Sunday, November 25, 2012

O Christmas Tree: A Family Tradition

Our 2012 Christmas Tree
I wanted to take some time to share with you one of our many family Christmas traditions: taking a day and cutting down our Christmas Tree.
We live in the city - just blocks outside of Detroit - and there are plenty of Christmas Tree lots around the area. As a kid I used to go with my father to these lots to help pick out the perfect one. I remember walking through the forest of trees sitting there on this big city parking lot and imagining I was actually in a pine tree forest and we were there with our axe to cut one down. However, the constant big-city intrusion of traffic noise would constantly bring me back to my urban reality.
But it was still great fun to help get a tree - at least we got a real one when so many others were beginning to get artificial.
The first Christmas I spent living with my wife was when things changed. I knew what I wanted to do that year, and we did. We went to some place near the tip of Michigan's thumb called Dog Patch Tree Farm and, for the first time, cut down a Christmas Tree.
It was every bit as special as I had hoped it to be. And more. I was John-Boy Walton walking with Grandpa up Walton's Mountain to chop one down. I was a pioneer from the 19th century bringing Christmas into our isolated cabin.
I was...chopping down a Christmas Tree!
Sounds silly, doesn't it?
But that's me.
And we've been doing it ever since.
The Western Tree Farm cabin

The best part is my kids enjoy this tradition as well; they've never known any different. In fact, we now go to a place up in Applegate, Michigan (still in the thumb but a bit lower) called Western's Tree Farm, a family owned business. Ever since we discovered it 25 years ago it's been our tree-cutting destination. Heck! My oldest, who is getting married in six months, wasn't even born during our first Western visit!
Now, why would we go to the same place for 25 years? Well, without trying to sound like I am a part of their advertising staff, it's simply because they are the best around. They have and do everything we like. Plus they have an outrageously large amount of trees of all types. We prefer the blue spruce, and that's been our favorite tree for most of our years.
This time we took the horse ride out
It's at Western's that one can take a hayride (horse-drawn and/or tractor-pulled) out to the tree type of your choice. And, though many times we might find a tree pretty quick, we'll still walk around and look 'just because.' I mean, now I am really in a Pine tree forest. Or rather, a Christmas Tree forest, so I like to enjoy every bit of my dream come true!
The Christmas Tree forest!
With thousands to choose from, we always seem to find the 'perfect tree.'

I used to be the one to cut down the tree but I now have a couple of older sons, age 24 and 21, who do it.
They also will carry it back to the front cabin. Sometimes we wait for the cart to come and pick us up but other times it's more fun to walk. Especially with my two oldest.
Oh, I know you're expecting me to say that we sing Christmas Carols as we trudge along. Um...not with Tom and Rob; as they marched down the pathway this year, they...ahem...skipped, twirled, and quoted Monty Python and Beatles movie lines as they did so.

At the front of the farm they have a tree shaker and wrapper and they'll tie it to the roof of your car or van. *For free.* I like that.
They also have a small log cabin store that, many years ago, was built with the logs from their farm  (I remember when they were building it). Inside, one would expect to see all of the cheap Chinese commercial crap that one finds everywhere to make a quick buck. But guess what? Many of the items here are Michigan made from the locals in the Sanilac County area. Plus there are all kinds of greenery such as roping and wreaths and the like.
Warming up by the fireplace - a real fireplace!
All pretty good quality American-made stuff.
And then there's the homemade cookies & hot chocolate with a roaring fire in the fireplace.
Tell me that isn't "just like the ones I used to know"!
It takes us around an hour and a half to get up to Western's from where we live, but it's well worth the drive north from my house.
Especially when it snows (it didn't this year, unfortunately).
On our way home from the tree farm we'll stop off in the small village of Lexington to eat at the finest burger place around: Wimpy's. The burgers taste just like bar burgers without the adult surroundings. It's a regular diner-type restaurant with booths and fry cooks. Again, just like the ones I used to know.
The beautiful 19th century village of Lexington, Michigan

Of course, you have to visit the store right next door to Wimpy's, an old-fashioned general store (again, say it with me: just like the ones I used to know) with penny candy, nic-nacs, antiques hanging from the ceiling, and a variety of interesting items for sale.
Inside the general Store

