Saturday, August 20, 2011

It Takes A Village

I'd like to talk to you about a dream I have. Well, it's more of a fantasy, but I certainly wish it could come true.
I want to go back in time.

Riding the train to the past...
Wait - - - - you already knew that, right?
However, we know time-travel - the kind of time-travel where one can physically move through time and space and live amongst those from, say, a hundred and fifty years ago - is impossible.
Or is it...?
Well, we all know about reenacting/living history, right? And we also know how this is one "hobby"where we can be pretty darn close to traveling through time...almost to the point where one may feel like they were "there."


But not quite...
...and yet...
Well, a while back I posted a collection of tintypes and daguerreotypes that many readers had said if I hadn't written that all photos were of reenactors from the 21st century that they'd have thought the pictures were originals from the mid-19th century.
Wouldn't you say that's a form of time-travel?
Or is that stretching it...?
Either way, it's still not enough - - - - - 
Please understand, when it comes to traveling through time I follow along the lines of what Jack Finney wrote in his book, Time and Again:
"'Einstein said that our ideas about time are largely mistaken. He meant that we're mistaken in our conception of what the past, present, and future really are. We think the past is gone, the future hasn't happened, and that only the present exists. Because the present is all we can see. It's only natural. He said we're like people in a boat without oars drifting along a winding river. Around us we see only the present. We can't see the past, back in the bends and curves behind us. But, it's there.
 You know the year, the day, and the month for literally millions of reasons: because the blanket you woke up under this morning may have been at least partly synthetic; because there is probably a box in your home with a switch; click that switch, and the faces of living human beings will appear on a glass screen in the face of that box and speak nonsense to you. Because red and green lights signaled when you might cross a street; because teenage children you saw were dressed as they were, because the front page of the local newspaper looked precisely as it did this morning and as it never will again or ever has before.

You can see yesterday; most of it is left. Most of the 2oth century is still here as well. (And) there are fragments of still earlier days. Single buildings. Sometimes several together. Those places are fragments still remaining, of days which once lay out there as real as the day lying out there now, still surviving fragments of a clear April morning of 1871, a gray winter afternoon of 1840, a rainy dawn of 1793.

 Picture one of those upper apartments standing empty for two months in the summer of 1894. Picture our arranging to sublet that very apartment for those identical months for the coming summer. If Albert Einstein is right - as he is - then hard as it may be to comprehend, the summer of 1894 still exists. That silent empty house exists back in that summer precisely as it exists in the summer that is coming. Unaltered and unchanged, identical in each, and existing in each. I believe it may be possible, you understand, for a man to walk out of that unchanged apartment and into that other summer.
But, the uncountable millions of invisible threads that exist in here would bind him to this current summer, no matter how unaltered the home around him. ...It occurred to me that just possibly there is a way to dissolve those threads...'"

Whew! That's something to think on, isn't it?
I read Time and Again for the first time only a few years ago. The coincidence, however, is that I had felt the same way as what Mr. Finney wrote, that any era can exist if one's presence and surroundings are as they should be.

Now, here is my own take on the highlighted paragraph above:

Picture living in a community of period homes, for instance, in a place such as Crossroads Village. Each of those structures stand as they once did in the autumn of 1861. The terrain - roads, trees, walkways - is just as it was 150 years ago.
Picture our arranging to sublet that very village for those identical months for the coming fall to living historians. So instead of 'costumed' presenters giving details about each structure, there would be people - you, me, our families, and others - living there inside the homes, night and day, 24/7, as if it actually were 1861, dressed in the clothing of the period. No outside modern visitors allowed, and no technology past our chosen time period. The citizens of this village have their roles - the same roles as they would have had if they actually lived in 1861; besides farming, many of the men, and even some women, would also work at the various occupations available in any small village of that period in time (gristmill, cooper, farrier, tavern owner, wagon maker, school teacher, banker, shoe maker, store keep, lumber mill, etc.).

If Albert Einstein is right - as he is - then hard as it may be to comprehend, the autumn of 1861 still exists.
(By the way, I chose Crossroads Village of Flint because it is the most authentic-looking open-air museum we have in Michigan).

I believe this is the way - the only way, mind you - that a sort of time-travel can take place. Now I am sure that some of you may have the movie thriller, "The Village" in mind. 
Or the Amish.
Or maybe even the book "Running Out of Time."
No, no, and no!
Don't think about any of that
odernisms - medicines and the like - would absolutely be accepted.

