Saturday, March 26, 2016

Oh! The Things You Can Get and the People You Meet at a Living History Show!

It takes place annually on the 3rd weekend in March...
I look forward to it all year.
I begin to make plans to attend right after Christmas.
I can hardly sleep the night before the "big day."
Just what in the world could it be that has gotten me so excited?
Why, the Kalamazoo Living History Show, of course, where over 270 of the finest artisans and vendors of pre-1890 living history clothing, supplies, and related crafts from throughout the United States and Canada come together to sell their wares to around 10,000 living historians and reenactors. Most of the items you will find at this exposition centers from around the French & Indian War (1754 - 1763) era through the War of 1812 then up to the Civil War period. Since I am good with what I need for reenacting the 1860s - having reenacted Civil War for over a dozen years - my priority tends to be more mid-to-late 18th century. And there is plenty of everything for those of us who are interested in that era.
One must remember that there aren't many places we can go to that specializes in the much-harder-to-find colonial accessories to the extent the Kalamazoo Living History Show does.
Which is why over 10,000 people attend every year.
The smallest of the three halls filled with vendors. The other two halls are twice as large.

So let's begin, then, with the group of friends I had the pleasure to take the three hour journey to get there:
Don't let the pleasant, relaxed look fool you. Shenanigans reigned with many laughs occurring on the ride out and back. 
But each person you see here is a true history nerd.

Now off we go, to the Kalamazoo Living History Show where the hundreds of vendors were awaiting us - - -  I, unfortunately, didn't get names for each vendor posted here - - - sorry 'bout that!
~Victorian Needle~
This is my friend and 21st Michigan member Kristen's shop. Not only does she sell period-accurate jewelry for Civil War and colonial, but has her research information on hand to source her items.
Hey! Is that Larissa helping her?? sure is!
(HERE is Kristen's blog)

Yep----there were enough guns to outfit a militia!
Muskets. Plenty of muskets. Some flint-lock, some percussion cap.

You may also need powder horns for your muskets. So you run down to your local Powder Horns R Us store! Not even Walmart carries these. But the Kalamazoo Living History Show has plenty!

Period tin lanterns, candle holders, wall sconces, cups, plates, bowls, buckets, and other items to enhance anyone's presentation. The tinsmith here makes everything he sells. Yes, I have a few of his works in my house.

And now you need some beeswax candles to put in your new tin candle holder!

Although there were specialists as you've just seen, there were also those who sold a variety of items. Here I see lanterns, flasks, powder horns, books...

~The Dressmaker's Shop~
(Click HERE)
Owners Kim & Jim Lynch
For the Civil War civilian enthusiast, we have one of the finest sellers in Michigan of sewing supplies and accurate period-correct fabric to make your own period 1860s clothing.

You want shoes? Specifically, colonial shoes? Look no further! Buckles extra.

~B & B Tart & Past Reflections~
 Here you have a fine collection of period clothing for men and especially women as well as fabric to make your own. I know the proprietors and they are, as with the others I've noted, very well known and greatly respected for their knowledge in Civil War era clothing.
Click here for Past Reflections

~The Quartermaster Shop~
 Another well-respected vendor of Civil War era clothing (military and civilian) is the Quartermaster Shop. Dave Walker only shops at top-notch sutlers to get his 1860s wardrobe, and, well, here he is!
(And HERE's their web site)

Here we have Richard Heinicke the Blacksmith. For all your open-fire cooking needs.
And its quality stuff, too. His product is good for both RevWar and Civil War.
(Click HERE)

~Jas. Townsend & Son~
I saw this guy and said, "Hey! You're the man in all those videos!"
He certainly is! Jas. Townsend has some of the best accessories anyone could want to add to their colonial presentations.
Another Jas. Townsend employee.
Click Here to visit their site.