Our bellies full and candy paid for, it's back on the road where we make it home as the daylight begins to wane. I immediately set the tree up in the tree stand and prepare it for decorating. My children really bite at the bit for hanging the ornaments - yes, even my two oldest - and we keep the style in a pseudo-Victorian manner. Not necessarily authentically so, mind you - we can't afford that - but in the picture-book vein of Victoriana. We use decorations that we have purchased over our 27 year marriage - most purchased in shops from Frankenmuth and at Greenfield Village. With the variety of decorations, I like to think that our tree is fun and interesting  to look at. No matter how many times you glance at it you always seem to see something you hadn't seen before.
Here are just a few of our ornaments:
Yes, you do see characters from Dickens "A Christmas Carol" hanging on our tree!
I'm not quite sure what this is, but I believe it's a sort of cornucopia. Do you see the caroler and a Dickens book? Yes, we do light our candles once or twice during the season.
More Victorian-style ornaments including a pineapple. What's a pineapple have to do with Christmas? During early Colonial days in the United States, families would set a fresh pineapple in the center of the table as a colorful centerpiece of the festive meal, especially when visitors joined them in celebration. This symbolized the utmost in welcome and hospitality to the visitor, and the fruit would be served as a special desert after the meal. Often when the visitor spent the night, he was given the bedroom which had the pineapples carved on the bedposts or headboard--even if the bedroom belonged to the head of the household.
What's a Christmas Tree without a pocket watch attached? And my 3rd son loves lighthouses. Then there's the Victorian-style Christmas scene ornament
Wooden ice skates, a traditional Santa, and a colonial lantern help to make the tree a bit more unique.
And here are a couple of replica Victorian decorations: a tiny box with a painted cover and a cloth bell (middle top)
It's wonderful to have such traditions as this, and I am so happy and bless'd to have a family that gladly loves and participates in it as much as I do.
I'm sure this will be passed down to their children and their children's children.
At least I hope so...
Yes, we do light the candles on our tree and have done so for 27 years. Believe me when I say I take all precautions when I do this. It is truly is a beautiful sight to see.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas Season.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Premier Night of "Lincoln"

We were just bonkers to see the new "Lincoln" movie!
On Friday the 16th of November 2012 a few of us who reenact the American Civil War era dressed in our period finest and spent a fine evening together to see the new "Lincoln" movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis as Abraham and Sally Field as his wife Mary.
Back in the 1990's seeing a period movie while wearing clothing of the time was pretty commonplace. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe it was the "Star Wars" crowd that started this whole "dress like the characters in the movie" deal. At least, for me they were the first that I've heard of doing this practice.
Anyhow, I've only done this twice - the first time was for "The Conspirator" a couple years ago and the other was, well, just two days ago (as this is written).
Both times were very enjoyable, but for "Lincoln" it was a blast. The main reason is because we made it into a sort of event. In fact, I actually did make it into a Facebook event and invited (or tried to invite) as many of my reenactor friends as I could, though I inadvertently forgot to invite a few (and for that I am truly sorry. Next time I will just announce without invitations).
So, for the "Lincoln" movie I had a pretty fair response with a total of 18 reenactors showing up dressed in their period clothing. Most were from one of the units I belong to - the 21st Michigan - though there were members from the 17th Michigan, the 24th Michigan, and a couple of independents that joined us as well.
Many of us began our evening by going to a restaurant near the theater - a nice reasonably-priced family joint that had a fine variety of food to choose from. We created quite a stir upon entering the place, and the stares and 'hidden' camera phones snapped away from the other patrons. A few souls were 'brave' enough to actually come up to ask what we were doing.
It was a perfect start to our evening.
My wife and I at the local premier of the new "Lincoln" movie
At the theater we created another stir. Well, first off there was some concern that they wouldn't allow us to enter the theater while in 'costume' due to what happened last summer in Colorado with the jerk dressed in a Batman costume shooting the place (and people) up. However, we explained that for our period clothing we do not have our faces covered and that we dress authentically to the period in which we represent. It was pretty obvious to the management that we were all going as a group of living historians and not as nut cases - at least not violent ones! (Come on...I'm just kidding here...)
The latest Twilight movie also opened on this day and I would venture to bet that the greater majority of patrons were there to see that. I, of course, played into that and when a customer would ask me which movie we were here to see I answered with "Twilight."
Some actually believed it. And to top that, I asked one high school aged girl who didn't seem to be particularly smart in history (she asked me if I was Thomas Jefferson!) what war was going on during the time of President Lincoln's administration.
*sigh* She had no idea whatsoever.
Even her mother didn't know...
But we had fun taking photos and speaking to those patrons with a bit more intelligence.
A few of our reenacting friends did not dress in their period clothing for a variety of reasons, but I was still very glad they came. To me, whether you dress period or modern, I'd rather have you there than not.
There is not much that is sadder than seeing reenactors dressed modern while their friends are dressed period!
The movie itself was done very well. It was not the typical Lincoln movie you've seen previously. It was an intense drama about the passing of the 13th Amendment - did I say intense? - and everything about it lent to a strong taste of authenticity. Day-Lewis, Field, Tommy Lee Jones, and the other actors did an amazing and realistic job portraying men and women from history. As far as I could tell, the clothing and fashions were spot on and the sets were exceptional - very authentic. The sound effects are the real thing - click HERE to read about that. Day-Lewis portrayed Lincoln very realistically; all of the mannerisms I've read on the man and of his contemporaries were here. But the best part of this movie, to me, was they didn't deify Lincoln and make him out to be some god-like mythological creature. They, instead, showed him as a human, they showed the whys and wherefores of those who didn't like the man, and spoke of his own questionable 'trampling' of the Constitution. They also showed him as one who believed strongly in his case and cause. It was as balanced as I have seen of the man yet on film, and for Hollywood that is very commendable. 
This was a special evening for those of us who attended

