Friday, March 31, 2017

The Citizens Forum of the 1860s Conference Was A Great Success!

Diligence pays off!
Well, she did it.
And she did it very successfully, I might add.
My friend and reenacting "daughter," Kristen, put together a Civil War era conference, and it was a great success, especially considering it was her first time doing something like this.
Heck! It would be considered a great success even if this was her tenth time putting this conference on. Yes, that's how good it was.
When Kris had found out back in early 2016 that the Harrisburg, PA conference would not take place in 2017, she was sorely disappointed, for she, being a teacher and all, loved the educational aspect of these conferences.  So, rather than just sit and complain about it, she decided to take things into her own hands and put one together herself.
Well...with a little help from her friends.
Actually, she got a lot of help from one friend in particular: Glenna Jo Christen.
And I know that there were others who were also there for her, but it was she - Kristen - who was the one who spear-headed this entire project; it was she who had a hand in each "pot," stirring up a collection of 1860s goodies for the many who want to continue to learn of the time period and improve their own reenacting impressions.
She had a full list on the itinerary including workshops for aprons and pineapple purses, exhibitions for 1860s wedding dresses in one room and warm weather wear for men in another. There were talks on Pregnancy in the 1850s and 1860s, original Civil War collections, Doll Basics, The Trial of Lincoln Conspirators, The History of Mourning Practices, 19th Century Entertainment, Making Young People Feel Welcome, and, my particular favorite lecture, Bringing the Past to Life.
Of course, there were vendors and historic artifacts exhibits, a fine lunch and dinner (or a fine dinner and supper!), and a Friday evening soiree held at the Historic Sawyer House, where many visitors from the conference wore their 1860s finest.
If a guest was bored, it was their own fault.
So, let's take a pictorial journey interspersed with Kristen's own words (and some of my own) to what we are now calling The First Annual Citizens Forum of the 1860s Conference:
The historic Sawyer House, built in 1873.
Guests were able to visit and tour the Italianate structure on Friday evening. 
Yes, that is a group of Civil War-era musicians on the porch playing the finest "orchestry music" in this part of the country.
From Kristen: "How can I even begin? We started planning a year ago, wondering about the future of civilian Civil War educational events, as so many have stopped or taken a break. Glenna Jo and I wanted a comfortable place to learn and grow, one where young people could interact with mentors to better the community as a whole. We decided upon Monroe County Community College, with a chance meeting at The Historic Sawyer Homestead that sealed the deal!"
Here are a few of the lovely ladies who are in the 21st Michigan. They attended the Friday evening soiree.
"I was so nervous during the weeks leading up to the event-what if I forgot something, or made a mistake? The answer was that both of those things happened, and our audience laughed through it with us. Every one of the speakers did a fantastic job. Conversation flowed comfortably in the vendor area between sessions, and I found myself giggling at one of Mike Mescher's jokes, or gaping at one of Lucy's hairwork pieces with a crowd of friendly people around me. There was no shortage of awesome learning opportunities."
Mrs. Aldridge also looked particularly fashionable while wearing her 1860s finest 
as she visited inside the Sawyer Home.
"Perhaps my favorite comment about the conference was that people felt welcome and accepted. Being self-conscious makes it difficult to learn. This openness created an exchange of information and ideas that people could take home with them. With over 15 states represented, that's quite a reach! I can proudly say that I made several dozen friends over the space of three days. But alas, all good things must come to an end!"
Glenna Jo & Kristen giving a speech.
I believe this was the introductory speech,
 welcoming everyone to the conference.
"Over half of the attendees filled out a survey, and every one of them made me happy. Of course there is plenty of room for improvement, like adding more signs or giving access to even more sessions. I have a year to work out the kinks that come with planning a first year event; learning is a journey, certainly not a destination. But all of the advice was positive and reflective of a conference that people want to see in the future."
Michael Mescher gave an excellent presentation on the many ways that the mid-Victorians entertained themselves. One such way was a contest called "Gander Pull." Now, I must warn you, this is a violent game, but it was pretty popular from what I understand: during a typical gander-pull, a live gander was tied upside down by its feet to a tree branch. Farmers then greased the gander’s neck, and riders on horseback would pass the tree at a full gallop, attempting to decapitate the bird and thereby win the game.
How about that at your next reenactment?
I think not - - !! 
Now he also spoke of more genteel games and entertainments as well, but I thought Gander Pull might grab your attention.
No...please do not try this. I don't need to get hate mail.

