Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Jackson 2014 - 30th Anniversary

Thirty years.
A thirty years old I was married with one child and another on the way. Thirty years ago my oldest child was not even born yet and now he's going to be a father himself.
That's how long the Jackson Civil War Muster in Michigan has been going on for.
Thirty (30) years!
There aren't too many Civil War reenactors in this part of the Midwest (the north-central region) that don't have at least one memory of attending Jackson.
This year was my 11th as a participant.
My second oldest child, at age 23, says this year at Jackson was, in his opinion, the best one yet.
A reenactor friend (who we'll call Mr. P) said the same thing.
So what was it that made this year's Jackson up and above the ones previous?
I believe it was...attitude!
I'm asked (quite often, in fact) how I can continue to get so excited for events that I've been doing now for over a decade.
Well...what's not to get excited about? I get to wear period clothing for an entire weekend doing cool historical stuff with my like-minded friends and family. Isn't that why we do it in the first place?
For me, it's a taste of heaven. It really is.
Now, do I agree with my son and Mr. P that this was the best Jackson ever?
Hmmm...I'm not sure if it's the best Jackson I've ever attended, for I try not to compare one year to another because each one is unique in its own right, but it certainly was a good one, and definitely one of the funnest!
So, as I've done a few times before, I'll let my pictures do most of the talking for my Jackson review, for every picture tells a story:

Day One: the day begins...
Early morning at the edge of the battlefield. A slight mist hovered over the ground, though the sun shone bright.

The men of the Union were drilling. I pity those who went to the Emerald Peacock Saloon the night before and had to get up at the break of dawn to drill. Wait---no I don't (heh heh)

Here are a few of the boys from the unit I belong to, the 21st Michigan. I like to have them pose in a similar manner as the original photographs I've seen.

One of the really great things about the Jackson event is, similar to Charlton Park and Port Sanilac, the host unit coordinators (7th Michigan) like to use the civilians in scenarios. In fact, they like us civilians so much that they actually built us false fronts! Yes, it's true. They did this a number of years ago and it really gives our special impressions area a small rural town appeal.

On this first day we portrayed a southern town - anytown in the south. As a northern unit, we are proud Yankee supporters, though it's always fun to become the opposition once in a while, even if it isn't politically correct.
(And just when have I ever been politically correct?)
Proud townsfolk in our southren town!

My cousin Charlie always stops in for a visit whenever he gets a chance or when his stomach growls loud enough.

On this day the Yankees came in and began pillaging our homes and businesses. But, what they didn't know was that our Confederate heroes were just on the outskirts and showed up in time to have a small skirmish.
Right outside my window I witnessed the men shooting at each other. The townsfolk were in a frenzy, with many hiding in their cellars.

Oh! This guy got it right in the gut and down he went, never more to witness joyous times, for who knows what God has planned for his afterlife!

The Yankees continued in their attempt to overtake the Confederates, but they knew they themselves would be overtaken...

...for here come the Confederates to save our town! The Yankees skeedaddled out of there as fast as a greased pig! (Please pay no attention to the distant background - that's only a figment of your 21st century imagination)

Now, set up directly next to us were a few women who were running a very questionable used items business. Questionable by way of how they acquired the items to sell.
For instance...
This poor man's body was still warm as the women began to, shall we say, pilfer items that only moments ago were his own possessions:

his gun...



...a shirt, too?
Well, here - - we were able to film the "liberation" of this man's property:

And then...

Ahhh...such is life in a small town.

One of the other things that makes the Jackson event so popular is the amount of sutlers that set up to sell their wares. This year, the 21st Michigan's own Kristen (you know her from the Victorian Needle) became a vendor! She and another of our members, Liz, teamed up to form their own business and sell their wares.
Isn't she a peach? Oh, wait---that's just her dress!
I know these two ladies personally and proudly call each my friend. They do amazing (and period correct) work in making the items they sell. Well researched and high quality abounds! Check out the Victorian Needle link above for further adventures and purchase opportunities.

