Saturday, March 23, 2013

Is Nostalgia "Portable"?

~I came upon the idea for this posting while reading an older post.~
...updated February 2023...

I seem to go through sort of melancholy phases quite often due to so many changes going on all around me,  whether personal changes in my growing family or the societal changes I'm living in.  And,  as a living historian,  and a historian in general,  I find myself oftentimes nostalgic for an era I vaguely remember from long ago,  and sometimes even  for a time no longer here - of a time I was not actually a part of...
But how can that be?
Is that true nostalgia?
I suppose you will just have to read this post to understand what I mean.
(Now,  please do not send me nasty comments telling me to  "get over it,"   "accept what the here and now,"  "live for today,"  "you need to get out of the past,"  "I suppose you want slavery back,"  and all the other bile I sometimes receive when I write in such a manner as this.  And there's also no need to politicize something that isn't political). 
Thank you~~(you can tell I've been down this road before lol)


I've been a bit melancholy,  and when I get this way my thoughts tend to wander in many different directions,  especially down the nostalgic trail.
An autumn scene right out of 1760.  Yeah,  I was there...
Nostalgia,  as defined by Mr.  Webster's dictionary,  is described as a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life,  to one's home or homeland,  or to one's family and friends;  a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time.
That would mean nostalgia is a very personal experience then,  does it not?  And according to the above definition,  only those who actually experienced the time period first-hand actually have the right to feel an attachment to it.
However,  I once read that  "Nostalgia is portable,"  meaning,  as I see it,  that perhaps it can  be possible to feel a sentimental attachment to a time period one did not personally live through.
Hmmm...but that's not according to definition - - how can that be?
If nostalgia truly is portable,  is it possible,  then,  that those of us who reenact the past,  frequently visit historical living history museums,  or maybe even read extensively about a time from before  we were born to experience these same nostalgic emotions?   I mean,  it's pretty obvious that I was not around during the horse-and-carriage days,  and yet I still have a sort of nostalgic feeling for those times.
...and I was also in 1882.
~Maybe it's because I've spent so much of my youth in a rural setting in the company of my Victorian-born grandparents,  whose ways,  morals and values,  and even style of furniture was of the pre-electric,  pre-modern era.
~Maybe it's because I have been witnessing daily life of the 18th and 19th centuries while visiting the historical open-air museums of Greenfield Village and Crossroads Village quite frequently - sometimes multiple times a week - for over 40 years,  intently watching and sometimes even taking part in the everyday activities of long ago.
Here I am taking part in the oh-so-important farming activity of plowing.
Yeah...that's me holding the plow behind the horses...
~Maybe it's because I have been actively participating for two decades-plus in the world of living history:  reenacting the world of the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries while utilizing a strong attempt to accurately and authentically bring that era back to life,  if only for a weekend at a time.

I mean,  when one thinks about it,  if I added up each day I spend reenacting and include the times I visit open-air museums,  I am immersed in the past an awful lot,  aren't I?
So,  with taking everything into account,  does this mean that I can actually feel a sort of Webster definition of nostalgia for times long past - real memories of a time before  my time,  though it occurred in  my time?
Does that make sense?
How about my children,  each of whom,  since birth,  have attended colonial and Civil War reenactments  (before participation and after),  visited v-e-r-y often the above mentioned museums and witnessed almost weekly people in period clothing performing the historical activities of horse-drawn plowing,  milking cows,  caring for chickens,  winnowing,  spinning wool into yarn,  riding in carriages,  on steamboats,  and on trains,  picnicking near a covered bridge... on wood and coal-burning stoves...or even seeing their father warming over an open hearth on a cold winter's eve inside ancient American homes,  as you see me doing here in sub-zero temps in the Daggett house.  Yes,  the warmth from the flames did thaw my toes and nose as it would have back then.
And,  as you know,  they have also been a part of the living history/reenacting community for most of their lives.
Then there are the many,  many summertime weekends in the small 19th century-built American town of Lexington  (Michigan),  where such things as visiting a general store that has a mix of old and new items  (including penny candy),  an old stagecoach stop turned into a restaurant that still keeps its period appearance,  catching pollywogs at the creek,  bonfires at night,  and extremely little TV watching,  were all commonplace.
Wouldn't you say this is pretty old-timey stuff?
Just ask a typical pre-teen today how much of what I just mentioned they themselves experienced;  I can practically guarantee most have not...ever  (unless their your child,  right?  Because chances are,  if you're reading this,  you and I have a very similar mindset).
With all of this,  can they be nostalgic for eras beyond their own time?
We had our family image put on a tintype by famed tintype 
photographer Rob Gibson  (Gods & Generals,  Gettysburg,  
Cold Mountain)  when we were in Gettysburg a few years ago.  
We have the memory of dressing up in our Sunday best,  walking 
to his gallery  (located in a mid-19th century building right in the 
midst of Gettysburg!),  and posing for our portrait - the same 
exact experience as people had from 150 years earlier.

