Who shall I say is calling?
Finding people - the right people - is of utmost importance when trying to bring the past to life. And that can be a difficult thing to do, especially if you take the 1st person/immersion path. Like-minded reenactors who share the same passion and have enough knowledge of the era in which you depict - those who can speak comfortably, as if they actually were
from another time - will make all the difference in the world. That means research, research, and more research.
This can be a difficult task. Many reenactors want nothing to do with this form of reenacting. I would venture to say most stay away from it. So finding the right people can sometimes be like searching for a hat in a haystack
- not as difficult as finding a needle in that same pile of hay, but you do have to do some searching. And once you find those you connect with, who have the same mindset as you (especially if your surroundings are historically accurate) consider yourself blessed, for it can open up an entire new/old world.
History come to life.
I found living historians with that very same mindset! Or, rather, we found each other.
Time to begin our journey to the past!
I have been very fortunate in that I've been 'working' with most of the same people in this capacity for a number of years now, and we just all seem to fit together like pieces of a historical puzzle. We know each others personalities, roles, and styles well enough to come off natural and be comfortable with each other, and that, too, can make all the difference.
Yes, it takes time - lots of time - but the end result is so well worth it.
This style of living history is, to me, one of the
major highlights during our reenacting season. And I appreciate very much that the good folks at Charlton Park has enough trust to allow us the use of their historic home year after year. And it's because of this allowance that we continue to try to make it better and more realistic each time.
Charlton Park, in case you are unaware, is a wonderful mini-open-air museum located in rural Hastings, Michigan. "Charlton Park
depicts more clearly than conventional museums the day to day life of the early inhabitants
of Barry County. The variety of old objects collector Irving Charlton amassed
over years during the mid-20th century enabled the creation (or
recreation) of a typical mid-Michigan village of the late 1800s to early
And now there are twenty five historic residences, businesses
and community buildings that were moved from throughout Barry County to create the
Because of Charlton's collection, preservation for future generations of a rich heritage will ensure future generations opportunities to witness the past in ways books cannot do.
And we, as living historians, get to bring it to life!
Please understand, we are by no means 'perfect' in this venture; we do make our mistakes, sometimes burst out in laughter in ways our Victorian ancestors would have been horrified, take photographs here and there (as 'stealthily' as I can and not in front of the visiting public), and well, let's face it, we're only 21st century people emulating the past the best we can. But we make a valiant effort that, for the most part, comes off in a realistic manner.
And that's what counts - the conscious effort made by all to do it right.
So, to give you an idea of our day at Charlton Park - -
It's July of 1861. We are a Maryland family who, since the election of Lincoln as President, have decided to align ourselves with the south - the Confederate cause.
|Here is my 'immediate' reenacting family: |
again, Larissa and I were husband and wife, but this year we had a
"new" daughter. As Kristen & Jillian had previous commitments, Amanda filled in and did a fine job for this, her first time out, especially
considering she was thrown into the wolves den (meaning she hadn't done
anything like this to this extent before).
As the story goes, my sister and mother-in-law were coming in by train and then by stage from Michigan to our local stagecoach stop, the Bristol Inn. The ladies of the 24th Michigan have taken to bringing this old beautiful building to life in much the same manner as we have with the Sixberry House.
|Here is the 1848 Bristol Inn |
photo of Bristol Inn courtesy of the Charlton Park web site
|...here is "our" home - the 1858 Sixberry House|
Our day began with preparations to venture to the Bristol Inn to pick up my sister and
|Mother and daughter prepare to head to the Bristol Inn stagecoach stop to pick up grandmother and aunt.|
But wait----what's this?
|Uh oh - Larissa noticed dust on our hall tree. It looks like our servant girl will be spoken to.|
As we entered town, a stop to get some sugar from the general store allowed us time to visit with the local townsfolk.
|Charlton Park has done a fine job in portraying the realism of a small 19th century village.|
|The local sheriff had arrested the man settin' on the steps of the barber shop. Not sure what the poor man did to warrant being put in chains, but, rest assured, he will be put in a hot cell until the circuit-riding lawyer comes to town next month! |
In the meantime...
|As we made our way back to the house with our newly arrived relatives, the military presence throughout the area was disconcerting. My sister Jacqueline (in yellow) was quite concerned at the sight of this.|
(photo courtesy of Mr. Steve Hainstock)
As a typical family of the early 1860s, we enjoy gathering together to tell stories about youthful events of long ago. Usually these narratives are quite humorous, for, since we are not actual
relations in our 21st century lives, the stories are made up and can go in any believable direction the author chooses. For instance, Jacqueline told Larissa of a story about me as a very young lad and how I fell through millpond ice one winter's day because on our walk to school I pulled away from her hand and ran from her. Oh yeah, she also told of how our father tanned my hide afterward.
