Friday, December 15, 2017

Christmas at the Fort: Celebrating an 1860s Christmas

As living historian civilians, I really am not sure if we can call what we do at Christmas at the Fort 'reenacting.' I believe it might be more accurate to say we are actually celebrating an 1860s Christmas rather than 'pretending' to do so.
What would you call it when we are in a period-correct home and have created a family setting to spend the day participating in such holiday pastimes as decorating a small table-top Christmas tree, singing along to the ancient carols while the pump organ is played, visit our neighbors, play parlor games, spending the daytime hours in natural daylight, then candle light & oil lamp light as evening comes, and we all gather together in the dining room as our domestic servants serve us a fine repast of ham, green beans, potatoes, apple sauce, breads, pie, and other Christmas dinner delights?
In other words, even knowing the fact that we are not a real family of the 1860s, the way we respond and present ourselves very strongly gives off the intended impression.
Larissa speaks to the touring
visitors from the future.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer
In fact, the only hint of 21st century life is when the tour groups come through, and even then most of us are unaware of these ghosts of Christmas future, for only one from our group will step out to speak with them as to not disrupt our holiday celebration.
And, after about eight or so hours, the day is done, and we retire for the night (in other words, we all go to our own respective homes).
I would harbor to bet that our time in the past celebrating Christmas is pretty close to the way the people of our class who actually lived "back then" also celebrated.
You see, there is a core group of us who have come together in such a way that we have formed what could almost be called our own living history alliance of sorts. But it didn't start out that way. My first real foray into being a part of a 1st person family-and-friends scenario took place back in December of 2009 at my very first Christmas at the Fort where I was invited by Larissa to portray a father writing letters to his son off fighting in the south.
The following year, Christmas of 2010, we made our second attempt at presenting as an 1860s family, only this time it took place at Waterloo Farm, and it involved Patty & I (yes, Patty!), as well as Larissa & her mother (as our neighbors), and one or two other participants. Though Patty does not enjoy 1st person one bit, it all went very well and grew from there, for we knew we were onto something good. It was in 2012, again at Christmas at the Fort, that we really got down to period business and created what was to become our 1st person living history family as we know it to be today. As I said, my wife Patty does not - absolutely abhors - doing 1st person. But she knows I love it, so when we were creating the scenario in 2012, I believe it was she who suggested asking Larissa to portray my wife. It was kind of odd bringing it up to my friend, but she agreed and, well, with the blessings of both of our real-life spouses, here we are, in 2017, and we just participated in our sixth Christmas as an 1860s family, encompassing this core group that consistently works with us, including portrayals of a daughter (or sometimes two), mother-in-law, sister(s), servants, etc., and it all comes out as being very natural and real.
Because that's what we try to be...without really trying.
We just click.
Yes, we may be presenting as reenactors, but the outcome for what we do has sometimes fooled those who do not know us ("What? You mean to say you are not a real family? I would never have known!").
And we continued on this year.
Here is my 'diary' of how our day went.

Just so you are aware, we did take some time out before we fully delved into the 1860s mindset and took a number of pictures.
Also you will see pictures that were taken by friends on the tour...
Here is this year's participating group photo.
At the top on each side you find our two servant girls.
Top center is my sister and mother-in-law.
The middle step is Larissa and I.
And in the front you see our two daughters, Jenny and Christine.
These are some of the finest living historians one can travel
through time with.

We also take a yearly "family" photo, of Larissa and
I and our two children.
This year, for the first time, we came up with a family name:
we became the Logan Family.
I suppose I just felt kind of odd giving everyone
my real last name, so this works perfect.

Though Jillian, left, has portrayed our daughter during our
summer Charlton Park living history excursion (where we
also get a period house in which we can immerse ourselves),
this was her first time experiencing Christmas at the Fort
with us. And we call her the more period name of Jenny
Kristen, on the right, joined up as my daughter initially at 

Charlton Park four years ago (I think), and began doing
Christmas at the Fort the following December.
"Christine" has repeatedly told me that sometimes she thinks of
me as her father because I treat her as I would a daughter.
I am what I am...
I think...

(I also will discipline her - oh! the look on her face when I do!)

Though Violet, on the right, had been doing Christmas
with us since the beginning, Jackie here on the left, has
been with us for, I believe, three or maybe four years,
and from the start she fit in perfectly.

The mother and daughter team of Violet and Larissa.
Yes, they truly are mother and daughter!