I think what I enjoy most about shows like this is the fact that I am surrounded by people with the same mindset. And we can teach and learn from each other. There is so much knowledge on military and social history here that one only needs to stop and listen to hear the wealth of information folks share with one another.
It also helps if you do a bit of research yourself before coming so you will have an idea of not only what you are looking for, but if it is truly period correct for the time you are portraying.
I do not have the name of this person's sutlery, but he carried, among other particulars, a great selection of pewter...
...and this wasn't even everything he had! But it was very period-correct, for I checked photos of originals to compare.
...finding that they were pretty close to those I've seen from the 18th century, I purchased a number of items, and here they sit on the top shelf of my early 19th century corner cabinet. (The pewter plate on the middle shelf I purchased a while back from Jas. Townsend)
And that's another thing I enjoy about this show: even if you don't purchase anything (though that could be pretty difficult to do with all of the great traditional items available), it is still fun to walk around and speak to the vendors and other reenactors. Lucky for me, however, I had put aside a little money I earned at Christmas time specifically for this occasion, which was how I could afford the pewter.

~Jewels Victoriana~
And here we have another jewelry vendor - one who has done work for Mrs. Lincoln herself! Well...kind of - - - ! 
She, too, sells top-notch period-correct items.
(HERE's her Facebook page)

The variety of vendors at the show was remarkable, selling virtually anything and everything a living historian would need to begin their time-travels to the non-electric period.

And the people you meet
There were artisans honing their skills and willingly able to answer the many questions people threw their way.
Truly a "living history show:"
Here we have a colonial woman working her loom.

Tanning hides - a necessity knowledge out on the frontier. Either that or have items to trade!

The tinsmith (you saw his product earlier in the post) repairing my Old North Church lantern.

Great period fiddle music - and you can purchase this man's CD's to enjoy the sounds of the past in your home or car.

The following photos are pretty much random shots I took as I roamed about the three halls filled with vendors. You see, though vendors are required to dress period, of which I am in full agreement with this rule, many paying customers who attend the living history show like to dress in clothing of the period they represent as well. I usually choose to go modern for no other reason than, well, just because...
But for those who enjoy dressing, most seem to do a phenomenal job.
Just look...
A British Soldier and his wife

I thought this colonial family looked great. I remember when my own daughter was almost this young and we dressed her in Civil War clothing.

My friend Lauren (on the right) and a few of her friends did an exquisite job in their presentation.

Remember the couple who owned The Dressmaker's Shop way up at the top of this post? Well, this is their son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter in their Regency finest.

Another finely dressed colonial gentleman. I am not sure if this is a military uniform or civilian, but either way, it looks darn good.

I can see this couple living in the fine house known as the Giddings House (in Greenfield Village)...
...a beautiful house built in the mid-18th century

And, finally, we have a more modestly dressed young lady of the same period.

You know, we are quite lucky here in Michigan to have not only the many occasions to actively participate in our living history hobby, but to have such fine opportunities to purchase quality items to help us in our time-travel travels. Between reenacting the colonial period and the Civil War era - as well as perform with my period vocal group Simply Dickens - I will be in period clothing nearly half of the weekends in 2016! That's a lot of time spent in the past, wouldn't you say?
Ah, but, that's the way I am - that's why I'm known as Historical Ken.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Until next time, see you in time.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Why Read About History When You Can LIVE History? Photographs That Bring the Civil War Era to Life

It's mid-March here in Michigan and the feeling of spring is in the air. But it's not yet reenacting season in these parts. Yes, we've had a run of beautiful weather - mid-40s through mid-60s for over a week now - but because we never know what the weather will be like this time of year, there are no reenactments held until the usually more dependable month of May. I've been able to do a few little wintertime extras here and there, such as A Night at the Museum, visiting the (indoor) Henry Ford Museum, and even period dress meetings, and these little asides do wonders to help me through this tough season. But I am biting at the bit for the time when I can be amongst many other living historians of the same ilk, surrounded by history and bringing it to life.
So I have been spending some of my time journeying through the past - my past - or, I should say, my reenacting past via the many many photographs I have in my collection. And as I skimmed through these pictures, there were a few that really stood out and caught my eye and gave me a flood of memories.
Or they gave me that certain aura...or ambience maybe, for many also seem to have a distinct feel to them; more often than not, the images I chose to present here are like "scenes from the past" meant to evoke a sort of peering through a time-travel portal rather than posed likenesses along the lines of a tintype.
The few I chose here represent some of my favorites.
I hope you like 'em, too!
Historic Fort Wayne
My wife and I bringing the past to life with a little help from our friends...

