Friday, February 25, 2011

Three Great Historical Movies You Should See: John Adams, Gods & Generals, and Gettysburg

~I wrote this posting nearly three years ago, but it's worth repeating (with some additions and modifications)~

If you are looking to immerse yourself into another era - Rev War or Civil War - any of these three films should do the trick.
Are they absolutely perfect in depicting history? Of course not. But, they are far ahead of so many others.
Are there other great historical movies beyond these three? Absolutely! It's just that John Adams, Gods & Generals, and Gettysburg happen to be my three favorites. One day I may write about a few other great historical flicks, such as Last of the Mohicans, The Crossing, The Conspirator, and even the Warner Brothers mini-series of Little House on the Prairie (very well done and close to Ingalls-Wilder's books, believe it or not!).
We still have some cold and snowy winter days and nights ahead of us, I'm sure. Here are a couple of movies that just might warm your historical want.

Probably my most favorite of all historical movies - one that I continuously re-watch again and again on DVD - is the HBO presentation of the adult life of John Adams, our 2nd president.
This is, perhaps, the finest film I have ever seen about the birth of our great nation.
Following - in great detail - the life of Mr. Adams from his career as a lawyer through his death, my wife and I were totally engulfed in this extremely dramatic story. I mean, if you're looking for a battle, this is not the one to watch. It is pretty much all drama, and that is what pulls 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 Founding Fathers themselves. Yes, I would have liked to have seen a couple of battle scenes, but showing the wounded after the battle was just as moving.
Now, many arm chair historian reviewers have written about how the characters are too stiff.
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. I cannot say this enough. It amazes me how so few people understand (or maybe accept) this.
By the way, the sets (computerized and otherwise) in this John Adams series were so accurate - the details were amazing: true candle lit rooms, pulling the curtain past the door to help keep the cold out, soot and burn marks from candles in the wall sconces, the style of the hat racks, framed silhouette pictures, the furniture and the rooms of the houses themselves, the "extra's" in the streets (vendors, animals roaming about, etc., showing life going on all around)...I could go on and on - all as accurate as I have seen in any movie. It reminded me of the photos of the homes from Colonial Williamsburg, and even the few colonial era homes I visited personally at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan. In fact, much of the outdoor scenes were actually filmed in Colonial Williamsburg. And, as far as I could tell, for I am no colonial era scholar, 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.

Here is a summary of each "chapter" of the HBO series (as is written in Wikipedia):

Part I: Join or Die

The first episode opens with a cold winter in Boston on the night of the Boston Massacre. It portrays John Adams arriving at the scene following the gunshots from British soldiers firing upon a mob of Boston citizens. Adams, a respected lawyer in his mid-30s known for his belief in law and justice, is therefore summoned by the accused Redcoats. Their commander, Captain Thomas Preston asks him to defend them in court. Reluctant at first, he agrees despite knowing this will antagonize his neighbors and friends. Adams is depicted to have taken the case because he believed everyone deserves a fair trial and he wanted to uphold the standard of justice. Adams' cousin Samuel Adams is one of the main colonists opposed to the actions of the British government. He is one of the executive members of the Sons of Liberty, an anti-British group of agitators. Adams is depicted as a studious man doing his best to defend his clients. The show also illustrates Adams' appreciation and respect for his wife, Abigail. In one scene, Adams is shown having his wife proofread his research as he takes her suggestions. After many sessions of court, the jury returns verdicts of not guilty of murder for each defendant.. The episode also illustrates the growing tensions over the Coercive Acts ("Intolerable Acts"), and Adams' election to the First Continental Congress.

Part II: Independence

The second episode covers the disputes among the members of the Second Continental Congress towards declaring independence from Great Britain as well as the final drafting of the Declaration of Independence. At the continental congresses he is depicted as the lead advocate for independence. He is in the vanguard in establishing that there is no other option than to break off and declare independence. He is also instrumental in the selection of then-Colonel George Washington as the new head of the Continental Army.
 However, in his zeal for immediate action, he manages to alienate many of the other founding fathers, going so far as to insult a peace-loving Quaker member of the Continental Congress, implying that the man suffers from a religiously based moral cowardice, making him a "snake on his belly". Later, Benjamin Franklin quietly chastens Adams, saying, "It is perfectly acceptable to insult a man in private and he may even thank you for it afterwards but when you do so publicly, it tends to make them think you are serious." This points out Adams' primary flaw: his bluntness and lack of gentility toward his political opponents, one that would make him many enemies and which would eventually plague his political career. It would also, eventually, contribute to historians' disregard for his many achievements.


Part III: Don't Tread on Me

In Episode 3, Adams travels to Europe during the war seeking alliances with foreign nations, during which the ship transporting him battles a British frigate. It first shows his embassy with Benjamin Franklin in the court of Louis XVI of France. The old French nobility—at this stage in history in the last decade before the French Revolution consumes them—are portrayed as effete and decadent. They meet cheerfully with Franklin, seeing him as a romantic figure, little noting the democratic infection he brings with him. Adams, on the other hand, is a plain spoken and faithful man (particularly to his wife), who finds himself out of his depth surrounded by the entertainment- and sex-driven degeneracy which masks a highly sophisticated and subtle culture among the French elite. Adams finds himself at sharp odds with his friend Benjamin Franklin, who has adapted himself to French degeneracy, seeking to obtain by seduction what Adams would gain through histrionics. Franklin sharply rebukes Adams for his lack of diplomatic acumen, calling Adams's approach a "direct insult followed by a petulant whine." Franklin ultimately has Adams removed from any position of diplomatic authority in Paris. (It should be noted that Franklin's approach is ultimately successful and results in the conclusive Franco-American victory at Yorktown.)
Adams, dismayed but learning from his mistakes, then travels to the Dutch Republic to obtain monetary support for the Revolution. Though the Dutch agreed with the American cause, they do not at first consider the new union a reliable and trustworthy client. At last, there is success at Yorktown, as the revolution is won and the Dutch financiers come through with the first loan to the American government. Adams ends his time in the Netherlands in a state of progressive illness.