We have also visited a restored colonial village,  Colonial Williamsburg,  where we were virtually surrounded and immersed in a time 250 years ago due to every building in the area being of the period.
My wife and I walking down an 18th century street in Williamsburg.
Yes,  we had the same experience as one may have had 

240 years ago,  did we not?
And those who work for the foundation,  no matter what part or role they may  portray  (from store-keep to gardener),  all are dressed in the fashions of the 1770s,  and many pretty much keep period in their conversations.
Our discussion in this photograph actually did center on the 
activity - the news - of the excitement up north in Boston.  The 
young lady and I agreed on some of what we heard and disagreed 
on others.  But it was a conversation that most definitely was had 
on the same street back in the 1700s,  for it was also in the local 
broadsheets of the era.
I greatly miss being there in Colonial Williamsburg.  You might 

say I am nostalgic to go back.  But which  "back"  am I nostalgic 
for?  Back in Colonial Williamsburg,  or back in the 1700s?
Methinks a little of both because the experience was not 
much different.
Though we are contemporary people,  my family and I probably includes the past beyond most.  You see,  my wife,  Patty,  has very much the same sort of desire as I in that she prefers the more traditional and rural ways of life over the modern cut throat,  hustle and bustle of the 21st century.
One of her passions,  for instance,  is spinning wool into yarn using her spinning wheel.
In fact,  she sometimes spends weeks picking through and cleaning multiple 30-gallon garbage bags of raw wool she receives from sheep-owning friends.  I mean raw wool,  for it has sheep poop,  hay,  grass,  sticks,  and dirt,  imbedded in it.
As you can see,  the raw sheep wool my wife was cleaning was 
spread out all over.  Most of the dirtiest work/cleaning was done 
outside in the yard,  but some was done inside,  which definitely 
gave our home that barnyard-fresh smell!
She spends hours and hours carding the wool with her carding paddles,  though we will take most of it to a carding mill - - a real honest-to-goodness period carding mill,  located in Frankenmuth,  Michigan.
Again,  just as folks did 150-plus years ago.
And this mill  (Zeilingers)  uses carding machines of the 19th century:
Carding machines at the Carding Mill in Frankenmuth

Patty also loves to sit on our front porch or in our backyard and spin on her spinning wheel,  not only because it relaxes her,  but because she loves to crochet as well,  and the idea of  "sheep to shawl"   is very appealing to her.  She has crochet mittens,  scarves,  shawls,  sontags,  hats,  afghans,  and just about anything else you can think of.
She really gets a kick out of having total strangers out for a walk come up to our porch to watch her do this traditional craft.  One just doesn't see spinning on a spinning wheel very often in the suburbs these days...or anywhere else aside from museums!
So here is my wife living the 19th century life of luxury in the 
middle of modern suburbia:  chick-sitting my son's chickens,  
dog-sitting my son's dog,  and enjoying the relaxing craft of 
spinning wool into yarn,  all the while wearing her period 
clothing----wait----scratch that last part!
And Patty always enjoys going to Greenfield and Crossroads Villages,  taking long rural rides in the country to visit small-town America  (besides Lexington),  antiquing,  quilting,  knitting,  and looking at old houses.
Are we a match made in heaven or what?

And our kids?
Well,  our oldest,  though very contemporary,  still embodies the spirit of the past in his life;  besides reenacting as a teen and young adult,  Tom plays guitar and sings in various period vocal music groups as well as a more contemporary band.  He raises chickens and grows his own vegetables while preferring a traditional style of planting his heirloom seeds as shown in this book he received for Christmas,  Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way - 18th Century Methods for Today's Organic Gardners,  over the more modern methods.  He's also spent time caring for another friend's farm while said friend was out of town for a few weeks.
Here is Tom dressed in his Dickensian costume - it's what he 
wears when singing old world Christmas carols with the period 
vocal group Simply Dickens.  It's pretty obvious that period vocal 
groups have a large following,  especially among cheerleaders!