Another time she spoke of when I was older, shortly before she married, and how I had a little bit too much 'spirits' one evening while at a local tavern. As I stumbled out of the bar I jumped on my horse, then galloped through town shouting "To arms! The British Regulars are on the march!" as if I were Paul Revere.
Oh yes, we all had a good laugh at her stories.
But I responded with a story of my own:
It was when Jacqueline was of courting age that a Mr. Bagley showed an interest in her. But our father would have nothing to do with this young man and forbid my sister from seeing him. Well, late one evening, Mr. Bagley showed up at our home and threw tiny pebbles at Jacqueline's bedroom window in hopes of getting her attention without a-waking anyone. Only it wasn't my sister's window he was hitting with those pebbles...it our father's!
Why, father came bursting out of the door, gun in hand, aiming and firing that old flint lock in the direction of Mr. Bagley, who was a-flyin' out of there like he had wings on his feet!
And that was the last we heard of ol' Pete Bagley.
Well, that was my tale from two years ago, and ever since Jacqueline has come up with numerous other youthful anecdotes about me, though I have not been able to find in my mind to think of another for her.
So this year I tried a different route: I came up with the idea to have, without Jacqueline's knowledge, Mr. Bagley show up at our door! And, yes, I did find someone willing to play the role in such a way that would be realistic and, more importantly, kept it a total surprise - Mr. Dan Conklin.
Imagine the surprise on Jacqueline's face when our servant announced, "There is a Mr. Bagley here to see Miss Jacqueline."
|Jacqueline was, in every sense of the word, dumbfounded that Mr. Bagley had showed up at our door!|
She was seriously speechless.
She became as flushed as a red rose, exclaiming, "I feel I have the vapors!"
Larissa and I were the only two 'originals' from when the story was first told, so we could not stop laughing for crying!
And neither could Jacqueline, by the way.
Through all of this, Mr. Bagley continued to speak and re-tell the pebble story as it happened from his point of view, all in a serious tone.
Folks, I can't recall laughing so hard in quite a while. We could not contain ourselves. This is one for the books, that's for certain!
Ahhh...victory was mine that day...!
Would you like to meet Mr. Bagley?
Well, here he is!
|After father chased Mr. Bagley off the property, he ran out of town and eventually became a surveyor.|
Hearing his stories of far off places as a surveyor allowed our imaginations to wander. I must admit, I have not been more than a few miles from this home so hearing of lands and people in the north and west stirred quite an interest.
|As Mr. Bagley regaled us with his own tales of life as a surveyor, we found he made it up to Michigan, within twenty miles of my dear sister's home! |
This day will be spoken of for years to come.
But Mr. Bagley wasn't our only visitor that day.
Our domestic servant announced that there was a Mr. Ira Kaufmann, a taylor, who would like to speak to us on matters that was of great concern.
Folks, one of the greatest parts about living history is learning from other historians - learning about historical details rarely mentioned in most other places and pretty much never brought up in school history classes.
On this day, my reenacting family found out quite a bit about the plight of the Jews who lived in Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.
We learned of General Order No. 11, which was the
title of an order issued by Major-General Ulysses S. Grant on December 17,
1862 to order the "expulsion of all Jews in his
military district, comprising areas of the aforementioned Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky." It was issued as part of a Union campaign against a black market in Southern
cotton, which Grant thought was being run "mostly by Jews and other
|Mr. Kaufmann, the gentleman on the right, told us of the extremity of the situation he and his fellow Jewish citizens were experiencing.|
Union military commanders in the South were
responsible for administering the trade licenses and trying to control the
market in Southern cotton, as well
as for conducting the war. Grant issued the order in an effort to reduce
Following protests from Jewish
community leaders and an outcry by members of Congress and the press, at
President Abraham Lincoln’s insistence, Grant revoked the General Order on
January 17, 1863.
During his campaign for the presidency in 1868, Grant claimed
that he had issued the order without prejudice against Jews, but simply as a
way to address a problem that certain Jews had caused.