Charlton Park in Hastings, Michigan 
I am so very lucky to have a historic house at this event that I can call "my home." Yes, it's true - this mini-open-air museum allows me and a few others to utilize the 1840s Sixberry House as if it belonged to us. Of course, we treat it with all of the respect it deserves.
Part of the scenario in previous years was showing the Post Office I ran out of our home. This was a common practice in small towns in the mid-19th century. 
The room seen here is where I keep the local mail:
I have to thank the good people of Charlton Park for allowing me and my friends to use the historic 1840 Sixberry House in such a way. I am honored to be allowed to do so.
Charlton Park, Hastings, Michigan
My real wife really doesn't care for 1st person/immersion (though she will do it in a pinch when needed), so a few of us have formed a reenacting family. And that's what you see in this picture: from left - my "sister," my "wife," and my "mother-in-law." We all work very well together in creating a scene that will help draw visitors into our world of over a hundred and fifty years ago. 
Yes, we do our best to stay in 1st person the entire time. 

Charlton Park, Hastings, Michigan
My real-life wife & I, along with our daughter have recreated suppertime 1862 with a little help from our friend, Carolyn, who has portrayed my wife's sister, and Kristen, who has become our eldest daughter. And there you see a servant girl. Yes, she really does work during our reenactments:

Carrie has done such a fine job as our servant girl that others have attempted to steal her away. But she is a devoted worker and, thus, stays with us. 

Charlton Park - Hastings, Michigan
Using actual historic buildings to help bring the past to life always adds so much to the entire feel of the reenactments. It's like you are there, in a town in the past, rather than at a tent-city reenactment.
Here we find a few men enjoying a peaceful afternoon moment at the local barber shop. 

 Charlton Park - Hastings, Michigan
Kristen is a school teacher in her 21st century life.
She is also a teacher in her 19th century life where she really does give period-correct lessons to the children. And it doesn't get any better than doing so inside a school house from the 19th century.   

Charlton Park - Hastings, Michigan
Can you not feel the apprehension these two ladies must have felt as they watch a few military men gear up for a possible battle?

 Charlton Park - Hastings, Michigan
This is one of my very favorite of all living history photos that I have taken. 
After the battle had ended, the civilian townsfolk joined the doctors and nurses to help care for the wounded and try to identify the deceased.
This is the way battles should end at reenactments instead of the ridiculously silly "the dead may rise" comment usually used. Showing the modern audience that even though the battle had ended, the after effects lingered on, is just as important as the battle itself.
I am very proud I was able to be a part of this scenario.

Charlton Park - Hastings, Michigan
You've read about it in history books and now you can actually see how the aftermath of the battle continued in nearby towns as the wounded convalesced in one of the local churches.

Greenfield Village
A fond farewell to our local Boys in Blue.
We did a scenario where the local military accepted a number of Confederate prisoners to take to Elmira prison. Though there were not very many modern visitors around to watch the action, it was received well by those of us who took part.

Greenfield Village 
Military members of the 21st Michigan Volunteer Infantry.
Well, except the two men on the right. They are very good friends who helped us out in a scenario.

Greenfield Village
Sue King Black, Gettysburg, Friday June 26, 1863: "I had a Union apron, but lent it to Mary Miller at Boyers, but the Rebs got it when they ransacked the Boyer's house."