My next eldest son,  Robert,  has taken to historical reenacting in the same fervent manner as I have;  he is constantly researching and reading to help bring the past to life.  He does Civil War and Revolutionary War and is mentored by the best of the best.
Here Rob stands with his Lorenz musket.  Why a Lorenz and not 
the more common Springfield?  Because once he learned the the 
original members of the 21st Michigan Civil War group used a 
Lorenz for the first couple of years after mustering in,  he felt the 
need to have one so he could be as accurate and authentic as 
possible.  He's his father's son,  that's for sure.

I have two younger children:  son #3 has Aspergers Syndrome,  which is in the autism family,  and his interests lie in different directions,  but yet often still historical.  For instance,  he loves visiting the old lighthouses that dot Michigan's shorelines,  and,  with Michigan being the state with the most lighthouses in the U.S.,  we make it a point to try and visit at least a different one every year if we can.
He is a major WWII movie fan as well.
Here is my third son very happily getting his photo taken near the 
Port Sanilac Lighthouse,  which was built in 1886.  He hates 
having his picture taken but willingly does at each lighthouse we 

My youngest child - my daughter - enjoys the life of a young adult with her latest technology  and the giddiness that a 21st century girl usually has.  But she can also knit,  crochet,  spin on a spinning wheel,  sew,  and tell you of  life during the 19th century.  She can also sing along with such well-known period tunes as Shady Grove,  Wayfaring Stranger,  Johnny Has Gone For a Soldier,  and Some Folks Do.
Ha!  When she was 16 she had a beeswax candle dipping party with her friends - all around the same age as her - and taught them the colonial way of creating 18th century lighting.  In fact,  I also hold candle dipping parties and she rarely misses them.
My sometimes unlady-like daughter,  back when she was a teen, 
could sometimes be found up a tree.  I do 

believe she and Laura Ingalls would have been fast friends had 
they ever had the chance to meet!
Of course now she is in her twenties,  so her tree-climbing
days are over.  lol

All four of my children consider Greenfield Village the  'place they grew up'  - kind of like their  'old neighborhood,'  for aside from the rural Lexington visits,  Greenfield Village is the place they've been to most that has given them the most past experiences.
And each has a respect for and an understanding of the past.
The best of two very different worlds.
Oh,  you bet I am proud!
My three sons at the now defunct Colonial Days event in 
Greenfield Village 1997.  No, we were not reenactors at the time;  
the village had a collection of clothing for kids to try on to see 
how they would look if they lived in colonial times.  It was great fun!
When my wife used to read the original Tom Sawyer to our kids back when they were young,  they understood and easily identified with the story and the characters.  Because they participate in many progressive reenacting/living history events with us growing up,  they can identify.
My daughter at age two on the upper deck of the 19th century steamboat Suwanee.  We began seriously reenacting the year this photo was taken but hadn't had a proper dress for her yet  (or shoes or pretty much anything else!)  because we really hadn't done our first reenactment,  but we made the best of what we had.
(By the way,  if you are interested in reading more about this steamboat,  please click HERE)

So...after reading what I wrote here,  and knowing that my family and I have many of the same memories that the people of the 18th and 19th centuries had,  can we be nostalgic for that period in time?
Is nostalgia really portable?
To add to this thought,  maybe there is also a sense of longing as well...
Longing is defined as a strong,  persistent desire or craving,  especially for something unattainable or distant.
"Unattainable or distant?"
Because of  what I wrote in this post,  experiencing a time long past has not necessarily been unattainable or distant,  has it?
And maybe...just maybe...I do  have a nostalgic longing for times before my own time,  even if it's only through experience,  because many memories would still be the same.
Maybe nostalgia really is  portable.
This is,  believe it or not,  our first posed family photo with our 
six week old son,  taken in Port Huron in August 1988.  It was at 
fair and they had one of those  "old time picture booths."  
Naturally,  we just had to get our image taken.  In all honesty,  I 
don't think it turned out bad at all,  considering where and how it 
took place.  We used to tell Tommy that we were really from the 
1800's and had transported ourselves into the future after he was born.

What are your thoughts?

 P.S.  I realize this posting goes off the beaten path for me.  Nostalgia and longing both are a yearning,  though for the good times,  not the bad.  Please note that I do understand this.
Thoughts enter my head and,  well,  sometimes these thoughts form into something much bigger,  such as this post - - - nothing earth shattering,  mind you,  just something a bit out-of-the-ordinary such as what you've just read.
If nothing else I hope I was able to take you away on a different road for a few minutes.
And I hope you enjoyed some of the older photos of my family. Looking at them also made me nostalgic!

