Thursday, January 31, 2013

R.I.P. Patty Andrews of the Andrews Sisters - The End of an Era

Because I am the son of parents who were both born in the 1920's - and my father was also a WWII veteran - the era of the 1940's was always around me as I was growing up. Though my older brothers and sisters played the current hits of the day (The Beatles, Rolling Stones, et al), my mother and father still listened to a lot of the music from the Big Band era, thus I heard Glenn Miller (my dad's favorite), Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Sinatra, and, of course, the Andrews Sisters.
Don't get me wrong, my mom loved the contemporary Country music of the time along with such contemporary soft pop singers as Engelbert Humperdinck, Perry Como, and Andy Williams, she still listened to her favorite music from when she was a teenager in the 1940's.
And my father absolutely loved to listen to the old radio shows on Sunday nights that one of the radio stations would play, and we would listen to these old shows on the way home from the cottage every week.
So I got my fill of the 1940's, and even the 1930's, while I was growing up. As I wrote HERE:
Due to our parent's, aunt's, and uncle's stories, their music, and the classic movies we grew up hearing and watching, those of us who are the children of WWII parents - baby boomers is what they call us, right? - almost feel as if we, too, lived through that era as well, don't we? I mean, it literally surrounded us as children, didn't it? And until the counter-culture revolution of the early 1970's, we also held most of the same values and mores of our parent's time as well.
I guess what I am trying to say is that the life I lived growing up in the 1960's and early 1970's was much closer to the 1940's style of living when compared to the 21st century way of life of today filled with smart phones, home computers, Blue Ray, CD's, DVR, ipads, GPS's, and satellite or cable TV.  

And I learned to really like the music and whole period of the '40's. Almost in a nostalgic way, I suppose.
Well, just yesterday (as this post is being written on January 31, 2013), we lost a prime player in that wonderful era of WWII entertainment, Patty Andrews.
We now will turn to the Detroit News dated January 30, 2013 for further information:

Patty Andrews of Andrews Sisters dies at 94

Los Angeles — Patty Andrews, the last surviving member of the singing Andrews Sisters trio, whose hits such as the rollicking "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B" and the poignant "I Can Dream, Can't I?" captured the home-front spirit of World War II, died Wednesday. She was 94.
Andrews died of natural causes at her home in the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge, said family spokesman Alan Eichler in a statement.
Patty was the Andrews in the middle, the lead singer and chief clown, whose raucous jitterbugging delighted American servicemen abroad and audiences at home.
She could also deliver sentimental ballads like "I'll Be With You in Apple Blossom Time" with a sincerity that caused hardened GIs far from home to weep.
From the late 1930s through the 1940s, the Andrews Sisters produced one hit record after another, beginning with "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen" in 1937 and continuing with "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," "Rum and Coca-Cola" and more. They recorded more than 400 songs and sold over 80 million records, several of them gold (over a million copies).
Other sisters, notably the Boswells, had become famous as singing acts, but mostly they huddled before a microphone in close harmony. The Andrews Sisters — LaVerne, Maxene and Patty — added a new dimension. During breaks in their singing, they cavorted about the stage in rhythm to the music.
Their voices combined with perfect synergy. As Patty remarked in 1971: "There were just three girls in the family. LaVerne had a very low voice. Maxene's was kind of high, and I was between. It was like God had given us voices to fit our parts."
The Andrews' rise coincided with the advent of swing music, and their style fit perfectly into the new craze. They aimed at reproducing the sound of three harmonizing trumpets.
"I was listening to Benny Goodman and to all the bands," Patty once remarked. "I was into the feel, so that would go into my own musical ability. I was into swing. I loved the brass section."
Unlike other singing acts, the sisters recorded with popular bands of the '40s, fitting neatly into the styles of Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey, Bob Crosby, Woody Herman, Guy Lombardo, Desi Arnaz and Russ Morgan. They sang dozens of songs on records with Bing Crosby, including the million-seller "Don't Fence Me In." They also recorded with Dick Haymes, Carmen Miranda, Danny Kaye, Al Jolson, Jimmy Durante and Red Foley.
The Andrews' popularity led to a contract with Universal Pictures, where they made a dozen low-budget musical comedies between 1940 and 1944. In 1947, they appeared in "The Road to Rio" with Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Dorothy Lamour.
The trio continued until LaVerne's death in 1967. By that time the close harmony had turned to discord, and the sisters had been openly feuding.
Bette Midler's 1973 cover of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" revived interest in the trio. The two survivors joined in 1974 for a Broadway show, "Over Here!" It ran for more than a year, but disputes with the producers led to the cancellation of the national tour of the show, and the sisters did not perform together again.
Patty continued as a single, finding success in Las Vegas and on TV variety shows. Her sister also toured as a single until her death in 1995.
Her father, Peter Andrews, was a Greek immigrant who anglicized his name of Andreus when he arrived in America; his wife, Olga, was a Norwegian with a love of music. LaVerne was born in 1911, Maxine (later Maxene) in 1916, Patricia (later Patty, sometimes Patti) in 1918, though some sources say 1920.
Listening to the Boswell Sisters on radio, LaVerne played the piano and taught her sisters to sing in harmony; neither Maxene nor Patty ever learned to read music. All three studied singers at the vaudeville house near their father's restaurant. As their skills developed, they moved from amateur shows to vaudeville and singing with bands.
After Peter Andrews moved the family to New York in 1937, his wife, Olga, sought singing dates for the girls. They were often turned down with comments such as: "They sing too loud and they move too much." Olga persisted, and the sisters sang on radio with a hotel band at $15 a week. The broadcasts landed them a contract with Decca Records.
They recorded a few songs, and then came "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen," an old Yiddish song for which Sammy Cahn and Saul Kaplan wrote English lyrics. (The title means, "To Me You Are Beautiful.") It was a smash hit, and the Andrews Sisters were launched into the big time.
Their only disappointment was the movies. Universal was a penny-pinching studio that ground out product to fit the lower half of a double bill. The sisters were seldom involved in the plots, being used for musical interludes in film with titles such as "Private Buckaroo," "Swingtime Johnny" and "Moonlight and Cactus."
Their only hit was "Buck Privates," which made stars of Abbott and Costello and included the trio's blockbuster "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B."
In 1947, Patty married Martin Melcher, an agent who represented the sisters as well as Doris Day, then at the beginning of her film career. Patty divorced Melcher in 1949 and soon he became Day's husband, manager and producer.
Patty married Walter Weschler, pianist for the sisters, in 1952. He became their manager and demanded more pay for himself and for Patty. The two other sisters rebelled, and their differences with Patty became public. Lawsuits were filed between the two camps.
"We had been together nearly all our lives," Patty explained in 1971. "Then in one year our dream world ended. Our mother died and then our father. All three of us were upset, and we were at each other's throats all the time."

