Thursday, November 20, 2014

An 1860s Village Celebration Recollected

Imagine, as living historians, taking over an entire historic village to recreate everyday life of a hundred and fifty years earlier.
Seriously literally taking it over.
Well, that's what we did back in July of 2010.
Due to varying reasons I really never grabbed the opportunity to write about this event when it originally occurred in that year, so I'm using this post to rectify that situation.
It's never too late, right?
I hope you enjoy it. There are loads of pictures.

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One thing I noticed in recent years more than in previous years is a definite increase in civilian activities in reenacting events. It seems like the good folks that head up the military units are realizing and fully accepting the fact that civilians do play a viable and vital role in Civil War era reenacting. We "complete the picture" so to speak.
Not all military feel this way, however; many from the "old guard" still hold a disdain toward civilian living historians. A few still feel that as a female reenactor you should cook for the men and be their "eye candy," and if you're a male reenactor you should shoulder a musket.
Thank the Good Lord that's changing!
Ha! There's been more than a dozen times the old guard has called me one of the ladies because I'm not a soldier. (Heh heh...when asked why I would rather hang out with the women in civilian area rather than the men in the military camp I always answered with "women are prettier and smell nicer." Oh, and there have been plenty of "old guard" women who looked upon me with contempt for the same reason. "What are you doing in our world?!" You can just imagine the talk and stares that occurred when I became the first male civilian coordinator for a military unit!)
But, the greater majority of the military men now enjoy the overall scenarios that all of the civilians portray and welcome us with open arms.
Some have even become civilians themselves (and most of the women have now accepted the civilian men)!
The event I am writing about here was a sort of 'opposite day' as far as Civil War reenacting goes, for the civilians were the main attraction and the military men were the  - heh heh - eye candy!
It was my friend, Sandy, who put together what became the reenacting event of the 2010 season: "A living history event for the serious historian."
Sandy and her husband, Mike
 It took place in July at Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan - one of the most authentic-looking open air museums I have visited.
Sandy was hoping for this to be the ultimate living history experience for all involved. She encouraged first person impressions and the Village allowed usage of the period houses and buildings to accent interpretations. Military men were invited as well, without their muskets, as the civilians gave a hometown celebration of their return from the War. Other activities on the agenda included a welcome home parade for the men in blue, a political rally and town meeting, authentic activities for children including school and games, and numerous other features. All civilian participants had to have a period impression - no camp sitters.
My role, by the way, was as the postmaster situated inside the tavern - - - cool!
Sandy, you must understand, is a mid-19th century social historian extraordinaire, one who many, including me, look up to for her extensive knowledge of not only the era of the Civil War, but in the 19th century manner in which she carries herself daily. She knew this event had to be as close to perfect as any could be, for her name was on it, if you know what I mean. Therefore, whoever would participate had to first be invited and then asked to fill out an application for approval. Yes, the expectations were be high - higher than many events usually are. Strict attention to authenticity in dress and in the applicant's period impression was a priority; as I said, she wanted no camp sitters - only folks "with a purpose." And that purpose could be most anything one would find in a 19th century village, from a politician to a banker to a laundress to everything in between.
If you have read my postings here in Passion for the Past, you will know that it's this sort of impression that I have imparted upon the civilian members of the 21st Michigan. I mean, there's nothing worse than seeing and hearing a civilian tell a visitor, "Well, I'm just here because my (significant other) is here."
And, yes, I have heard that, believe it or not.
This event at Crossroads Village was a major boost and learning experience for me to see how one could bring the past to life. I am hoping that many living historians will see what can be done and just how close time-travel can be when living history is done right - just read what we did this past fall.

The Stanley Schoolhouse at Crossroads Village
(Yes, that's my daughter getting water!)

My hat is off to Sandy for putting this together, even though it's been a few years since this event took place. She had taken a great weight upon her shoulders in putting this event on, and, as you shall see here, it was a rousing success!
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 What you are about to see are scads of photos taken on this magical weekend back in July of 2010. This was the benchmark of all that followed for my own future presentations with the unit I belong to.
I hope you enjoy what you see ~

Here is the Mason Tavern, built around 1850, of which I called home for the weekend. No, I didn't sleep here, but I did utilize it as my home and place of business. Not only was I the tavern owner, but this building also housed the post office (with me as the post master) and served as a stage coach stop as well.

Here is the main room of my tavern.

Here I am standing near my post office set up inside the tavern.

Looking out my window and all I see is the past. I love it!

Travelers and locals find ways to entertain themselves and others on my porch.

Here I am with two friends Amanda and Tonya. It's obvious which side of the Mason-Dixon we are on!

Later on I found the two ladies shopping together at the local General Store.

One of our many farm families.

Here is our school teacher at her first job standing proudly in front of her school.

Yes, the late 19th century bank building was also utilized, as Mr. Walker portrayed the banker.

And he was kept busy throughout the weekend as we used replica greenbacks to exchange for goods.

Mr. and Mrs. Root strolling along the walk on a fine summer's day. Mrs. Root was the founder of this event.

