine the document to determine whether the original date of 1864 can be restored by removing the “5”.

How sad that this man not only did a disservice to history, but to his own passion for history.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Well, it's now the dead of winter.
During this bleak, gray, cold, dark time of year I need something to keep me on the happier side of life.
And there's little else that makes me happier than history...well, OK, there is my family...but history isn't far behind!
And what better way to learn about history than...Reading!
Studying and learning about the past - my happy place.
I recently purchased a wonderful book called Our Own Snug Fireside: Images of the New England Home, 1760-1860 by Jane C. Nylander. The author of this book explains in great detail everyday life during the years cited, but stays heavily in the late 18th and early 19th century. The information, however, can be easily brought into the mid-19th century, for many of the practices in that hundred year period this book covers changed little during that time. The author uses first person illustrations by way of historic documents such as journals, diaries, letters, and estate papers to describe life as lived in the average home of the period.
Another fine book I received this month is of great personal interest: Colonial Inns and Taverns of Bucks County: How Pubs, Taprooms and Hostelries Made Revolutionary History
Bucks County, Pennsylvania is where my colonial ancestors immigrated to when they sailed over from England in 1710. To know that there are taverns and inns pictured in this book that my ancestors certainly must've seen helps to bring them to life for me. And to read of what took place in said taverns and inns - I never knew what an important role Bucks County played in the founding of our nation!
With all this recent talk of late about our Founding Fathers and the Constitution, I have continued to find myself studying our colonial past: Signing Their Lives Away: The Fame and Misfortune of the Men Who Signed the Declaration of Independence and Wives of the Signers - two books that put flesh on the bones of many of our Founding Fathers and their families. I haven't read these two books yet - there are many gray cold days ahead so I have plenty of time - but I did glance through them quickly when I received them in the mail, and I believe I will be enlightened to understand the reasons even more so of the hows and whys of our sacred document of the Declaration of Independence.
Best of all, it is written in an easy read manner.
I don't like boring and stodgy.
I am very fond, however, of the factual, non-opinionated history books.
Sometimes authors can be a little too political and, dare I say, anti-American & one-sided in their style, especially in our modern day. It's nice to read books that are straight-forward informational history books that bring to life the past.
Although the above listed books tend to be set in the 18th and early 19th century, their information is invaluable for those of us who study social history of a later period.
Finally, for Christmas I received a book that can (hopefully) help my reenacting presentation: Time Machines: The World of Living History by Jay Anderson. Now here's a book with a wealth of information for anyone who would like to bring the past to life at a reenactment. Mr. Anderson has guided living historians and museums presenters for decades with his books and I am very excited to have a copy.
So, maybe this won't be such a dingy winter after all!


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Victorian Farm

I thought you might enjoy watching this living history "house" show. It was filmed in England a couple of years ago and was shown originally on the BBC. It recreates a full year of life on a mid-to-late 19th century English farm and participants wear period clothing and use only authentic period tools and techniques.
It's a fascinating watch and, best of all, there is very little "drama" as is featured so prominently in the American version of these 'house' shows.
Anyhow, this series is only available on the English DVD and is, therefore, not playable on our American players. At this time, the only way one can watch and enjoy this six hour series on these shores is by way of You tube - in 10 minute increments. The quality, by the way, is high.
Anyhow, I have provided the link here ~Victorian Farm~ for the first 10 minutes of the first episode. It's up to you to follow up for the rest.
It is a very enjoyable series, one that I hope becomes available here in the states.

(PS: The book is available on

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Modern Suburban City Was Once a Village of the 19th Century

I'd like to give you a little history of my hometown of East Detroit/Eastpointe, a city where I have lived since I moved here with my family back in 1968 when I was seven. It is a suburb of Detroit and has quite a history.

A little country church - St. Peter's Lutheran Church built in 1859 and located at 9 Mile and Gratiot (where Big Boy Restaurant and the gas station now sit on the corner).
~note the graveyard on the side~

The area now known as Eastpointe was founded in the early part of the 19th century by the European immigrants who came to establish homes in the New World. Originally known, in 1837, as Orange Township, by 1843 the area was renamed Erin Township, both names indicating that the earliest settlers were Irish. The Irish were followed by pioneers from Bavaria, Macklenburg, Saxony and other provinces of Germany. The German migration began in the early 1830's and soon became the majority of the settlement.