With Patty Andrews passing, it truly is the end of an era.
She will be missed.

 And let's play this video together with another most memorable performer and hit song of the WWII era:

Below here are links for you to purchase this fine music, should the desire arise. The first is a great double CD of original recordings of the Andrews Sisters called Their All-Time Greatest Hits
or, if you prefer a single hits collection, try their 50th Anniversary disc.
Who can forget the great recording the sisters made with Bing Crosby? Every recording they made with each other (including out takes) are in this Complete Recordings Collection.
And for a fine collection of Glenn Miller/Andrews Sisters music together, check out The Chesterfield Broadcasts.
Patty's sister, Maxene, wrote a first-hand account of the Andrews Sisters adventures from their beginnings right up to the days of their tenure as queens of WWII musical entertainment: Over Here, over There: The Andrews Sisters and the Uso Stars in World War II.

I own all four listed as well as the book and recommend each highly.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Immersion Experience (with a strong dose of Living History)

I would like to preface this posting in hopes that it doesn't come off in the wrong way, lest anyone think of me as a living history snob. Though I participate in as many forms of reenacting that one is able (yes, even some 'parking lot' events), I am writing here specifically on one type - immersion - with a strong lean on living history, and therefore am excluding the other forms.
You have been forewarned...
(By the way, I am by no means claiming to be an expert here; these are my own thoughts, opinions, and ideas about the immersion experience) - - - - - - 

im'mer'sion (ih-mur-zhun, -shun)
state of being deeply engaged or involved; absorption 

As I delve deeper into the world of living history I find myself wanting to experience a state of total immersion into the mid-19th century. More and more the feeling grows of wanting to sense the feeling of "I am there."
Of wanting to sense the dizziness of "I really traveled through time - I made it!"
And taking every step to make sure that when I transport myself into the past that there is no 1979 penny to unwittingly "bring me back to the future" ~(remember that scene from the movie "Somewhere in Time" when Richard Collier, after traveling through time to 1912, discovers a penny from 1979 that immediately brings him back to his original time in the future? If not, click HERE and bump up to 6:30 on the video to rattle your memory banks and see what farb can do!).
I have been very lucky to have experienced full immersion a number of times. Mostly, however, my immersions have been almost full immersions - - - really fine experiences that, for all intents and purposes, were about 90% there.
It's the 10% that I need to work on.
Now, by using (and agreeing with) the above definition please allow me to clarify a bit here my addition explanation to the definition and opinion of just what an immersion experience is:
Have you ever stepped into a restored historic house and it seemed to totally engulf your every being? Where the sight, sound, smell, and touch of the past almost literally consumed you? Yeah? Now, imagine that feeling while wearing period clothing.
Do you feel it?
With that in mind, imagine seeing others in period clothing while in that same situation. Remember, nothing modern in sight, sound, or smell.
Do you see what I mean?
Just the thought of this while sitting in front of your computer screen has nearly brought you there, hasn't it? That is, until I just now mentioned 'computer screen' - that blew it and brought you right back to the 21st century (kinda like the 1979 penny). Sorry...
Anyhow, that's just a mental taste of immersion. Just imagine actually experiencing it...