Part IV: Reunion

The fourth episode shows John Adams being notified of the end of the Revolutionary War and the defeat of the British. He is then sent to Paris to negotiate the Treaty of Paris in 1783. While overseas, he spends time with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson and Abigail visits him. Franklin informs John Adams that he was appointed as the first United States Ambassador to the United Kingdom and thus has to relocate to the British Court of St. James's. John Adams is poorly received by the British during this time—he is the representative for a recently hostile power, and represents in his person what many British at the time regarded as a disastrous end to its early Empire. He meets with his former sovereign, King George III, and while the meeting is not a disaster, he is excoriated in British newspapers. In 1789, he returns to Massachusetts for the first Presidential Election and he and Abigail are reunited with their children, now grown. George Washington is elected the first President of the United States and John Adams as the first Vice President.

Part V: Unite or Die

The fifth episode begins with John Adams presiding over the Senate and the debate over what to call the new President. It depicts Adams as frustrated in this role: His opinions are ignored and he has no actual power, except in the case of a tied vote. He's excluded from George Washington's inner circle of cabinet members, and his relationships with Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton are strained. Even Washington himself gently rebukes him for his efforts to "royalize" the office of the Presidency. A key event shown is the struggle to enact the Jay Treaty with Britain, which Adams himself must ratify before a deadlocked Senate (although historically his vote was not required). The episode concludes with his inauguration as the second president—and his subsequent arrival in a plundered executive mansion.


Part VI: Unnecessary War

The sixth episode covers Adams's term as president and the rift between the Hamilton-led Federalists and Jefferson-led Republicans. Adams's neutrality pleases neither side and often angers both. His shaky relationship with his vice president, Thomas Jefferson, is intensified after taking defensive actions against the French because of failed diplomatic attempts and the signing of the Alien and Sedition Acts. However, Adams also alienates himself from the anti-French Alexander Hamilton after taking all actions possible to prevent a war with France. Adams disowns his son Charles, who soon dies as an alcoholic vagrant. Late in his Presidency, Adams sees success with his campaign of preventing a war with France, but his success is clouded after losing the presidential election of 1800. After receiving so much bad publicity while in office, Adams lost the election against his Vice-President, Thomas Jefferson, and runner-up Aaron Burr (both from the same party). This election is now known as the Revolution of 1800. Adams leaves the Presidential Palace (now known as The White House), retiring to his personal life in Massachusetts, in March 1801.

Part VII: Peacefield

The final episode covers Adams's retirement years. His home life is full of pain and sorrow as his daughter, Nabby, dies of breast cancer and Abigail succumbs to typhoid fever. Adams does live to see the election of his son, John Quincy, as president, but is too ill to attend the inauguration. Adams and Jefferson are reconciled through correspondence in their last years, and both die mere hours apart on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence (4th July); Jefferson was 83, Adams was 90.

Never has a movie so taken me into the past as John Adams has.
Absolutely phenomenal.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

And now, onto another great historical flick that takes me back in time - - - - - -
Gods and Generals is another film that I consider to be of my all-time favorite movies.
Yes, Gods and Generals.
And, believe it or not, it's the movie that most re-enactors seem to despise.
But not me. Seriously.
Why do re-enactors dislike this movie so much? The main two reasons I have been given (besides "It sucks!") is it's too dramatic, and/or it's too pro-Confederate.
The inaccuracy of the women's clothing is a close third.
OK, let's discuss the 'too dramatic' reason here. Is it dramatic? Absolutely. There is much more drama going on in Gods and Generals than in a movie such as Gettysburg by far. But, it's meant to show the beginnings of the Civil War in a dramatic way. Now, there are battles galore - and well done battles, most seem to agree. But, it also gives the viewer the opportunity to see a bit of what life was like on the homefront during the early part of the war. We get to meet the wives of General Jackson and Colonel Chamberlain. We get to see how the war affected a well-to-do southern family. We get to see a Christmas celebration. We get to see a bit more interaction between the soldiers.
And I like that.
But, however, many who I have spoken with about this movie dislike it specifically because it is too dramatic. Some say the actors are over-acting (ok, I'll give you the southern woman who sends her sons off to fight - she does over-do it a bit). Some say that it was too religious. Um...religion played a major role in not only General Jackson's life, but also in the lives of the average person. Much more than today. It seems that those living in the 21st century cannot seem to fathom this. But do your research - real research (reading journals and diaries of the time) - and you will find this to be true.
Like John Adams, some say the actors were too stiff in their parts, that people didn't act or speak in the way they are portrayed in this movie.
Sorry, but once again I've read enough social history of the time that I will disagree. The majority of the script in this movie centers around well-schooled generals - the upper class. The upper class folks did have a different manner of speech in comparison to the average farmer or lower class wage earner.
But, to each his own, I guess. To me, all of the above mentioned is what makes this such a good movie.
Another thing that I really liked about Gods and Generals is the attention to detail in the sets. They did a fine job recreating the world of the early 1860's - the houses, furniture,'s like taking a step back in time. Of course, filming some scenes in Harpers Ferry, Maryland helps...a lot!

