Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Day on an 1850s Farm in Waterloo

Let's see...it was a rainy Saturday...should I have spent it at home on the computer and watched television - - or - - spent it in the company of family and friends on an 1850s farm?
In today's mixed-up shook-up world, that was a no-brainer for me!
Yep! Once again we had another rainy reenacting adventure. So far it has rained on at least one of the days nearly every weekend that we have had a reenactment this season - only the first one we participated in back in early May gave us fine weather.
Now this last weekend in June was no different; except for a break for about an hour during the afternoon, there was a steady non-stop rain and much cooler than normal temps with highs in the low 60s...our normal high is in the low 80s this time of year.
But rather than say, "forget it! Let's just stay home!," we, instead, crammed ourselves into the time-traveling van and off we went, whirling back into the very wet past and landing at the farm we have considered our own for nearly a decade - Waterloo Farm located in rural Munith/Waterloo, Michigan. The good folks who run this farm museum have allowed us to settle in and create a home atmosphere here, and we usually spend most of our time in the sitting room, for the parlor is, of course, for 'special occasions" (remember when we were in the parlor last Christmas? How about at the Harvest Supper?). They trust us implicitly, and over the years we've worked to earn that trust.
And rain or shine, this farm and some of its outbuildings are so picturesque, as you will see.
So here I go, with camera in hand, snapping vignettes of the past while gathering my lost sanity.
I hope you enjoy the trip:
A cozy scene from the 1860s, especially with the oil lamps giving that little extra. Who cares about the cool wet weather outside? Not us! For we made the best of what could have been a bad situation.

This is our good friend (and travelling companion) Jackie in the foreground, and my lovely wife, Patty, spinning on her wheel in the background. As visitors toured the house, they witnessed a living history lesson that they would be hard-pressed to receive anywhere else. And, to be honest, the rain added a certain atmosphere that gave off a hominess that one may not get on a hot summer's day, though it would have been nice to have at least some sunshine!

Spinning is second only to crocheting for Patty. She loves to spin on her wheel, and I often will find her up as early as four in the morning, clicking and whirring, turning wool into yarn.

Our friend Jackie - one of the nicest friends we have. Oh, and she does a great Irish brogue when she portrays a washerwoman.

Here's my daughter: yeah, she's dressed a little fancy for a farm girl, but every-so-often she likes to 'dress up.' By the way, she's wearing a sweater my wife knitted for her.

Working in the kitchen...

On the last Sunday in June, Michigan holds an annual statewide log cabin festival. Beginning in 1987, Michigan Governor James Blanchard designated and signed into the Statutes of Michigan that "The last Sunday of June each year shall be known as 'Log Cabin Day.'"
There are hundreds of log cabins throughout the State, with a number of them built before 1840 (Michigan became a state in 1837), and throughout our 'mitten' there are celebrations from historical societies giving tours, showing historical crafts, and giving history lessons of the area in which the cabin still stands. In fact, the day after participating at Waterloo, my wife donned her period clothing once again and went north to Richmond, Michigan, and helped them to teach about the past with her spinning presentation.
Since its inception, Log Cabin Day has grown, in some circles, from the last Sunday in June to the last full weekend in June.
Waterloo has a log cabin on the grounds of their farm, though, unlike the house, it is not an ancient one from the 19th century. It, instead, is a replica built in 1976 of a 'typical' log home to give visitors an idea of what the original owners of the land and farm lived in before building the beautiful farm house (which is original). The cabin is a faithful representation of one from the long past and gives the visitor a very good idea of how our pioneer Michigan ancestors lived upon settlement here.
The log cabin which sits on the property of Waterloo Farm Museum.

No, Kristen was not with us on this day - this picture was taken in 2013. I just realized I have no photos showing the opposite side of the cabin except for this one. I want to show that there are indeed windows in this log house. I suppose having lovely young ladies can only enhance a photo, right Kris?

On this day, being that it was so cold and damp, I found a few Civil War-era soldiers sitting by the hearth to warm their bones.

My son Rob uses a period-correct straight razor to torture himself. Actually, that's not true: he learned from one who knows how to use one and does a very good job at giving himself a shave.

The inside of the cabin gives off a very impressive authentic look of 19th century living.

This young man sits upon a ladder to the loft where his bed is located.