Please allow me to define my thoughts for a moment on the 'umbrella' phrase of "living history":  living history, which, by definition, is the recreation of living conditions of the past, can take place at any historical (or make-shift historical, such as at a reenactment camp) location, whereas immersion should have virtually nothing beyond the time you are portraying within sight.
I have done numerous day-immersions lasting six to eight hours - even up to 14 hours - which can give the over-all same sense that one can get when the time frame is, for instance, a full an extent.
Our candle-lit dresser from the 1850's
There are those who have been lucky enough to be at a non-public event, inside of a real period home, able to cook, eat, clean, sleep, and, well, live in said period home for a few days at a time and actually experience the closest one can get to true time-travel: full immersion. To me, however, it's not necessarily the amount of time that matters, but the quality and accuracy of time (though there is something to be said of the idea of knowing you were going to go to bed to the light of a candle or oil lamp and awaken to the same - this is something I dream of doing one day). For an immersion experience, there does not have to be a set amount of time one needs to be fully engulfed in a time-travel encounter, though, as hinted at above, the longer you are in that 'zone,' the better it will be.

A good example of the difference between immersion and living history occurred in the spring of 2012 when I held a living history day (with an attempt at immersion) in my own parlor at my home (An Afternoon in the Parlor). Now, this room is not 100% historically accurate - - it's close, but there are still modern-isms about - unobtrusive, but they're still there. One only needs to look out the windows to see the electrical wires, cars, and the rest of the 21st century world. So, though we did our best to attempt immersion, by my own definition it was actually living history. However, the furniture, wall covering, and lay out is very period, as you can see by the following photographs.
This image shows the one half of our parlor room. The open space is where our dining table normally sits. I moved it out of the way for this photo.

And here is most of the other half of the room. The opposite corner shows the doorway that leads into the kitchen, which is modern.

In this room one can easily block out the intrusions of the modern world, and, as you can see, strong living history can be done here, though technically not immersion. I just wish more men would get involved!

And there was no public around - - it was a day just for us.
Even though it was more living history than immersion, our parlor day went quite well, for the most part, and I learned quite a bit from it, with one of the most important lessons being - and this is a hard one for me - to back off from taking so many photos with my oh-so-modern digital camera during immersion events. Yes, I've known this for a long while and I just simply pretended that pulling the ol' Sony out doesn't affect the experience.
Well, it does.
I suppose what I could do is once the 'time' has ended I could pose the participants to recreate certain moments. That would probably be my best bet. That's what I'll most likely do in future immersion events.
~ (By the way, I wrote a posting about cameras at events HERE) ~

Another thing I learned is that time is needed beforehand to get into the frame of mind required to pull something like this off. This plan helped me greatly at the Christmas at the Fort event in December; I was at the historic house for a couple of hours beforehand, all dressed and ready to go, and that really set the tone. All of us who participated planned out our scenario and got used to our new roles, for to make this scenario work we needed to become a cohesive unit. All of this gave me the chance to get the feel for what was to come and, in being surrounded in history, brought me out of the "visiting" mode and into the "I am there" mode.
Because of touring groups this was not full immersion, but it was an immersion experience nonetheless due to our period surroundings - nothing modern in sight or sound - and the fact that we stayed in 1st person and in our roles throughout the day.

My 1862 family: it was a bit difficult initially but came together beautifully.

And this brings me to one the most important lessons I've learned in all of this: to have any type of immersion experience - to make it truly work - one must present themselves as a person from the past, not only in front of the visitors, but to themselves and other living historians. In order to be there, I had to believe I was there during the duration.
This means all future knowledge and ideologies must be cast aside and all thought and spoken word is of the period.
This means presenting yourself with a full immersion attitude that no matter who is with you, you must continue to keep your period presence at all times (except for an emergency - need I even say this?).

Here is young lady (who I have spoken of in previous postings) that does a wonderful job in her portrayal as a domestic servant. Carrie, like Kristen in the photos below, takes her role seriously and continues her domestic duties even when the public is not around. She has learned how to act as a servant and puts that knowledge to work in her portrayal.

However, this can be rather difficult for a number of reasons. One is the lack of social historical knowledge from so many; there are too many Hollywood historians out there - the folks that get their history lessons from the movies. They know what the directors want them to know, and we all realize just how inaccurate most Hollywood movies can be.
There are others who try immersion but might only have knowledge on the period clothing they wear and maybe attempt to utilize Gone With the Wind vernacular (more Hollywood! oh, fiddle dee dee!), but, unfortunately, have little awareness of the times in which they pertain to be living in. I find this frequently: dressed to 1860's perfection with a 21st century mindset. That's only telling half the story, isn't it? It would be like some future reenactor reenacting 2013 and knowing nothing about smart phones, ipads, digital cameras, downloads, or of the current hot music, movies, and TV shows, yet looking just like my very contemporary daughter or son does now.
We all tend to do this now and again - I know I do - but gaining knowledge of the times is of utmost importance and must be at the forefront not only for immersion but for any reenactment. I am doing my best, for my part, to bring this down to a minimum.
Another difficulty - and it can be a trial - is to be able to overcome the thought that "immersion is acting."  I have actually been told this by other reenactors. But then, if one feels this way, why, pray tell, are they wearing the period clothing in the first place? Why 'die" in a mock battle? Heck! Why even have a mock battle?

