Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Small Events Need Your Help!

We're at the time of year that I wait for - - - been waiting since the end of the Christmas holiday season. Yes, and the warmer weather has everything to do with it! You know what I am talking about - the reenacting season! So a good portion of my posts this summer will be oriented toward that ultimate of hobbies (if you hadn't noticed!).

I've done three events so far since April. I would've done more if it wasn't so rainy.
But, this is only the beginning. There are many more events to come between now and the end of the year.
I am asked frequently about how do I have the time to do so many events. I suppose my answer would have to be...I just make time. There are a number of reenactments that take place over a full weekend, but in some cases we may attend
only one of the two days and leave the open day for working around the yard, shopping, or whatever needs to be done..
In this way, one can cover everything.
One of my complaints, however, about reenactors is that too many only attend the BIG events; you know, the ones where everyone from all units show up as a sort of gathering of the tribes, so to speak. I love these events, by the way, as much as anyone. In fact, one of our biggest of the year is coming up at the end of this month - Greenfield Village.
But, I wonder why so few who join in this time-travel hobby hardly ever attend the smaller events that normally take place on off weekends.
What an opportunity to teach and to show the public our passion!

Yes, I know there is work to be done around the house and not having a major reenactment it a great excuse to stay home to do chores that need to be done. A fine reason. But, I find it funny when I hear of a reenactor use the excuse of: "I had to cut the grass" instead of attending a small event. Let's be honest, except for a few, most of us can get this chore done within 15 minutes any weekday evening.
I'd rather they be truthful and say that they just didn't feel like going.
This past Saturday a few of us took part in a Victorian festival held in the historic village of Romeo, Michigan. Is it a farby festival? Yes, absolutely! Well, not us as reenactors, per se', but much of our immediate surroundings were definitely 21st century - one can see that just by glancing at the pictures posted here, with the modern cars, etc., parked all around. Most who participate in this particular festival are not reenactors and will wear high school play-type costumes that are about as authentic to history as a steam punk convention.
In other words, very little that can be called accurate.
But, everyone had fun, and having the historic structures in Romeo as the backdrop helped greatly.
And we who participate in living history joined in the fun as well. Many of the villagers came over to our camp and we had the opportunity to explain to them what it is we as reenactors do as well as speak on what life was like "back then."
The patrons were so receptive!! We were asked dozens of (mostly) intelligent questions, and a few folk even brought us some their original Civil War era artifacts and treasures - something they most likely would never do at a major event.

It was unfortunate that less than a dozen of us from the 21st Michigan (plus a couple from the 4th Michigan) showed up - which was better, I suppose, than the three (count 'em - 3!) that attended last year. Can you imagine if thirty or forty (or more) of the over hundred membership between the two units I belong to (21st Michigan and the MSAS) would have participated? How cool would that have been to have (and for visitors to see) dozens of accurately dressed Victorians roaming the streets of this historical Village! We could have taken over the town!
This has always befuddled me - why is it so hard to get reenactors to participate in a smaller more intimate event?
Well, it's up to them, I guess. Me? To be honest, one of my very favorite events every year is a small living history event where we can portray life as it was in a very authentic manner, and yet very few living historians ever show.
It's their loss...

By the way, do you see the linen frock coat I am wearing in this photograph? My wife made it for me for my birthday. Soon she will have my trousers done as well. Am I excited? You betcha! A wonderful birthday gift!


Monday, May 16, 2011

It Rained in the 1860's, too!!

Our first real reenactment of the season was a washout...or was it?