So...look what we did on this hot, sticky Saturday evening...
Yep - we made homemade ice cream! And everyone pitched in to help turn the crank!

Even the older guys!

Do you realize that, since we are in the year 1864, this group of picnicking young ones, who range in age from 13 to early 20's, should easily witness the amazing future technology of the talking machine, the electric light, the moving picture camera, the horseless carriage, and even the flying machine!

No electric lighting here at my place. Never even heard of such a thing.

But here I sit, in the glow of my candle light, keeping my stagecoach ledger...tomorrow is another day.

Here is our little town known as Jacksonburg, sitting along the banks of a small body of water. This peaceful serenity makes it all worth it.

Day Two: morning has broken...
...and the ladies of the town are happily preparing for the day, including the baker and her daughter.

But there's concern on the horizon. This seemingly peaceful day may hold the promise of war, for there are soldiers camped on the outskirts of this pro-north border state town.
(Yes, we did a switcheroo for Sunday - we are now northern-leaning.)
The soldiers camp

Breakfast in the military camp. They needed their strength for what they knew would be a exciting day.

And, just as our southern counter-parts, we, too, were concerned, but only because the Rebels invaded our little town!

They fired upon our Union heroes in hopes of scaring them off!

But the Union had more fire power and proved to be the victors on this day!

We showed our northern pride as the Union soldiers marched past, driving the rebellion clear out of town!

But the shady business ladies were at it again!

My wife found her missing carpet bag inside the shop! She pulled out her key as proof that it was hers, but the proprietor also had a working key, and quite an argument ensued, each lady claiming rights to the bag while the shady partner attempts to prove ownership with a forged receipt.

The mayor witnessed the dastardly deeds of these shady ladies and promptly took action by calling in the sheriff to take care of the situation.
Upon finding out the business practices of these ladies, a warning sign was nailed to their establishment:
And then the head of the operation was quickly put in irons!

She claimed her innocence as she was dragged, kicking and screaming, off to the town jail.
And so ends the dramatic excitement of our little town...well, not quite - you see, the young lady in question ran off as quick as lightning as soon as the cuffs were removed from her wrists:
"Run, sister, run!!!"

And off she ran...until she found the saloon.
Yes we had a lot of fun playing in this scenario. But I cannot take any credit here, for it was the ladies of the 24th Michigan who came up with this idea. They just knew that my wife and I would play along. why would they think that?
Ha! Sometimes you just gotta have a little fun, you know?
And we certainly did with these fine ladies!

Through my wanderings in the larger civilian camps up on the top of the hill I came across this wonderful set up. This is very impressive, and not only for the spinning wheel on the right, which is an original (in great working order) from around 1860, but because of the time and effort they put into this presentation, and because their knowledge of wool and spinning is top notch. Too often one finds too many "potato peelers" and not enough meat. I'm proud of the civilians from all of the different reenacting groups we have here in Michigan, for they take living history to new heights. (Before you folks from other states chastise me for my Michigan pride, I realize that there are wonderful reenacting/living history unit members throughout all of our United States, and I would hope you feel and brag about them where you live as well. I live here in Michigan, therefore I brag about my people!)

A young couple were married a month before this event and had asked to have a period renewal...or a re-marriage might be a better term - and I was asked to portray the father of the bride. I was honored to do so. Thanks to Ellyn Painter for this photo)

Here I am standing with one of the best of the best, Mr. Dave Tennies, who, by the way, portrays Michigan Senator Jacob Howard, the person credited with working closely with President Lincoln on the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery.

Although my main historical impression will be a farmer (click HERE), there will be times that I will also be running a stagecoach stop and inn: "Heacock Inn & Stage" - named for my 4th and 5th great grandfathers (father and son both named Jonathan Heacock) who, by the way, were Quaker farmers in the 18th and 19th centuries and, therefore, didn't run an inn or a stagecoach stop. But it keeps things lively for me. In this picture are a few friends who stopped by to visit my lovely wife and I.