Seeing a historical movie while dressed in period clothing may seem a bit of an oxymoron. But it's really not. Each of us does this sort of thing for differing reasons. My own personal reason(s) for dressing up in modern surroundings are mainly because anytime I do something historical, dressing period accents it, even if it's in a modern setting. I do also enjoy the general public's reaction and, for the most part, the questions and discussions that sometime ensue.
But when the opportunity to get a decently large group together to do something like this arises, it kind of becomes a celebratory atmosphere.
And that made it a night to remember!


Thursday, November 15, 2012

Bringing History to Life: "Lincoln," "The Conspirator," and the Logan County Courthouse

Updated March 10,  2023
Abraham Lincoln,  like George Washington,  has risen to mythological proportions,  almost as a character in a storybook.  But we know he was a real man,  and like all real people,  he was far from perfect.  But he was also a man of his time,  meaning he mostly subscribed to the etiquette,  fashion,  and thought process of his day,  though there are those who would like to place him akin to us here in the 21st century  (the same as some have attempted to do with Abigail Adams,  who was truly a woman of her own time as well).  So finding our 16th President as a normal 19th century human,  as depicted in the movie release of 2012,  "Lincoln,"  was refreshing. 
Now,  for the locals of the metro-Detroit area,  there is also a little something that is very special pertaining to Mr.  Lincoln that is in our own backyard .
Read on,  here,  to find out what it is and to see how one man from our past can be seemingly brought back to life.