Kristen, like Carrie in the above photo, is one who does a superb job in her role as an 1860's school teacher. She does whatever role she takes on - usually a school teacher - very seriously. At the Christmas at the Fort event she portrayed my daughter, and truly acted as such. By the way, notice the children in this school photograph are separated by sex, just as was done in the 1860's.
 There were no modern tourists here - just the teacher and her students. And the kids paid attention! A fine job!

I don't know...maybe living history or immersion embarrasses some people, which can happen. This is why there are the reenactors that should stick to reenactments and not participate in an immersion event; they should graciously excuse themselves and not take away what others are attempting to accomplish. It's a sad fact, however, that many really don't care, for they think "immersion is acting," and, therefore, will refuse to take part, and yet continue stick around and, to be honest, ruin it for the others.
But anyone that does a 1st person/full immersion presentation should pay them no mind.

A Federal army invades a southern town while the townsfolk look on, not sure what to do or where to go. Incorporating the military and civilians should be done more frequently. After all, we are the citizens being affected by the discourse.

Let's break off a moment here and talk about what exactly is 1st person. I have spoken of 1st person in many previous postings, but let's take a quick refresher course - 
To many reenactors, 1st person is this:
(Reenactor speaking to modern visitors): "Hi. Welcome to our home. You have just stepped into 1863 and we are showing you the way we lived back then. This is my wife and she is spinning on her spinning wheel. We are using period utensils to eat with. I am the postmaster and have the kind of envelopes people used back then. My daughter is writing to her soldier brother off fighting somewhere in the south. Honey, can you come over here and show these people your stationary?"
Now, something like this might work while you are at a reenactment on the field in front of your tent where visitors are milling about, inquiring what we're all doing there. And it can work well in that situation.
But it's really not 1st person. Oh, it might have a feel of 1st person, but it's more of a 3rd person, or even what I call 2nd person - a combination of 1st and 3rd. Many museum presenters, such as the Firestone Farm docents, utilize this sort of presentation (though much better than in the way I wrote it here!) and it really does work well for the hundreds of thousands of curious visitors that step through the doors every year.
But it is in no way 1st person speak.

Now, how should I speak to visitors during a full immersion event? Well, if it's a true full immersion event, there will not be any modern visitors about, including tour groups.
Can there be immersion with a few modern-isms around?
I suppose, depending on how obtrusive these modern-isms are. It would not be 'full immersion,' however. It would be more along the lines of a strong living history similar to the Christmas at the Fort event, where tour groups came every-so-often, or the Parlor Day event, with the modern-isms, that are mentioned and linked above.
So, let's combine the two -
Scene: a family is enjoying their time together, spending the evening singing popular songs of the day, reading books and magazines, crocheting a blanket, and playing parlor games. A tour group walks up to observe this portal to the past. One member of the living history group inconspicuously leaves the 1860's scene and moves over to the tour group and begins to speak with the visitors, letting them know - in a combination 1st & 3rd person - about family life during the Civil War. The speech only lasts a few minutes, and the other living historians act as if the tour group is not even there, and they continue on as if their family member (the presenter) only stepped out of the room for a moment, perhaps to visit the necessary. Once the speech/presentation is over, the presenter bids the guests a farewell and returns back to the 1860's group...returns to the past...and continues as if the tour group was never there.

Note: if you look closely, you can see the living historians in the room behind me going about their merry way, totally oblivious to the 21st century folk in the foreground.

This is a fine way to present 1st person, 3rd person, strong living history, and even, dare I say, immersion.
All of what I wrote here is, as I stated at the beginning, mostly my own thoughts and opinion. But I've experienced nearly everything I've written and I cannot express the satisfaction I receive while doing it. The feeling is's really a sort of time-travel...
Reenacting, in all honesty, in its purest form, is more than just clothing, for without the historical knowledge, the clothing only tells a part of the story.
It's more than just historical knowledge, for without the clothing and presentation, historical knowledge would be nothing more than sitting and listening to a teacher in a history class at school.
And it's more than just presentation, for without clothing or knowledge, what would you present? Would you read directly from a history book and show pictures?
Yep - all three are needed, and when done correctly, living history - and especially immersion - is an experience like no other...

~Click HERE for an immersion experience that took place after this post was written~

*I have shown in my photos only a smidgeon of the wonderful reenactors/living historians in the 21st Michigan. I must say that I am very proud of the civilians in my reenacting unit, for they are taking the steps to go beyond the "camping in funny clothing" attitude. Click HERE to read on how our civilian meetings are conducted.
There are many in the 21st not shown or mentioned here, but I have nothing but high regard for them.


