Thursday, January 22, 2015

"Museum in a Book" Books Put History at Your Fingertips

What a cool collection of historic artifacts!  Imagine having these 
priceless pieces of Americana in your own home!
As historians,  we love our books,  don't we?  We can't seem to get enough of them,  and we devour every bit of new historical information we discover during our research and relish the confirmation of tidbits we already knew.
And we especially love those history books that can successfully put flesh on the bones of the past,  don't we?  I remember diving into the  "Best of Life"  book my brother had  (was it 45 years ago??),  filled with photos and captions from Life Magazine from the 1930s through the early 1970s.
I loved nearly every page - the pictures drew me right into the scene!
And all of those Bicentennial books and magazines that came out in the  '70s---wow!---filled with the wonderful drawings and paintings of long ago set my imagination on fire!
I was shaking with excitement!
I also remember as a kid seeing the picture-less,  over-bearing,  boring history textbooks written for adults and thinking just how awful it must be to have to read one of those lifeless things.
And this from a young history buff!
You may recall that it used to be if a book included pictures it wasn't to be taken seriously or it was considered to be more for children.
As I got older - high school age - the dreaded feeling of being forced to read those  "adult"  history books continued,  because as much as I tried to read them,  they were drab and written in monotone,  just like when a teacher or a professor gives a lecture,  with no emotion or feeling at all.
Now that I'm an adult  (sorta)  I still see those dull books much in the same way,  though I now understand quite clearly their importance,  for the amount of information they hold makes these boring old textbooks worth their weight in gold.
But one can only do so much  'deep reading'  before needing a break - there are times for historical reading fun, too!
You see,  I'm a picture-person,  and gazing at a photograph or painting will give almost as much information as the written word.  The old adage  "a picture is worth a thousand words"  is true,  and though I eat up the written information,  it's the accompanying illustrations that tends to add that note of completeness for me.
Thanks to the powers-that-be that modern day history books are generally written in this way,  for it is a much more exciting manner in which to study and learn about the past.
And now we can take this historical illustration concept to the next level;  have you ever gone to a museum with the thought of how cool it would be to have some of those wonderful historical documents framed and hanging in your own home or used in an appropriate manner to add to a sort of tableau?
Notice how the broadside accents and gives an air of authenticity 
to this tableau of a colonial scene.

I have.  Nearly every time I visit a museum,  in fact.
But,  of course, that would  **nearly**  be impossible for someone like me who has little funds to spare to purchase authentic Americana  (beyond a piece of furniture here and there).
The price of the items you see in museums,  if they were for sale,  would be,  well,  priceless.  However,  there are actual historical artifacts available for purchase through dealers such as  Heritage Collector's Society, Inc.,  though,  like I said,  unless you have plenty of money to spare,  most of the really cool documents are out of reach for the average person.
So,  the best way for someone like me to own a bit of this history  (without losing my house or going to jail)  would be to own the  "Museum in a Book"  collection.
I do.
In fact,  I have listed & linked below those titles that are in my own personal library which do help to rectify not only the boring history textbook situation mentioned above  (big time!),  but also kind of helps in collecting many important yet unattainable American artifacts as well.  These books are some of the best publications I own,  for not only can you now get a wealth of information about the subject at hand,  but you can also hold in their own hands replicated artifacts of original documents of the time.
And,  though the stodgy history majors may thumb their collective noses at such  "juvenile history,"  this is one historian who thinks they are very cool.  
Very  cool.
Most of the replicated items are of excellent quality,  though are not good enough to fool a museum  (obviously).  But they're not meant to - they are facsimiles printed on  (mostly)  modern paper.  But that's all beside the point.  I mean,  I have a very authentic-looking copy of the Declaration of Independence framed and hanging proudly on my wall.
My framed copy of the Declaration of Independence: 
I have it pictured here next to a few other items to show its size.
Pretty cool,  eh?
And then I also did this:
I framed Paul Revere's version of the 
Boston Massacre as well.
Who knows?  Maybe even a couple other items that come with these books will also find their way upon my walls - I could have a real fine authentic-looking collection of American history in my home.
Just showing my patriotic pride I suppose.
A close-up of my replica of Paul Revere's version of the 
Boston Massacre from March of 1770  (which is a copy 
from one engraved earlier that year by Henry Pelham).

