Monday, May 16, 2016

The Civil War at Historic Fort Wayne: Every Picture Tells a Story

My son Robert at
Historic Fort Wayne
Here we are, once again, at Historic Fort Wayne, an actual mid-19th century fort built in downtown Detroit originally to fend off a possible attack by the British troops in Canada right across the Detroit River. As tensions increased along the Northern border defense that includes new forts from the east coast to the Minnesota Territory, diplomacy intervened. Before any cannon were even procured for the new fort, the United States signed a treaty with Britain that called for diplomatic solutions to their territorial disputes.
Because of this new relationship with the Britain and later Canada, Fort Wayne never saw a shot fired in anger. The peaceful location became a primary induction center for Michigan troops entering battle in every U. S. conflict from the Civil War to Vietnam. Among other duties over the course of it’s 175 year use as an Army base, it served as an infantry training station, housed the Chaplin school for a few years, and was the primary procurement location for the vehicles and weapons manufactured in Detroit during both World Wars. Also during WWII the Fort housed prisoners of war from Italy. 
And now Fort Wayne is a historic site. Tours are given, and reenactments of all sorts are held here throughout the year: Civil War, Revolutionary War, World Wars I and II, Vietnam, a Medieval encampment, Christmas at the Fort, Vintage Baseball games, and even night time ghost tours.
So...can you guess which three of the above listed events I take part in?
Yes, Christmas at the Fort (click HERE to see Christmas 2015), Colonial Days/Rev War (this event takes place in June, so stay tuned), and Civil War Days, which is what this week's posting is highlighting.
In previous years we have presented the Civil War here at Fort Wayne in September, but that was too soon after school started and many couldn't make it. Before that it was in July, though some say it was too hot to reenact that time of year. Now we're giving May a chance. Unfortunately, mother nature may not be pleased with this date, for we had wind, rain, snow flurries (Sunday), with obviously below normal temperatures.
Yeah...not the best weather to travel back in time in.
But we, as always, are real troopers and made the best of the situation. Of course, it helped greatly that a few of us civilians were inside a historic house the entire time...just sayin'...
By the way, I stole the title of this post from my favorite Rod Stewart album. I think it pretty much says it all:
Let's begin with my lovely wife and I.
It's pretty rare to see Patty at a reenactment without her spinning wheel, even when we're in a fancy house such as the one here.

Patty enjoys spinning her wool into yarn almost as much as she enjoys crocheting and knitting. There are times when I'll find her spinning in our back room at 4:00 in the morning because she couldn't sleep and this relaxes her.
She's a natural.
B&K Photography and Video

People are always very interested in this ancient craft, and one of the things she loves most about using her spinning wheel at reenactments is giving her presentation to the visitors. 
The folks here told her they have never seen someone spin "in person" before.

She works interactively with visitors, including (and especially) with the children, and allows them to experience first-hand a few of the different aspects of the spinning process (though here we have an adult who seems very interested). 
B&K Photography and Video
Here are the ladies I do living history with: the three of us work so well together in a family capacity that some folks believe we are who we portray!
We didn't necessarily stay in first person while we were at the fort on this day, by the way, but we did keep our conversations based in and around history. What I am most thankful for is that no one brought up any of the modern politics or the modern topsy-turviness of the 21st century. 

Even though the weather outside was frightful, visiting with friends/family inside was so delightful.

My daughter, on the right, doesn't remember her days before reenacting because she was only two years old when we began in this "hobby," and for her it's something we've always done. In fact, during her days as a kindergartener, she believed Abraham Lincoln was still our President!
As for the young lady on the left, this reenactment at Fort Wayne was her very first ever. She was so excited and seemed to enjoy herself very much.
This is only the beginning of her long journey to the past...

My daughter, looking as if she
could be Tillie Pierce, resident
of Gettysburg back during the
Civil War.
The actual Tillie Pierce in a 
photo taken roughly around 
the same time as the 
Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

Good friends always stop by for a visit.

Carrie, who normally portrays our servant girl Agnes,
came by for a visit as well. Here she poses on the 
front porch of our home with who could very well
be her father - but isn't.  He is the president of the
21st Michigan reenacting unit we belong to. 
B&K Photography and Video

 Don't let the spot of sun in the previous picture fool you, because the weather, however, was not the best ever, but we never let it prevent us from enjoying ourselves at a reenactment. 
Larissa and I took a cold walk to the Fort to visit the Union soldiers.
B&K Photography and Video

It's pretty rare for me to wear my cloak at a reenactment, except may at October's Wolcott Mill event or at Christmas time. And I certainly never thought I would need it in May! But, with temperatures low enough to give us snow flurries, I'm glad I brought it with me.
B&K Photography and Video

Inside the barracks, a few of the men were a little slower to muster...