Sunday, January 13, 2013

To Drive the Cold Winter Away: ~ A collection of notations of surviving wintertime past in Victorian Times

Updated in January 2022

~Without a forced-air furnace,  cold was cold,  but our ancestors were amazing people,  I think you will agree.  And,  as many of you may know,  I like to try to experience what our ancestors did,  even if only to get a sampling of their lives,  and if for nothing else than to have somewhat of an understanding and appreciation for the world in which they lived.
This is why I am in many of the photos accompanying this post ~
Are you ready to go back?


cautions the scroll along the bottom of your TV set.

declares the radio news station. 

screams the newspaper headlines.
~~~~~~~(don't you just love the media?)~~~~~~~
Yes,  they drive what I call  "fearmageddon"  into the public's psyche,  and they do get angry upon saying  "This is winter - we're supposed to get snow,  wind,  freezing rain,  and slush here in Michigan!"  Oh,  I learned to contradict their fear only gets the killer bees more angry.
But I don't fear winter weather.  I'm careful,  but I don't buy what the media sells.

The weather outside is frightful the temperatures are well below freezing,  the wind is howling at your door,  the snow is coming down at a blizzard pace. 
That's not a very pleasant thought,  is it? 
Maybe not to some,  but it is winter above the Mason-Dixon line.
And it's really not so bad.
How do I know? 
Well...have you ever given any real thought to how the people many of us attempt to emulate during our reenactments survived the bitter cold dark winters in days of old?  I have,  and so I combed through a few of my books and magazines to see if it was as tough as I had heard.
In most cases it was far worse than I imagined.
Folks,  I’m here to tell you we ain’t got nothin’ on our ancestors.  What they had to live through each day of every winter and what they did to survive the bitter cold and snow in the pre-electric era makes everyone of us look like wimps.
And compared to them,  the greater majority of us certainly are!
Come,  journey with me to a cold winter's night a long,  long time ago... 
(The Ackley Covered Bridge in Greenfield Village)
Wintertime in the pre-electric era brought in discomfort and dread to most in the United States,  especially to those living in New England,  the mid-west,  and the plains areas.  To begin with,  darkness reigned,  for one must remember the gradual decrease in daylight hours becoming more noticeable in late October to well into the first couple months of the new year,  and during those few weeks from mid-December until early January there are only nine or so hours of daylight,  leaving the remaining 15 hours in darkness.  And the winter months are generally the cloudiest:  in some areas in the mid-west,  only 30 to 40 percent of the winter months have actual sunshine.  In fact, for the entire 31 days of January 2017,  the metro-Detroit area only had two days of sun.  Talk about the bleak mid-winter! 
Grey skies,  darkness,  and snow...and,  in days of old,  no electricity.
In the bleak midwinter,  frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,  water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,  snow on snow,  snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,  long ago.

"But,  things haven't changed,  Ken,"  you tell me,  "it's still cold and dark here in our 21st century winters!"  
You are quite right.  Except for one thing:  we have modern conveniences.  You are cozy toasty in your home with the forced-air furnace blowing warmth throughout each room,  the airtight windows ensuring the heat does not escape.  Light at the flick of a switch staves off the winter darkness.  With help from the radio,  ipod,  smart and i-phones,  a CD collection,  along with the hundreds of streaming channels,  your entertainment is almost limitless.  The internet can take you  “to infinity and beyond”  at the click of a mouse,  either on your home computer,  laptop, or phone.  Then there's skype to allow you to  "visit"  nearly anyone without leaving the comfort of your house.  And if you run out of food,  the local Circle K,  CVS,  or Rite Aid party stores are only a moment’s drive from your front door by a motorized  (and warmed up)  vehicle,  even in this horrible winter weather. 
Yes,  let it snow...modern technology has rescued you from fear of freezing and solitude.
A cold and lonely walk to your darkened home.  Lighting candles or an oil lamp to see to get around will be your first priority,  followed by lighting the heating stoves to bring some warmth into this shut up house.  I hope your lucifers are easily accessible.
"Piles of firewood were cut and stacked in the warmer months for heat in cooler times and for cooking year round.  Corncobs were saved for smaller fires,  or for an extra touch of flavor in hams and bacon smoked over them.  If the fire went out,  flint and steel could spark a new one,  or a child could scamper to a neighbor and bring home a hot coal in a cook pot or a tray of green bark."
David Robinson
Many modern folks rightfully panic when they lose power,  especially in the wintertime,  for if they're like me they may not have a heat source without electricity.
And that can be devastating,  especially if one is financially strapped;  where would you go to keep warm?
 Not quite as devastating but certainly inconvenient,  an outage would also mean no TV,  no computer,  no music,  no electric lights or microwave...and in many cases,  no heat.  
Yes,  some can be snarky about it,  but it truly is an inconvenience and a hardship for a greater majority who live in 21st century America.  We live a different life than our ancestors.  Heck,  many of us live a different life than our younger selves,  when you think about it.
And this is what enthralls me about the past so much,  and why my admiration for our ancestors continues to grow.

Traditionally, the first Monday after Epiphany  (or 12th Night – the 6th of January),  was called Plow Monday because it was the day when men returned to their plows,  or daily work,  following the Christmas Holiday.  It was customary at this time for farm laborers to draw a plow through the village,  soliciting money for a  "plow light,"  which was kept burning in the parish church all year.