~   ~   ~

When the 2012 movie about Abraham Lincoln starring Daniel Day Lewis and Sally Field was released all those years ago,  a number of my reenacting friends and I saw it at the theater on its date of release while wearing our period clothing.  Yeah,  but that's what some of us reenactors like to do  (18 of us on this trip!)  - I guess it just kind of adds to the entire experience of historical movie watching.  Sort of like  "you are there."
Like I said,  we can seem a little bit off.
But then,  all the best people are!
And we all tended to agree with the reviewers and gave it two thumbs up.  It was done in a very real manner - true to history.  And I'm here to tell you for this movie they went the extra mile,  for some of what I read and heard really made me stand up and take notice:   it had to do with the sound effects.  To help make this movie come alive,  the film makers actually used original sounds to give it that note and tone of  realism.  For instance,  the pocket watch Daniel Day-Lewis  (as Lincoln)  has is a prop.  But the ticking you hear coming from it is not.  That's because the sound man,  Ben Burtt,  recorded the faint  tick tick tick  from one of the actual time pieces Abraham Lincoln owned.
But that's not all...
The ringing of the steeple bell from St. John's Episcopal Church,  of which our 16th President attended often,  is heard as well,  along with the sound of the church floor boards - the very same that Lincoln walked upon over 150 years ago - with the wearing of period shoes and walking across the floor,  all the while recording the sound being made.  Ben Burtt even went as far as to record what it sounded like when Lincoln sat down and stood up from his pew!
But there's still more:
In the executive office of the White House,  there is a clock that's been there since the time of Andrew Jackson,  and the sound of that clock is used in many office scenes in the movie.  Other sound effects from the White House include door latches being latched as well as the opening & closing and the knocking upon those original doors - the very same that were there when Lincoln occupied the building.
But the  capper  may be having the opportunity to hear the squeaks from the springs of the original carriage that took the President and his wife to the Ford Theater on the evening of April 14,  1865.
Now,  as for the movie itself...
A scene from "Lincoln" is very well done;  it is not the typical Lincoln movie you've seen previously.  It is an intense drama mainly about the passing of the 13th Amendment - did I say intense? - and everything about it lent to a strong taste of authenticity.  Daniel Day-Lewis,  Sally Field,  Tommy Lee Jones,  and the other actors did an amazing and realistic job portraying men and women from history.  As far as I could tell,  the clothing and fashions were generally well-done  (though there are some who always feel the need to complain here,  because,  you know,  they feel it makes them seem smarter lolol),  and the sets were exceptional - very authentic.  Add the real deal sound effects and you have one top-notch flick  (except for the unnecessary cursing at one point,  which a Lincoln scholar had told me there is no record of Lincoln saying the F-bomb.  Thankfully,  it only happens once,  but well,  they just gotta get that  "he's like us"  21st century attitude thrown in).  Daniel Day-Lewis’s  portrayal of Lincoln is very exceptional;  all of the mannerisms I've read on the man and of his contemporaries were here.  But the best part of this movie,  to me,  was they didn't deify Lincoln and make him out to be some god-like mythological creature.  They,  instead,  show him as a regular man of his time,  they show the whys and wherefores of those who didn't like the man,  and spoke of his own questionable  'trampling'  of the Constitution  (as many of our contemporary Presidents are also accused of).  They also show him as one who believed strongly in his case and cause.  It was as balanced as I have seen of the man yet on film,  and for Hollywood that is commendable.
Logan County Courthouse from 1840 where Lincoln once practiced law
It's these little things like sound-effect details that bring history to life for me,  whether in a movie or while at a museum or even at reenactments.  But guess what?  I have been lucky enough to have heard the same sounds that Lincoln heard as well;  inside of  historic Greenfield Village is an original courthouse - an actual building! - where Mr. Lincoln once practiced law in the 1840's.  Wanting a building that was associated with our 16th President,  Henry Ford found a forgotten and dilapidated structure that was,  in 1929,  being used as a private residence,  and since the folks in Lincoln,  Illinois  (formerly known as Postville)  had no means  (or,  seemingly,  intentions)  to restore this historic building,  Ford took it upon himself to do so.
But when the residents of  the town heard of Mr. Ford's purchasing the building,  they suddenly became interested in it and tried to legally prevent him from removing it to Dearborn,  Michigan for his Greenfield Village.  One columnist from a local paper stated at the time:  Because the city of Lincoln did not realize its heritage,  the building has been kept up by a private citizen.  Henry Ford entered the scene and purchased the building to move to his historic museum at Dearborn,  Michigan.  He plans to tear it down and rebuild it in Michigan,  but when he does,  Illinois loses another famous homesite, not through fire,  but through the inaction of its own people.
The structure was quickly taken down and shipped to Michigan,  and then re-erected in time for the opening of Greenfield Village in the fall of 1929.  Ford spared no expense restoring this structure:  even the original plaster was preserved,  having it reground with new plaster and included in the restoration.
Beautifully restored as our 16th President would have seen it.
The newspaper columnist continued:  Residents of Lincoln ignored the old building as a bit of Americana until the late Henry Ford,  in 1929,  bought it for his collection of memorabilia.  Other organizations had chances to salvage the building but none took action.  Not until the building was gone did they sense the historical significance of the building.
My opinion?  Thank God Henry Ford did save this building,  whether he removed it from its original location or not,  for there is not another  original  like it anywhere else in the world.  And who knows what outcome would have beheld this historical gem had Ford not taken action?