Harper's Ferry

I will say, however, that I agree that there is a strong southern feel to the film. I would have liked to have seen a bit more perspective from the north - it would have been nice to see a young man leaving his Michigan (or Ohio, etc.) home, a bit nervous and, dare I say, a bit scared. That would have added greatly for us Yankees.
The women's clothing? Yeah...they could've done better. Why didn't they research the period clothing more? I feel it's probably because it was war film makers who made the movie and, like many of the more senior reenactors, they felt the civilians were more background...eye candy...rather than place any real importance on them. Remember, this was filmed in 2003 and period movies have improved since then.
But, aside from this, Gods and Generals is still one of my greatest movie watching pleasures, and I love to sit back for six hours and immerse myself into the early 1860's via modern technology. Almost - but not quite - as good as being at a re-enactment.

Best of all is that they finally released the director's cut of Gods & Generals - and Gettysburg! - on Blue Ray and DVD.  They also put the two movies together in a collectible box set, as you can see by the photo at left.

The following is my review of this awesome collection:
When I saw that Warner Bros. was finally going to release Gods & Generals and Gettysburg in the director's cut format I was elated beyond belief. These two movies are at the top of my list of Civil War movies. Yes, I know about some of the inaccuracies - it's unfortunate that most (if not all) historical movies have their faults - but I still really love these two movies up and beyond all others of their genre.
Being as anxious as I was, I did not want to wait until July for the box set and ended up purchasing both as individuals upon their release in May. Now, before I get into the actual reviews of the movies themselves I would like to review the packaging. The individual release packaging was one of the best I have seen for any movie. Not only does one receive the extended director's cut of both movies but a full booklet with each set! These booklets include notes from Ron Maxwell himself, information about the battles, the actors and the historical figures they portray, and loads of photos. There is also plenty of Civil War facts and figures including a time line.
I was like a kid at Christmas...better yet, these sets were released two days after my birthday - what a gift!

Let's jump up a couple of months and I'm at the local department store and I see the Box Set of both movies. By purchasing this set I would also receive (besides the movies themselves) a commemorative bronze Lincoln coin, a 40 page photo booklet of Civil War artifacts and correspondence, a 32 page booklet from Time magazine's new book on the Civil War, and even a two-sided historical map. Okay, being the Gettysburg and Gods & Generals fan that I am. I went home and found it even cheaper on Amazon, so I shelled out the bucks (a good discount, I might add, so re-buying the movies wasn't too terribly wasteful) for the set. I figured I can give the extra movies away as a gift.
I have to admit I was slightly disappointed. Not necessarily in the items that came with the box set itself, but with the disc packaging: the awesome booklets that were in my May releases were nowhere to be found. Instead, the packagings of both movies were in simple average Blu Ray plastic boxes. I would have thought, without question, that the very same packaging from May would have been included in this collector's box set. I must say I am now glad I purchased the movies individually instead of only waiting for the box. To me, as a collector, it was well worth the money (especially at the discounted pricing). But, because of WB chinsing on the packaging for the box, I gave this set 4 instead of 5 stars.
So, now I am going to give away the box set discs and just slide in the booklet versions (I had to remove the cardboard insert from the box - no big deal) and I will have the ultimate Gods & Generals and Gettysburg Box Set!
Now for the movies:
Gods and Generals does a very good job at depicting the earlier battles of the Civil War. Although it's always leaned heavily toward the southern point of view in its original form, this new director's cut has been divided into chapters and totally re-edited to fit in the extra hours worth of scenes, some of which include involving President Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth, more of the Chamberlains, and, especially for fans of battles, Antietam. It now gives a more balanced perspective of North and South. Because the entire movie has been re-edited in this way I don't believe I could watch the original theatrical release again. Yes, all the scenes are there - intact - but the entire movie is so much less choppy and so much more cohesive (it would have been nice to show the picnicking civilians at Manassas - oh well...).
A couple of my favorite parts of the newly restored scenes includes the showing of camp life in a union camp, including teaching the new recruits the way to load and fire a gun, and the meeting of Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain with actor Booth.
Pay close attention to the other actor who is with Booth toward the end of the movie...
Gods & Generals has much more drama than most battle-oriented films, but that just gives the viewer a much more well-rounded feeling of life during the early 1860's.

Except for a few exceptions (why are there always exceptions?) Gettysburg is another MOSTLY historically correct film. I feel the biggest reason for this is due to the fact that re-enactors have played such a prominent role in the making of both of these films, making sure that they're as historically correct as the producers would allow, right down to the buttons on the uniforms worn by the fighting men (yes, yes, I KNOW about the facial hair, but those aren't re-enactors! Blame the costume/make up people on that!). And the battle scenes are as realistic as can possibly be done. When you watch the men during Pickett's charge and see the anguished look on the general's face during the aftermath, one gets the feeling of actually witnessing the carnage that took place.
And the Little Round Top scene will get your heart beating just as it must have beat in the men who were there. Truly gripping.
My son 'took a hit' on Little Round Top on Gettysburg. This was not done during a reenactment, but while we were on vacation there. You should have seen and heard the cameras clicking from tourists when he did this!
Gettysburg is another very long but engulfing movie filled with battles and tactics, which truly brings the viewer into the horrific time of early July 1863.
Both this one and Gods & Generals help to bring the people of the Civil War alive - the men on both sides who fought in this war are no longer just old sepia-toned pictures in a history book, or silly 1950's b-movie style characters, but real men who fought and died horrible deaths. I wish more historical epics would use re-enactors in the movie making process (The Conspirator did!). They truly help bring the past to life.

