Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Flying Solo in Period Clothing - Colonial Ken Visits The Henry Ford Museum

There!  My lantern is lit 
and I'm all set to go out alone!
I would like to begin by stating how touched and honored I am of all the positive responses I receive for my Passion for the Past postings,  especially those on the history Facebook pages I belong to.  It really lifts my historical spirits knowing that people enjoy my writing and photos and that I may have inspired a few reenactors to take the next step in improving their presentation in numerous ways,  including trying 1st person/immersion.
My only response I feel I can say to this,  besides  "thank you,"  is that I am just being me doing what I like to do.  I have been researching everyday life history for over 40 years - yes,  I loved reading about the  'olden days'  decades before participating in living history...way back at an elementary age - and because of this reenacting obsession  (at least it is for me),  I have been able to take that info and utilize it in an attempt to bring the past to life.  The best part is I have plenty of historical reenacting friends that are usually there right along side of me.
But there are occasions when I find myself time-traveling on my own - just me wearing my period clothing in the middle of modern society.
I realize that  flying solo as a living historian can make quite a few people nervous;  after reading some of my posts where I have ventured out on my own,  some reenactors commented about how they'd be too embarrassed to go out in public by themselves in period clothing without another reenactor with them.  "People might stare."  "I would feel silly."  "Awkward."
Come on...let's be truthful - we,  as reenactors,  get stared at very frequently,  do we not?  So what's the difference if we're on our own or with others?
There are many times,  as you may know,  when I go out on my own dressed in either my colonial or my Civil War-era clothing.  I really don't think much of it for I do wear them often and am quite comfortable.  In fact,  sometimes I'm in my period clothing more than my modern clothing.  No joke.  But rather than fear the public's reaction,  I embrace  the responses I receive.
And let me tell you,  the reactions can be invariably interesting.
I have kind of put together some of my observations from my experiences when I am the sole period-dress person while out in public - -
First off...
I'll just hide behind this curtain  
in one of the 2nd floor bedchambers 
at the Daggett home - no one 
will see me up here dressed like this!
~I get stares.  Lots of stares.  Sometimes out-of-the-corner-of-their-eye-peripheral-vision stares so it doesn't look like they're actually staring at me.
Then there are those who will look at me...then turn their head quickly when I look back at them,  as if they were saying,  "I wasn't looking at you!"
But the people I like the most are those who will just outright stare at me without attempting to disguise it - usually children will do this,  but sometimes adults will,  too.  It's these folks who are generally curious and many times will come up and speak with me.
~ I also get people taking pictures of me  "without my knowing it."  You know:  "Oh, look!  There is a nice brick on that building right above that man who is dressed funny."  *click*
Most photographers,  however,  are pretty cool and will come up to me and ask if they can take my picture,  either with me and members of their party or just me on my own.
~Then there are those who will whisper and point,  sometimes giggling while they do so.  Kind of like,  "Look at the history dork dressed up like he thinks he's George Washington!"  This group is usually in the 15 to about 25 age group.
How do I handle kids like this?  One of three ways:
+ I may ignore them and then they usually go on their merry way.
+ I may walk up to them and begin a conversation,  which will almost always take them off guard but nearly every time ends up with them realizing that what I'm doing is pretty cool.
+ Or I may nonchalantly saunter next to them at a display and make an inane comment such as  "Back in my day,  we didn't have such a thing as a cotton gin"  (or whatever artifact we are near).  Heh heh - I love doing this!  That's when they really  think I'm strange.
~But the best reactions are those who will simply walk up to me without any qualms and ask me why I am dressed in such a manner.  Usually it's this sort that actually have a strong affection for history,  and great and interesting conversations will almost certainly ensue,  usually ending with each of us learning from each other.  And when we part,  the friendly visitor almost always will say something to the effect of,  "I appreciate what you're doing."