All the comforts of home...
Actually, these men do stay inside the barracks during the reenactments, and in the evening many will keep it all period correct by way of candle and oil light, sometimes playing the songs of the day on fife or guitar, and discussing the war.

With the sound of the bugle, a few of the men awakened...

...and came down from the upper floors.
This photo sort of has a haunting feel to it, don't you think?

Johnny get your gun~~~
Johnny has gone for a soldier~~~
Huh! His name is Jim!

 Some of the men met outside of the barracks. 
The battle would begin shortly and they were organizing.
This is the very same fort where my father was inducted into the army during WWII. I wish he were alive today to tell me his remembrances of his time here.

Formed up and ready for battle.

As the boys marched off to battle, the ladies waved goodbyes.

As we followed the soldiers out of the star fort, the wind kicked up a bit, as you can see by the ladies' skirts.

Before the battle was to begin, Michigan's Governor Blair addressed the soldiers and gave him his blessing to help pull our divided country back together.

That's my son their in the middle. Like his father, he takes his living history seriously, as do most of the boys he reenacts with.
B&K Photography and Video

No matter how large or small the reenactment is, the men always give their last full measure to a pleased crowd.
B&K Photography and Video

 When I see something like this going on, especially at a smaller event, it makes me want to stand up and cheer, for it adds so much to the realism of the battle. And, just so you know, the ground was cold and wet. These guys really did give their all, as far as reenactors go.
B&K Photography and Video

~~Some of the Rebel dead~~
I don't know about you, but something that always drives me crazy is when I hear an announcer proclaiming for the "dead to rise" after a battle has ended. In my mind, that makes a joke out of war and of all those who died fighting. I feel that after the last shot had been fired, the civilians should come out to help the wounded, find a loved one, and cover the dead. That bit of realism is necessary, in my opinion, to show that war is serious business. 
B&K Photography and Video

A possible prisoner of war. It won't be long before this wounded soldier will be off to Elmira prison.
B&K Photography and Video

My hat is off to the souls who braved the March-like weather as they camped in their tents for the weekend. I am glad I live close enough to where I can just go home and sleep in my warm bed, although I know that Sue, here, keeps rather toasty with the wood stove her husband has set up for her in their tent.
B&K Photography and Video

You know, it felt so good to be wearing period clothing at a reenactment again. It's been so long for me - since last October's Wolcott Mill event (if we don't count our period dress Christmas celebrations).
Wait---I know what you are thinking: "Ken, what the heck are you talking about? We see you in period clothing all the time!"
Yes, it's true...I do wear my historical garments quite often during the so-called off months, but it's not quite the same as when they are worn at actual reenactments, you know?
B&K Photography and Video

I hope you enjoyed our little time-travel excursion to 1861 at Historic Fort Wayne. It really was a grand time for all of us who participated. In my opinion, if you are with good friends who all have the same passion for the past, then you are at the best event ever no matter what mother nature throws at you. Well, except for maybe a tornado, hurricane, or earthquake. But other than that... don't allow anything to ruin your fine time in the past.

That being said, there is one final thought I'd like to mention before I go - - I don’t know about you, but I’m so sick of all of the politics and hateful comments so-called "friends" throw at each other all over Facebook and elsewhere. Can we please keep our political opinions to ourselves while we are at the reenactments this year? If you feel the need to enlighten the rest of us with your insight on who we should vote for, do us a favor---don’t. Reenactments are not the place for it; this is our time to get away from that stuff. 
Thank you! 
PS I am proud to say that we didn't speak of modern politics once during this event. 

~ ~ ~

Many of the photos in this weeks posting were taken by my fine photographer friends, Beth and Kevin, of B&K Photography and Video. I appreciate their talent and for the allowance of me to use a few of their pictures here.
Yes, only a few - between the two of them they took over 600 photos!
Thank God for digital, eh?
The rest came from my camera.
Til next time, see you in time.