Jeff Shaara, author of the original book on which Gods & Generals is based, stated in an interview (from the Gods and Generals magazine), "Hollywood has a dismal record of portraying history. Historical films have one purpose - to make money - and it seems they have two means of realizing that. One, tell a story the studio thinks the audience wants to see, and thus tilt the story to whatever political correctness is in vogue. The second purpose is to allow one particular big time actor the chance to do 'cool things' on the screen. Though many of these films are entertaining, the one thing missing is any responsibility to give the audience the truth about the event being portrayed."
It's unfortunate that too many people take Hollywood historical movies as fact and the majority of movie watchers usually do not get a good part of the truth. Gods & Generals and Gettysburg are different - they do a better job than most at accuracy. Do not let the length scare you off. From beginning to end, I was held to my seat, greatly anticipating the next scene of both films.
I highly recommend purchasing both movies - whether through the box set or individually - and spending a weekend (and it will take an entire weekend!) in the early 1860's.

By the way, I would absolutely love to see a movie showing what the civilians of the town of Gettysburg had to endure during that summer - and even into November for Lincoln's visit - of 1863. Many folks do not realize what they went through during (and for months after) the battle. Every bit as exciting as the battle itself!
One more thing, if you get a chance, please do yourself a favor and
(A) take a trip to Gettysburg to see for yourself the awesome battlefields and still-intact town. And it's within an hour from Antietam, an hour and a half from Harper's Ferry, and just a few hours from most other east coast battle fields. It would be a vacation steeped in history.
(B) Go to a Civil re-enactment and see for yourself the excitement of battle.
Thank you to the powers that be for finally giving us the full versions of these two movies. It's been a long time coming.


I hope you enjoyed my perspective on these historical movies about two major events in America's past. I hope to write more on a few of the other movies depicting another time.
Stay tuned...

~Note from 2015~
Click HERE to see my posting on American History from the Movies, featuring reviews on over a dozen movies about our nation's history.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011

More On Reenacting - Taking It Seriously

Civil War Living Historians and Reenactors mostly from the 21st Michigan and the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society.
Top notch all!

Sometimes the newest members of a reenacting group can be accidentally overlooked while the rest of us prepare for the season. That can lead to these newbies traveling down the wrong path to historical accuracy, finding their information from sutlers who just want their money, from other reenactors who prefer having a good time over being authentic (farb be damned!), or from Hollywood movies such as "Gone With the Wind." I thought that I could remedy this situation by having those who, within the last year, joined one of the Civil War units I belong to - the 21st Michigan - over for a meeting, where they could feel free to ask questions without fear and learn in an intimate setting how to present themselves in an authentic manner. This took place earlier this month at my house where I had a sort of one-on-one learning seminar on what women should wear during reenactments. The speaker for the day was a long-time member that we are proud to have in our unit. She has been studying female clothing of the mid-19th century for a number of years now and can be trusted to answer most questions one might have on the subject. She brought ample period fashion books and pamphlets for the ladies to view as well as her own clothing & accessories. The exit polls showed that she had high ratings from the attendees!
Toward the end of the meeting, one of the subjects brought up was of the accessories that one should bring along with them to a reenactment.
And that got me to thinking...
To many in the reenacting community, items such as cups, plates, and pitchers may seem trivial. But, when you think about it, it’s the little things that can be the icing on the cake to your presentation. And visitors to your campsite will notice what you have. A drinking glass, for instance, can seem minor in the big scheme of things, but is actually pretty important as part of your collateral collection. Imagine, if you will, a reenactor strolling along the walkway, looking as if they stepped out of a Currier & Ives print. You would swear you were in 1861. Then, this person from the past pulls out a glass to take a drink…a Coca Cola glass (yes, I have seen this)! You, being as knowledgeable as you are, probably know that Coca Cola itself was not even invented until 1886, therefore a souvenir glass would definitely be non-existent. Due to this farby faux pas, the whole image of viewing the past just disappeared from your mind. This is just a reenactor pretending to live in 1861.

Heavy sigh…

I know that is exactly my reaction when something like this happens – a heavy sigh with a strong dose of 21st century reality - and it does happen more often than one can imagine. My hope, however, is that this sort of thing doesn’t happen with the membership of the 21st Michigan. One must understand, in this hobby is it so important that we get it right. This is history, folks, and we do not want to knowingly be untruthful to the visitors who expect nothing but accuracy from us.
“Oh, it’s such a little thing. No one will probably even notice!”
Little thing? Consider this statement from the management of Greenfield Village:Authentic. This is the key word. Nothing is placed randomly inside the structures at the Village. The curators carefully consider every object before allowing it to become part of the site. It's this type of vigilance that maintains the appropriate period appearance for each and every building. Every object tells part of the story. Nothing is there by accident, and nothing is there that doesn't support the overall story. One is surrounded by period buildings, vehicles, and presenters, and, because of the overall scenario, the signs of the modern world become non-existent. (The workers) must report to work fully dressed in the period clothing that is supplied to them by the Clothing and Textile production staff. Hair must be in place for the era they are portraying. No make up, lip gloss, or nail polish of any kind is to be worn. Jewelry, aside from an emergency bracelet or a wedding ring, must be period appropriate and approved by the clothing staff. This means no earrings for the males and no wristwatches of any kind. Even undergarments are provided for the period dressed presenter; undergarments such as bustles and/or petticoats that have been assigned to you provide certain period silhouettes and must be worn.
Although the presenter may not portray an actual named or historical character from the past while working in the homes, their appearance, actions, and manner of speaking attempt to evoke the past. The presenters are trained in thought and detail to give the visitor the impression that they have stepped into the past
Wow! Imagine if everyone took the time to be as vigilante as this in our presentations!
I know, I know. You’re saying to yourself, “But we’re reenactors, Ken, not a museum!”
Aren’t we? People pay to come and see us at a number of events, do they not? $25 bucks a crack at Greenfield Village, and we’re one of the Village’s top draws for the year! They come to see history come alive. And, there should be no difference if the event is free. Last year at the two-day Jackson event there were over 10,000 visitors, and they count – depend – on us to show them history every bit as much – if not more so – than any museum.
That being said, do you still think that accuracy shouldn’t matter as much when it comes to the little things? You see, it is our job to be as accurate as our knowledge will take us, and this means research, seeking out advice, and attending your unit's meetings to learn. Flippant second-guessing should not be an option.
By the way, as always there are exceptions to every rule. For instance, my wife's spinning wheel is not 100% accurate to an 1860’s wheel, but she does let the patrons know this. The key thing here, however, is the process of spinning wool into yarn is done in the very same way as was done during the period in which we are representing.
I was very glad that we were able to have such a meeting where the newer members could be shown, up close and personal, and as best as our knowledge will carry us, an accurate and fun way to present living history.
Yeah...I take my fun seriously...