Off to visit the necessary, Larissa was like a mother duck leading her ducklings.

Jenny was so proud of her new shoes!
She received them as a gift from her grandmother!

Jenny and her Aunt Jacqueline decorate the Christmas tree with the beautiful ornaments grandmother had brought over. 
Here are two videos of my 1860s family decorating the tree while Violet played "Angels We Have Heard On High" from the historic pump organ. They set the scene for a look into Christmas past:

In this second video, a friend, who is one of our neighbors in blue, stopped by for a quick visit and to entertain us with his mouth organ:

Soon, the whole family joined in the decorating fun while Larissa's mother played the pump organ, which takes this to an entirely different level in the world of living history in utilizing sights and sounds of the past to help make it all come back to life.
I am certain these walls have "seen" and "heard" this before...

Mr. Roberts, our neighbor, came over to enjoy some of the festivities.

Jenny worked on the finishing touch of adding a Noah's Ark, all made of wood, including Noah and several pair of animals. Religious toys, such as this, were welcomed as part of the decorations for such a holy day.

Jenny was such a big help! She even decorated the banister!

Afterward we sat and enjoyed how festive our home looked.
My wife, by poking cloves into the oranges, helped to give the room such a 

wonderful aroma that even our "touring guests" noticed and pointed out how 
nice the house smelled.
There are four of us who take turns stepping out of time to speak to the visitor tour groups, and we tell them of our celebrations from the history of the Christmas tree, the type of decorations used, and the fun games we play in the parlor, and of the enjoyment of having the family together at Christmas.
After one of us speaks to the tour groups in the front parlor, we then send them to the kitchen to hear what our servant girls have to say about their role in this 1860s life. Their story tells of how Agnes acquired her name (given to her by us because it was easier to remember than Carrie) and how she lives in the 2nd floor quarters where the staircase leads to and from the kitchen, while Candace travels to and from her own home daily to work the long hours as a maid servant. They speak of their daily duties, of their pay, and, who knows, maybe even spell some secrets about the family they work for.
So, meanwhile, in the kitchen...
...our servants were busy at work, preparing our special Christmas Eve dinner.
Candice and Agnes (Carrie) have portrayed mine and Larissa's domestic servants for a number of years now and they do such a super job! In fact, they are every bit as important in our presentation as any one of us out in the parlor!
The best part is, these two fine living historians actually like their portrayal, contrary to what some may think.
Our time here would not be nearly as good or authentic without these two ladies, and we, in the Logan family, thank them.

As the daylight waned, and the shadows grew longer, we knew our Christmas Eve dinner couldn't be far off.
Candace and Agnes did a fine job preparing our dining room.

I must say that eating such a fine meal in this dimly-lit room with all of us 
immersed is a major highlight to my time here.
This is it. 

This is as close to time-travel as one can get.

And we have had numerous visitors from the future tell 
us this is also their favorite moment on the tour.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer

My two daughters and mother-in-law:
We do attempt to keep our conversations 'period' during

this most special time, though the 21st century will
creep in once in a while.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer

My sister and I.
It was Larissa's turn to give a presentation at the time of this

photograph, for we still must treat our guests with respect, 
whether we are eating or not.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer

Ah, but she was able to return just in time
for some pumpkin pie!

Our beautifully decorated Christmas tree, with Noah's Ark 
beneath it, certainly helped to give Christmas that 
Victorian charm that is so associated with the holiday. 
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer

And our two hard-working domestic servants were not forgotten, 
for they, too, enjoyed eating the same fine meal as us.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer
As I said, Christmas at the Fort is one reenactment that's really not so much a reenactment in the purest sense, but rather a historical time-travel experience for all involved.

But we weren't the only 'game in town' at the Fort; there were numerous other historical Christmas stops on the tour for the visitors.
One of the houses represented a poor southern family, making do with what little they had left:
Dana and Shelley Lupher usually will portray southern civilians during our reenactments, so they are naturals in their setting here.

One of the really cool opportunities we have is presenting in 
daytime and night time, using the oil lamps and candles 
for lighting, which gives the later tour groups a bit of a different, 
shall we say "tableau" into the past.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer

Fort Wayne saw the men in blue of the Civil War pass through on their way to fight the southern boys in gray, and one of the rooms was restored back to that era of the 1860s. That's my son, Rob, you see there with the fife, entertaining the men with 
Christmas tunes.
Over the last 180 years, the Fort also saw men who were off to fight in WWI, WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam. 