~   ~   ~

Sunday, March 10, 2013

2013 Civil War Civilian Meeting

No "Civil War smiles" here!! We're all just happy to be together while in our period clothing. It's been a long couple of months since we've time-traveled!

March is here!
You know what that means in my household? Yep - - another period dress civilian meeting!
I really enjoy these meetings for a number of reasons, first and foremost being that we get to put on our 1860's clothing. I get asked every-so-often from members of other units on why we do this; why do we wear our reenacting clothing for a meeting?
Well, number one it keeps us in the right frame of mind through the meeting; it helps to keep us focused on the reason for the gathering in the first place.
It also gives many of us the opportunity to make sure we haven't 'outgrown' our clothing over the winter months, though a few in our group (including yours truly) tend to wear their period clothing numerous times during the off season.
But most of all I believe it's because we actually like to wear it.
The main topic of this year's civilian meeting focused on the immersion experience; to get as close as one can to time-traveling back to the early 1860's by learning to use the five senses of sight, sound, smell, touch, and even taste - to mind-travel.
Much of what I had to say on the subject came from a posting I wrote earlier this year (click HERE to read it), and I must say I was very pleased at the reaction from the members of our unit, especially with the prospect of utilizing what we all learned for use in upcoming events, for we have opportunities to, once again, use period structures in our immersion excursions. 

One of the best things about the civilians of the 21st Michigan is that we each look at reenacting not just as a time to sit around camp with our friends, but to actually take on a persona - an occupation, if you will - of one from the past. In other words, just as our ancestors each had jobs, whether as a chicken farmer, a post master, running a household, or a laundress, we also make the attempt to replicate that life as well. As you will see in the photograph directly below, Margaret is learning her new station in life as a domestic servant. Her employer, Mrs. Paladino, recently opened up a boarding house and will need servant girls to help her in this endeavor, and Margaret, who has recently fallen on hard times, has found herself in a position of servitude.
Margaret was just hired on as Mrs. Paladino's domestic servant and is learning her role in this new life station. Mrs. Paladino's husband is off fighting for the cause, and to show her support she has Margaret looking sharp in a patriotic apron.
Our group also has a U.S. Christian Commission, a politician (Senator Jacob Howard), a school principal, a teacher, a lighthouse keeper (hey! This is Michigan - the state with more lighthouses than any other state in the Union!), another domestic servant (who happens to work for my wife and I), a telegraph operator, a Quaker Abolitionist (Mrs. Laura Smith Haviland), and a farm girl (who actually works at the Firestone Farm at Greenfield Village!).
We have many other civilians, mostly women, that portray domestic life, including young ladies who attend Dame Schools, a seamstress, and my wife who enjoys pulling out her spinning wheel to show visitors - especially children - the fine craft of spinning wool into yarn.
I believe this young lady, who attends a school for girls, has her beau on her mind instead of her studies...
I foresee a very exciting future in the past!

My wife made a delicious chicken soup for everyone to eat during a break in the meeting, and most everyone brought food, snacks, and temperance drinks to share as well, including sugar cookies, goober peas, summer sausage, cheese, muffins, celery, apple pie, sarsaparilla, and so much more.
After break I thought it would be fun for everyone to look through my books containing images of actual photographs from the mid-19th century and to try and replicate them.
I was right - - it was fun!
In fact, at times there was a line up for photo replications. I would position the 'subjects' in as close a manner as I could to their 19th century 'counterparts.'
I do not have a period camera, however, but I do own a digital camera and the Paint Shop Pro photo computer program (which I like much better than Photo Shop) and can *magically* transform a modern picture into a tintype/Daguerreotype/CDV in no time.
So...(you knew this was coming, didn't you?)...without further ado, I'd like to present the originals and the replicas:


Now, the following photos are also replicas but, I must confess, I cannot find which books that I own that the original photographs came from. Even without a comparison, I think you will agree that these images have a very period look and feel to them, for, just like the above pictures, they are posed in the same manner as an original.
I hope you enjoy them:



Here we are with our 19th century smiles
And thus ends the 2013 21st Michigan Civilian meeting. As you can see, we had a very large number of our civilian membership show up. It's living historians/reenactors like who you see here that, through their dedication and want of history, truly do bring the past to life.
As the civilian coordinator, I couldn't be more proud!


Friday, March 1, 2013

Zap! You Are Now in the Mid-19th Century, and it's Spring! What Do You Do Now?

I re-wrote a more complete picture on springtime past.
Please click HERE to visit the post.