1880s Firestone Farm
When I do dress up in period clothing and head out on my own,  I almost always reach one or two people in that very unexpected but special historical way - - in fact,  something like this happened in 2014 when I was dressed as a colonial while inside Greenfield Village.  I was hanging around at the 1880s Firestone Farm and definitely looked out of place in my knee breeches,  buckle shoes,  and tricorn hat amidst the later 19th century folks and surroundings.  A little boy,  probably around the age of 9 or ten,  asked me why I was dressed so differently from the presenters and farm hands there.  Since it just happened to be April 18,  I explained to him the significance of this date in American history,  and how  "239 years ago tonight,  Paul Revere would make his famous ride,  warning the countryside and the people of  Lexington,  Massachusetts that the regulars were out,  and they were coming in their direction!"
This young man was thrilled to hear this and immediately ran to his mother,  shouting,  "Mom!  Do you know what happened 239 years ago tonight?!?"  and proceeded to tell her.
Only a few minutes later I saw this same young man pretending his mother's umbrella was a musket and he was aiming and  'shooting'  the enemy,  shouting  "The British are coming!"
I corrected him to yell  "the regulars are coming out,"  which he did,  and then explained that  "tomorrow,  April 19,  would be the 239th anniversary of the beginning of the war for our nation's Independence - the American Revolution,"  and that he should go to the other side of the Village to see the Daggett,  Giddings,  and Plympton houses - actual structures that were standing in New England during Paul Revere's time.
He loved  it.
How exciting for him to hear of our nation's history in this manner.
How exciting for me to teach him something that one hardly even hears about anymore.
Yes,  this capped an awesome day for me.

What if I didn't dress up and visit the Village on this day---I may not have made a difference in this young kid's life.  How sad that would be.
(April 19 - Patriots' Day - by the way,  is a civic holiday in the states of Massachusetts,  Maine,  Wisconsin,  and Florida commemorating the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord,  which were the first  'official'  battles of the American Revolutionary War.  It's usually celebrated on the third Monday in April,  and I myself celebrate it,  even though it's not an official holiday in Michigan,  though it should be.  I have unfortunately found that most people are unaware of this date's significance in our history - but,  oh!  do they know about the Kardashians and their ilk).
Please understand that it is a rarity for me to fly solo while in 1860s clothing,  for Civil War reenacting is extremely popular in my neck of the woods and I always seem to get takers when I head out anywhere dressed as such.
It's the colonial period that I have a harder time getting others to join me...except on the...
...4th of July,  where a number of my friends who do 
RevWar/colonial seem more willing to come out in our own 
1770s excursion to Greenfield Village to celebrate this most 
important of American holidays.
These ladies  (including my wife in blue)  did a fine job 
recreating a scene right out of 1776 while inside the 18th century 
Daggett house,  didn't they? 
I so appreciate their willingness to help me out.
Flying solo,  however,  usually reigns for me most other times as the mood to dress period strikes.
And when I do,  I usually spend an awful lot of time over in the colonial section of Greenfield Village,  where,  as previously mentioned,  the 1750s Daggett house,  the early 18th century Plympton house,  the 1620 Cotswold Cottage  (from England),  and the 1750s Giddings houses are all located.
My favorite time of the year is autumn,  and Greenfield Village 
certainly does this season up right,  allowing for two full 
weekends to celebrate the fall harvest.  I usually visit all four days 
of this event,  and in 2015 I wore my colonial clothing for 
two of them.
Here you see Greenfield Village presenter Roy posing with me in front of the Daggett House.  Yeah...I usually hang out at the far end of the Village where the homes of the 18th century 
are situated.

Every-so-often,   I get to do cool things when I'm on my own...like make beer.  It was a fun learning experience and I am honored to have been able to take part in this process.

 ~Inside the Giddings House~ 
I also get to pose with lovely lady presenters,  such as Jordan here, who dress in the same era attire as I.

Presenters like Jordan and Roy  (and so many others)  help to 
waylay any uncomfortableness a solo reenactor may have.  And I 
appreciate more than they realize their willingness to help me 
create little historical photographic vignettes.

Recently I visited the Henry Ford Museum  (something I do only a few times a year),  which has an amazing collection of Americana dating back to the Revolutionary War era and goes up well into the 20th century.  However,  never have I visited this indoor museum while in colonial garb.  So when I did during Christmas break,  I found it to be an interesting experience,  for,  though the Henry Ford Museum has thousands of antiques that visitors can see up close,  it is also a very contemporary museum in lay out and presentation,  utilizing computers that can enhance the experience.  So the wearing of colonial clothing is almost a sort of allusion to the colonial antiques,  or vice versa:
I am just a piece of glass away from a writing desk once 
owned by Thomas Jefferson around the year 1787.
To think that this was something owned by the main author of the 
Declaration of Independence and our Nation's 3rd President should 
make any patriot shake with excitement.

I am pointing to a silver coffee pot made by none other than Paul 
Revere himself, sometime shortly before the Stamp Act of 1765 
took effect.
~The coffee pot up close~
Yes,  it's true I portray Paul Revere for school groups,  so it is 
always a real thrill for me to be so close to something of his that 
he made with his own hands,  including this castor you see below 
from 1760-1785

and these spoons from 1770-1800
 Tip of the center spoon:
There are amazing things at this museum!