Sunday, February 13, 2011

Historic Structures Brought To Life: Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village

~Updated February 2023~
Firestone farm,  where life is always in the early 1880s
Firestone Farm on its original site
in Columbiana,  Ohio circa 1876.
We see grandmother Sally Anne with
Robert,  Harvey,  and Elmer.
The Firestone Farm was originally built by Peter Firestone in 1828 in Columbiana,  Ohio  (just a few miles from the Pennsylvania border),  and is now a gem among gems inside Greenfield Village.  Among the family members living there in the latter half of the 19th century was young Harvey Firestone,  the grandson of Peter,  who would later gain fame and fortune in the tire industry and became a close friend of Henry Ford.
During the 19th and into the 20th century,  the Firestones raised a large flock of sheep,  with wool being their  'cash crop,'  but they also harvested oats,  hay,  corn,  and wheat.  In 1965,  nearly thirty years after Harvey's death,  his descendants and the local historical society restored the house and opened it to the public for tours,  but because of the farm's remote location,  it failed to attract many visitors.
It was in 1983 that Harvey's two surviving sons,  both in their 70's,  gave the house and barn,  together with furnishings and a sizable endowment for maintenance, to Greenfield Village as a way to keep the memory of their father alive.
Here's the note from 1882!
Disassembling the buildings and reconstructing them some two hundred miles away took over two years. During the dis-assembly and reconstruction,  however,  the crew made a very interesting discovery:  a note tucked beneath a staircase,  signed,  dated,  and hidden by none other than 14 year old Harvey himself,  inadvertently revealed the date of the 1882 restoration!
On June 29,  1985,  descendants of Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone along with former U.S.  President Gerald Ford helped dedicate the newly installed farm in Greenfield Village.
The Firestone Farm,  as it stands now,  is a living history re-creation of life on a farm of the 1880's in Eastern Ohio,  and has been restored to look as it did in 1882,  when Harvey's parents remodeled the house to give it a more modern look.  The wallpaper and furnishings throughout the house show what was considered stylish during the Victorian era.  And because of this the visitor will find themselves almost in a time-travel experience.
You see,  the goal of Greenfield Village is to have the visitor,  upon entering the farm,  feel as if they had stepped back in time.  In the house,  barn,  and fields,  there is always work to be done.  But,  those who present here do not take on the roles of the Firestone family members.  They,  instead,  try to give the patrons a sort of immersion experience by way of a combination 1st and 3rd person mannerisms,  taking them back to the 1880's through sight,  sound,  smell,  and touch of 1880s farm folk and life by way of engulfing them in the chores and jobs of the period,  including cooking,  cleaning,  plowing,  planting,  harvesting,  etc.,  yet speaking and teaching in our modern day,  which works perfectly.  This all begins from the moment the visitor steps onto the gravel walkway leading to the house,  and nearly all signs of the present day fade into the background and your five senses revert to another time and place.  Creating this unique experience is the ultimate way to use the site to its fullest advantage. 
Welcome to Firestone Farm!
Won't you come in?
Upon entering the side kitchen door,   the patron will see all presenters in period clothing.  These docents may not portray an actual historic person from the past,  but their appearance and actions will evoke the past.  They bring the 1880's to life in such a way that,  although it is not in a 1st person presentation,  the sights,  sounds,  smells,  and sensations of Firestone Farm truly give the visitor that time-travel experience - more than any other building in the Village.  The patron is able to watch and ask questions while the presenters do the daily activities and chores.  Upon repeated visits,  one can see many of the chores change throughout the year:  spring planting and cleaning,  summer chores with crops and livestock,  and autumn harvesting as well as winter preparations.
Most of the activities inside the home take place in the kitchen, 
just as was done in the 19th century.
The ladies of the farm discuss the meal of the day
Period correct meals are prepared each day on a coal-burning stove - expect to be told to  "be careful,  the stove is hot"  as you enter the room.
Yes,  they really do cook on the old coal stove
and all presenters partake in the fine meal served... you can see here!
The recipes,  clothing,  furnishings,  and kerosene lamps are all typical of farm life in the American midwest during the 1880's.