The 1836 Walker Tavern

The Walker Tavern Civil War reenacting event is a high point for those of us who follow the Michigan reenactor's calendar, not only because of the historic area in which it takes place, but it's also the first real reenactment of the season. Unfortunately, this year it was a wash out. Well, not totally - Saturday was not too bad, although the ground was mucky. Sunday, however, was a total wash. It began raining Saturday night and didn't stop until mid-afternoon Monday.
What really bummed me out was the idea that since I was only going to go for one day of the two-day event this year, I chose the day the weatherman told me it was going to be the better of the two days.
Silly me, believing someone who gets paid for being wrong!
The ride out there was beautiful, even with the rain. To drive along the same path that so many rode upon by way of a stage coach 125+ years ago really stirred the historian in me. I paid close attention to the old buildings as we drove through the small villages that dotted our way along this old Chicago Road, knowing that travelers from another age saw the very same structure that I was seeing at that moment. That right there was well worth the drive - even with $4.15 a gallon gas prices.
It wasn't long before we made it into the historic park area of the Walker Tavern.
It was still raining...
We visited with friends tent to tent, standing under the flies out of the rain. Then came the announcement that the event was canceled. I've never heard of an event being canceled due to rain. I suppose it was because the land was part of a state park.
Anyhow, before they closed up the tavern, which was built in 1836, I made sure to take the opportunity to have some historical fun with my camera. With no patrons around, I was able to have the young lady who portrays our domestic at most of our reenactments pose as if she was a worker inside the beautifully restored building.

Our domestic prepares the cook stove

She prepares the batter as the stove heats up

And, she pulls some preserves to add flavor

But, she mustn't forget to clean the upstairs bedrooms!

A young soldier home for a visit plays a game with his friend

And a young lady listens as the postmaster/tavern-keep reads a letter to her from her soldier father

As you can see, we had a fine and fun time no matter what the weather. When you have lemons thrown at you, you make lemonade (as the old saying goes). I have been looking forward to our reenacting for too long to let something like a little rain spoil it for me.
Okay, a lot of rain!
Still...I'd rather have rain at an event, especially at an event where I can go inside a period structure and be with my family and friends, than be surrounded by modern garbage.
Because remember, it rained in the 1860's, too.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ken & Patty's Wedding Anniversary Party