The Jackson Civil War Muster is one of those events that has been around for so long that it's taken for granted, almost like the relative that you think will always be there, but when they pass away, you are shocked and so very saddened.
And the loss felt is great.
I would hate to see this happen to Jackson, for if we ever did lose this event, believe me, the loss would be great.
And sad.
I say this because our numbers were down this year.
Big time.
And I understand there are very legitimate reasons for this to an extent: work, health, family.
But then there are the poor excuses that makes me shake my head.
Even with all these guys, the numbers were nearly half of what they usually are. There's no danger at this time, but we need to bring our numbers up or the end result could be a major blow to Michigan (and Midwestern) reenactors.

To keep this hobby we love so much fresh and growing, we need participants - YOU - to take part. You can sit at home and complain about why you didn't want to go: it's a farb-fest (except for a few, it really isn't), it's supposed to rain (it didn't at all - sunny and warm with cool nights), it's too long a drive (less than two hours from Detroit area), I had to cut the grass (really? You couldn't cut it earlier in the week?), but when it's over and closed due to lack of participation, don't say you weren't warned.
Making a reenactment fun is all in your attitude - you can determine just how good of a time you will have.
And that goes for any event you may participate in.
It's up to you.
Me? Well, you know where I stand. I will continue to support the Jackson Civil War Muster - politics or school antics be damned! - as long as the people in charge (the 7th Michigan) continue supporting the reenactors.
And I have no doubt they will continue to do so.
See you next time.


Monday, August 18, 2014

A Night at the Museum - The Plymouth Historical Museum

The Plymouth Historical Museum, which is located in Plymouth, Michigan, does some pretty cool historical things to help the past come to life for people who might otherwise not give history a second thought. Aside from ever-changing exhibits that previously included one on the Civil War,  another based on the movie "A Christmas Story," Inaugural Gowns of the First Ladies, and even one on Bicycles, they also have a Lincoln Room where visitors can see actual artifacts pertaining to our 16th President and his wife.
And it's in the same general area there on the second floor where they have a permanent Main Street exhibit, installed back in 1972, where the visitor can "walk through" 19th century Plymouth. Yes, similar in style to the one at the Detroit Historical Museum, the Plymouth Historical Museum has a replica old-time main street with store fronts coming out of the walls and the utilization of their antique collection to help show what Plymouth looked like over a century ago.
It's pretty fantastic.
And every year - actually, a few times a year - they host cemetery walks, which is a very unique way of bringing the past to life.
And these are wildly successful, selling out months in advance.
One of the "ghosts" telling her story at the Plymouth Historical Museum's cemetery walk.
One of the really cool things the Museum does that I have not seen elsewhere around these parts is their "Night at the Museum" birthday party for kids, based on the very successful movies (click HERE and HERE). This is something that really gets the children involved in history
As the Museum's web site states: 

The "Night at the Museum" has come to Plymouth, and now children can experience a birthday party they will never forget. Plymouth Historical Museum staff, inspired by the movies of the same name, created this magical evening, where children discover that the characters within the Museum come alive after hours.
Kids begin the delightful evening in the lower level meeting room, where they gather and socialize before sitting down for a dinner of pizza or subs and drinks while watching one of the "Night at the Museum" movies. When the show ends, a reenactor meets them and their magical journey begins. They are greeted on the pretense of touring the Museum, but when presented with a personalized "Tablet of Akmenrah," they discover that not all is as it seems. This tablet is a recreation of the Egyptian tablet used in the movies that brings the Museum characters to life, which the children soon realize seemingly works in this Museum as well. 
The Museum is filled with reenactors silently waiting for the kids to bring them to life with the tablet. Kids could discover a Roman soldier dressed in full battle gear or Civil War soldiers preparing for war, or women wearing big hoop skirts and fancy dresses. There may even be a teenager from the 1950s hanging about, waiting to be awakened so she can dance and sing to her favorite rock and roll music. Anyone can be discovered at the Museum, and children will enjoy the living history. Each character chats with the kids about a slice of history so children might learn a thing or two while they are having fun at the party.'s very cool.
Do you know what I would have given as a kid to have such a party?
Mannequins that come to life when shown the "Tablet of Akmenrah:" meet (from left front row) a Civil War soldier, Paul Revere, Amelia Bloomer, Jane Austen, and (back row, from left): a Civil War chaplain, a farmer, Senator Jacob Howard. 
Well, as you probably have guessed, I gladly help out as time (and gas - the museum is located nearly an hour from where I live) permits. In fact, I wrote about cemetery walks a while back (click HERE to read about it), and even more recently, I was able to participate at a "Night at the Museum" birthday party.
The kids, however, were six-year-old girls and most had little knowledge of history beyond the "this stuff is old" mentality (pretty much anything is old to one who is only six, wouldn't you say?).
You would think we reenactors would have little impact on such a young group.
You would be wrong.
I saw Jane Austen gathering the kids up to act out a story, and Mrs. Bloomer explaining her style of clothing as compared to most other women's clothing of the time.
And Paul Revere was there, too!
And when the tablet was brought to me, I "came alive."