And here are a few video clips of the excitement in the Firestone Farm kitchen:

The next four pictures show the  'best room'  - the formal parlor - showing the phenomenal job the curators have done on their 1880s decor.  The really awesome thing about this room is that most of what you see here are Firestone family originals,  including the furniture,  family Bible,  lamps,  and pictures:
The formal parlor
The front room/living room of many of the homes in the Victorian era,  referred to as the formal parlor,   was by far the most important room in the house.  The most money was spent on its furnishing and decorating, the most consideration given to decorating and design.  This was the room in which celebrations such as Easter and Christmas would take place,  the room where special visitors such as a visit from the preacher,  would sit,  after all,  and was a most important reflection of who the family was.  The popular furnishings were reproductions and influences of earlier styles;  some of the most popular styles at that time were American Empire  (massively large and heavy dark wood furniture in a relatively plain style),  Gothic Revival  (arches on furniture,  spool turnings,  carvings and other embellishments that resembled highly stylized leaf patterns),  Rococo Revival looking back at 18th century France with ornate carvings of fruits,  flowers,  birds  (along with heavily gilt mirrors and marble table tops).  Cast-iron furniture had also become popular by the 1860s.  Beginning during the Civil War,  Renaissance Revival style became fashionable  (with large furniture with lots of ornamentation).
The formal parlor
We speak of popular styles because the industrialization of manufacturing had made machine-made,  mass-produced furniture and household furnishings made available to the middle class the latest fashions.  this was also the era when many women’s magazines began to appear,  showing the latest styles.
~Formal Parlor:  Sadie at the Organ~ 
he did a wonderful job performing a period tune for us!
In the book  "Farmer Boy,"  Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote stories based on her husband Almanzo's early life on an 1860s farm.  There is a scene in the story about a time when Almanzo's parents left for a few days and left their children on their own,  entrusting them to be on their best behavior.  At one point,  sister Alice said she was going to sit in the parlor and eat pound cake.
Almanzo thought that wouldn't be any fun.  But Eliza Jane said,  "You'll do no such thing,  Alice.  You know very well the parlor's just for company."
The formal parlor
The curators at Greenfield Village went to the extreme to perfect this  'experience.'  Their methodology was to decide,  as accurately as possible,  what the Firestone family would have had or would have needed.
The formal parlor
They did this by researching and focusing on the people who lived in 1880's eastern Ohio,  then 1880's midwest,  then 1880's north,  etc.,  until they were satisfied that they had re-created life as once lived. 
And it is because of this thorough research that gives us,  the visitor,  such an amazing experience at this house.

In the next two photos we see the dining room, which is just off the kitchen.
The dining room
The presenters do not eat in this area.  This is another room that holds some of the actual dinnerware once belonging to the Firestone family,  and originally used by them in this very room,  in fact,  including the table,  chairs,  dishes & silverware,  and the corner cupboard.
The dining room all decorated for, what looks like, an Easter meal.

One of the very cool things that visitors can do is sit down in a Victorian chair in the sitting room and relax by looking at pictures through a stereoscope or warming up by the fire in the fireplace.  Obviously,  what is here are not original Firestone furnishings,  but,  instead,  are replications.  However,  being in the sitting room  (which some compare to today's front room/TV room)  helps to give the visitor a feel for the past rather than just reading about it or seeing it strictly as a hands off display inside a museum.
An afternoon in the sitting room after a hard day of chores is a fine way to spend time.
The sitting room

On Sundays I have seen the female docents work on needlepoint or another craft.
Not a Greenfield Village presenter,  but my wife,  here,  is relaxed and feels right
at home while she is crocheting at the Farm during the Civil War Remembrance event.

The second floor is,  unfortunately,  closed to the public,  due to,  I believe,  the Fire Marshall of Dearborn being concerned of a fire exit.  I was very lucky a number of years back to have the opportunity to visit the second floor.
Please do not ask for a tour,  for this no longer happens.
Heading upstairs...
As you will see in the photos here,  the second floor is every bit as beautifully decorated as the first floor.  And,  once again,  most furnishings up here are Firestone family originals.
Harvey's bedroom is on the right and the room at the end
is Mr. & Mrs. Firestone's room.
Here,  a statue of a deer sits on a hall shelf in the upstairs hallway
Harvey's bedroom
Harvey's bedroom

The bedroom of Mr. & Mrs. Firestone
The bedroom of Mr. & Mrs. Firestone

Now,  let's head down the other hall to grandma's bedroom... 
I see grandma's room!

Grandma has her own sort of sitting room attached to her bedroom.
A place of her own.

And here are grandmother's sleeping quarters.
Yes,  she has a warming stove next to her bed.

Peeping out the window at the front of the hall...
Looking down at the front entrance from the 2nd floor window.
As you can see,  the upstairs portion of Firestone Farm is just as beautifully and authentically decorated as the lower level.
So,  let's head back down the stairs and see what else this Victorian farm house has for us to see.
Going down stairs...

My experience at Firestone Farm is perhaps the finest example of Victorian living history I have witnessed yet.  I believe this is the way that Henry Ford would want,  for he said back in the 1920's:  "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."
Yes, they do harrowing here - - - -

~And now,  let's go out and visit the yard,  outbuildings,  and livestock of Firestone Farm:
If you look close you can see a presenter with a pitchfork full of hay.
Hauling hay...