Though many do learn best strictly by reading text,  I am a student who learns much better by sight,  sound,  smell,  touch,  and,  due to living history,  actually taking part.  All people learn at different rates and with different styles.  To me,  there's something uniquely special about reading a facsimile of the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence or a letter from the Father of Our Country to his wife written in his own hand that makes one want to gaze upon it,  as if they're actually seeing  history...holding  history.
And in a strong sense,  they are.
It's difficult to explain,  but they are.
That being said,  I have taken the liberty  (get it? Liberty?)  to present here a list of the ones that I personally have in my library.
Following the list are photographs I took of a very few of the many,  many replicated artifacts that are enclosed inside these books.
I thought I'd share some of the items with you.

The Declaration of Independence:  The Story Behind America's Founding Document and the Men Who Created It By Rodd Gragg
Besides getting what I'm assuming to be a full-size replica of the Declaration of Independence,  you also get a Sons of Liberty song sheet from 1775 celebrating the Boston Tea Party,  a couple pages from the original Thomas Payne pamphlet Common Sense,  diary entries from John Adams from 1774,  Thomas Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence,  and so much more cool  'collectible'  replicated items from the birth of our nation.

Replicas of actual letters written by Civil War soldiers - both North and South. Some speak of the boredom of camp while others talk of the excitement of battle.  One letter actually has a dying soldier's blood from his mortal wound on the page.
This is a wonderful collection for the student of American history or for the reenactor who would like an account of what it was really like for those who fought in the Civil War.

With this interactive biography you get wonderful replicas of a couple pages from Washington's diary as well as letters - both in his own handwriting,  the title page from the 1783 Treaty of Paris,  a broadside copy of his farewell address,  and numerous other articles.

Replicas of experiment illustrations drawn in Dr. Franklin's own hand,  a broadside announcing the repeal of the Stamp Act,  a recruitment broadside asking for volunteers,  the title page of the first edition of Poor Richard's Alamanack,  a 1775 map of Boston,  various letters written by Franklin,  and numerous other authentic-looking artifacts pertaining to one of our greatest Founding Fathers.

That tumultuous year of 1776 magically comes alive with this amazing collection of replica artifacts.  It actually begins in 1775 with the events leading up to the Revolutionary War,  including letters from Abigail Adams to her husband John,  Washington's commission,  and a broadside of King George's speech to Parliament declaring the colonists as rebels.  Then,  from July 8,  1776 we have a newspaper printing of the full text of the Declaration of Independence followed by many more George Washington letters,  loyalists vows of allegiance,  Lord Rawdon's account of British progress,  and countless other replicas of original letters,  maps,  and documents from the period.

Probably my favorite of them all, this set includes replica documents of such historic items as The Quartering Act of 1774 where British Officers were allowed to quarter their troops inside private homes,  an oath of allegiance for the Continental soldier to sign,  a few pages from the 1775 diary of Joseph Plumb Martin,  a full copy of the Declaration of Independence,  colonial paper money,  notes from James Madison on the content of the Bill of Rights,  and a copy of the Louisiana Purchase,  among so many other historic replicas of our American History.

Lincoln: The Presidential Archives by Chuck Wills
Another pretty cool concept - the replica historic papers of our 16th president.  In this collection you get Abraham & Mary Todd's marriage license from 1842,  a patent application for a device to bouy stuck vessels from May 22,  1849,  an 1860 campaign banner,  a letter from Mary to Abraham from 1862,  the replica of the Lincoln's handwritten copy of the Emancipation Proclamation,  an advertisement for a play he decided to see on Good Friday in 1865,  and so much more.

And,  for good measure,  we'll throw in Reporting the Revolutionary War by Todd Andrlik
Technically not a museum in a book book,  it,  instead,  has a few replica broadsheets that can easily be removed should you want to frame a couple of the papers.
What makes this book uniquely different is that the information is taken directly from the newspapers of the time.  As it states on the front cover before it was history,  it was news.
And the back cover information says For the first time,  experience the sparks of revolution the way the colonists did - in their very own town newspapers and broadsheets.
Beginning with the Stamp Act and ending with the resignation of George Washington as Commander in Chief,  virtually every important and not-so-important aspect of the Revolutionary War is covered as was originally printed at the time. 
Yep - well worth your investment.