Sitting in the cabin, staring out the window, and seeing a couple of horses and riders going by...yeah...life is good.

Upon seeing someone happen by on a horse, I jumped at the chance to get on one myself. My wife and I took riding lessons years ago, so I know how to handle a horse pretty well.

Each horse is different (obviously), and the most important thing for a rider to know when straddling a horse that you've never ridden are the signals and sounds that they are used to, and the owners gave me direction to help control the beautiful animal.

My daughter (taking the pictures) had never seen me on a horse before and had concerns, but she saw that I knew what to do as the owner directed the orders to me. Given a bit more time to learn his ways, I probably would have been able to take him for a ride. 
By the way, period clothing while on a horse - that was cool!

My son Miles: he's never been on a horse and would probably never give it a try, but he certainly loves the animals. He loves all animals.

The look on his face says it all: "I got this - it's all good!"

To me there is never a bad reenactment, no matter the weather; any opportunity I have to wear period clothing and present at a historical place is better than the alternative.
Believe it or not, I have had people tell me (especially very recently) that I need to stop "living in the past" and "accept the future."
To these people I say, "Do not presume you know me. Go back to your bars and unicorns.
I'm happy right where I'm at."

Until next time, see you in time.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Living in Colonial Times at Historic Fort Wayne

Historic Fort Wayne, built in Detroit in the 1840s, is a very active place throughout the year for those who love history. And the good folks at the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition like to keep the Fort alive with historic activity, so in any given year one may attend a Civil War reenactment, an 1860s Christmas celebration, vintage baseball games, a 1940s USO show, a medieval romp, and a Revolutionary War excursion.
Being that it was built in the 1840s, you may be thinking "a medieval romp? A Revolutionary War excursion?"
And it works very well, too!
Any opportunity that we can show history - make it come alive - and teach folks old and young about history as well as America's great heritage AND help to continue to restore the past (proceeds going for the continuing restoration of this fort and the surrounding buildings) is a fantastic thing.
And recently my wife and daughter and I found ourselves in 1770s clothing here with other colonial/RevWar living historians.
Once again we day-tripped it and, unfortunately, for the second year in a row, the day we came was filled with off and on rain showers. There was also the possibility of severe weather on the horizon, so many of the reenactors packed it up early and left.
Now, there's nothing we can do about the weather, but by realizing and accepting that, yes, it rained in the 1770s, too, a few of us made the best of it and remained, settling ourselves inside the barracks until we had to leave. My crew happened to stay until a window of opportunity opened (read: it stopped raining for a few minutes).
I hated to leave, especially since there are so few colonial/RevWar events in these parts, so I was, needless to say, pretty bummed out. Hopefully the weather will be brighter and dryer for the 4th of July, when we plan to visit the time period once again, only at a different location.
In the meantime, I was able to take a few pictures, which I will present here. When life hands you lemons, make lemonade, right? That's what we tried to do on this rainy day at Historic Fort Wayne.
Historic Fort Wayne Barracks.
Built in the early 1840s, this housed nearly every southeastern lower Michigan soldier that was drafted or joined the army from the Civil War through Viet Nam, including my father, who was in WWII. Now it's a historic site being preserved in great part through reenactments such as the Colonial Days event you see here.
(photograph by Tony Gerring - 1st Pennsylvania Regiment)

A scene right out of the past: I believe this was taken during a renewal of the vows for a couple who were celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary
~I wasn’t there on the day this was taken~
(photograph by The Highland Rangers)

My wife enjoyed the relaxing time spent here and made herself another neckerchief. This photograph gives us away as Patriots - - can you guess how? (hint - check out the pamphlet!)

During the time of the Revolutionary War and well up into the 19th century, the best place for a local to get information and news was the tavern, for this was where out-of-town travellers would spend the night before catching the morning stage to their next destination, and they would gladly tell of the news and events of other villages and towns from which they had come. And if you were lucky, a politician or a soldier might happen by with news from the front. Now, I'm not really standing in front of an actual tavern, but it does have that sort of feel, don't you think?
By the way, dig the new threads! Okay, so that wasn’t very 18th century of me to put it that way, but I wanted to show off my new coat bought at the Kalamazoo Living History Show last March. Many thanks must go to my friend, Beckie, for taking it in a bit - the fit was rather large but the price was right and I could not pass it up. And now... - - - ...perfect! You like?