Being that Firestone Farm is a real working farm,  the presenters can be found working the land seasonally,  just as it was done in the 19th century:  tilling the land by way of horse and plow,  harrowing  (see the picture above),  planting,  and doing all of the other chores typical of the era.  It is a living history re-creation of life on a farm of the 1880's in Eastern  (Columbiana)  Ohio,  and the presenters who work the farm have done a marvelous job in their presentation of this life.
And,  yes,  the farmers always make sure to walk over to the visitors at the fence to explain the chores in greater detail,  and they are always willing to answer any questions.  These guys are amazing in their historical farming knowledge.
Firestone barn.
Numerous livestock call the farm home,  including draft horses,  cattle,  pigs,  chickens,  and the aforementioned sheep.  Some roam about the barnyard freely,  while the larger animals are fenced in. 
But,  one can get closer to them as they walk into the barn out back.  Beware,  however:  the odors of a country farm are prominent!
The barn is known as a Pennsylvania-German bank barn,  one of the most common barns built before 1880.
They are known as bank barns because one side of the barn is built into the side of
a hill, allowing wagons to be driven into the upper floor while the animals were
kept in the lower level.
This bank barn,  built in 1830,  was efficient because large amounts of grain and hay could be processed and stored in the upper level and tossed down to the lower level as needed for cattle feed.
It was moved to Dearborn,  Michigan and restored in Greenfield Village when the other outbuildings and the house were brought there in 1983.
A look inside the barn - -
The visitor is welcome to stroll through both levels of the barn as well as the barnyard,  and take in the sites  (and smells!)  of rural life gone by.


...and sheep.
Sheep shearing commences as the weather warms.
Sheep being herded into the heirloom apple orchard at Firestone Farm.
The apple orchard across from the barn here at the Village,  which were common on 19th century farms,  are historic as well.  And each fall visitors can take a tour of these heirloom orchards and learn of the varieties no linger used or known about by most in modern society.
It was a very well-informed tour by very knowledgeable tour guides.
 This orchard is filled with a number of 19th-century and earlier varieties of apple trees,  and we were able to see a wide selection of red,  green,  brown,  yellow,  and speckled apples growing upon them.  Names like Rambo  (around 1640),  Baldwin (1740),  Maiden's Blush  (early 1800's),  Belmont  (late 18th century – one of Johnny Appleseed’s favorites!),  Roxbury Russet  (from before 1649 - possibly America’s oldest apple),  and Hubbardston Nonesuch  (early 1800’s)  can be found there.  They all have different characteristics,  flavors,  and ultimately were used in different ways,  either for sale,  or for the family’s own use.  With such a large amount of apples,  there was a need for storage,  and those not carefully packed away in sawdust were made into apple butter,  apple sauce,  pies,  dowdies,  dumplings,  fritters,  and cider.
This is a much anticipated part of celebrating the fall at Greenfield Village.
And guess what?  We even get to taste many of the ancient apple varieties!

Springtime at Firestone Farm is the time for plowing and harrowing the fields.  The workers always take the time to answer any questions visitors may have.  As you can see,  the farm yard covers quite a bit of ground.
Spring plowing.

I was lucky enough to be able to plow behind a team of horses!
This was definitely a highlight of my  "historical/living history"  life.

Here is plowing in action:

And here is a disc harrow in action:

This 1880s farmer looks to be using a horse-drawn grain drill,  which distributed seeds quickly and evenly and then covered them over.  Grain drills were a  vast improvement over spreading the seeds by hand.

We even get to watch a steam powered threshing machines,  which would have been used at a much greater cost of course.  Since most farmers could not afford to purchase a thresher,  sometimes a group of farmers would pool together and the thresher's owner would visit each farm and thresh...for a price.
A 1904 Westinghouse Threshing Machine in use at Firestone Farm.

A farmer's work is never done - -

Just off to the side of the house is the dairy barn.
Dairy barn
Yes,  it is also the place where the presenters get there water,  just as the Firestones did 150 years ago.
Here a presenter explains how churned butter is put inside the
dairy barn to set before it can be used in cooking.

And behind the main house is the necessary,  better known today as the outhouse.
It's your turn to clean it out!

The chicken coop was a necessity of any farm,  and many homes as well.
Chicken coop...or hen house...
Eggs were collected daily by the women and younger children of the family.
Inside the chicken coop
Gathering eggs

Visitors can also see some of the seasonal cooking crafts,  such as... butter making.
 Making apple butter video:

Monday is laundry day on the farm,  and the presenters at Firestone wash their clothes like they did in the later Victorian era,  using lye soap,  water heated over a fire or on the stove,  and a washboard.  The clean clothes are hung outside on a clothesline to dry.
Monday is laundry day.
Younger children are handed the washboard and put to work.

Another lost sight in our modern day:  clothing hanging on the clothesline to dry
Using the 1880s dryer.
The presenters here,  by the way,  really do make Firestone Farm a wonderful and unique experience,  no matter how many times one visits and asks questions!  Yes,  I'm talking about myself here as the visitor!

During the Autumn time of the year,  the workers at the farm can be found harvesting the crops from the kitchen garden.  A kitchen garden is self-explanatory in that what is grown in this plot of land is what the women of the house will use for cooking and canning in the kitchen.
Here's a clip of a presenter working in the kitchen garden:

Working in the kitchen garden

The picturesque setting during the autumn can immerse the visitor like few other places can. 
Autumn harvest in the cellar
November on the farm
It is also this time of year that they butcher their pigs to salt and store for the winter.  The Village has a professional butcher do the actual killing,  but then it's up to the workers of Firestone to actually cut the meat up,  salt,  and store the meat.
Butchering time!  Unfortunately,  this is not for the public's eyes.
In keeping with the tradition of the farm,  usually late November some of the Firestone Farm hogs are butchered.  This was an exciting time for farm families for it provided meat and lard for the coming year.  Visitors can see the Farm staff scraping the bristles from the carcass,  removing the entrails and carving the carcass into chops,  hams,  bacon,  etc.  This will take place in the cellar and kitchen.  They will then cure the meat with salts,  sugars,  and brine solutions.
In the cellar
And one can find how they converted hog fat into lard for cooking or making soap.
The butchered meat and lard will be used in their presentations throughout the coming year.
In the cellar the patron will find the curing meat hanging from the ceiling.
Also in the cellar,  much of the  'messiest'  work is done,  such as soap carving.
Carving soap
This is also where the coal for the stoves are kept.
Fuel for the furnace
It is quite the busy household during this late fall period at Firestone Farm!