You see, there would be rules agreed upon by those willing to live here. For instance, rule number one would be that a panel of three would vote to accept or deny those who would like to live in such a place. And even then, if accepted, they would be on a probationary period for a certain length of time.
Why such a rule? Because there are always those with an ulterior motive - someone who would try to rattle the cages, so to speak  ("What do you mean I have to wear fashions from the 1860's all the time? I have a right to wear what I want!" Yeah, you know what I mean...).
Again, those who were accepted could leave anytime - no one would force them to stay. But if they chose to stay, then they would have to follow the rules. Plain and simple. Folks living permanently inside this time-travel village would also certainly be able to come and go as necessary, maybe to visit relatives for holidays or special occasions, or even just to 'get away' for a while, though automobiles would be nowhere within visible sight of the vicinity, however; one would have to walk quite a ways to get to a motor vehicle.

There would also be an area - blocked off from the villager's senses - where one could go for emergency phone calls, updates on current events, and other opportunities to stay somewhat in touch with the outside world if one chooses to do so. 
You see, I've thought of this synopsis over and over. In fact, a few of us in the living history community have even discussed what it would take to put a community such as this together. It was interesting to note why we would want to do something so outrageous as drop out of modern society, most agreeing that we just don't feel as if we totally fit in to the 21st century mode of thinking and living. And we won't even get into the politics, morals, and values of the 21st century.
But discussion was as far as it got.

Believe it or not, this thought - this fantasy I/we have - truly ticks some people off. The very same 'live-and-let-live' folks have become very indignant when I've spoken of my dream of a village-in-time. "You must like what I like and do what I feel is right because I'm right and you are not. You must learn to live in today's society and accept what we want for you. We know best!" is their mantra.
"I would agree only if the government approved."
"What -- you want slavery brought back?" 
"You want women to be chained to the kitchen?" are more such ridiculous comments I've heard.
Silly people...

Ahhh...but we're a psychologist's dream, aren't we? I can just imagine...especially in today's conformist society where tradition is non-acceptable while non-tradition and outrageous has become the norm, what the doctor would think...

For the time being, however, there is reenacting/living history.
At least I still have that! 

Also, can you imagine if a place such as Crossroads put their presenters through such a rigorous training session that it would make the past come to life for the visitors?

By the way, there is a saying from (I was told) an Amish minister that has become one of my most favorite of quotes:

"If you admire our faith, strengthen yours. If you admire our sense of commitment, deepen yours. If you admire our community spirit, build your own. If you admire the simple life, cut back. If you admire deep character and enduring values, live them yourself.

For those of us who have the same traditional dream, this is a start.



PvtSam75 said...

Hmmm...definitely an interesting idea, but I could see myself doing something like that, if only for a month. The best way to understand history is to live it, right? It would be amazing to step out of the modern world even more than we already do at reenactments, to really get a good idea of how to walk, talk, interact...everything!

Great post!

the bee guy said...

This sounds right up my alley. My wife and kids would tend to think otherwise. I've always admired the Amish and their sense of community. This rarely exists in the suburbs these days. The most I can get out my neighbors is a wave as they drive by.... and they only live 50 ft on either side of me, not miles apart like the Amish.

Mrs. G said...

It is a nice, albeit unworkable, fantasy. We're wired to crave community and really feel the lack thereof.
Always good to hear from you.

Historical Ken said...

From an e-mail I received:

Hi Ken,
I read with interest the link to your post today. It would be great to be able to step back into the past and do something like this sometime, especially if I could take a month off work to do it. I've thought PBS should do one of those living history type shows like they did several years ago with Plymouth Plantation, but focus on the Civil War era and use reenactors for the show. However, there probably would not be enough conflict, drama and resistance to giving up modern items to make an interesting TV show (but it would be fun for the reenactors!).
Along the lines of your post, I had recently had the idea of applying the thought "Reenacting . . . taking the present back to the past" to a couple of my pictures.
Your post mentioned a collection of tintypes and daguerreotypes from readers. I've had over 10 of these taken over the years, and have scanned them so that I could print regular pictures of them. They all have been taken by either Wendell Decker or Robert Szabo.
We are greatly looking forward to the Civil War Remembrance weekend in Greenfield Village at the end of the month.

SamIam said...

This is very interesting to read since this identical thought has been in my mind for over 30 years. I first read the book you refer to when I was in my early 20's, and it paralleled a science fiction story in which artificial "moons" circling the earth were each created for a specific period in history, everyone there had to live as you described, true to the period in everything. It would take a Bill Gates level of wealth to create a sheltered community like this, but it would be so attractive to many as a vacation experience, that it might even eventually make a profit. After all, that is essentially what some of the Western Vacations do, and Amish communities sometimes take in "working" vacationers in much this way. Thank you for the posted information. It took me away from my current location in Kuwait for the military.

SamIam said...

Thank you for this post. I have thought this for many years, inspired partly by the book you mention, and also a science fiction story from the late 1950's of artificial moons circling the earth, each with a historical period theme, with all residents and visitors required to follow period costume and actions. Facinating