So,  as research has shown,  as a young attorney,  Abraham Lincoln once practiced law in this walnut clapboard building,  which was built in Postville  (now Lincoln),  Illinois in 1840.  Being a circuit-riding lawyer,  Mr. Lincoln would travel upon his horse to the tiny country towns within a certain perimeter - Lincoln and the other handful of circuit riding lawyer companions with him covered the Eighth Judicial Circuit which covered something like 11,000 square miles - and they would follow Judge David Davis to the courthouses of the towns.
A sketch of Lincoln at the courthouse
in 1841.

Court was in session only twice a year,  and could be a raucous affair in the first three quarters of the 19th century.  It was quite entertaining for the folks sitting on the hard wood benches or peeking through the windows  (which were usually opened due to the heat from all of the bodies inside).  In fact,  it was quite entertaining for the country townsfolk,  for this was about the only time a small town could have some real big-time excitement.  People from all around the neighboring communities would travel to the court building to be enthralled by the legal battles at hand;  I liken it to a modern-day courtroom television drama that are always so popular.  Of course,  the local businesses always had red-letter days during the time the court was in session as well.
So it was at one of the Civil War Remembrance reenactment held annually at Greenfield Village  (every Memorial Day Weekend)  that I came up with an idea;
since the Village was now swarming with mid-19th century folk,  all dressed in their period finery,  what a great opportunity to recreate what it may have looked like having the townsfolk await court cases at the courthouse!  So I organized this little photo opp,  asking permission beforehand so there would be no problem.  For my poses,  I tried to follow the etiquette of the 19th century and have the men sit in the front seats while the women would have to sit toward the rear and sides,  and sometimes even peer through the open windows or doorway.
Oh,  the air was filled with excitement!  It wasn't too difficult for me to find willing participants to help out in my little 1860s courtroom photography session.
And the next few images show the variety of townsfolk awaiting for the proceedings to begin,  just as would have been the case in the 19th century:
I'm sorry, ma'am, but the front seats are reserved for the gentlemen.
Nope---the judge had not arrived  just yet - - -
Many of us arrived early and began to awaiting for the judge,  the lawyers,  
and jury to arrive.
Oh,  and the defendants, too.

Court was in session only twice a year,  and could be a raucous affair during the
19th century.  It actually was quite entertaining for the folks sitting on the hard
wood benches or peeking through the windows  (which were usually opened
due to the heat from all of the bodies inside). 

In fact,  it added quite a bit of excitement for the country townsfolk,  for this 
was about the only time a small town could have some real big-time entertainment.
(Many thanks to the presenter who was working inside the courthouse for taking this picture!)

Of course, the local businesses always had red-letter days during 
the time the court was in session as well.
Even tin-type photographers.
In the picture below are the ladies in the above photo as they looked in their tin-type
  (yes,  this is an actual tin-type taken with a period camera):

Turned out wonderful!
(From the blog of The Henry Ford):  An original feature,  long absent from the courtroom,  has made a return in time for the Civil War Remembrance weekend:  the bar now stands again.  Using the original set of wooden spindles,  Greenfield Village has re-created their interpretation of what the rail,  or the bar, that divided the courtroom may have looked like in the 1840s.  By referencing images of other early 19th century courtrooms,  and studying architectural features represented in Greenfield Village,  a typical design was created.
This middle gate was not yet installed when we took our reenacting picture,
but was put in place not too long after.
So now we have a little bit of an idea of what it could have looked like back in the day.