I startled the daylights out of the kids by hollering, "TO ARMS! TO ARMS! THE REGULARS ARE COMING!! TO ARMS!" as I became human.

Then, realizing I was not in the Massachusetts countryside but, instead, in front of a group of little girls, I calmed down and explained my purpose on this important night (April 18, 1775) in American history.
Most kids, even as young as five or six, seem to understand history in the way we present it to them, for we try to speak in such a manner that not only grabs their attention - which can be difficult to do with the youngest of the younger set - but they seem to know that we are doing it just for them. Not their parents. Not as actors on a stage. But close up and personal. And in this way we show the kids, especially the birthday child, that we are genuinely interested in them. They intuitively pick up on that.

A Civil War soldier came alive to explain a bit about a soldier's life during the 1860's and what it was like to fight in a battle.

The Civil War chaplain tells of comforting the soldiers who were wounded or homesick.
Though I know the two men portraying a Civil War soldier and Chaplain gave fine presentations to the kids indeed, from where I was standing, I could not see or hear them and I couldn't walk over because, well, I was a mannequin waiting to be brought to life. If the kids saw me, that would spoil the whole thing.
Regency era (1811 - 1820) author, Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice), is awakened by the magic tablet, which, by the way, is cooler than the modern computer tablets!

Miss Austen, being the author that she is, gets the girls to act out a story, though not one of her own. I'm not sure the kids would understand!

Mrs. Amelia Bloomer speaks to the girls about her new-style reform dress, of which wearers became known as Bloomers.

The Bloomers put up a valiant fight for a few years, but were subjected to ridicule in the press and harassment on the street. By 1859, the fad was over.

Michigan Senator Jacob Howard explains how he helped to write the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) to the Constitution in a way that children can understand.

He even took questions from the audience. They're FIVE YEARS OLD! Smart kids!

Taking part in presentations such as the ones mentioned here are great fun. We get to wear period clothing - sometimes clothing outside of our own reenacting realm - and become famous people in history, such as I did as Paul Revere.
And I didn't need to learn every aspect of his life, but just the basics - enough for the children to understand this man's place in history.
"We would shew two LanthornS in the North Church Steeple; and if by Land, one, aS a Signal; for we were aprehensive it would be dificult to CrosS the CharleS River, or git over Boston neck"
~Original quote from Paul Revere~
Yes, I am holding my lantern prop here.

But the very best part is seeing children genuinely interested in history! Who knows what spark we may fan that will stick with them and grow to become a historical fire in their adult lives!
Just imagine...

My hat (tricorn, top, or farmer - whichever kind I may wear!) is off to the Plymouth Historical Museum's Executive Director, Liz Kerstens, who is the person behind so many of the events that takes place there, including the Night at the Museum parties and cemetery walks. She really has a way to entice reenactors and living historians to help out.
Historical presentation indeed!

~All photos by Patrick Currie~