...or 1863...
Where to begin…?
When Patty and I were married back on May 11, 1985 we spoke of having an 'old-time' wedding, where she and I, our wedding party, and our guests would dress up "like they did in the 19th century." The thing was, we knew virtually nothing about any of that; we were only vaguely aware of living historians, so we had no idea how to accomplish such an undertaking. Needless to say, we had a traditional (for 1985) wedding, with everyone dressed in the current wedding fashions, the DJ played the latest hot pop and country music of the time as well as quite a few oldies tunes, and nothing to make it stand out from any other 1985 wedding ceremony.
But, it was all very nice, in all honesty, and neither of us have any complaints about the way our wedding day went. We even had a 1939 Plymouth for our wedding car! How cool!!
Well, last year we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. Let me tell you, I can't believe how fast time has gone. The first 25 years just zipped on by! Anyhow, being the living historians that we have become, we felt it was the perfect time to live out our original dream of a period wedding.
The following, with slight modification, is what I wrote about our 25th anniversary celebration in a posting from last year. It's worth repeating, plus I added a few more photos:
The day of our celebration, May 8, 2010, started off being very windy, cold, and rainy – not the kind of day one would want to have to celebrate a wedding anniversary, especially one as important as our 25th!
But, we heard improvement was on the way.
Our best friends from another time, the Gillett's, showed up around 1:30, as did another good friend, Carrie Graber, shortly after. Then it was off to the hall for all of us except my dear wife, our daughter, and Mrs. Gillett, for they had to ready themselves for the big party. At the hall the rest of us put up the decorations, including a few reenacting photos that I enlarged and matted, as well as some of our original wedding pictures that we had in a photo album.
Although a bit cool, the sun was now fully out and remained until sunset, making for a perfect looking day.
4:00 came around and it was decided that we would get to the 1872 schoolhouse - perfect for a period wedding, for the ceremony was to begin at 5:00, and we knew our guests were to arrive shortly. I was ecstatic that my whole family was coming (except for a few nephews and nieces) which made my mother pretty happy. And our friends, who are mostly reenactors, began to arrive wearing, of course, their finest period 1860's clothing. Well...except my siblings and a very few non-reenacting friends, which was understood.
While we spent some time getting a few photos taken by local digital tintype image maker Mr. D. Green, pianist Mrs. Purdue played a few select numbers as our guests arrived and settled into their seats – "When Thou Art Near" , "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" , "Air on a G String" - all by J. S. Bach – on the old schoolhouse piano. When she began Pachelbel’s Canon in D that was our signal for the ceremony to begin. With Preacher Gillett officiating (he is an ordained minister), our offspring marched from the back of the schoolhouse to the front in age order – Tom, Rob, Miles, then Rosalia – as our witnesses. There is nothing better than having your own children as your witnesses for your renewal of the vows.
Then my dear wife and I stepped out and everyone in the congregation stood up, which totally took Patty off guard. She looked more beautiful than ever in her period correct wedding dress / ball gown – one that she had spent this spring making herself, with help from another good friend, Mrs. Root. My eldest sister said that she had an inner glow.
The 1872 Schoolhouse was the perfect location for our renewal of the vows
The ceremony itself was absolutely perfect – the good preacher asked me afterward if he "did good." I told him “no,” that he didn’t do good…he did GREAT – far beyond our expectations! The biblical passages he used were from the very traditional old-time weddings - Ephesians 5:22-29 - (except his using the word ‘again’ – “Ken, do you take Patricia again to be your lawfully wedded wife?” What a hoot! Everyone loved that!).
I explained to him that he helped to make our dream wedding come true, and this renewal was truly a gift. To us this was more than a renewal; it was everything we originally wanted. And, to make it even more special this time around, just before the vow renewals were spoken, our eldest son, Tom, play his guitar and sang “In My Life” by the Beatles – not period correct, of course, but I told our family and friends that it wouldn’t be an event for us if we didn’t have the Beatles being a part – they laughed.
The words are absolutely perfect:
There are places I remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more
Everyone loved it! My wife had tears in her eyes. I must admit, I did, too.
(If you click ~HERE~ you can see and hear my son perform this tune. This video was not taken at our wedding, but it's done in pretty much the same way)
Then we renewed our vows and I never felt more in love with my wife than at that just doesn’t get any better – what a wonderful feeling!
The ceremony had ended with a prayer and we were "announced" with a round of applause. Looking out at everyone sitting in that old 1872 building – most dressed 1860’s – gave off the wonderful appearance of a time gone by. The old schoolhouse was the perfect location for our special period renewal.
Once the ceremony had ended, many more photos were taken - it seemed as though everyone had a pocket tintype! -
My family - and there were numerous other family members who could not attend!