The school, church, and tavern were the centers of the social life in this community of the 19th century. Quilting bees, box socials, and spelling matches were the main events for entertainment. Corn husking bees, sleigh rides, and square dancing added variety to the rural life in the fall and winter. On the 4th of July a picnic was held on the grounds at 9 Mile and Gratiot, and a Dutch band from Detroit provided the music. This band also made a practice of going house to house and serenading the occupants, receiving coins in return. (taken from the Halfway / East Detroit Story by Robert Christenson)

What is now Gratiot Avenue (the main thoroughfare that runs through Eastpointe) was once an Indian trail cut through the wilderness. In the early 1800’s, the army surveyed the roadway and shortly after built a plank road. Logs were cut horizontally and laid across to elevate the road above water. This military road led from Fort Wayne in Detroit to Fort Gratiot (now Port Huron). 
This is how what is now 9 Mile and Gratiot looked in the 1850's. Note the plank road.
In 1850, a plank toll road replaced the original road. The toll was one cent for each horse. As the community grew, so did Gratiot's importance, and businesses and homes typical of the times were built along the ever-popular road, including a horse seller and trader, a general store, a church with a cemetery, homes...
...but changes were on the way...
Are you looking to purchase, sell or exchange your horse? Well, you could in Township of Halfway!

The Township form of government lasted until December 8, 1924, when the Village of Halfway was incorporated. The name Halfway was first officially recorded in 1895, with the opening of the Halfway Post Office. This name was given to the community in the early days when the Halfway House, located at what is now the Eastbrooke Commons shopping center at 9 Mile and Gratiot, was a regular stopping place for stagecoaches traveling between Detroit and Mount Clemens. (A personal aside about the Halfway House: when the building was torn down, the bricks were re-used to build a house on a nearby street. It was this house built of 19th century bricks that I grew up in.)
The bricks from this 1890 structure - the Halfway House - were used to build the 1941 house in which I grew up
The phenomenal growth in the village during the next five years qualified Halfway for city status. The name was changed to the City of East Detroit on January 7, 1929, by first a vote of the people followed by the approval of the Michigan State Legislature.
In 1992 the city of East Detroit was once again renamed by a vote of the people to the City of Eastpointe. The association with Detroit was too much for some folks to bear evidently.
Eastpointe today has a few homes from the late 19th century that still stand, but the majority were built from the 1920's through the 1950's. Most of the commercial structures from a hundred or more years ago are no longer around, unfortunately. We have many fine photos, however, that show us what the city looked like in past times.

A threshing machine on the Moss farm. This was located on what is now 8 Mile Road - yes, the very same 8 Mile from the movie of the same name featuring rapper Eminem

And, oh! I want to go back...back in time... and visit!

One of the buildings that we have been fortunate enough to retain is the original 1872 schoolhouse. The following not only gives a fine description of the structure itself, but a little on its history during and after its tenure as a schoolhouse:

History and Exterior Features:
The Halfway Schoolhouse was built in 1872, where it sat facing Grove Street on Nine Mile Road  (known then as 'School Road' during that time due to the numerous schoolhouses that stood along the road's edges)  until 1921,  the year it closed. 
School Road - now 9 Mile Rd. - Notice the schoolhouse on the left. I can tell you 9 Mile certainly doesn't look like this anymore! But, the schoolhouse has been restored and now sits within 100 yards of its original location.

It was in 1921 that Mr. Kaiser, who had recently started his own fuel and supply business with his sons, bought the building and moved it, by way of horses and skids, to the southeast corner on Nine Mile Road and Gratiot; the structure was now used mainly as a warehouse for coal supplies and storage, which lasted from 1921 to 1984. To turn the old schoolhouse into a warehouse he covered the windows, walls, and flooring, thereby preserving local history. It's been said he did this purposely. We are in his debt for having the historical preservation foresight that he did.

In 1984 the East Detroit Historical Society - and more specifically John Gardiner, its then current president and superintendent of the school district - enabled the school system to purchase the building back from the Kaisers and move it back to within 20 yards of the original site on September 4th, 1984. This was when restoration began on the old building.

Now it stands as it once did in 1872 when it was built to accommodate additional children because the "Red" schoolhouse was too small.

The outside of the building has the following features:
  • Cedar shake shingles on the roof , same as the original shingles.
  • Green shutters at all of the windows.
  • Roundel located high above the front door.
  • Plank walk and porch.
  • High roof structure (known as cupola) where the bell is located.
The bell was rung to begin and end the school day. The original 1872 bell is on display inside the schoolhouse. It was cracked during the unloading from a truck when the school was moved. The green shutters were originally closed to keep out the cold. The round badge in front, dated 1872, with the school district noted on it is called a roundel.
Plank walks lead to a porch also made of planks. The windows are very much shaped like those in churches, so the building has a church-like appearance which was common for schoolhouses in those days.

The Interior:
Two doorways lead into the main room of the schoolhouse. The cloakroom, where boys and girls stored their coats and lunches, is to the left of the entrance. Originally, the boys went in on the left of the doorway, and the girls went to the right. The boys sat at desks to the left and the girls to the right. The girls always entered first and stood at their desks and waited for the boys.