Sometimes falling on the same day as Plow Monday was Distaff Day  (January 7).  This was when women were expected to return to their spinning following the Christmas tide.  A distaff is the staff that women used for holding the flax or wool in spinning.  Hence,  the term  "distaff"  refers to women's work or the maternal side of the family.
"The demands of winter cast a long shadow before them,  well into the waning summer.  Mothers taught daughters how to card wool and coax soft fibers from the hard stems of flax;  how to spin fibers into threads;  how to stitch and mend the heavy coats and hooded cloaks that soon must ward off the biting winds.  Cloth scraps and worn-out clothing found new life in quilts and coverlets.  Finer stuff went into quilted petticoats to keep a lady warm."
David Robinson
Rich,  poor,  or in the middle,  losing power during the wintertime can truly cause great stress and problems.  I know it definitely would for me,  for I have no fireplace...well, no real fireplace  (it's an electric one) even give off a bit of warmth should we lose power.  I could survive without the neat little electronics - I have actual  books to read,  not a Kindl - but a power outage certainly would be more than unpleasant,  if only for a lack of a heat source. 
Buried in nighttime blackness in the wintertime reduced the once family-sized home into a single room in many cases,  for many families closed off the parlors to decrease the amount of warming space,  especially in the earlier part of the 19th century.   With a dim glow,  life centered around the hearth or stove for warmth and possibly a candle for any of the limited activities of which they may have partaken.  Activities were limited to things that didn’t require the best vision,  and storytelling – including Bible stories & family history tales - were popular.
Victorian cloaks for women  (at Firestone Farm).
Winter wear stockings,  flannels,  double layered gowns,  petticoats,  shirts,  trousers,  and jackets all had to be altered and repaired after being stored away for the summer months,  while new items had to be made to replace those worn beyond repair.  Anne Eliza Clark thanked her mother for the yarn mitts,  which were of  “great service to me when I sweep my chamber and make my bed.”  Mittens were commonly worn inside as well as outside because, in many cases,  there was little difference in the temperature.  Paletots,  sontags,  woolen bonnets,  and sometimes extra layers under the skirts were common winter-wear for the Victorian woman,  while wool coats,  cloaks,  knitted hats & scarves,  and boots were all a necessity for the Colonial or Victorian man.  

Many would cover their front doors with blankets or by pulling a curtain across to keep out the cold,  but for those with an upper floor bed chamber,  there seemed to be little difference from the outside!
Sleeping with another person was a way to generate warmth in the bed chamber.  From earliest childhood,  our ancestors had slept together – infants with their parents,  then with their siblings,  cousins,  or even friends,  and then with apprentices,  or domestic help of the same sex.  So used to sleeping with others that sleeping partners were often sought out. 
An upstairs bedroom at Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village. Note the warming stove.

From a 2nd floor 
bedroom window...

(Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village)
William Davis recalled that  “fires in chambers were, in my day,  far from being universal,  (and I)  never slept in a heated chamber,  except when sick,  until sixteen years of age.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe remembered her Aunt Lois setting a candle in their room and  “admiring the forest of glittering frost-work which had been made by our breath freezing upon the threads of the blanket.”  
Using a long-handled brass warming pan filled with the hot coals from the hearth was one way to warm a bed before slipping in.  It would be placed between the sheets and rubbed along the length of the bed quickly and steadily,  as to not spill the burning coals.  In this manner the bed would become sufficiently warm enough to climb in.
But not everyone had this sort of warming luxury,  for Mrs. Stowe recalled a family taking their leave to  "bed-chambers that never knew a fire,  where the very sheets and blankets seemed so full of stinging cold air that they made one's fingers tingle;  and where,  after getting into bed,  there was a prolonged shiver,  until one's own internal heat-giving economy had warmed through the whole icy mass."
Mrs. Stowe also warned that  “whoever touched a door-latch incautiously in the early morning received a skinning bit from Jack Frost,”  while Harriet Martineau recalled those winter mornings when even with a good hot coal fire in her chamber stove  “everything you touch seems to blister your fingers with cold.”  
It was unfortunate for the woman who attempted to do her daily chores such as spinning,  for this necessary activity required ample amount of floor space and nimble fingers. There are numerous diary entries that tell of the difficulty in performing this task inside a crowded room with frozen fingers. 

Then there's keeping food. 
Thomas Chaplin wrote in January 1857,  “The thermometer is down to 20 degrees in the house at eight in the morning,  and everything is frozen hard,  including eggs,  milk,  and ink,  and every piece of crockery that water was left in overnight is cracked.”
Now that’s cold!
On the plus side,  this was the time to eat the fruits that were dried last summer and fall.  Because of radiant heat of an active central chimney,  the temperature in many attic spaces remained above freezing.  According to the author of Our Own Snug Fireside,  meal,  flour,  and dried foodstuffs such as corn,  apples,  pumpkins,  and herbs normally kept in cellars could sometimes be safely stored in attics regardless of how cold it became.  That is,  as long as the heat was sufficient enough,  for especially root vegetables such as carrots,  beets,  and potatoes would be damaged by extreme cold.  If they didn't freeze,  apples made into cider and applesauce or apple butter,  as well as the cucumbers and other vegetables that were pickled helped to sustain the farmer and his family,  as did the meats and fish that were salted.  Do you remember the root crops such as carrots,  parsnips,  and turnips that were put into the root cellar last October?  Now is the time to begin enjoying them a little here and there,  for they should hopefully last into the spring,  if at all possible. 