~ Ladies of the 1860's ~
- and then it was off to the VFW Hall just down the road. Although a modern hall, those of us in period clothing - and the music - helped to transform it back into another era of 150 years ago.
Upon entering the hall doors, another good friend, Mr. Cook, “announced us” and everyone clapped once again. Just as was done 25 years earlier.
The food, although not period correct, received many complements: Two 6 foot sub sandwiches, plus goodies that family and friends pitched in and made for us: tuna noodle, a variety of cookies, our “wedding cake” made by my sister-in-law, potato salad, greens salad, potato chips, and many other fine edibles. As this was not a formal dining-type gathering, I went around to the tables to let the guests know they could eat whenever they were hungry.
Another preacher friend, Pastor Purdue, said a beautiful grace.
Glen Morningstar’s Michigan Ruffwater Old Time String Band, an absolutely amazing group of period musicians, began to play shortly after 7 and the Grand Ball began with the Grand March lead by President and Mrs. Lincoln (the Priebe’s) – we didn’t feel comfortable enough to lead in the grand march – but practically every guest in attendance, including all of my siblings, my mom, and non-reenacting friends (!), joined in.
At that point the regular1860's-style ball and contra dancing commenced, which included Spanish Dance (Haste to the Wedding), Contra Dance (Guilderoy), Circle of Couples (Jenny Lind), The Fan Dance, Quadrille with ladies chain (Oh Susannah & Road to Boston), A March Cotillion (Buffalo Gals & Camptown Ladies), The Virginia Reel (Sir Robert de Coverly), and the “Spanish Waltz”.
These last two are mine and Patty's absolute favorites. But, a special moment happened during the Fan Dance: our third son, Miles – yes, our Miles (who has Aspergers Syndrome)! - joined in, and the for the first time he actually ‘danced’ (more like walking...but still...) down the line (with his cousin)! And, the second time he actually ‘skipped’ (with young Miss Purdue, the daughter of the pastor and the pianist, who kind of coaxed him into putting a little more kick in his step).
Everyone whooped and hollered as he did this – our photographer told me he noticed this right off and really admired the way our reenactor friends treated and cheered Miles on. He said he could see that our little living history community are truly like family. That was so special – a major step for Miles!
And my other children also danced the evening away - - - - these old dances are much more fun than the modern ones, I must say.
The non-reenacting friends and family that joined in the dancing literally "had a ball!" They've never been to anything like this so it was quite a shock in comparison to what they were used to at such an occasion.
During Ruffwater's intermission, my son Tom's vocal group, Simply Dickens, performed a small set beginning with “If I Needed You” – a non-period country hit from early 1980’s by Emmylou Harris and Don Williams. It was mine and Patty’s original wedding song 25 years ago, and to have my son and his group sing it perfectly for us was simply awesome. After they performed our original wedding song, which Patty and I danced to, Simply Dickens performed a few more numbers, actual period correct tunes: Shady Grove, Johnny Has Gone For A Soldier, Soldier Soldier Will You Marry Me, Hard Times Come Again No More, and Wayfaring Stranger. They only played for around 20 minutes but the guests loved them.
Period vocal group, Simply Dickens, singing into very non-period microphones - at least everyone could hear them!!
We were told about (and then witnessed for ourselves) a number of people from connecting halls / rooms who were coming out of their party to watch ours’. I guess we were quite a hit!
Unfortunately, 10:00 came and the evening wound down, and it was time to say goodbye to our family and friends.. A few came back to the house with us – sort of an afterglow - and we all had wonderful, but tiring, visit.
Here it is, now, a few days after, and my wife and I are still on a "high." In fact, I am writing this on our actual wedding anniversary date: May 11th.
Feels like the first time indeed...only BETTER!! Our dream truly did come true...thanks to the greatest family and best of friends...ever!
What 25 years produced for my wife and I !!


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Historic Village Lantern Tour

The Troy Historical Museum and Village located, Michigan is a perfect place for a Civil War era lantern tour, with ten historical structures placed in a tiny village setting.
So, guess what they had on Saturday April 30th?
Awww! You guessed it! You must've read my blog from a couple months ago (Civil War Candlelight Tour).
I must say, when I stepped out of my Ford Econoline "carriage" to participate in the tour I was shaking with excitement. My wife and I and the two youngest of our brood were going to portray a family living in a log cabin, which was built originally in the early part of the 19th century.
There were nine other living historians who were also taking part - most were from the two units I belong to: the 21st Michigan and the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society - and we all interpreted our lives as Civil War era citizens in a 1st person manner. And we stayed in 1st person the entire time (except when we were asked a question that went beyond our 1st's important that all questions are answered to the best of our ability).
From what I've been told it was a major hit, and the exit polls (and their were exit polls) gave the tour rave reviews. Now there is talk of possibly making this into an annual event. I can almost guarantee each one of us that participated this year will return in 2012.
Or sooner, should they come up with another tour.
I hope you enjoy the photos here. They were taken shortly before the public tour began...