One of the boys sketched my son...

With a fine table-top Christmas Tree decorated quite finely, the men began to sing carols of days of old.
Hear the past - - - - - - - -

When you meet the man you see here, representing our 16th President, 
you will feel as if you are in the company of Abraham Lincoln himself.
Yes, he is that good.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer

A house hospital was also on the tour, and the nurses & patients did a fine job in making it realistic. It's always interesting to see the looks on the visitor's faces when the doctors and nurses explain Civil War era medicine and surgery. 
This evening photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer

For this next scenario, I will have Mrs. Breeding explain the details of their exhibition:
"I portrayed Mrs. Pinkest, the Dressmaker who, at some point prior had received a commission from Mrs. Lusko, the wife of Captain Lusko for two Riding Habits and a Christmas Outfit for her son.  These outfits were to be completed in time for Christmas Services and made to her exact specifications. 

Her son, Master Theodore, was to be dressed in an outfit similar to theirs but age appropriate, as he is 18 months old. 
On the day of the event, Mrs. Lusko had stopped by my shop with her son, Master Theodore who, being the small child that he is, had fallen asleep in her arms; so being the considerate proprietress  that I am, I informed her it was not a problem and I brought her a chair. I then brought out the outfits to her for her inspection as she was seated in a chair with Master Theodore in her arms.  
Mrs. Lusko was very pleased with my work and the fact that everything was exactly as she has requested.  While she was inspecting her daughter's outfit, I informed her that this garment had been made to allow for future growth as well as for use by any future daughters that she and Captain Lusko may be blessed with.
I also mentioned to her of the new dress I had made, which I had on a mannequin next to her chair. It is green Silk and full of detailing, such as the knot work on the front/back of the bodice as well as on the sleeves. I pointed out to her that the bodice is separate from the skirt, therefore I was able to make a separate Dance/Ball Bodice with the additional silk I had, so that the dress would be able to be utilized as a Day Dress, a Visiting Dress and for any Dances or Balls during the Holiday season. Ever the Saleswoman, I point out how proud Captain Lusko would be strolling with her in this dress and that it would look stunning on her as the color was made for her due the color of her eyes and hair. 
As the tour departed they could hear me tell Mrs. Lusko that if she would prefer I had other fabric and colors in which the dress could be made."
The tour groups truly had more than their money's worth as they entered the different historic structures.

But not everything took place indoors:
The Union soldiers were in the fort while the Confederates enjoyed the warmth of a fire, especially after the sun went down.
Winters were particularly trying and monotonous for the armies. Impassable, muddy roads and harsh weather precluded active operations. Disease ran rampant, killing more men than battles. But with all of its hardships, winter also allowed soldiers an opportunity to bond, have a bit of fun, and enjoy their more permanent camps. Through these bleak months the soldiers had to keep warm and busy in order to survive.
Photo courtesy of Charlotte Bauer

Historic Fort Wayne was built in the 1840s, therefore it never saw the Revolutionary War.
However, the folks who planned the event decided to show a hint of Valley Forge. In this way, a larger piece of American Christmas history can be shown.
No snow. 
It wasn't even cold enough to snow during Christmas at the Fort. 
But the men here gave a wonderfully detailed account of what it was like for the guys who actually were at Valley Forge back in '76 and '77.
Like the Confederates 90 years into the future, the men here also bonded and did their best to have enjoyments no matter their situation.

Worn and thread-bare.
Not much warmth in this great coat.

"The spirit of desertion among the Soldiery, never before rose to such a threatening height, as at the present time. The murmurs on account of Provisions are become universal, and what may ensue, if a better prospect does not speedily open, I dread to conjecture."
George Washington 
And this wasn't even everything on the tour. I am sorry to say that I did not make it to all of the tour stops. Maybe next year I will try to scurry around and snap some shots of the other areas here.
It's easier said than done, however.

It took many living historians to recreate Christmas Past, and it took even more folks who worked behind the scenes to put this entire event together - the planners, the tour guides, attendants, ticket-takers...and many more than I even fully realize.
And I must thank all of those in the background for not only putting this on, but for allowing us the opportunity to do what we do.
My hat is off to all who played a part.
Even after participating for all these years, I never tire of bringing Christmas past 
to life in such a real and intimate way, and I continuously look forward to 
celebrating the holiday in this manner with my friends...who really are like family.
Merry Christmas everyone, no matter which time you may be in.

With that, until next time, see you in time.

~   ~   ~

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