The desks are the old bench-type desks with holes for the ink wells. The smaller desks in the front were for the younger children, while the larger desks in the rear were for the older children. Remember, teachers taught children from first to eighth grade, and sometimes to the twelfth grade in one room.

The kerosene reflector lamps along the windows were used for light before electricity was invented in the early 1900s. It wasn't until about 1915 that the upper globe lights were put into the building.
The round oak stove toward the rear of the building was originally located toward the front of the room. In 1872, it had a long stove pipe leading to the chimney.

The well worn, original, 1872 floor has been preserved.
Along the sides of the wall are boards known as wainscoting. The platform to the front is where the teacher's desk was positioned. In those days, teacher's desks usually sat on platforms. Behind the platform is a slate board that both teachers and students wrote upon. The black painted board was the forerunner of the "blackboard" of today.
The clock above the board is the same kind of clock that would have ticked off the hours for those students that attended this schoolhouse. The long bench was used by students "eagerly" awaiting the chance to recite what they learned to their teacher.

Schoolhouse Feature Summary:

*Platform, teacher's desk (1844)
and hand bell of the period.

* Clock above teacher's desk-1844
* Reflector kerosene lamps of the
19th century

Original hardwood floors
Wainscoting around walls
* Globe lights are original--early
1900s prior to closing of building
in 1921

Cathedral-like windows typical of the Victorian period

Two doorways--girls sat on right and boys on left
Bench-type desks with wrought iron decor
Robert S. Christenson Showcase--Author of the Halfway-East Detroit Story.
Bench for reciting typical of the period
The Cupola that original held the school bell announcing the start of school (the original 1872 bell is now on display inside the building)

Bookcase with books of the period (between 1872 and 1921)
* Roundel Round badge located high above front doors identifying the school and date established
Various artifacts of the period
Decorative wood carving around doors and windows typical of the period
Siding put on in 1902. Under current siding is board and batten vertical siding of 1872.

There are other structures in Eastpointe that have been restored, most notably the old Ameis home, built around 1890. To my knowledge, this house and the schoolhouse are the only two buildings from the 19th century that have been preserved authentically.

The Ameis House, built around 1890
~This house has been beautifully restored~
In fact, the Ameis home is now owned by a family who is passionate about history and has restored the house to its former glory. And, yes, they live there, raising their children in the wonderful atmosphere of late Victoriana.
Ameis Hardware around 1900. This was located on the east side of Gratiot and south of 9 Mile

Here's the 1909 reference to Halfway (now Eastpointe) written in the 1909 Detroit City Directory...(even though this is from 1909, it still is a wonderful reference and gives a fine representation of the Village in its early days):
Population 375.
On the Rapid Railway (electric).
In Erin township, Macomb County, 10 miles from Mt. Clemens, the county seat, and the same distance from Detroit.
Mail, daily.  (Mail was delivered to the hotel at that time for residents and businesses to pick up)
Telephone connection.
Herman Hummrich,postmaster.
Ameis Nicholas, hdware and farm ipts.
Blackett, Alfred, gardener,
Corlette, James, physician,
Gerlach, Frank P., wire fence, mnfr.
Goetsch, Emil, gardener,
Hummrich, Herman, General Store and Hotel,
Hummrich, Lulu, music teacher.
Hund, George, saloon and grocer,
Kaiser, Cris, coal
Kerwin, Sarah, teacher
Kerwin, Theresa, teacher
Landenschneider, Henry, potash mnfr
Rein, August, general store
Loell, Rev. John (German Lutheran
Spens, John, general store
Wiessmiller, Rev Lorenz (Ger. Lutheran)

To see Eastpointe here in the 21st, along with too many other towns and villages across the map, most would never know it's rich history. As I said, we are fortunate to have a few old buildings from more than 100 years ago, but that's not enough. In our throw away society, we not only destroy our history, but replace the grand structures of old with cookie-cutter throw away buildings where it's obvious no sense of pride went into the planning or construction.

What a shame.
But, I am proud of what Eastpointe has been able to retain over the years. And, hopefully, we can continue to do so with the many, many homes built in the early 20th century.
Let's hope...
Read (and see) more about the history of the City of Eastpointe in two wonderful books: The Halfway/East Detroit Story by Robert S. Christenson, and Eastpointe, Michigan (Images of America) by Suzanne DeClaire Pixley.

Both books are available through the East Detroit Historical Society

PO Box 110, Eastpointe, MI 48021

And the address of the Schoolhouse is:

15500 9 Mile Road

Eastpointe, Michigan 48021

Or order Suzanne's "Images of America" book from

And visit our Facebook page.

Have you ever checked out your town's history?

(many thanks to the East Detroit Historical Society for the photos!)