Now, the main theme of this event was to show a real 1860s celebration of our fighting Union men returning home from the War for a short time before they had to leave to fight once again. All of us who portrayed the townsfolk gathered at the train station to await the arrival of our boys in blue.
I hear the train a-comin'! There it is!

The welcome home sign was up in a flash in hopes the men could see how much they were missed.

Everyone was waiting in anticipation for their loved ones to step off of the train.

Here they are! The heroes of our little village! Welcome home, boys!

How elated the ladies were to greet their men!

Off to the Village Green we went where Mayor Morgan gave a rousing speech welcoming the men back home, even if their stay will be a short one.

What fun we all had, meeting and greeting our military heroes.

The honorable Mayor Morgan and his lovely wife.

Afterward, townsfolk gathered together to catch up on the latest war news, and the soldiers wanted to hear of the news of their hometown.
Our son made his way about the town to visit friends.

many friends and family gathered in houses throughout the Village. It truly was time for a celebration!

And celebrate we did!

My tavern was a hot spot for the young men and young ladies to gather.

It was also at my tavern, post office, and stage stop where citizens could read the latest news from the battlefront in the newspaper.

Some of the ladies gather water for the church picnic.

Pastor Purdue and mayor Morgan are prepared to meet the congregants of the local church.

And the Villagers came to worship.

The townsfolk were very thankful their men were home safe. At least for now.

And Pastor Purdue gave an inspiring and patriotic sermon.

With the service over, it was time for a picnic!

With our village being so small, practically the entire populace showed up.

Everyone was thankful for such a beautiful summer day.

Chicken, watermelon, bread, vegetables...all made for a wonderful meal.

A fun game of croquet took place.

Croquet is usually stereotyped as a genteel game, less a sport than a social function, and more suited to genial conversation and unfettered flirtation than strident competition. Nineteenth- century American periodicals and croquet manuals emphasized the sport’s placidity, as opposed to male working-class sports such as football, baseball, and rowing, which often seemed infected with the time-discipline or rationality of the workaday world. The Newport (Rhode Island) Croquet Club’s 1865 handbook proclaimed that the game owed its popularity to “the delights of out-of-doors exercise and social enjoyment, fresh air and friendship—two things which are of all others most effective for promoting happiness.” Croquet was portrayed as a morally improving and rational recreation; the New York Galaxy declared that “amiability and unselfishness are the first requisites of a good player.” Because croquet was not a particularly athletic game, it was considered ideal for children, older people, and mixed gender groupings. Thus, one recent historian of the sport decisively concluded, “In the 1860s, in a family and female sport like croquet, the etiquette of playing the game with grace and good manners took precedence over winning, sociable play triumphed over unprincipled competition.”

Yet was this, in fact, how the game was played on the croquet lawns of the nineteenth century? While authors of croquet manuals and magazines propounded trite encomiums to honesty, rationality, and fellowship, a perusal of visual and literary evidence reveals that a great deal of competitive spirit existed in the typical croquet match, that the use of deception to win was common, and that women were particularly guilty transgressors. Modern reliance on croquet manuals and a handful of periodical articles recalls the limitations of other nineteenth-century hortatory literature such as etiquette and advice manuals; that is, the ethos was only a code, not an accurate depiction of reality. Female grace and good manners may have been the ideal for the rule- and taste-makers, but on the croquet ground, a peculiar sort of gender reversal enabled women to temporarily jettison their passive role and dominate, if not humiliate, men. Women played the game seriously, enjoyed matching skills with men, and often emerged victorious. The fact that this image runs contrary to “Victorian” gender stereotypes suggests that a more nuanced approach is needed, rather than to declare some sports to be “male” and other sports “female” with all the formulaic and oversimplified preconceptions these adjectives imply.

Pastor Purdue and Mr. Bevard

Alas, the time had come for the men to say goodbye once again and head back to the train station. But before they leave, there is a grand send off.
Once again, the townsfolk gather on the Village Green and listen to the good mayor give another rousing speech to send off our men within God's good graces.

Listening to Mayor Morgan's speech.

The lovely ladies of town gather at the green.

Let's bow our heads in prayer for our men who are about to venture off to fight to keep our country united.

A brother hugs his younger sister goodbye, perhaps for the last time.

It is a sad occasion.

The local ladies of the aid society gather with the rest of the townsfolk to see the boys in blue off.

Walking with the men to the train station...

As the men settle on the train, some wives just can't let go.

It takes another to pry their hands from each other.

It is a sad but patriotic celebration to see the men go off to war.

It was a grand spectacle indeed!
As you can plainly see, this truly was a "grand spectacle" of an 1860s village celebration. We had hoped to have it continue and become an annual event, but, due to extenuating circumstances, it wasn't to be. But it was every bit as spectacular as the pictures show, and, though I had been experimenting with 1st person/immersion by this time, An 1860s Village Celebration was the catalyst for me personally to take reenacting to the time-travel limit, which I continue to do, because it was through Sandy and this event that showed me there actually was no limit to traveling through time.
Ladies and Gentlemen of the 1860s: those you see here brought the past to life in a way rarely seen or experienced.