Greenfield Village 
When I saw Mrs. Geyman standing as you see her here next to the 1831 Ackley Covered Bridge, I quickly whipped out my camera to snap what looked to me to be almost a real-life painting.

 Greenfield Village
When the cavalry comes to town, the horses need a place to stay. Next to a boarding house is as good a place as any.

Greenfield Village 
At the Susquehanna Plantation originally from Maryland.
I enjoy the 'southern feel' of this photograph.

 Greenfield Village
The formal ball at Lovett Hall.
The good folks at Greenfield Village throws a ball for the reenactors every Memorial Weekend. 

Greenfield Village 
I followed my three friends here purposely for photo opportunities. I wasn't let down. This one near the 1831 Ackley Covered Bridge is one of my favorites.

Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
Over ten years ago, Crossroads used to have a Civil War event. With the dirt roads, log cabins, and rural small-town feel, it was the perfect spot to show this important time in our nation's history.
Unfortunately, due to the fact that the person who runs the entire parks system of Genessee County, including Crossroads Village, does not understand history, the event is no longer around. 

Crossroads Village, Flint, Michigan
Because of the authenticity of the lay out of Crossroads, the event was very popular for both soldier and civilian.

Crossroads Village, Flint, Michigan
The Rebs kept marching on. 
Doesn't this look like the real deal?

Crossroads Village, Flint, Michigan
And the battles themselves were very realistic as well and gave the visitors quite a history lesson. But to this day the person in charge of Genessee County Parks refuses to allow anything that might even have the shape of a gun, much less a battle, on the grounds.
Well, you know, guns had nothing to do with the formation and the keeping together of our Nation now, did it?

Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
Back in 2010 I took part in a civilian-oriented event, where we threw a big welcome home ceremony for our boys in blue who were on leave for a weekend. There were speeches, games, and a picnic, among other activities. We made very accurate and authentic looking townsfolk during this event.

Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
It was very patriotic, and the visitors repeated over and over how much they enjoyed having us there. I was told our event was the number two event for Crossroads that year, second only to Thomas the Train. See? There is room for everything!
It was also mentioned quite often by visitors that they hoped a full Civil War event - battle and all - would take place.
Alas...not at this time... 

Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
No guns - just the men in their Union Blue uniforms. The next year we were asked back to recreate our scenario...but without the soldiers.
*sigh* They just don't get it...
By the way, Citizens' Companion magazine liked this picture I took so much of a wife saying goodbye to her husband that they put it on the cover of their Sept/Oct. 2010 issue:

I was pretty darn proud!

 Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
The realism one saw at this event, whether a visitor or participant, just made one feel as if they stepped back in time.   
And isn't that the point of such a place?

Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
And it's because the grounds of Crossroads have a very authentic Victorian feel to them, that nearly every summer a few of us will still dress period and venture out to the place to take in the historic presence.
I wish they would allow me to run Crossroads Village instead of someone who wants to make it into a children's playground.
Silly people.

Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
So, while we were creating our own type of visitor event, our domestic servant, Carrie, fell right into her role during our visit.
That's shows just how good she is!

Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
Carrie, really, we are just visiting. You do not have to pump for water to clean up the dishes.

Crossroads Village in Flint, Michigan
My daughter on a horse at around six years of age.
Ah, Crossroads, ye really don't know what ye are missing...

Waterloo Farm in Grass Lake, Michigan
As mentioned earlier, Kristen often portrays my daughter during our scenarios. As part of our backstory, my wife and I only had two children - both girls - and because there were no male children, I raised my eldest, Kristen (Christine) to do men's work. 
Here she is helping me to mend a fence. Yes, she really did help me out here during an autumn living history dinner at Waterloo Farm.

Waterloo Farm in Grass Lake, Michigan
We stayed late into the evening on this same day, and my two "daughters" (Kristen and Jillian) got the feel of what a pre-electric house looked like at night. There was no light switch to flip on a lamp to brighten the hall. Only the soft glow of the oil lamp.
It makes going up to bed quite a different experience.