Currier & Ives "The Snow Storm" 1864
Staying home from school due to bitter weather is nothing new.  Anna Green Winslow writes in her diary that on February 21,  1772:
"This day Jack Frost bites very hard,  so hard that aunt won't let me go to any school.  My aunt believes this day is 10 degrees colder than it was yesterday; & moreover,  that she would not put a dog out of doors."
I can't imagine a man putting 
his feet upon such an effeminate 
luxury as a foot stove!
Small tin or wood foot stoves filled with an iron plate of glowing coals were used in both the parlor or in the carriage for traveling.  These little warmers were considered a woman’s stove,  or an “effeminate luxury.”  In 1819,  Theodore Dwight declared his toes  “comfortably bitten,  which excited much sympathy: & I came near suffering the indignity of having a girl with gold beads offer me a stove.”

Winter,  by the way,  was usually the best time to travel;  the snow covered roads and paths would make it easy to glide over the smooth surface.  Folks traveled in sleighs,  cutters,  and carioles,  most of which had jingling bells attached to warn the pedestrians,  who were bundled up head to toe and could not hear beyond the higher pitched ringing,  to move out of the way since the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves were muffled due to the snow.   Instead of plowing the snow out of the way,  as we do in our modern day,  snow rollers packed it down.  They rolled the roads,  covering the bare spots so that sleighs could get through,  and if they came to a covered bridge or an area cleared of the white stuff, they would shovel a layer of snow onto the bridge floor or the bare area so that the sleigh runners wouldn't stick.
In a sense,  however,  traveling to town or to visit by way of carriage could also be a great discomfort without the luxury of heat,  though a foot stove would make it a bit more bearable, at least for the lady.
Now,  let's imagine that you and your family,  who are twenty first century people,  suddenly find yourselves in a carriage in,  say,  a winter's day of 200 years ago.  Since you time-traveled to this era,  this is a first ride for everyone.  It's a tight squeeze,  barely room for the four of you.  Though everyone is dressed warmly,  and the lady of the house also has a blanket to cover her lap as well as a wood-framed metal foot warmer filled with hot coals at her feet,  she is still shivering,  for the inside of the carriage is every bit as cold as the teen temperature outside. 
Are you ready for your winter journey?  It will not be a long jaunt that you are taking,  just enough to get a feel for period travel:
With a resounding  “Hyaah!”  from the driver,  the two horses pull forward with a lurch,   enough to shake the passengers a bit,  physically as well as mentally.  But, as you roll onto the road,  everyone relaxes and settles in.  In fact,  as nerves calm,  your family may even take great pleasure in the ride.  If one had ever sat in an old truck as it bumped down a rocky path with no heat or shock-absorbers,  one can then envision the reality of a carriage ride on a rutted road in the winter,  the snow crunching below the wheels.  And it is a slow ride,  hardly faster than a brisk walk.  From inside the buggy,  giggles and laughter abound in this new adventure.  Though many carriages have glass windows in the doors,  there are none in this one - only leather flaps that do little to help keep the weather out. 
When you finally arrive at your destination,  the driver of the carriage asks,  “How was your ride?”
“Cold,”  the woman replies,  even with her extra blanket and foot warmer.  “And it was jerkier than I thought it would be.”
“It was bumpy!”  the young daughter exclaims.
“I thought it was cool,”  says your teenage son,  though his definition not meant to be the meaning of a low temperature.
“I don’t know if I could handle a ride like this for too long,”  you yourself mention.
The driver is astounded at what he was hearing.  “Have you folks never ridden in a carriage before?”
Just imagine...

Victorians had their fun, too:  "In much merriment the sleighing party is made up to dash along with chiming bells and song and laughter.  An upset now and then is counted in with the amusements of the day,  so that no one is hurt,  and who ever is?  by a fall into a yielding snowbank!" 
(This is a Currier & Ives print called  "A Spill Out on the Snow"  1870)
(From the diary of Samuel Cormany):  January 14,  1861 - Sleighing is fine - "Charlie"  the horse is a very fleet-footed little fellow,  and my cutter is very light,  about 100 lbs,  and with a Buffalo Robe under me and another over me,  and fur gloves - zero weather is not to be dreaded at all.
According a mid-19th century account from Lowell,  Massachusetts:  "Now we cannot conceive a more pleasant amusement for a clear,  cold, frosty winter night,  than for a bevy of brave young men and fair young maids to go out,  when the sparkling stars and brilliant moon are glistering upon the icicled trees and snow-crusted earth and taking some snow-sleds..."
And from one of the earlier settlers of my own hometown of Eastpointe  (then called  "Halfway")  Michigan:
"Some boys took a pair  (of the outside wooden window blinds/shutters)  down  (from the school house) and made a sled."
And here is the rarely sung third verse of  "One Horse Open Sleigh"  from 1857  (better known now as Jingle Bells)  showing that even in Victorian times men were not always so gallant:

A day or two ago, The story I must tell
I went out on the snow, And on my back I fell;
A gent was riding by In a one-horse open sleigh,
He laughed as there I sprawling lie, But quickly drove away.

No horse,  carriage or sleigh?  
Well,  one could always walk to their destination...

