Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Behind the Scenes Look at Greenfield Village: Object Placement and a Time Line of Clothing

Before we get into this post,  it must be clearly understood that I am not an employee of Greenfield Village,  nor do I or have I ever claimed to be.  It is true that I dress in period clothing every-so-often when I visit my favorite historical place,  but I do not go against their rules  (such as go into areas where visitors are not allowed,  or ask for discounts beyond what my membership grants me).  
For today's posts,  there are no *secrets*  here or anything of the sort;  no dirty gossip nor the giving away of private information  (as if I had any!).  Just interesting notations that can accent anyone's visit to this one-of-a-kind open air museum.
I hope you enjoy it~

Many of my postings here,  though reenacting oriented,  are based in and around my activities at historic Greenfield Village,  and until I began frequenting the Benson-Ford Research Center,  located on the grounds of The Henry Ford  (where one can search for historical records,  information,  and photographs of everything Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum),  I had not given a second thought as to what went into the displays and presentations at the open-air museum.
First off is the Mission Statement of The Henry Ford:  "The Henry Ford provides unique educational experiences based on authentic objects,  stories,  and lives from America's traditions of ingenuity,  resourcefulness and innovation.  Our purpose is to inspire people to learn from these traditions to help shape a better future."
This is the key word. 
Plympton House: 
perfect placement of colonial objects.
Nothing is placed randomly inside the structures at Greenfield Village.  The curators carefully consider each and every object before allowing it to become part of the site.  It helps to give the appearance that someone may live there,  whether the house is a showpiece without presenters,  like the Plympton House,  or one that is in constant historical use,  such as Daggett or Firestone.  And it's this type of vigilance that maintains the appropriate period appearance for each building.  Every object tells part of the story.  Nothing is there by accident,  and nothing is there that doesn't support the overall story. 
A good example of such historic vigilance is the replicated period lanterns you see below that are inside the kitchen of the mid-18th century Daggett Farm House.  What is so interesting is that,  before the widespread availability of glass,  cattle horn was heated and flattened thin enough to permit light to pass through,  and these thin sheets of horn glazing were used to protect a candle or other flame against wind,  similar to a pane of glass. 
They could also use talc,  bladder or oiled paper.:

It is wonderful to know the extent Greenfield Village 
will go to to have something like this  "lanthorn" 
specially made,  for originals are not easy to get 
in good condition,  plus the Daggett presenters 
use nearly everything you see inside the historic house.
And now there are two of these lanterns hanging in 
the kitchen,  for they had a second one made 
(bottom picture).
Their dedication to authenticity is greatly 
and appreciated.

Another beautiful, and more elaborate example of placing objects inside historical homes can be plainly seen in the formal parlor of the Firestone Farm.  The formal parlor was where the family would keep their best of everything:  furniture,  lamps,  nic-nacs,  and the like,  and it was usually shut up tight,  only opened for holidays or to entertain special guests,  such as when a far-off relative may come to visit or when the preacher may be invited over.  Otherwise it was a room not to be entered.
The curators at Greenfield Village have done such a wonderful job in eliciting the look of an 1880s formal parlor,  and fortunately for the visitors,  the door from the sitting room is left open so we can peer inside this oh-so-favored room.
I was told that presenters are not allowed to touch the objects in 
such a showroom as the Firestone Farm formal parlor.  If,  by 
chance,  something gets accidentally bumped or moved,  the 
presenters are not to place the item back but are to call the curators 
and they will replace it for  everything is strategically placed 
inside the parlor at Firestone Farm.
Here is the same parlor from another angle.

Sometimes the curators will set up small vignettes to add to the ambiance of the homes that will not only give the rooms a more lived-in look,  but can also sort of tell a story in it's own right.  For instance: 
During the season of autumn, the Eagle Tavern will show the 
bounty of the harvest.  Even something as simple as this can 
evoke a traditional ambiance that will give a very festive fall 
The tavern,  by the way,  also plans its menus by the season. 

Back inside the Daggett home one may see a side table with 
writing utensils,  a lantern  (lit if it is a thick,  ominous gray sky or 
during a night time activity such as Holiday Nights)  and hand-
dipped candles. 
No,  the presenters do not necessarily use these items,  though it 
does lend that extra authentic and  'homey'  touch to the house.
Can't you just see Samuel Daggett sitting down here to write in his 
ledgers of his daily business activities?

Here is a page from Samuel Daggett's actual account book written 
with his own hand!  It sort of adds a little life to this little vignette,  
knowing that he used writing implements very similar to what is 

Let's take a step through the doorway of the Logan County 
Courthouse, the very same building where circuit-riding lawyer 
Abraham Lincoln once practiced law before becoming our 16th 
President.  We see the table - the very same actual table - where 
Mr. Lincoln had discussions about the cases at hand.  Note the 
law books and a gentleman's walking stick setting on top,  as if 
the men took a moment to break before returning to business.