The Chaplain prepares to leave with the men

My wife and her friend visit while spinning wool

My wife and I inside our cabin. I portrayed a postmaster

Senator Jacob Howard - yes, our town has its own politician

The U.S. Christian Commission were there as well

The poor destitute laundress squeaks out a living doing laundry for townsfolk and military men

While still in mourning for her husband, this young widow also mourned for a cousin's child who died an untimely death

This lantern tour at the Troy Historical Museum and Village was a fine start to the 2011 reenacting season - - - bring it on!


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Eating Authentically at an Event by Wendi Schroeder

21st Michigan civilian member, Wendi Schroeder, wrote a wonderful article about bringing the correct period food to reenactments. She originally wrote it for one of our civilian meetings. I convinced her to write it out as an article for our unit newsletter, which she did. In fact, she did such a great job that I sent it to Connie Payne, the former editor of Citizens' Companion ("The Voice of Civilian Reenacting") who put it in the May/June 2011 issue.
Mrs. Schroeder has been reenacting since the early 1990's and is one who has strived for accuracy and authenticity. Whereas there are a few folks who have been reenacting as long have refused to update and/or correct their clothing, accessories, or presentations due to a greater bounty of knowledge available today, Mrs. Schroeder is just the opposite: she eats up the information found in the countless resources and corrects any possible misinformation she may have been told in previous years.
She truly is one to look up to!
Anyhow, without further ado, I pass the microphone over to my first guest blogger (kinda!), Mrs. Schroeder - - - - - -

Eating Authentically at an Event
Wendi Schroeder
Knowing that it's just as important to get the little things right at a reenactment, taking a look at the food you bring can help improve your impression yet one more notch. Eating according to what was available in a given month can help you come that much closer to being "there".
This doesn't mean that you can't eat very well for the weekend. You can bring a surprising variety of things to camp throughout the year. As an added bonus to eating seasonally, it's cheaper. Things still ripen around the same time every year.

Kitchen gardens: grow you own food!
Before I start, please understand the limitations of this article. It's NOT an exhaustive list of everything you can bring, for that you really need to start reading antique cookbooks.
That being said…

Let's start with April. This is the end of the winter season so you would most likely be using up things in the root cellar.
In the meat category, Ham would be very appropriate since it is getting warmer and whatever is left in the smokehouse isn't likely to keep much longer. (I personally suspect that's how Ham for Easter got to be so popular). If you are willing to be a bit more adventuresome there is also lamb and veal (newborn animals that didn't make it were not wasted). Fresh beef maybe but most likely there wouldn't be any left. Salted beef would be much more likely.
For vegetables, you would have the last of the potatoes, winter squash, carrots, onions, dried beans, and perhaps fresh asparagus if you grew it.
There would also be fresh lettuce especially if you had cold frames or hot frames to grow them in.
Pickled items of all sorts would be on the pantry shelves, cucumber pickles, watermelon rind pickles, sauerkraut, pickled peppers, pickled onions etc…
For fruit you would have jellys, jams, and the last of your cellar apples. Raisins would be around, but pay attention to your economic position, as they would have been imported. I can't find evidence that grapes were grown in Michigan during the War, but if anyone has information to the contrary I'd be delighted to see it.
As a side note…this is what you plant in April in Michigan…onions, potatoes, peas, lettuce, leeks, cabbage. If you plan your breeding your sow is farrowing and you have piglets to raise. If one doesn't make it you have sucking pig to eat for Sunday.
Ok, moving on to May.

In May you would have eggs, (the chickens are laying again HURRAY). You would also start to see radishes, more lettuce, and new peas perhaps.
May is when the main garden goes in. You plant tomatoes and peppers and beans and corn and squash and pumpkin and melon and cucumbers and whatever else your little heart desires to put into the ground. New chicks are being born about now.

June is when strawberries are in season. Your meat poultry is coming along nicely, but they aren't quite big enough to eat yet. But the laying hens are going gang busters and the cow is giving lots of milk (or the goats). You are still eating lettuce and radishes. This is a great salad month.
This is when you shear the sheep and take the wool in to be washed and carded for spinning…unless you do this all at home. You also plant your cabbage and peas for the fall garden about now.