"Bringing the Past to Life."
When Kristen asked me last year if I would be a speaker at her 2017 Citizens Forum of the 1860s Conference, I was surprised. Shocked, even.
Who am I?
She then explained how my passion for living history - my practice of 1st person and immersion - has had such an affect on other reenactors, not only in the metro-Detroit area but, due to my Passion for the Past blog, to many others across the country, she felt I should speak on the topic to interested guests who are not quite sure what this "bringing the past to life" stuff was all about.
I was honored.
But, I explained to her that it was more than just me; I have an amazing group of willing participants who join me in these time-travel excursions - people of whom I could not do it anywhere near as authentic if they were not there with me.
And Kristen, as part of that amazing group of willing participants, knows this.
So I asked the two people who I work with the closest in this capacity: Larissa and Jackie.
~Jackie, myself, and Larissa~
We bring the past to life!
Initially, there was some hemmin' and hawin' on whether or not we should dress period during our lecture. After a bit of discussion, 1860s fashion won out, and we're glad we did, for it seemed to give us that air of authenticity. 
Not only that but we were the only lecturers dressed in period clothing! 
The two ladies willingly took on the challenge, and the three of us worked out our ideas, wrote out an outline, filled in the gaps, rehearsed and timed our presentation.
Bringing the Past to Life:
Though most attendees knew the definitions 
of each type of reenacting stye, there were a 
few there that were new to the hobby who did not.
Now they do!
And then...we found out we were to be presenting at the same time as another would be speaking about 1860s mourning customs.
Being aware that Victorian mourning is very popular these days, we were a bit nervous and figured we'd be lucky to have five guests in our room.
Were we wrong!
Look at all the folks who came to hear our little lecture!

We were pleasantly surprised at the amount 
of guests who came to see us - I believe 
every chair was taken with a few more brought in! 
This photo only shows half of our room - - -
We covered quite a bit of ground in our hour time-slot. We actually could have gone on for a lot longer, but we made sure to hit the key points.
Needless to say, our presentation went very well - my gosh! The compliments we received!
We were truly honored...
The only thing that would have made it perfect? If Jackie had her "speaker" badge. Alas, it was misplaced... 
Poor Jackie.
Her "speaker name tag" was nowhere to be found.
Obviously, Larissa was more empathetic than I.
Here, how's this: "Poor, poor Jackie."
Is that better? 

Taking notes during one of the seminars.
Yes, there were more seminars but I either was not there at that particular time, or I was visiting with other reenactors, or I was preparing to speak myself.
But I've heard so much positive from those who did attend.
And then there were vendors!
Michael Mescher, owner of Ragged Soldier Sutlery, had his "store" of 19th century entertainments available for sale.
Plus, he had a large supply of chocolate powder made from a colonial recipe.
Yeah...I bought a large package...
Kim Lynch, proprietor of the Dress Maker's Shop.
This gentleman represented Sullivan Press.
I have purchased numerous items from Sullivan Press in years passed and have found their product to be of museum quality.
Replicated period jewelry for sale...

Samantha, proprietor of ReproDolls.
She collects originals and then replicates them.
What a unique item, eh?

Kristen's originals

And there were Original dresses from the 1860s, courtesy of Glenna Jo.
Enlarged versions of original CDVs owned by Bill Christen were on display. This really gives one the opportunity to see, up close, details that are almost hidden in their original smaller sizes.

Saturday also found us enjoying a wonderful luncheon and a spectacular chicken dinner.
I can drink this cranberry juice because it's from 1865!
At least, that's what it stated on the wrapper - - 
Man! Cranberry juice tasted so much better back then...

Here are just a few of the positive reviews from the survey handed out to the guests:

"Kristen's hair was very pretty Saturday." (I had to include this one!)

"I like that there was a wide variety."

"It was fantastic. Great Job. People were so kind and helpful. I loved it!!"

"Thanks to Kristen and Glenna Jo for all of their hard work. Overall this conference was good. I will be returning in the future."

"I enjoyed the information, as well as the presentations. The speakers were knowledgeable, personable, and awesome."

"I really liked learning about men's clothing, as that is an area I am lacking in but want to learn more."