Inside the 1840 Logan County Courthouse. Notice the clock and cabinet:
they once belonged to Lincoln
Some of the furnishings in this building,  as you can see in the photos above and below,   are original Lincoln associated pieces:  the John Birge wall clock,  the empire chairs,  and the swivel-top card table with brass paw feet are from Lincoln's Springfield home.  Also,  the walnut corner cupboard was made by Abraham and his father.
The resonance of my period shoes as I stepped on the very same floorboards as Lincoln himself did while inside this courthouse has always intrigued me.  I,  too,  have experienced the sound of the past.
In fact,  I sort of  encouraged  it!
Can you just see (and hear) Mr. Lincoln as a lawyer in this room, stepping heavily
upon the boards? 
I can...
There's another very-well-done move about Abraham Lincoln,  The Conspirator,  which also went the extra mile to bring authentic history to life.
As is written on Amazon:
In the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination,  seven men and one woman are arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the President,  Vice President,  and Secretary of State.  The lone woman charged,  Mary Surratt  (Robin Wright),  42,  owns a boarding house where John Wilkes Booth  (Toby Kebbell),  26,  and others met and planned the simultaneous attacks.  Against the ominous backdrop of post-Civil War Washington,  newly-minted lawyer Frederick Aiken  (James McAvoy),  a 28-year-old Union war hero,  reluctantly agrees to defend Surratt before a military tribunal.  Aiken realizes his client may be innocent and that she is being used as bait and hostage in order to capture the only conspirator to have escaped a massive manhunt,  her own son,  John  (Johnny Simmons).  As the nation turns against her,  Surratt is forced to rely on Aiken to uncover the truth and save her life.  From director Robert Redford,  "The Conspirator"  is a riveting thriller that tells a powerful story about America then and now.
A scene from "The Conspirator"
And,  from the Conspirator  website:
In the production,  great pains were taken to recreate the look and feel of 1865.  The characters and events featured in the film were exhaustively researched by our entire team.  Screenwriter James Solomon and historical researcher Melissa Jacobson pored over hundreds of books,  courtroom transcripts,  and other primary documents to ensure that the film was as accurate as possible.  Jacobson even created a historical  “bible”  that was distributed to the entire team during pre-production.  In addition,  our consulting historians provided pages of notes that were integrated into the script and were on hand for any questions that may have arisen during the shoot.  The facts surrounding the case we explore in  "The Conspirator,"  I believe they’re all historically accurate.  They were drawn from the National Archives and transcripts from the trial and other sources.  The writer,  Jim Solomon,  had worked on the script for something like 15 years and was meticulous about his research.  We also hired historians to vet the script but history doesn’t record every single moment,  every conversation or thought.   So you have to take some dramatic license and fill in those gaps,  and do that in a true and dramatic way.  
Robert Redford started his career as a painter and was very interested in the work of both Rembrandt and Vermeer as examples of the use of light and shadow for the movie.  Add to that, the dust created by dirt streets,  wood-burning fires,  and the ubiquitous cigar and pipe smoke,  and the result is the shafts of light and shadow treatment that many people have noticed in the film.
Pretty amazing, eh?
This is exactly what I look for in movies.
Now,  watch these two movies back to back,  for it is a rare find to see as accurate a depiction of  such historical events put to film.  I simply cannot recommend them enough.
And don't look for action heroes...they're not here - - 
What do you mean,  "why are you dressed like that?"
Why, we're here to see  "Lincoln,"  can't you tell?
The wearing of period clothing while watching,  even at a modern movie theater, 
accents the experience for a few of us, as it almost always does.
Yes,  I became so excited upon hearing of the attention to detail that Spielberg included in his  "Lincoln"  movie:  sound,  sets,  scripts...and then the minute details Robert Redford included in his  "The Conspirator."
It's those small details - the so-called insignificant things - in these movies that bring them to life,  for sometimes,  that's where real history can be found.
Bringing the past to life is not very popular these days by many,  which is unfortunate.  I fear the future of the past is in precarious hands,  for if we only rely on one certain group of people to write,  explain, and approve  our past,  our history is in deep trouble and will be lost to the ages.  It's happened before.  Let's now be fair...and accurate on all accounts.  
Let's not allow this to happen.  Again.

Until next time, see you in time.

To read about another movie...well,  docu-drama  (which plays more like a movie)...that is immersed in historical accuracy,  click HERE

You can find the movies I highly recommend -
The Conspirator
at (click the movie name, for it's the link)

And to read about the chair that Abraham Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot by John Wilkes Booth, and of its whereabouts today, please click HERE

~   ~   ~

Friday, November 9, 2012

Dinner or Supper?