 Waterloo Farm in Grass Lake, Michigan
The girls stuck close together as they walked down the dim-lighted staircase.

Waterloo Farm in Grass Lake, Michigan
Another year, another scene at Waterloo Farm.
When I was in the Michigan Soldiers Aid Society, we did a home remedies scenario. I spent the afternoon portraying a sick husband while my "wife" cared for me. And she really did sit by me for most of the time, wiping my brow and having me drink home remedy medicine from an invalid cup. 
We stayed in 1st person the entire time - this was one of my first times ever doing anything to this extent. It was a pivotal moment in me going from reenacting to living history.

Waterloo Farm in Grass Lake, Michigan
There was another time while at Waterloo Farm where we did a funeral/mourning presentation. No, it wasn't for me - I recovered from my illness, thank you very much! But we did have a coffin, mourners inside the house, and then a funeral procession outside. We then walked to the graveyard where a full funeral service was held. Again, this was an early high-mark in my evolution from regular reenacting to living history.

Waterloo Farm, Grass Lake, Michigan
And then there are the peaceful moments of a Sunday afternoon, with only the whrrr of the spinning wheel making any sound. 

Waterloo Farm, Grass Lake, Michigan
We also do an 1860s Christmas on the Farm presentation, where we try to show how farm families celebrated Christmas in a more simple manner than our city counter-parts.
This photo I took of my wife and our friend Jean also made the cover of Citizens Companion:

Yeah...I am pretty darn proud of this one, too!

Jackson, Michigan 
The largest Civil War reenactment in Michigan takes place in Jackson. There are times when there are a couple hundred soldiers on each side and the public gets a good hint of what a battle was like. 
 "When the terrific duel opened, (Lee) had all his artillery concentrated on that point from Seminary Ridge. It was such a duel as forced the sense of hearing, alone and unaided, to grope amid the thundering chaos, and sufficed to leave the mind almost dazed by its concussions. We could distinguish three distinct sounds in the roar of noise: first came the deep-toned growl of the gun (cannon), then the shriek of the flying shell, then the sharp crack of its explosion." Battle of Gettysburg from the memories of Henry Eyster Jacobs (July 3, 1863):

 Jackson, Michigan
They do a fine job for the battle - sometimes you can hear cries for help coming from wounded soldiers, just as described in some diaries: 
Again, from Henry Eyster Jacobs (Gettysburg, night time of July 1, 1863) - "I heard a wounded forsaken soldier crying in his soft southern voice, 'Water...water.' He kept calling, calling; and that solitary cry, its anguish uplifted in the pitiless truce of the night, racked the very heart. I fell asleep with his anguish wailing in my ear."

Walker Tavern - Brooklyn, Michigan
Yes! I caught the smoke coming directly out of the musket barrel! As my shutter speed is not the quickest, it takes me a dozen shots to get one like this.

Wolcott Mill, Ray Twp, Michigan
What we have here is a very realistic camp following laundress and her helper. The thing about this living historian is that she actually does reenactor's laundry and has bartered for her pay, which includes pies and other foodstuffs in exchange for having their laundry done "the old-fashioned way."

Wolcott Mill, Ray Twp, Michigan
No ipods, cell phones, tablets, or electronics of any kind - not a single luxury. And yet these kids don't stop playing from morning til evening.
Of course, if this truly were the 1860s, the kids seen here would have spent most of their day working alongside their parents.

Wolcott Mill, Ray Twp, Michigan
There's just something about a hoop-skirted woman with a gun that just looks so cool. I think the expression on her face just about says it all.

Wolcott Mill, Ray Twp, Michigan
I did not take this picture - my friend Lenore did - but to me it effectively depicts Rebels marching into battle. It almost has the feel of an original that has been digitally colorized.

Dexter, Michigan
My daughter and I got our tintype taken.
The tintype didn't come out near as well as I had hoped, but it still is great to have this moment in time showing when and how our image was taken.