July: The peas are getting ripe. You have new potatoes (which are very small). Blueberries are in season. You might get some cabbage out now, and the Broccoli is ready to eat. You have some meat chickens (born last fall) that are big enough to eat, so you start butchering them one or two at a time as you want one for dinner. Early raspberries are in now too. It's too hot for the lettuce to be doing well, so it's rather scarce.

A July meal

August: You are starting to get beans. A melon or two is ripened, and if you planted short season corn it should be coming in towards the end of the month. More potatoes, these are larger, especially if you planted midseason varieties. Tomatoes and Peppers are starting to come in and they pretty much overwhelm you at the end of the month. Peas are in completely and they start to wane early in August. The pigs are growing nicely and you are getting really tired of poultry and salted beef and pork. However, the fish are biting and fresh fish can be had whenever someone has the time to go catch some. You can harvest onions now too, or you can leave them growing until cold weather.

September: This is when you kick yourself for planting a large garden. EVERYTHING is coming in. You put things down cellar and dehydrate a lot of things in the sun, and if you know how and have the jars you put things up in those fancy new mason jars, which requires HOURS of boiling for some things. (Modern note…if you want to try canning do NOT water bath can anything but fruit and tomatoes-botulism still exists.)
Apples are starting to ripen and so are the peaches. Lots of pie right about now.


October: The garden season is finally starting to wind down. You still have beans and late ripening squash, but pretty much everything else is put up for the winter. Apple harvest is in full swing although you probably have all the peaches dried or made into jam already. The pumpkins are finishing up as is the squash. Your late corn is ready to pick and your potatoes are ready to dig up…hurry and do this last before the ground freezes. You have fresh apples and dried apples and apple cider. (Or hard cider if that's your preference.)

November: Butchering time is usually around the third week of the month. Those cute little piglets from spring are nasty tempered ugly hogs and you are glad to see the last of them; although processing one pig takes three days if you have lots of help in the kitchen. You also butcher your beef at this time, and the deer hunters go out to get some venison.
And that takes us to the end of the season. If it seems like this was more about gardening/farming, I chose to structure it this way to illustrate how eating was directly tied to the gardening year and the weather, until refrigeration and international shipping allowed us to eat whatever we wanted to all year round. And there are some exceptions. Larger cities might have access to more fresh meat in the summer since a farmer could sell a whole beef or pig in portions at the Market. The Military would also have more access to fresh meat in the summer since there were enough men to eat a whole animal before the meat spoiled

A wonderful November Thanksgiving meal

As I said in the beginning this doesn't cover everything. But if you pay attention at the grocery store to what's on sale and what is listed as locally grown you can get a pretty good idea of what your options are month by month.
You can also get really adventuresome by reading cookbooks, I've read some recipes that I wouldn't even WANT to try, but they are out there for the culinary brave.
Some things I didn't mention (like bread) because they were available year round. Wheat stores very well until its ground into flour. Oatmeal stores very well.
I hope this little paper has been informative. I'm hungry now, so I'm off to the kitchen to find a snack…


Monday, May 2, 2011

Super Fun Time - a Satire of Living History

I like South Park.
There...I said it. I know the show can be obnoxious and rough but it's one of those mindless stupidly funny shows that I like to watch and find myself laughing out loud to.
Probably my favorite episode is the one called "Super Fun Time, where our S.P. heroes find themselves on a school field trip to a living history museum. As a living historian, I found myself laughing so hard watching this one that I had tears in my eyes.
Anyhow, I thought that maybe some of my reenacting/living historian readers might also enjoy watching it. Remember: the language and some of the situations can be a bit rough. If you can over-look that, I believe that you might find yourself laughing pretty hard as well.
Then again, maybe not - my sense of humor is a bit odd.....

South Park - Super Fun Time