There's been some discussion of late amongst a few of us living historians on the period-correct usage for the lunch/dinner/supper terminology. In our modern times I believe it's pretty widespread and accepted to call the morning meal "breakfast," (in use in defining the morning meal since the middle ages, according to the Webster etymology dictionary) and the afternoon meal "lunch." And I've heard both "dinner" and "supper" intertwined for the evening meal.
But I have read and been told that in times past "dinner" was actually the afternoon meal with "supper" as the evening meal.
Confused? Me, too.
And so were a few other reenactors.
I decided to do a little research to try to figure this mess out. Because I want to know just what meal I am eating!
I went to the Historical Information index I created on my computer to find out where I could find the answer to this pressing question.
What's a Historical Information Index? You mean you don't have one??
Let me explain...
A number of years ago I decided to use Excel to make an index of the historical information found in my many history books and magazines. I recall attempting to find something about maple sugaring and I didn't know which of the literally hundreds (maybe over a thousand by now) mags and books to look in to find that info, which really frustrated me. As it stood then, it could've taken me a very long time to find the information from varying sources to reach my goal of a comprehensive look on the subject (I prefer to find multiple articles on whatever subject I am researching for a more rounded idea). It was then that I decided to go through my historical library magazine-by-magazine and book-by-book and index as much of the information as I could, which is still ongoing - just a little bit every evening...subject, magazine/book title, and the page the info is on.
And it has served me well, just so you know.
Anyhow, when the discussion of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and supper came up, a friendly discussion ensued with a bit of disagreement. So, off I went to my Historical Information index and, lo and behold, I found numerous sources to back up my "dinner" was actually the afternoon meal with "supper" as the evening meal train of thought.
So, here is what I found  -
This first source I am using is called Everyday Life in the United States before the Civil War 1830-1860. Well indexed and well sourced in itself, it contains a wealth of general information of everyday life during the period mentioned:
Our servant prepares our dinner
"Breakfast was taken at 7:00, when the members of the family, completely dressed, met around the dinner table; dinner, generally eaten at noon, was delayed until 2:00 on Sundays (with) the men always present except in large cities, where the distance of the business areas from residential areas was beginning to prevent them from coming home at noon; supper was at 5 or 6 o'clock."

The next source I will use actually comes from a diary from 1859. You can't get a better source than that:
The Cormany Diaries. I have mentioned this book numerous times in my writings for I have found little better than this for its first-hand accounts of everyday life during the mid to late 19th century:
(Rachel Cormany, speaking of her husband Samuel - spelling and phrasing intact)
"April 26, 1862
This has been rather a sad day for me. My Sml. is has another attack of dyptheria. Yesterday morn. when he awakened his throat was sore. still he went out to the sugar bush & worked hard all day & did not take time to attend himself. he ate no breakfast, but ate dinner & supper."

Dinner - the noontime meal and the biggest meal of the day
Another book I own called Expansion of Everyday Life 1860-1876, which is along the lines of the first book I have listed here, says this:
"Whether attending to daily or seasonal chores, most housekeepers interrupted their workday between noon and one o'clock to welcome their families home to dinner. Children, when possible, came home from school. Fathers, unless working a considerable distance away, also joined the family circle. Dinner was the principal meal of the day, a time for families to relax and converse, though the tradition seemed to be dying in large cities by the 1870's. 
The family dinner at midday and the evening tea of inland towns at which parents and children gather about the tables and learn to know one another through the interests and feelings of every day..."

From a neat little book written by a former 1st person presenter at Greenfield Village's Eagle Tavern, Bert G Osterberg, about tavern life during the mid-19th century called Silas Cully's Tavern Tales also gives credibility to the dinner/supper dilemma (written in his 1st person manner):
Dining at the Eagle Tavern
"Now, as for your meals. Your fifty-cents will get you two meals and a place in the bed. You can have dinner and supper, or supper and breakfast. Your choice. Dinner's being served soon, the big meal of the day.Supper's later - usually leftovers from the dinner. At home most women just put doilies over the dinner food to keep the flies off and leave it on the table for supper. Here, we'll scrape the leftovers onto platters and you can help yourself at supper."