Historic Fort Wayne, Detroit, Michigan
Another location that will allow a few of us to utilize their old Victorian homes is at Historic Fort Wayne in downtown Detroit.
Just as we do at Charlton Park, we sometimes create a family scenario and will remain in 1st person, while other times we just enjoy being surrounded by history while in period clothing. Either way, it can make for wonderful photo opportunities.

Historic Fort Wayne, Detroit, Michigan
Christmas at the Fort, showing how city folk celebrated Christmas in the 1860s, is easily in my top five of favorite events, for we go into full immersion here. This initially was difficult to an extant because this was the first time we had to create a family of the 1860s from scratch, even though none of us are actually related. But we have worked together in this capacity for years so now it comes very naturally for us.
This event never fails to bring the magic of Christmas past to life very effectively.

Historic Fort Wayne, Detroit, Michigan
In the photo here I am sitting next to my 'reenacting wife' while reading aloud Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" by the light of an oil lamp.

Port Sanilac, Michigan
A real living history event. That's what I like about Port Sanilac - we can do whatever type of scenario we want, for it's "ours" - that is, we are the host unit, therefore whatever we decide to do, we do. We've recreated Gettysburg, 1st Bull Run, and a county fair. And, for the most part, we do this in a 1st person manner.

Port Sanilac, Michigan
My wife and I on our farm.
Well...not really...I mean, yes, the woman in this picture really is my wife, but, no, we don't live on a farm. But it kind of gives that impression, doesn't it?
What I really like about this photo are the foreboding clouds that seem to add to the mood of the picture. In fact, every time I see it, it reminds me of the old country song by Judy Rodman:

There's a room in my father's house
Full of old heirlooms
Grandma's Bible, Grandpa's trunk
To a total stranger no more than junk
The closest ties I ever knew
Until I met you

There's a barn on my father's farm
Built with hardwood beams
Sewn by hand to stand the test of time
Cedar dowel pins in Southern pine
The closest thing to strength I knew
Until I met you

Port Sanilac, Michigan
I asked one of my friends to pose for a series of pictures depicting life in a log cabin, and this one ended up being my favorite. I can just feel her despair, loneliness, and longing as she takes a short break from her daily chores.

Port Sanilac, Michigan
Every picture tells a story, right? Well, I believe a book could almost be written with this picture.
The battles at our Port Sanilac event can be along the lines of Charlton Park and include the involvement of civilians. Right in the midst of the excitement of the battle during our Gettysburg reenactment, I happened to turn to see these two young girls hiding fearfully behind the skirts of their mothers. I fumbled for my camera, hoping nothing would change before I was able to snap the picture. I am so thankful I was able to get it! 

Greenfield Village
One of the very cool things about having period clothing is that you can do very cool period things in period places. Period. On July 4, 2012, a few of us wore our 1860s finest and visited Greenfield Village to enjoy this very American holiday. I did an entire blog posting on it with loads of pictures. The photograph here of us enjoying a picnic near an 1830s covered bridge and 'neath a weeping willow was one of the high points of this day. 

Greenfield Village
July 4, 2012: we also took a group picture at a house suitable to our fashion - the Firestone Farm, authentically and patriotically decorated. The farm presenters willingly joined us in having our images taken.

Jackson, Michigan
Here is a photo I wish I had taken but I didn't, and I do not remember who did, but I love it. 
This is my son Miles. He enjoys spending most of his reenacting time playing in the water in a sort of Huck Finn style. In fact, he kind of fits the Huck Finn/Tom Sawyer look, doesn't he?

Grand Ledge, Michigan
See you next time!

I could easily throw in another couple hundred pictures and consider each a favorite. Instead, maybe I'll do a part two sometime.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoyed traipsing through my reenacting past with me. And with the reenacting season here before you know it, there will be plenty of new/old pictures to share and show.
Until next time, see you in time.