Inside the 1870s Sarah Jordan's Boarding House we see,  upon 
entering,  the parlor off to the right - the men's parlor  (for the 
house catered to Thomas Edison's workers).  And if you look 
closer,  you can see the table set up for a card game...

...and I also see a pipe,  a stereoscope with the viewing cards,  
another game, and a couple of other items that may have been of 
interest to the men of the later part of the 19th century.

If it was only objects and furniture and the like,  then visiting the homes of Greenfield Village would be no different than any other museum.  But the  "costumed"  presenters  (as I've heard them  - ughh! - called)  play a major part in the historical environment of Greenfield Village.  They,  too,  have rules that must be followed.  From their period clothing through their daily actions,  they themselves give ambiance in a historically accurate way.  For instance,  stepping once again into the 18th century Daggett Farmhouse and seeing a presenter spinning on the period walking wheel gives a desired effect to the visitor who,  in seeing such an action,  may feel as if they are possibly peering through a portal in time.  How often do most people get to see the past come to life before their eyes in this manner?
Spying through a portal in time.
Homes like Daggett simply cry out for this  "2nd person"  style of presentation.
Think about the excitement  of watching something as mundane 
as peeling potatoes.  Yeah,  it's no big deal,  I know,  but seeing 
one in period clothing doing the same task,  all of a sudden potato 
peeling suddenly becomes interesting.
Go figure...
There are numerous homes in the Village,  aside from the Daggett House,  that apply this  bringing the past to life  procedure,  including the Edison Homestead,  the Ford Home,  Firestone Farm,  and,  at times,  the McGuffey Birthplace and Susquehanna Plantation. 

Now,  although the presenter may not portray an actual named or historical persona from the era of the house they are in,  their appearance,  actions,  and manner of speaking attempt to evoke the past,  for they are trained in thought and detail to give the visitor the impression that they have entered another time. 
They are taught to think about their lives as an 18th or 19th century person.  However,  except for the servers and hosts at the Eagle Tavern,  you will not find presenters practicing the art of 1st person - speaking and acting as if they are from the past and not acknowledging the present - as is done in other open-air museums such as Plimouth Plantation or Colonial Williamsburg. 
In fact,  the only  building that presenters speak in 1st person inside of Greenfield Village is the Eagle Tavern.

A big part of the magic of Greenfield Village is,  without a doubt,  the historic clothing worn by many of the presenters.  Between period clothing and uniforms,  The Clothing Studio at The Henry Ford covers over 250 years of fashion  (from 1760 onward)  and is the  premier museum costume shop in the country.  No other museum does what they do at Greenfield Village. 
A great example of variety in fashion & style from one period in time can be plainly seen in the picture below.  It is a sort of mish-mosh of clothing that would have been commonly worn during the time-period of Samuel and Anna Daggett,  for all are correct and acceptable to the 1760s and 1770s. 
Yes,  that is me,  middle right,  stirring the hops in the barrel.  I 
am not a presenter at Greenfield Village,  nor do I claim to be,  
therefore the clothing I am wearing is my own and not the 
Village's.  However,  the other three you see pictured here are all 
paid employees of The Henry Ford,  and their clothing comes 
from the clothing department.  They are measured and fitted and 
must care for the garments as long as they work in the homes scheduled.
But what I find interesting is how this photo shows such a variety 
of clothing styles,  side by side,  and all of the same time period.
And all accurate to the time portrayed. 

The employees in the clothing department research,  design,  develop and create nearly all of the period clothing and textiles onsite. 
Below we see another example of later 18th century fashions from those wonderful seamstresses - but included here is a more upper-class dress in comparison to a lower stature - perhaps her servant? - over at the home of the Giddings family.
The young girl on the left,  as you can see,  is dressed down in 
comparison to the young lady on the right.  Perhaps she is a 
servant girl...or maybe she lives on a 
farm and brought produce into town and is delivering it to the 
Now,  the young lady on the right is of a much higher fashion 
class,  as you can tell by her style.
The two distinct classes can be seen plainly here. 
The clothing team has a  “passion for fashion,”  and,  according to the Henry Ford blog,  historical accuracy is comprised of two full-time staff members,  many part-time staff members,  and a small group of volunteers.  They do make things from historical patterns and/or base them off original period clothing in the museum's collection.  Together they clothe nearly 800 people a year in multiple outfits of period clothing,  costumes,  and uniforms,  including for special events such as Hallowe'en and Christmas.