And even pre-teens gave their input, too. "Paper Dolls!" was one suggestion. 

Well, there you have it! My hat is off to Kristen, Glenna Jo, and all who played a part in making the Citizens Forum of the 1860s Conference the success it was. It does take lots of time, effort, time, helpers, time, research, and time.
And guess what?
As I hinted earlier in this posting, this was the first know what that means, right?
Yup - more's a-comin'! You see, I have inside information: mark your calendar for March 23-25, 2018.

Thank you, Kristen, for all you've done and for allowing Larissa, Jackie, and myself to play a part in your success. As I said, we were honored.
Oh! And thank you to Larissa Fleishman and Elizabeth Aldridge for allowing me to use a few of their pictures along side my own to accent this posting.
I certainly appreciate it!

Until next time, see you in time.


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Kalamazoo Living History Show 2017: A Reenactor's Paradise

"Is that a real fire?"
"Are you really going to eat that?"
"Aren't you hot in those clothes?
These are probably the top three questions that we, as reenactors, get asked by visitors, wouldn't you say?
But there is another question I do get asked quite frequently:
"Where do you get your 'old-time' clothing (or, ahem, costumes) and historical accessories?"
Yep...that query certainly is brought up often. 
I also hear now and again that many reenactors are leaving the French & Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, and the Civil War to head forward in time to the 1940s and World War II. I have been told that people aren't interested in bringing the distant past to life, that it takes too much time, work, and research to do so.
The smallest of the three halls
Well, judging by the upwards of 10,000 living historians who made the trek through rain, sleet, and snow to the Kalamazoo Living History Expo, I would say the reports of the death of reenacting pre-20th century America are greatly exaggerated.
From where I live just north of Detroit, it's almost a three hour drive to the city of Kalamazoo where the living history show is held. Nearly 300 of the finest artisans and vendors of pre-1890 clothing, supplies, and related accessories and crafts from throughout the United States and Canada come together to sell their wares to those who practice the art of living history. Most of the items found at this exposition centers from around the French & Indian War era (1754 - 1763) up through the time of the Civil War period (1861 - 1865) and everything in between, and all of this takes place inside three very large halls/rooms.
My friend, Susan, and myself.
Susan is new to the colonial period,
but seems to be enjoying the period
quite a bit!
Since I have most of what I need for reenacting the 1860s - I've reenacted the Civil War for over a dozen years - my purchasing priorities tend to be more 1770s. 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.
Hence, the reason why over 10,000 people attend every year.

It's been a few years since I've worn my period clothing here, but a friend kind of convinced me to do I did.
I received many kind comments, and even a few tips, of which I am always grateful for, as long as they are given in kind.
The other reason why I wore my colonial duds was to break in my new shoes. And break them in I did - oh yeah, my dogs were barking after three and a half hours of being on my feet and moving throughout the three giant halls of vendors.
Since I have two complete sets of colonial clothing, I can spend more time looking for items either to accent my presentations at reenactments or maybe find a cool "museum piece" for my own home decor.
And that's what I did this year: I found what I think will go perfectly with my replica of the lantern "shewn" in the steeple of the Christ "Old North" Church - - - - -
As I moved along the rows and of tables filled with literally thousands of different reenacting collectables, I came across this collection of powder horns. 
Now, even though I do not own a musket from the Revolutionary War period, I admire the "art" and love the historic presence of the powder horns.
One in particular here caught my eye - - - 
Can you guess which one...?
Here is the original  William Waller's Powder Horn
Bearing several popular slogans of the War of Independence, including LIBERTY or DEATH, APPEAL TO HEAVEN, and the sobering KILL or be KILLD, this engraved powder horn was carried by a Virginia rifleman named William Waller, who was captured by British and Hessian forces after the fall of Fort Washington near New York City on November 16, 1776.
(picture from the Museum of the American Revolution, to be opened on April 19, 2017)

And here is the replica that I purchased:
Not bad, eh?
I know it's not exact, but it is as close as any out there. I am very satisfied with it and, like I said, believe it will go well with my Christ "Old North" Church "lanthorn" that was made for America's Bicentennial celebrations in 1975 and 1976:

The duplicate lantern made in 1975 by the Concord Historical Society.
It's almost like I am creating my own mini-museum of early American history!
Why, yes, I am a proud patriot...and love having my history surrounding me.
Here is a little history of this once so important musket accessory:
the powder horn was a container for gunpowder, and was generally created from cow, ox, or buffalo horn. The wide mouth was used for refilling, while the powder was dispensed from the narrow point. The horn was typically held by a long strap and slung over the shoulder. The inside and outside of a powder horn were often polished to make the horn translucent so that the soldier would be able to see how much powder he had left.
The use of animal horn along with nonferrous metal parts, such as tin, aluminum, copper, nickel, or even an alloy such as brass, ensured that the powder would not be detonated by sparks during storage and loading. Horn was also naturally waterproof and already hollow inside.
"KILL or be KILLD"
In America, a number of period horns dating from the French and Indian Wars throughout the American Revolution and beyond, have been preserved in private and other collections. Many decorated examples shed light on the life and history of the individuals that used them, and can be classified as a medium of folk art. 

Powder horns were often decorated usually
with engraving, making a form of scrimshaw, 
which was sometimes supplemented with color.

It was the father of the man you see here who made the
replicated powder horn I purchased. Since the father was 
not at the show, I photographed the son in his stead.

So, now that we have seen and learned a bit about powder horns, let's check out the guns that were not only for sale, but were also being made right there on the spot:
I did not have the time (or motivation) to ask questions about making a gun. It was just too busy and there were so many vendors to visit in the short time I had. But, if you use your imagination, you can see the wood here have all been carved into the general shape of a gun...

Here we see the metal barrels to be inserted...
...and this photo shows that process being done.

Looking more like toys here rather than the real McCoy, the muskets are not quite ready for the market just yet.

Here we see the flint-lock mechanism.

And, finally, some finished pieces.

Just like reenacting events aren't only about the wars, neither was the Kalamazoo Living History Show.
I always enjoy seeing artisans working their craft...
...including a weaver working on a loom.

Hides were tanned.

Here we have a spinner.
As my wife is a spinner, I am used to seeing this craft,
but I wanted to get a picture of the wheel.

Meet Richard Heinicke the Blacksmith.  
For all your open-fire cooking needs, he has quality product
and is good for most pre-20th century events.
You can find Richard at many of the major 
reenactments of both eras.

This guy was making axes, knives, and other such items out of stone.

Tinsmith Dennis Kutch was taking a bit of a break when I was in his area, but I normally see him tapping and cutting and bending tin into all sorts of period items of importance.
His business, Kutch's Tinsmithing and Blacksmithing from Indiana (e-mail:, is always at the Kalamazoo show.
And he has quite a collection for sale:
Dennis will sell some of his items through such places as Jas. Townsend & Son
Everything you see here Dennis Kutch made by hand.

This artisan was one of the most fascinating to me - he was making Windsor-style chairs! Oh, if I could only afford one, but just knowing they were all made by hand tells me the price is worth it.

I almost bought a new cocked (tricorn) hat. I watched this woman fold and tie a wide-brimmed hat into the famous 18th century style, but, alas, it was a bit too large to fit properly on my head.

And then there are the vendors. I must apologize - I really should have taken pictures of more of the sellers but I was also looking for items to purchase, too!
All three halls were packed with both buyers and sellers!

There were, of course, cocked hats for sale, but I wanted one that was brown like the woman in the picture a couple above this one was making.

I'm no judge of lady's bonnets, but these look to be Regency or a bit later to me.

Here I am with the owner of Jas. Townsend & Son, a wonderful place to purchase clothing and accessories for the reenactors of 18th and early 19th century America.
Here, check out some of their great videos on replicating early American life:

The young lady on the left is Alicia who owns LBCC Historical 
(a period apothecary, cosmetics, and skincare shop). 
She's wearing a 1780s Italian gown. 
The woman in the middle is Amber, and she owns Virgil's Fine 
Goods (a Georgian and Regency accessory shop). 
Her gown, like the lady on the right, seems to be the 
fashion of the 1810s (Regency era).

There wasn't much that a living historian could not buy here. Some vendors carried a variety of items, as you can see here.

Period dolls amidst everything else.
Though you will find a few items that may be "out of time" here and there at the different sutlers, most are pretty on when it comes to the product they have for sale.