~(Yes, I realize we were portraying 1861, but we included this situation for historical purposes as well as for a teaching moment for all who were within earshot)~
|The stories we heard confirmed for us that our alignment with the southern cause was a just one. |
Later in the afternoon, upon looking out our back window, we were surprised to find a regiment of Union soldiers camped out in our back yard!
|The sea of growing blue directly outside our back door|
As I was just one man, I chose not to stir the pot so I let them be. Fortunately, they did not stay long and left shortly after.
|Yankee soldiers continued to swarm throughout our area, however, and had set up tents and guard posts across the road from our side fence.|
After Mr. Kaufmann had left, we decided to take a stroll into town. We found our local citizens doing their best to not allow the soldier's presence to conflict with enjoying their activities.
Here you can see a few of the ladies who run the Bristol Inn enjoying a game of croquet:
|Miss Jones tries her hand...and did very well.|
|Miss Mansfield seems to be enjoying herself immensely!|
|Why...look who it is! It's Mr. Kaufmann! He certainly is enjoying a much needed respite!|
|The weather on this day, though normally in an extreme heat, was very pleasant at 75 degrees and sunny.|
That is the Bristol Inn in the background.
But the sounds of the fife and drums with marching feet broke the pleasantry of the game - -
|Through our little "Maryland" town, the Yankees marched on.|
Do you see the young lady marching with the infantry in the picture below?
Why, that's Michigan's own Annie Etheridge (portrayed by the 21st Michigan's own Jillian)!
|Lorinda Anna "Annie"
Blair was born into a wealthy family on May 3, 1844, in Detroit, Michigan. She
was an only child, and her mother died when she was quite young. Soon
thereafter, Annie moved with her father to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The greater
part of her childhood was spent there.
|Mrs. Etheridge acted as what today would be
called a combat |
medic, providing immediate medical care to wounded soldiers,
often under fire during battle. In addition to nursing,
she served the regiment
as cook and laundress.
At the age of sixteen, Annie
married James Etheridge. When her father lost nearly all of his wealth, he
returned to Michigan. Annie remained in Wisconsin with her husband, but her
marriage failed. She returned to Detroit in 1861.
Annie had already been a nurse at a
Michigan hospital, and the Civil War provided her the perfect opportunity to
continue in that profession. Annie enlisted as a Daughter of the Regiment in
the 2nd Michigan Infantry. Daughters of
the Regiment were women who followed the army in a quasi-military capacity, did
chores in camp, and usually served as nurses.
|Jillian as "Gentle Annie"|
She wore a long sidesaddle skirt
with two pistols on her belt, and stayed just behind the lines. When she saw a
man fall, she dashed into the midst of the battle to lift the wounded soldier
onto her horse and get him to safety. Twice her horse was shot out from under
Once the fighting had ended, she
would scour the area to retrieve the soldiers who had been left on the
battlefield, and bound the wounds of those who had not yet been seen by a
surgeon, making them as comfortable as possible.
After the Battle of Antietam, the
2nd Michigan was transferred to Tennessee, but Annie elected to stay with the
Army of the Potomac and joined the 3rd Michigan Infantry Regiment, in which she
had many friends. With this unit, she cared for the wounded at the Battles of
Chancellorsville and Gettysburg.
In the summer of 1864, General
Ulysses S. Grant ordered all women to leave the Union camps. Annie was forced
to leave her regiment, but she did not go home. She joined the hospital service
at City Point, Virginia.
For her bravery under fire, Annie
was one of only two women awarded the Kearny Cross
She returned to Detroit with her
regiment after the war ended, and remained with them until they were mustered
out in July 1865.
Annie had received no pay for her
four years of service to the Union Army during the Civil War. In 1886 she
requested a pension of $50 a month. In 1887 Congress approved a pension of $25
Annie Blair Etheridge died in 1913
and received a veteran's burial in the Arlington National Cemetery.
This was Jillian's second time portraying a person in history. A couple years ago she was Ginnie Wade during our Gettysburg reenactment
up in Port Sanilac. Jillian has also portrays my daughter in some of our living history excursions.
(information about Annie Etheridge came from HERE
As mentioned earlier, we had a little 'extra' added in our scenario this year: the fine ladies
of the 24th Michigan, of whom you just seen playing croquet, "ran" the local tavern, and although we were not able to get it together for both of our
interpretations in such a way as we would have liked, for there was so
much going on, we were still able to visit the Inn for a short time.
|Welcome to the Bristol Inn. Would you like a piece of pie?.|
(photo courtesy of Samantha Mansfield)
|While running the inn, the ladies have found various ways to amuse themselves and their visitors, including book readings and parlor games.|
(photo courtesy of Samantha Mansfield)
The good ladies of the 24th Michigan and those of us in the 21st Michigan "play" well together and enjoy helping each other out to make the past come alive. We've worked with them in previous years including a fun Jackson scenario from a few years ago (click HERE
). I hope this venture continues and grows ever larger in its scope.