History Magazine (from the October/November 2001 issue) gives one of the clearest reasons that I have been able to find on the eating habits of the 19th century:
"Today many people find it strange that the biggest meal of the day once centered around noon, but it made great sense at the time. Artificial lighting such as oil lamps and candles were expensive, and provided weak illumination at best. So People went to sleep at sundown, because it's difficult to work and eat in the dark. The last meal of the day was a rushed affair, a quick snack before the sunlight went out. Only the extremely wealthy had candles to burn (in large supply) and could waste daylight hours sleeping in late. So supper, the third and last meal of the day, was usually eaten before the sun went down or shortly after.
The English knew the last meal of the day as supper, and it was a light repast, usually made of cold leftovers from dinner."
That same article also speaks of lunch:
"Luncheon, as a regular daily meal, only developed in the U.S. in the 1900's. In the 1945 edition of Etiquette (magazine), Emily Post still referred to luncheon as generally given by and for women, but it is not unusual, especially in summer places or in town on Saturday or Sunday, to include an equal number of men."

As some folks had also mentioned, in many cases it could also be a regional thing. And I do agree with that. But it does seem that most regions tended to follow suit with the rest of the country in this case, for the quotes listed are from a variety of area including Michigan, New England, the south, and the general mid-west.
On a personal note, my own great great grandmother, Linnie Raby, commented to her grandson Bud Monterosso (who told told me during one of our many family history talks) that when she was still living in England (Northamptonshire) she referred to the midday meal as dinner and the evening meal as supper. But, when her father took his midday meal in a sack out to the field (he was a farmer) he called it a lunch.
Anyhow, I certainly hope you found this little bit of information not only informative but also a fun fact to share and amaze your co-living historians with.


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Christmas Dreaming A Little Early

It's the first week of November. You know what that means...
Yep! Time for Ken to put up his Dept. 56 Dickens "Christmas Carol" Village.
I know there are plenty of angry people out there who want to tell me to stick my Dickens Village where the sun doesn't shine.
"It's not even Thanksgiving!" they'll tell me. "Why must you put up Christmas decorations so early??"
To really tick them off I'll tell them that I listened to Christmas carols as I worked on it!
Heh heh...I really did.
I've always put my Dickens Village up a few days following Hallowe'en and have done so for over twenty years. And people actually get angry at me for doing so. Seriously angry. Like it's doing them harm or something.
And I just laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

The ceramic lighted house decorations add a little bit of color and brightness to the otherwise gray November days. If you research your Christmas (and pre-Christmas) history, folks from times past would do whatever they could to brighten and liven up their wintertime darkened homes. Driving away the drab and dreariness of the cold sun-starved months was one of the reasons greenery such as holly and pine boughs were brought into the homes. It was a reminder of the springtime to come now that the winter solstice was upon them and the days would soon become noticeably longer.
Drab, dreary days indeed - so far in this 1st week of November it has been one part sun to five parts clouds with more of the same on the way.
So why not, then, bring some cheeriness into the home? And for me, there is little more cheerier than that most festive of all holidays, Christmas.

Notice the photos interspersed throughout this posting - I thought I would share just a couple of my photos from this year's Dickens Village set up. As I said, it's not nearly as elaborate as last year's (click HERE to see that) and I'm only using a dozen or so houses with a few of the key "Christmas Carol" figurines. I thought that since I only have room for a chosen few I would keep it strictly 'by the book' so-to-speak...Dickens' book.
And for the rest of our Christmas decorations, they go up directly after Thanksgiving. In fact, a few years ago I wrote of a typical Thanksgiving weekend that doesn't change much for us year to year. (Click HERE to read about it.)

On that first "official" weekend of the Christmas season we still visit Greenfield Village (sometimes dressed in our period winter clothing), cut down our tree and decorate it, and sometimes head to the Holly Dickens Festival, Crossroads Village, or even just stay home and watch one of the many versions of "A Christmas Carol" that I own.
My Dickens Village is one of those little pleasures I have that just gets me into the spirit of Christmas. I also have a Dept. 56 set for Hallowe'en (Legend of Sleepy Hollow and a few other assorted haunted houses) that I put up in October as well as the Colonial Williamsburg collection, which I just began to collect and plan to keep up year round since it is pretty historically accurate in showing colonial American history (click HERE for more on my Colonial Williamsburg set).
So, with that I will wish you an early Merry Christmas.