By the way,  I also have one of these Museum in a Book books that was given to me as a gift from a friend about English author Charles Dickens that was printed in 2012 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Mr.  Dickens' birth.  Called The Charles Dickens Bicentenary 1812 - 2012,  it was written by 3rd great granddaughter of the Victorian author,  Lucinda Dickens Hawksley.  In it you'll find such beautifully replicated documents as a first edition copy of his own newspaper,  The Daily News  from January 21,  1846,  a first edition replica of a few pages from Dickens Household Words pamphlet from May 5,  1855,  an extract from the March edition of Bleak House,  photographs owned by Katey Dickens of her father,  a facsimile of Charles and Catherine's marriage license,  letters,  more portions of manuscripts,  and,  well,  oodles of Dickens collectables for those who,  like me,  are more than just a passing fan.
Like the other museum in a book books listed,  there is also a wealth of information and loads of photographs to accent the replicated documents.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now,  as promised,  here are a few of the many cool collectable  "artifacts"  you will find in the various books listed above:
Benjamin Franklin's own humorously 
written epitaph from 1728.

Ben Franklin's records of letters that passed 
through his Philadelphia Post Office - 1767.

The title page of the first edition of 
Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack 
from 1733.

The broadside memorializing 
the deaths from the Boston Massacre 
in 1770.

The Quartering Act of 1774.

The New Hampshire Gazette announcing 
the news of the bloody battle that had recently 
taken place in Lexington and Concord - 1775.

A close up of the above newspaper from 1775: 
when the shot heard around the world was news 
and not yet history.

A list of the American dead from the 
battles that took place at Lexington 
and Concord in April 1775.

A letter from Abigail Adams to her husband John 
in 1775.
As of June 13,  1775,  George Washington is now the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army!

A letter from George Washington to his wife Martha in 1775.

The front page of the pamphlet  "Common Sense"  
by Thomas Paine, first printed in January 1776 
and helped to propel the colonists to fight 
for Independence.

The discipline notations of George Washington 
discouraging his men from using profanity - 1776.

The original  "rough draught"  (draft)  of the 
Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson
 from 1776.

The Pennsylvania Racket newspaper from 
July 1776 printed in full the text of the 
newly proclaimed Declaration of Independence.

A broadside of King George's address from 
October 1776:  the Proclamation of Rebellion.

The Loyalists Vows of Allegiance - November 1776.

The Treaty of Paris, from September 1783, 
ended the Revolutionary War between the 
newly formed United States of America 
and Great Britain.

An 1832 copy of a book of remembrances taken from the diary of Revolutionary War soldier Joseph Plumb

A list of a year's worth of provisions made by 
Meriwether Lewis for the journey west in 1804. 

The original handwritten poem from 1814 by 
Francis Scott Key that became the Star Spangled Banner.

A blood-stained letter from a dying Civil War 
soldier to his father.

Army life description during the Civil War.

An 1862 letter from Mary Lincoln to her husband Abraham.

The playbill advertising  "Our American Cousin" 
for Good Friday,  April 14,  1865.

A broadside offering a reward for the 
capture of the murderers of President Lincoln - 
April 1865.

The 1836 marriage certificate of 
Charles Dickens and Catherine Hogarth.

An 1866 Boxing Day tournament hosted by 
Mr. Charles Dickens.

A reading tour ticket to see Charles Dickens 
in January of 1869.

Every item pictured here came from one of the books I have listed and linked.
Pretty cool,  eh?
And many of the books can be bought used at super low prices!
It's really a fine way to collect the kind of American history that you will probably never be able to have otherwise.
And,  depending on which era you may reenact,  some of these items will make great conversation starters for your presentation.

Until next time,  see you in time.

~     ~

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What Is Going On With My Pictures?

Have any of you fellow blogspot bloggers been having problems with your photographs disappearing from your older postings?
I am finding many of my pictures are vanishing like crazy!
Unfortunately, I didn't file many of my pictures accordingly so I don't always know which ones I used.
This is very frustrating...
Is there any one we can get a hold of to let them know?
As you know, photos play a major part in my posts - - - I would appreciate all the help I can get to get this taken care of.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Period Fun During the Off Season: Another "Night at the Museum" Party, a Visit to Burger King in Period Clothes, and American Girl Dolls Come to Life