Sunday, May 8, 2016

Open-Air Museums in Michigan - Part 1: Mill Race Village

Mill Race Village:
"Sister, do you think we'll have many 
visitors to-day?"
"Why, I certainly hope we do, 
for visitors will make a blue day
quite grand!"
Continuously we hear of local historic structures slated to be torn down. And it's almost always for the same reasons: it's old, dilapidated, no use to anyone, we need a new parking lot, "progress."
In fact, I wrote a posting on this very same subject a few years back (Preserving History).
But there is a positive side as well: even though this crap continues to happen, I also realize that here in the metro-Detroit area of Michigan we are very blessed at the amount of historical preservation that has actually occurred.
And you can thank the Bicentennial in 1976 for much of it.
It seems that the 200th anniversary of the United States declaring Independence from England certainly speared quite a national pride in America's history, and not just on the east coast. Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing on throughout the following couple of decades, historic preservation seemed to become a national past time. Nearly every village, town, and city began to preserve their historic structures which then became a source of pride for the citizens. And one village in particular, Romeo, is almost 100% historically preserved, just as it was when built over a hundred years ago. And it remains as it has always been.
To add to this awareness of the past, the idea of creating open-air museums - a park-like area in which the local (and usually more prominent) historic structures were removed to - was a growing idea for many historical societies. I cannot speak for other states, but I can say that here in Michigan we have numerous smaller, more localized open-air museums. And they are fine places to visit to enjoy history in a more intimate setting.
So, what I thought I would do is spotlight a little of Michigan's history by posting the first in a series on our local open-air museums. Maybe it will hopefully entice metro-Detroiters - and even some folks from out of state - to experience the wonderful history we have here.
Now, I am not going to begin with the most well-known open-air museum we have in our state, Greenfield Village, for obvious reasons. I, instead, will highlight a few of the smaller historical museum villages that tend to be over looked by too many.

First up, let's check out Mill Race Village, located in the Detroit suburb of Northville. Mill Race was initially created back in 1972 by the Northville Historical Society and was built upon land donated to the City of Northville by the Ford Motor Company. Originally the site of the city's first gristmill (hence the name Mill Race), it is now home to 11 historic structures, all from the general surrounding area of Northville. Unfortunately, the original gristmill, built in 1827 - and its successor, built in 1847 - were razed nearly a hundred years ago. However, the 11 buildings now situated here have been beautifully preserved for future generations. Seven of the 11 are presented here:
Mill Race Village: New School Church
Built in 1845 as a Presbyterian Church, over the years was also used as a school, a township hall, and a Salvation Army barracks.
The Northville Historical Society was formed in 1964 to save this building from demolition. It was moved to Mill Race Village in 1972.

Mill Race Village: The 1890s Cottage House
This home was moved to Mill Race in 1976. I have no other information about it, only that it is "typical of the era."
Mill Race Village: The 1890s Cottage House

Mill Race Village: The 1873 Yerkes House
Built by William Yerkes, son of one of the earliest settlers in the Northville area. William's mother's name was Sarah Cady - and we shall see the Cady name spring up again shortly.

William Yerkes was an attorney, a probate judge, as the first village president of Northville. 

This nine room Gothic-style home was moved to Mill Race in 1975.

Mill Race Village: Hunter House
This is a classic Greek Revival home with half-gabled wings and was built in 1851 by Stephen and Mary Hunter.
The house was relocated to Mill Race Village in 1972.

The Hunter House is used as a museum, filled with furniture and other items typical of the mid-19th century.

The dining area of Hunter House

Mill Race Village: Wash Oak School
Moved to the Village in 1975, the Wash Oak School House was built in 1873 and continued in operation until 1966.

Mill Race Village: Cady Inn
Remember we spoke about Sarah Cady, mother of William Yerkes? Well, here's the connection! I read that she was the daughter of one of Northville's founders, who presumably built this inn around 1835. It was moved to Mill Race in 1987.

Dining area
Another area for dining.

Mill Race Village: J.M. Mead General Store
This was the last timber-framed constructed commercial building in downtown Northville and was built sometime between 1830 and 1850. It was rescued from demolition by the Northville Historical Society volunteers and reconstructed inside Mill Race Village.

Mill Race Village:
The beauty of Mill Race shines in the autumn.
Note the gazebo, built inside the Village in 1979.

Mill Race Village:
To see history, dirt roads can make all the difference in the world.

Mill Race Village:
A few of us visited Mill Race during Christmas time.
The scene could nearly be like a picture print by Currier & Ives, couldn't it? 

Mill Race Village:
The Cady Inn is a welcome of warmth for winter travellers.

Mill Race Village:
We participated in a small Civil War reenactment at Mill Race a number of years ago. What an excellent place for photographs.
Beautiful village, isn't it?
By the way, if you ever visit the metro-Detroit area - maybe with plans to go to Greenfield Village - please take some time to check out Mill Race Village as well. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.
(Click HERE for information on Mill Race Village)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The above is what can happen when a community cares about their past.
But please don't get me wrong - things aren't all peachy and rosy in the preservation world. Historic structures (and historic places such as battlefields) are being destroyed at an alarming rate, and it's we who must do what we can to prevent this from happening. Continued involvement, donations, and support to local historical societies is one of the best ways to do this.
Remember also that we as reenactors can do our part in offering to bring the past to life at these wonderful mini-bits of history.

Every little bit helps.

~Information about Mill Race Village came directly - even word-for-word in most cases - from the guide book information sold at their gift store.

(All photos in this post were taken at Mill Race Village)