Here is a picture of Civil War reenactor Kristen (left) and my daughter Rosalia. This was Kris's first time out as a colonist, and she was thrilled to take part. An accomplished seamstress, she makes her own clothing, including this ensemble.
Here, I’ll let her tell you in her own words a little about her fashion (taken from her 'Victorian Needle' blog):
Ken Giorlando, over from 'Passion for the Past,' has been nudging me towards 18th century reenacting for a few years. It has been a slow process-first the stays, then the shoes and fabric as Christmas presents, and then I used the JP Ryan pattern for the bodice, with little modification. The petticoat came together quite easily. Finally, I slapped some silk on that bergère hat and called it a day. Wait no...I made an apron too. In the car. After a family camping trip that involved marshmallows, mud, and a head injury. Hooray!
Welcome to the 18th century Kristen! So glad to have you join us, and we look forward to even more events with you!

Kristen also bought her shoes from Fugawees located in Florida. Kristen loves to have Rosalia around - she's sort of like a little sister to do her 'menial' tasks for her, such as tying the ribbons on her shoes.

Ah...here they are, for anyone interested in her shoes.

What would a trip to the 1770s be without a military presence?
Let's see a few of soldiers from both sides of the pond who fought during the American Revolution:
Marching and drilling...

~All the King's Men~
Here is a combination of differing units: those in kilts and red coats are the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment, the guy in the white pants with a red coat is part of the 1st Foot Guard Grenadier Company, and the guys in the green are the Queen's Rangers Highland Company. Trying to keep the colonials down...

American allies Barletta French Marines

What I like most about this picture of the Barletta French Marines is how I captured the puff of smoke at the flashpan just before the gun itself fired the lead ball out of the barrel. Well...if there actually was a lead ball; not to give away any secrets or anything, but they really don't fire anything out of their muskets. But don't tell anyone.

Because so many reenactors left due to incoming inclement weather, Sunday's battle was more like a small skirmish. No matter - the soldiers enjoyed blowing off black powder, and the few visitors that braved the conditions enjoyed watching it as well.

The 1st Pennsylvania Regiment marches past a home nearly destroyed by the destruction of war.
Photograph by Tony Gerring - 1st Pennsylvania Regiment

And now let's head back to the (mostly) citizen side of life:
I am working on a posting about an occurrence that took place in Salem, Massachusetts in 1775, and I needed a few “models” to pose for me to illustrate a historical scene. So I used Kristen and my daughter as well as a couple of soldiers. You’ll have to check out the post once it's up some time in July to see the pictures I took. I think you'll like 'em.

Here are the other "models" that helped me with a few photographs. They are with the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment; Grants Co.; Blackwatch

These two girls are always willing to get photographed! I thought this picture had a unique touch to it as they stood by the bright light of the window.

Members of the 21st Michigan Civil War unit who have also begun to travel back to the 1770s. I'm sure you would recognize us better if we were wearing our more modern 1860s clothing. I've had some folks tell me I look like I "belong" in the 18th century. Hmmm...I think we all do!

Here is the President of Campeau Company and his wife. Wonderful people who have taken us in under their wing.

Mike & Ruth Church are long-time RevWar-era reenactors and have guided us in our 18th century journey. There are more differences between Civil War reenacting and RevWar reenacting than I would have thought, but I'll find a way to blend the two and mesh them together.

Kristen's first time out was pretty successful, don't you think? By the way, she also made the jewelry you see her wearing in this picture.

My tankard on the window sill: outside the drenching rain was falling in bucketfuls - you can barely make out the canon. I thought this made for an interesting picture.

The lovely ladies of Campeau. Yes, it was darker in the natural light of a storm-filled sky.

Because there are so few colonial/RevWar reenactments in these parts, I get frustrated when the weather turns on us. I suppose that's why I do the "Night at the Museum" events as Paul Revere at the Plymouth Historical Museum and try and get other colonial reenactors to dress 18th century for the 4th of July and head over to Greenfield Village.
And I just may see if I can come up with another event with one of the smaller open-air museums around here. With this year of 2015 marking the 240th anniversary of the beginning of the Revolutionary War - and the 250th only a decade away - I am looking for more opportunities to teach about this so-very-important time in our country's history.

Until next time, see you in time...

To learn more about every day life during colonial times, click HERE