Abigail Adams
Do you remember the posting I wrote a while back about how a few of us participate every-so-often in a fun little bit of living history called "A Night at the Museum"?
This is where "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.
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. 
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."
 A Night at the Museum parties are always great fun to do, especially during this bitter cold time of year, for there are so few opportunities to wear period clothing in winter.
On this latest "Night" party, I portrayed Paul Revere, just as I did the last time.
Abigail Adams & Paul Revere
As Paul Revere, I began my presentation by shouting, "TO ARMS! TO ARMS! THE REGULARS ARE COMING!! THE REGULARS ARE COMING!!" as if I was snapped right out of my midnight ride of April 18, 1775 and brought to January 10, 2015, which is kind of supposed to be what happens. I then began to speak about the major highlights of my life as if I actually was Mr. Revere - just a real quickie overview, enough to cover five minutes or so - and I included the most note-worthiest of items such as my being a silversmith, my involvement in the Sons of Liberty, the warning lanterns in the Old North Church, how I borrowed a horse to warn the patriots throughout the countryside, how I got captured only to be set free a while later, and how I made it back to Lexington to witness the end of that battle.
I have to be honest, I really enjoy portraying Paul Revere and love the idea of sharing some of our founding patriot's history to people, especially kids. I may expand on this a bit for future historical presentation endeavors. history for kids really is a lot of fun.
And I was pleasantly surprised on this night at how many of the ten year old boys had some idea who Paul Revere actually was. They did better than many adults do.
A Civil War soldier and some new recruits
A Civil War spy
One would never know…
There were other living historians portraying folks in history at the museum on this night: we had Michigan Senator Jacob Howard (who had a hand in drafting and passing the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution abolishing slavery), a Civil War Soldier (who marched and drilled the boys as newly recruited soldiers), Abigail Adams (wife and close confidant of our 2nd President), a female Civil War spy, and even a woman who wore a bathing costume of the 1860s, amongst a few others.
Anyhow, after A Night at the Museum was over, a few of us went to the local Burger King fast food restaurant while still in our period clothing to get some fast food: Abigail Adams & Paul Revere (me!) and the Civil War soldier & Civil War female spy.
(Not sure if Paul Revere would be going anyplace where there is a king, but...)
When we walked into the restaurant, the workers just looked at us like “who are you and what is going on?” so I asked the girl at the register, 
“Quickly! What year is this?” 
The one girl behind the counter fumbled for a moment then answered with, “1934.” 
***Really? 1934??***
So I went with it and looked at Jim the Civil War soldier and exclaimed, “We did it! Our time travel experiment worked!” 
The workers just stared at us like we were from another planet.
We then laughed and asked them if they knew what year we represented. Our hopes were that they saw two colonials and two Civil War folk. 
Again we heard “1934?” 
As well as, “1890?”
The workers just couldn’t get it right:
Then someone, looking at Jim, said, "World War II?"
World War II?!?!?!

I then said, "Look, if you can't guess the period in history we're from, we get free food."
The girl called her boss out. He looked at us and said, "Are you from 1550?"
Finally, a frustrated customer yelled out at them, “What school did you all go to? Those two are from the Revolutionary War, and the other two are from the Civil War!”
Well, it's about time! 
We laughed about it - we had to, for the lack of historical knowledge was befuddling - better to laugh than to cry, right?.
And who knows, maybe they even learned something. 
So...when they took my order and asked for my name, I told them (of course) Paul Revere. Now, look at the name on the receipt pictures right. Ha! You see it?
Yep! There "I" am!
Who ever said history was boring never hung out with us!

(If you are interested in reading a more detailed account of a previous Night at the Museum party, click HERE )
The participants for "A Night at the Museum" on January 10, 2015: a smorgasbord of history.

Speaking of having fun with history, check out this You Tube clip of living, breathing American Girl dolls. For me it was a hilarious laugh-out-loud tongue-in-cheek bit of a historical fun moment.

See you all next time in time - - - - - - -


Friday, January 9, 2015

Ain't No Party Like a Period Party! The 21st Michigan's Christmas Party (January 2015)