Although they haven't in a few years now,  the Christmas Season was also celebrated at Firestone in much of the way that it had been in the 1880's.  The cozy,  homey feel is evident in the following photographs.
Sadie treated the visitors in Firestone Farm to period Christmas music
on the 19th century pump organ.

The dining room is set for the Christmas meal.

Workers and visitors alike are encouraged to sit by the warm fire.

During the winter,  Greenfield Village closes its gates.  This is the time of year the workers clean and prepare for the following tourist season,  so it's a rarity to see it all snow covered.  But I have friends that work there inside the Village and they have been kind enough to take photos for me for my blog.
Here is my favorite amongst those taken at Firestone Farm in the winter 
(Photo taken by Doug Grosjean).
By the way,  just because the Village is closed for the winter does not mean the farm is left vacant for four months;  care for the animals is done daily by the farm workers - even on holidays.

The Firestone Farm and barn truly make for an authentic living history experience.  One can spend hours watching and speaking to the presenters.  It's probably the most  "living"  part of the entire historic complex.
The back of Firestone Farm
History presented as it should be - - - gotta love it!

As mentioned,  it was in 1983 that the house,  barn,  and furnishings  (along with a sizable endowment for maintenance)  was given to Greenfield Village as a way of keeping the accomplishments and memory of the Firestone family alive.  And ever since the reconstruction took place in 1985,  literally millions  of  visitors have entered this once off-the-beaten-path historical home and have learned,  through sight,  sound,  smell,  and even touch  (for it is a living history home now,  and even has items in the sitting room that are hands-on for visitors)  about mid-western farm life in the late 19th century,  including indoor and out door chores for both the men and the women.
Such a gift.

Until next time,  see you in time.

~       ~       ~

Information on the formal parlor came from THIS site and from presenters at Firestone Farm.
Also from the Benson Ford Research Center
To learn more about farming in the 19th and 18th centuries,  please click HERE

...      . .      .

To learn about other historic structures at Greenfield Village,  click the links below:
Ackley Covered Bridge 1832
At one time, covered bridges were commonplace. Not so much anymore. But Greenfield Village has one from 1832.

Daggett House  (part one)
Learn about the 18th century house and the family who lived there.

Daggett House  (part two)
This concentrates more on the everyday life of the 18th century Daggett family,  including ledger entries.

Doc Howard's Office - The World of a 19th century Doctor
It's 1850 and you're sick.  Who are you going to call on?  Why,  good ol'  Doc Howard,  of course!

Eagle Tavern
Learn about the Eagle Tavern and 19th century travel

Eagle Tavern: Eating Historically 
Taste history while being immersed in the 1850s
Farris Windmill
This old windmill has been standing in one place or another since 1633.  Here is its story.

The Giddings House
Revolutionary War and possible George Washington ties are within the hallowed walls of this beautiful stately colonial home.

Built in the late 18th century,  with some slight modifications from its original style,  this is one of the oldest original American log cabins still in existence.  

These buildings were once a part of everyday life in American villages and towns and cities - including the Gunsolly Carding Mill,  the Loranger Gristmill,  Farris Windmill,  Hanks Silk Mill,  Cider Mill,  and the Spofford and the Tripps Saw Mills,  all in one post!

Noah Webster House
A quick overview of the life of this fascinating but forgotten Founding Father whose home, which was nearly razed for a parking lot, is now located in Greenfield Village.

The Plympton House
This house,  with its long history  (including American Indians)  has close ties to Paul Revere himself!

Preserving History
Henry Ford did more for preserving everyday life of the 18th and 19th centuries than anyone else! Here's proof.

Tales of Everyday Life in Menlo Park (or Francis Jehl: A Young Boy's Experience Working at Menlo Park)
Menlo Park is brought to life by one who was there. First-hand accounts.

Richart Carriage Shop
This building was much more than a carriage shop in the 19th century!

And for some haunted fun, 
Ghosts of Greenfield Village
Yep - real hauntings take place in this historic Village.

Yes,  some of the structures that now sit inside Greenfield Village have connections to America's fight for Independence.

Follow the route that Thomas Edison took as he rode and worked on the rails in the early 1860s,  including the Smiths Creek Depot.

Virtually each structure inside Greenfield Village has come from another location,  I took on a project to seek out the original  locations of many of the local buildings.  
Where they first stood when they were first built.

Homes that played a role in our country's fight for Independence.

Research has shown that,  as a young attorney,  Abraham Lincoln once practiced law in this walnut clapboard building.  I think this post will make you realize just how close to history you actually are when you step inside.

Recreating this store to its 1880s appearance was extremely important as the overall goal,  and so accurately reproduced items were needed to accomplish the end result,  for many original objects were rare or too fragile,  with some being in too poor condition.  

This post is part history and part family history:  a blending of the two.  And one way to show how you can place your ancestors in their time.

Saving Americana - that's what Henry Ford did - and in doing so he showed everyone the importance of  everyday life history.  This is how it all began.   

Nothing is placed randomly inside the structures at Greenfield Village.  The curators carefully consider each and every object before allowing it to become part of the site. 
And the Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford covers over 250 years of fashion  (from 1760 onward)  and is the  premier museum costume shop in the country.
Also,  to witness Firestone Farm through nearly each month of the year in pictures,  click HERE

~   ~   ~