We can't leave out the Civil War; here is the place that many consider to be the best of the best when it comes to 1860s clothing, fabric, and accessories: 
The Dressmakers Shop.
Kim and Jim Lynch, the proprietors, are some of the nicest people in the business as well as in the reenacting community.
They can be contacted at the website HERE

One of the nice things about going to the Kalamazoo Living History Show is meeting up with friends one hasn't seen all winter long:
My friends, Steve and Angie, are Civil War reenactors 
who have chosen to take on an additional era. 
You see them here dressed as mid-to-late 18th century frontier folk

Here I am with my friend Sandy. I have known 
her for over a dozen years, but as an American 
 Civil War reenactor, not colonial. However, she 
also, at times, reenacts the mid-1700s as well. 
Since we were both in clothing of the 18th century 
for the first time ever together, I had to get a 
picture of us.
By the way, check out my new "straight last" shoes!  
I recently purchased them from Fugawee...
The following information about my new shoes comes from the website of Fugawee:
According to their site, in 1757-58 a British army was on its way to attack the French stronghold of Fort Duquesne, later known as Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  
Delayed by the weather, they established winter quarters at the Fort. A nearby creek was used as a refuse dump, and a flash flood in January or February, 1758 deposited a load of clay that sealed the contents of the dump for two hundred years.  
In 1958 the dump was discovered and opened. Among other things, a great number of shoes and shoe parts were discovered. Units of that British army had recently been stationed in Bermuda, Ireland, Britain, Philadelphia and Charleston. Their shoes had been made in all of those places, reflecting the supply system of the British Army at the time. 
The discarded shoes showed fourteen toe styles, an equal number of tongue styles and latchets (straps) from 3/4 inch to 3 inches in width. There were no boxy square toes found there. 
From the original list, (Fugawee) selected the most common or predominant features. The result was a round-toed straight-last shoe with a low or moderate heel, short tongue and latchets of 1¼ inches.  
That is the shoe Fugawee makes. It can serve for a military or everyday shoe from about 1740 to 1800. 
In Colonial days, leather was brought to thickness by "currying" or scraping over a wooden beam.

Now, I have researched this story outside of the Fugawee web site and have found it to be true, which is why I chose this particular style of colonial footwear.
But that's not to say there were not fine shoes sold by the vendors here in Kalamazoo - - it's all preference, you know?
There were plenty of colonial/RevWar era shoes
and buckles. In fact, I saw more shoes here 
this year than last year.

Here we see members of the King's 8th and the 1st Virginia, mixing and mingling.
Native American Indians were 
represented as well. I do not know 
which tribe this man belongs to, and, 
with all of the excitement at the show, 
I did not think to ask. But he certainly 
gives off a superb impression.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I am often asked where I get my period clothing and accessories. Most people do realize what we wear does not come from a costume shop. They can usually see that the quality is much higher.
Of course, I do have a variety of answers: the internet, from sutlers at the reenactments, from very talented family and friends, or...from the Kalamazoo Living History Show.
I look forward to attending this annual event, which takes place the third weekend in March, and begin stocking my money away months before. Sometimes I have items in mind I want to get while other times, like this year, I go and walk around to see what catches my eye. You saw above my main purchase - the very cool powder horn replica.
Plus there are books of all eras, glassware, knives & hatchets, jewelry, furniture, buttons, fabric, patterns, historians willing to help you out...
If I had one suggestion, it would be for the clothing vendors to carry a larger variety of sizes and styles. Not everyone wears a size 58, you know.
And hats - more hats are needed. Particularly brown cocked/tricorn hats!
This aside (and it's a minor aside), the Kalamazoo show certainly is an event worth attending, for if you actively participate in bringing the distant past to life, I would highly recommend you saving your money to check it out, for I've never seen anything else like it.
Living history indeed!

And a bit of a fun ending to the day:
In my packed van of people, I was the only one dressed in period clothing. On the way home we decided to stop and grab a bite to eat at a burger place called Culver's near Battle Creek.
Of course, I was stared at by everyone inside the restaurant, but the girl taking my order acted as if I were in a t-shirt and jeans rather than in 1770s fashions. After placing my order, she asked if I would "like it for here or to go?"
I replied with, "I would like to eat it here please. It would be difficult for me to eat while riding my horse."
Without skipping a beat, she replied, "I bet it would."
Ha! I love this hobby!

Until next time, see you in time.