With our afternoon dinner meal over it was time to enjoy that popular summer treat, ice cream!
Making homemade ice cream has become an annual delight for us at the Sixberry House. One of the best things my wife and I purchased for reenacting - my actual
21st century wife - was a replica 19th century ice cream maker, including all of the necessary parts of an original: the bucket, canister, dasher, and hand crank.
A taste of days gone by.
|This year we added raspberries! Was it good!!|
|We each took a churn...er...turn at cranking the handle to mix the ingredients.|
Yep, the past was actually in color, as this picture shows, and not sepia...
|...but this is how the folks of the future will see us. We were lucky enough to have a circuit-riding photographer happen our way at the right time, and he took a carte de visite (cdv) of our summertime pleasantry.|
~If I could churn back time...~
There was time for one more photograph, which we had expertly tinted into color - it's very realistic looking, wouldn't you say?
|Our "daughter" did not return in time for our annual extended family photograph, so we had to take it without her.|
And there you have an account of the occurrences of our day at the Sixberry House in Charlton Park.
It takes quite a bit of effort to breathe life into the research that comes from history books.
But bringing the past alive in such a way is as gratifying as anything a living historian can do, and I so very much appreciate the time and effort that everyone here puts forth in the changing up of our lives in such a way as to create a new family. Imagine for a time having a different spouse, a different daughter, a different sister, a different mother-in-law - - a different life
. To make it all seem 'real,' it takes a unique combination of a totally different mindset, which is no easy task, and can be, at first, a little awkward. But the end result can be most pleasing in every way.
I sincerely thank everyone who continuously time-travels with me in such an immersion/1st person manner: Larissa, Jackie, Candy, Carrie, Amanda - - and, during other excursions: Carolyn, Kristen, Violet, Jillian, and Dave.
And then a few who add the extra flavor as 1st person visitors: Sandy, Guy, Brian, Dan, Vickie, and countless others over the years.
You all are the best.
And now for a few "extra" pictures that I think you might enjoy:
|This photo of Mrs. Root is actually one of my favorites that I took on this day. For some reason, however, I could not think of how to fit it into my story. |
No matter, it's here now for you all to enjoy as well.
|Mrs. Hansen is one of the top spinners I know of and includes antique spinning wheels in her presentations.|
There is plenty enough wool to spin to keep her busy from now until 1862!
|Dirty dishes done dirt cheap!|
The 21st Michigan's own Mrs. St. John keeps her area bright and tidy.
|I cannot even caption this photograph! Can you?|
I was called over to the bank by photographer Mr. Hainstock.
"I'd like to photograph a bank robbery, and was hoping you would be the banker."
Well, I didn't want to be some weak-spined office man so I added a little extra to the photo-shoot by taking the robber by surprise and grabbing his gun.
Yeah...turned out pretty good, eh?
|Won't you come in? |
Ha! I should have replaced the picture at the very top of today's
posting with the one here.
Hmmm...now what would you have thought had Agnes answered
the door in this way...?
Have a nice...day...heh heh heh
Charlton Park is one of the gems in our state that very few history nerds from out of the general area visit.
"It's too far!" they cry.
Really? It's only a little more than two hours from metro-Detroit.
"It's not very big - - not like Greenfield Village! It's not worth the drive for something that would only take an hour to see," they say.
you're right...it isn't very big. But what should that matter? As a student of history, you should visit as many local (and national) museums as possible, no matter the size. And seriously...an hour to visit 25 historic structures? If that's the way you think, then you are not
a student of history! Here's your chance to visit structures mainly
from the 19th century - all from rural Michigan: a barber shop, a
blacksmith shop, a general store, a hardware store, two homes (including
our own Sixberry House), a school, a printing shop, an inn, a saw mill,
a church...and more from over a hundred years ago.
Doesn't sound very small, does it?
they have numerous events throughout the year. Aside from our Civil War
Muster they also have long-bow shooting weekends, antique car and boat
motor show, and weekends celebrating the Fall Harvest, Hallowe'en, and
Yeah...you would do well to visit Charlton Park.
And, for out of towners, look in your own area.
I don't think you'll be disappointed.
to visit the Charlton Park web site
Until next time, see you in time.