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As you find yourself surviving the winters of long, long ago,  you also realize that there was more to winter than sitting by a hot fire trying to warm yourself.  January was the month that the cellar was to be replenished with apples and late-season vegetables,  packed in sawdust or sand.  Pigs had to be killed,  sausages made,  and barrels of pork and ham put down.  Pies were baked in large quantity to be kept frozen in the storeroom,  the garrett,  the guest chamber,  or the closed–up parlor.  Maria Church,  on January 22,  1854,  was happy to note that she  “now completed all the winter jobs of sausages,  pork,  putting down hams,  making candles, & mince pies.”
After a bit of rest from the arduous labor of the planting,  growing,  and harvest seasons,  the Monday following 12th Night  (or Epiphany – January 6),  known as Plow Monday,  was the traditional signal to begin another work year.  It was on Plow Monday that the farmer began to get all of his farm equipment into tip-top shape for the growing season.
Winter time in the country 
~1882 Firestone Farm in Greenfield Village~
(photo by Jesse Hughes)
The winter months of January and February were considered the best time of year for woodcutting,  and the rising of the sun was often accompanied with the sound of an axe as fuel supplies were needed.  Wood chopping had a dual purpose in the wintertime:  it warmed the axeman as it was being chopped and warmed him again as it was burned for fuel. The men spent long,  hard days in the woods,  sometimes hiring out help to complete such a task.  They would cut and prepare specific firewood for the many needs such as for cooking,  warming,  and laundry.
"Winter is a good time to cut and get up a year’s stock of firewood.  Farmers at this season have less work to perform and wood is easier loaded and drawn when there is good sleighing,  than in summer.  But remember one thing:  Don’t attempt to warm all creation,  by working hard to chop and haul fire-wood,  and at the same time leave your dwelling so open that the cold wind will rush in on all sides.  By all means make your house comfortable.  Bank it up and have all of its walls tight with good non-conductors of heat.  While taking good care of those in-doors that can can talk,  and tell their wants,  never forget the dumb brutes in your barn-yard and stables.  The merciful man is merciful to his beast.” 
-- Editor, Genesee Farmer 

The amount of wood needed was impressive:  a large family recorded in a journal that they burned forty four cords of wood within a one year period in a house with seven fireplaces,  a bake oven,  and two chimney’s.  Another family documented burning  “twenty seven cords,  two feet of wood”  between May 3,  1826 and May 4,  1827.  One impoverished woman mentioned that she endured a Boston winter on twelve cords of wood  “as we kept but one fire except on extraordinary occasions.”   Abigail Adams burned forty to fifty cords a year  “as we are obliged to keep six fires constantly & occasionally more.”
Now we are coming up to ice-cutting season,  that time of year where those with the means to will head out to the frozen lakes,  ponds, and rivers to cut blocks of ice to be used for the storage of meat during the warmer seasons of the year.  In fact,  I have a quote from the same old-timer  mentioned earlier who lived in my own hometown of Eastpointe/Halfway,  Michigan about this practice:  "The farmers would haul the ice cut from Lake St. Clair for the summer for the butter or whatever they made.  The ice hauling up and down 9 Mile Road  (then called School Road)  was quite a period."
Cutting blocks of ice from the river 
(Currier & Ives - "Winter in the Country: Getting Ice" 1864)
The previous year’s sawdust,  old and pungent-smelling,  was shoveled out and used for fertilizer and replaced with a new five-inch base in preparation for the coming year.  The roads leading to and from the lakes,  rivers,  and streams saw teams of horses,  oxen, and mules hauling blocks of ice,  much like as the old-timer above told us.

One of the late winter traditions was maple sugaring time.  No American season is more definite than sugaring time.  The right time is usually between late February/early March through early April when the sap is flowing properly.  The nights are still cold enough to freeze sharply and the days warm enough to thaw freely.  The thermometer must not rise above forty degrees by day,  nor sink below 24 degrees at night.  It is this magic see-sawing between winter and spring that decides the sugaring season.  But I won't go any deeper into this family and community affair here in this posting,  for it is covered further in the  "No Time For Boredom"  springtime in the past post I wrote previously.  But I thought it worth a mention due to the over-lapping between winter and spring activities.
Trekking to the house from the barn. 
Maybe they were maple sugaring...?  

(Historic Waterloo Farm in Waterloo, Michigan)

So!  This winter,  when the wind howls at your door and you keep your thermostat to an oh-so-cool 66 degrees,  when you feel boredom creep up on you,  and your bed sheets feel cold against your body,  and even when you must venture out to the local store a couple blocks away,  fighting the slippery ice and snow covered streets the entire way,  remember how your 19th  century self would have dealt with the months of January and February.  That should warm you up a bit!

The information for this article came from numerous sources:
"Cormany Diaries: A Northern Family in the Civil War"
History Magazine - December/January 2000
Coping With the Cold By David Robinson 

All photos were taken by me except those that I am in  (obviously!),  though they were still taken with my camera.  However, the picture of Firestone Farm entitled Winter time in the country  was taken by Jesse Hughes,  an employee at Greenfield Village.  Oh - and the foot warmer picture I found on Google on THIS site.

I would like to thank my wife and daughter for willingly taking the time to get dressed in their period clothing just to pose for some of these images.

For more on historic lighting in general,  click HERE

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