Here is some camping gear used by George Washington in the 
early 1780s. Seriously---George Washington slept here. 
George Washington! 
President numero uno...!! 
If that doesn't get you excited, I don't believe anything will!

As commander of the Continental Army during the American 
Revolutionary War,  General George Washington usually did sleep 
and eat in the nearby homes of well-to-do people during the eight 
years he led the American military campaign.  But among George 
Washington’s camp equipage were tents,  this folding bed,  cooking 
and eating utensils,  and other equipment that he used when 
encamped on the field with his troops.

Here's a picture of the Washington camping collection without 
some lunk-head who thinks he's Paul Revere standing in the way.

Who is that in the mirror??
I look almost like I am a part of the display of George 
Washington items,  some of which were around during his time,  
and a couple made as a tribute after his 1799 death.

On July 4,  1823,  Congress authorized 200 exact copies of the 
Declaration of Independence to be created and distributed as an 
educational project.  Only about 30 survive today,  and I am 
standing next to one.

What would a collection of colonial items be without a 
Windsor Writing Chair?
The Windsor Chairs  (the one pictured here is from 1770-1790) 
were popular in England in the early-to-mid-18th century. 
In North America,  the Windsor chair form was first used in 
Philadelphia where the chair became hugely popular around the 
time of the Revolution.  The chairs were such an important part of 
the life in the new country that Thomas Jefferson was said to have 
written the Declaration of Independence in one of these chairs 
and Martha Washington had needlework cushions made for her 
bow-back Windsor chairs.

This little enclosure was made to give the impression of a tavern,  
and inside they show a continuing video loop of actors portraying 
colonials discussing the  'recently'  printed Common Sense 
pamphlet.  What you see here is located near the very beginning 
of the With Liberty and Justice For All exhibit

Here is Colonial Ken  (that's me!)  gazing at furniture from the 
18th century:
~a fall-front desk on frame from 1745-1785
~Behind that, a high chest of drawers from 1770-1785
~Under the 1793 portrait of William Moore is a card table from 1770-1790
~In front of card table is a side chair from 1740-1760
~On the right is a large secretary desk with bookcase from 

I am standing near to one of the most haunting  (not haunted)  
pieces of furniture inside the museum:  the Hannah Barnard Court 
Cupboard  (the decorative cupboard back left).  There is a very 
neat story behind this historic object that I have found from the 
Henry Ford Museum Curators:

"It is believed that Hannah Barnard was born around 1684,  
probably in Hadley,  Massachusetts.  She was 31 when she 
married John Marsh in 1715 and died shortly thereafter giving 
birth to her daughter,  Abigail.  This could have been Hannah's  
"marriage"  or  "dower"  chest--a fairly expensive piece of 
furniture she received or had made specifically to be brought into 
her new household.  Her press cupboard stored precious 
household linens which were time-consuming to make,  and may 
have held silver or ceramics in the upper portions.
The colorful hearts,  petal flowers,  vines,  and half-circles are 
characteristic of a number of  "Hadley-chests"  made around 
Hadley,  Massachusetts nearly three centuries ago.  Six of them 
include women's names painted on the front,  such as this.  It is 
unusual for a piece of furniture to be decorated with anyone's 
name,  much less a woman's.  Why was her name put on 
the front?  
We're not sure.  Perhaps,  after thirty years as a Barnard,  did 
Hannah not want to forget her family name as she entered into 
marriage with Mr. Marsh?  Or did it mark the fact that Hannah 
was well aware that while women could not inherit property,  they 
could inherit moveable furniture  (as did her daughter,  Abigail,  
of this chest)?  Did she ask that her name be painted there?  Or 
was she surprised when she received it from her family or 
her betrothed?"
Wow---very haunting indeed.

Right next to the court cupboard is this high chest of drawers from 1700-1730 owned by none other than Mary Ball Washington,  mother of the Father of our Country!
According to the placard:  "Mary,  who was orphaned at an early age,  inherited land,  livestock,  or furniture each time she lost a parent or step-parent.  This high chest was likely among these legacies."  

This card table  (1765-1780)  was own by John Hancock  "the patriot who signed his name with a flourish to the Declaration of Independence in 1776."
Hancock,  one of the wealthiest men in America,  "delighted in 
playing cards.  He could well afford to purchase this fine 
mahogany table to enjoy a game of cards with friends and 
political associates."
It's these so-called  'insignificant'  pieces of history that help to 
bring the past to life.  It makes me wonder who else of our 
Founding Generation may have sat at this very table...Samuel 
Adams?  Paul Revere?  It boggles the mind...