Oh! We are a crazy group of reenactors!
Well here we are once again, celebrating Christmas in a big way one last time for the holiday season. For you who have been followers and regular readers here, you might recall that the Civil War reenacting unit I belong to, the 21st Michigan, has an annual Christmas party, held inside an 1872 schoolhouse on the first Saturday after New Years (after all the hubbub of the Christmas season has pretty much ended).
Just as we've done for 9 years now, it's an 1860s period dress party, with food that would have been served during the holidays of that time (though cooked and kept warm in a modern way due to the lack of a period cook stove).
Besides the oh-so-delicious food, we also dance and play parlor games appropriate to the Civil War era.
And what fun we all had!
You know, I still can't figure out the reenacting groups who have modern parties where everyone sits around at a sports bar, eating pizza, and yacking about current events. That sort of gathering can take place most any time of the year.
I don't would think that as living historians an era-appropriate Christmas party would be another great opportunity to bring the past back to life, only in a different way than usual.
And it is's us in period clothing, but not for the public, but for ourselves.
An old-fashioned good time.
I suppose we're just a bunch of nuts, eh?
Ah...but what a fine group of nuts we are!
Of course, you may have a few fuddy-duddies who will whine and complain about having to put on their 1860s clothing and go out: "why can't we just go out like normal people do? Why do we need to dress period?"...wah, wah, wah...but you'll find that they're by far and large in the minority. Most have a great time and can't wait to get into their 1860s clothing.
And that's the best part of the membership of the 21st Michigan; seeing all of the smiles and hearing the laughter that one doesn't notice very often at modern parties in itself tells me that a period Christmas party is a grand idea, that's for sure.
Let's put it this way: our Christmas party is one that is usually talked about fondly throughout the calendar year. Yes, it's that good - heck, even a few of our members this year came from as far away as Ohio in ice and rain.
As you may have guessed, I was there, camera in hand, snapping the shots and even a couple of videos, the best of which are posted here.
This is not our entire membership, for we can nearly double this. But what a fine showing, eh? It's unfortunate that the weather (we had an ice storm followed by an all-day rain that day) and ill health prevented numerous others from joining us. It's the time of the season I suppose.

A hammered dulcimer and piano provided wonderful seasonal background music. There was a magical sound emanating from these very talented ladies.

President and Mrs. Lincoln joined us in the festivities.

We had a houseful in the old 1872 school house. We could have fit 15 to 20 more people, though it would have been a bit tight. But it would've worked.

“Jillian, would you please twirl for me?”

I can honestly say I'm not quite sure about the teacup infatuation here, but the girls certainly enjoyed having fun with them.
Speaking of playing with the tea cups...take a close look at this young lady's, er, bum. Well, not her bum per se, but the top of it.
Do you see it? No? Look harder! Quite a trick that I'm sure I could not do!
Yep - our membership certainly enjoys a good time!

Now, take a good look at this Thomas Nast sketch of Union Santa Claus from January 1863...
Here is the Thomas Nast Santa Claus, direct from Harper's Weekly, alive again! And he brought Christmas Carol along! No, she's not really Christmas Carol...that's Beckie - 21st Michigan member and one of our Simply Dickens vocalists!

And now let the dancing begin!

Once again, we danced to the Virginia Reel.

We did not have music (our musicians pictured near the top of this posting were not able to play for our dancing), so we clapped our hands to keep the time. I have to say it really was so much fun and had a note of realism to it, for I seem to remember reading about a group of people without musicians doing this exact thing at a gathering back in the mid-19th century.
In fact, I was able to record the moment in two quick "moving picture" clips I took with my camera (what else do you call it but moving pictures? They're not videos or films anymore, right?):

You can see the fine time we had!

After the party, a few friends stopped by our home for a bit of an "afterglow." I wish I could invite everyone but my house is just not big enough, especially with the hoop-skirted ladies, so we can only have a few folks over.
Through the feather tree...

Relaxing and conversing with living history friends in a period-looking room is one of my favorite parts of 21st Michigan Christmas Party Night.

Have you ever had friends over for a period-dress gathering? No? You should! It's such a good time! And everyone acts a little different while in period clothing, which makes the party all the better.

Our newest member: this is her first year wearing period clothing (many of our other first-year members have been wearing period clothing for years already because they work at Greenfield Village) - she not only dresses impeccably, but has winter-wear as well!

Here is the "official" 21st Michigan 2015 (or 1865) photograph.

Our Christmas party is always a fine way to close out the holiday season on a high note. As President Lincoln (who you may have seen in the pictures and videos posted here) stated, "it was the best party we've been to in a long time."
I have to agree - it's become such a big tradition for us now. The season wouldn't be the same without it. I feel blessed to be part of such a reenacting group that not only takes their fun seriously, but seriously likes to have fun!
Historical fun indeed.
Now...I need to find some excuses to wear my period clothing during these next few slow reenacting months...hmmm...there's A Night At The Museum, the civilian meeting, maybe a period gathering of friends...