When Henry Ford built the museum which now bears his name,  he made the facade as an exact replica of Independence Hall.  However,  he also replicated the entrance way interior of the original as well  (located beneath the clock tower).  While I was at the museum,  I asked if I might be able to go up the stairs to the balcony and have a photo or two taken of me while dressed in my period appropriate attire.  They,  apologetically,  could not allow me to do it for various reasons.
So...what to do...?
~The Picture That Never Happened  #1~
No,  I did not sneak up without anyone seeing and have a few 
pictures taken.  Instead I utilized my computer photoshop-type 
skills  (by using Paint Shop Pro)  and created what you see here.

~The Picture That Never Happened  #2~
Okay,  so it's not as cool as actually going up there,  which I still 
hope to do,  but at least I can make my own little scenario picture 
through computerized magic.

This is a legitimate picture...aside from me getting rid of the 
barrier hung across the steps.  Well,  ahem,  *magically*  making 
it disappear!

And another non-computerized picture of me,  waiting for John 
Adams and Thomas Jefferson to come down and join me.
*sigh*  They never did...

The sign upon entering the
With Liberty and Justice
for all exhibit.
To wear the clothing of our
Founding Fathers and emulate
them gives one such a patriotic
Ha!  Sorry you had to put up with all these pictures of me,  but,  well,  after all,  I am flying solo here!
But I may soon have more colonial friends joining me on Patriots' Day  (or any other day we feel like dressing 18th century),  for I am working on starting a colonial group in my area.  I have found there are a few Civil War reenactors who also have a great interest in our colonial period and,  though the 1860s would still be our main priority,  at least we would have an opportunity to travel back a little further in time if the desire strikes.  I chose to call this new group Citizens of the American Colonies.  I think it's a great name and perfectly epitomizes what I hope our group will be.
More on that as it happens...
(Note from 2020:  it did happen...later on in the year I originally posted this article)
Anyhow,  as you can see,  flying solo isn't as scary as you may think.  In fact,  it can be quite fun,  though,  yeah,  I'd rather have others join me.  However,  I won't let anything prevent me from doing what I love.
You shouldn't either.
Until next time,  see you in time.

To learn more about the Henry Ford Museum's With Liberty and Justice for All exhibit,  click HERE
To read a general overview of life in colonial times,  click HERE
To learn more about my reenacting excursions and social American history,  please click onto my Table of Contents page HERE
Windsor Chair information comes from Design Sponge



Cincinnatus said...

Great post. I particularly liked the German chest on chest with the Fraktur paint-work.

What a great way to spend the day!



Daibhre said...

My wife and I have dressed in our Victorian garb and wandered around the Ionia Free Fair of an afternoon. We get the same sorts of reactions you describe here, Ken. Sometimes it starts a conversation that may resume later, so I carry a "calling card" with me in case someone seems genuinely interested. (Keep up the good work, my friend!)

Betsy said...

I don't always comment but I do enjoy living vicariously through you on your time travel adventures. Thank you for sharing your tales and photos with us!

Cary said...

I currently volunteer at a living history farm and I love dressing up. I wish I lived closer to you- I would certainly join your group! Over the course of the past year, I have acquired my own costume so I am now able to dress at home (instead of dressing in borrowed clothes at the site) and I secretly LOVE when I have to pick up my children from school or stop to pump gas. Sometimes people get beside my car and slow down to look at me- it gives me a good laugh. I am currently searching for more opportunities to engage in living history and would love to portray someone from the colonial period. I love your blog and everything that you share! Thank you!

Historical Ken said...

Thank you all for a wonderful response to this post!
Cincinnatus: You are right - it IS a great way to spend the day!
Daibhre - Thank you - - my wife joins me at times, but she usually saves her reenacting time for actual reenactments rather than my "extras."
Betsy - Thank you. I appreciate heating from you whenever you can write!
Cary - There's got to be some like-minded people in your area that you just haven't found yet. If not then going it alone, as you've found out, can be quite fun! Thank you for writing.

Mark Willoughby Wood said...

I, too, dress Victorian much of the time, even on Sundays at my rather mundane "real-life " job. It just makes the day a bit more lovely and fun. Most around the area are used to me but there us one elderly man who always breaks into After the Ball when he sees me! LOL