Around the year 1800,  at a frontier cabin originally located in western Pennsylvania,  we can get a very good idea of how the McGuffey women,  or others of their sort,  may have dressed. 
Not great changes in fashion for frontier folk in the 
early 19th century from a generation earlier,  
but I believe a change is gonna come.
I,  like so many of my readers,  do living history/historical reenacting,  and so we can identify with the importance of correct period clothing,  for it plays a big part in everyone's vision of the past.  Of course,  Greenfield Village knows this,  and therefore their goal is to create the garments that are accurate to the period of the houses in which the presenters are stationed.
Now,  other than the above McGuffey cabin,  Greenfield Village,  unfortunately,  has no houses prepared to present the era from the early 1800s  (regency)  through mid-century,  but an interesting fact not well-known about Paul Revere  (who died in 1818)  and a few others of his generation is that,  "as the 19th century advanced,  small boys begin to appear---all eyes,  all ears,  they watch  'old Mr. Revere'  in church,  on the street,  at his foundry.  Some sixty or seventy years later,  when asked,  these same small boys remember him well.  Rowland Ellis remembers Paul Revere as a  'thick-set,  round faced not very tall person who always wore  small clothes.'  The old elegance of knee-breeches,  ruffled shirts,  long stockings,  and cocked hats had passed out of fashion years before,  but the oddity of small clothes alone would be remembered by this small boy.  And why wouldn't he?  The Ellis family pew in the New Brick Church  was directly behind that of Revere,  and there Mr.  Ellis says,  "I used to see him as regularly as the Sabbath came."
Others besides Paul Revere also clung to their picturesque costume of their youth.  There were a number of these  'last leaves'  about Boston.  It may have been a sin for small boys  'to sit and grin...but the old three-cornered hat,  and the breeches and all that, are so queer.' "
(from the book Paul Revere and the World He Lived In by Esther Forbes)
I found this to be a very interesting piece of the time.

So it's here that we must take a jump of nearly sixty years, to 1860, and visit Maryland's Susquehanna Plantation to see the next fashion plates.
Welcome to the Tidewater region of Maryland.  These two 
women are showing some of the more middling class fashions 
that could have been worn by the region's ladies at the beginning 
of the Civil War.

And we can't forget the Susquehanna men!
Just as the ladies in the picture above,  here we find a couple of 
men who are representing the 1860s fashions - the basic style of 
which,  in all honesty,  has not changed all that much for men 
over the years since.  In fact,  after the breeches,  cocked hat,  and 
buckle shoes died out along with those who wore them  (early 
1800s),  men's basic fashions,  in my opinion,  have changed very 
little up to today.
Historical presenters here at Greenfield Village have a set of rules they must follow.  For instance,  they must report to their station fully and properly dressed in the period clothing that is supplied to them and approved by the Clothing and Textile production staff.  Hair must be in place for the era they are portraying.  No make up,  lip gloss,  or nail polish of any kind is to be worn.  Jewelry,  aside from an emergency bracelet or a wedding ring,  must be period appropriate and approved by the clothing staff.  This means no earrings for the males and no wristwatches of any kind. 

Now then,  our next stop is about a dozen and a half years later after Susquehanna,  where inside the home of Henry Ford's Birthplace it is always 1876,  and the stories of young Henry Ford abound.
Again,  this is a more rural fashion,  for the Ford's were a farming 
family,  so keeping up appearances wasn't quite as high on the list 
as other necessities,  though Sundays and other special occasions 
could find them wearing their best.

Now we'll jump another half dozen years into the future,  to Columbiana,  Ohio around 1883 or so,  where we find another farm family - the Firestones.
You may be noticing all of the more rural fashions rather than the high fashions.  That's because Henry Ford wanted to concentrate on the working man - the working family - rather than the well-to-do.  His thought was that it was the farmer who made this country what it is,  and therefore it is the farmer who shall be placed prominently inside Greenfield Village.
Plus,  in my humble opinion,  we see enough of high fashion,  especially at reenactments.  It's good to place the every-man and every-woman on a pedestal once in a while.
Here we are in the early 1880s,  and for working rural folks,  
fashions change little.
I was told that most historic presenters drive to the village while in their period clothing because it’s quicker and easier,  though a few who might have to drive long distances  (or take a bus,  as some have in the past)  might leave their period attire in the locker room and change there,  which is also an option.
Though in this picture it's a bit harder to see the fashions up close 
and personal,  but the overall scene is almost like looking at the 
actual Firestone Farm family of the early 1880s caught in a 
moment in time - - enjoying their dinner while taking a break 
from their daily activities. 
You see,  the birthplace of Harvey Firestone is a real working farm,  and the men of the  “family”  really do work the fields,  just as their counterparts did 135 years ago.  The same goes for the women of the family who,  like their 1880s counterparts,  work in the kitchen to prepare the meals that they eat daily in the same way as was done in the past as well.
Add to that the other chores of feeding the poultry & livestock,  chopping wood,  cleaning house and barn,  laundry…
This is 19th century living history at its finest.
And the clothing does make the difference.

We are still in the same period as the Firestones,  the 1880s,  but our location is in the small-town of Waterford,  Michigan,  where the proprietors of the JR Jones General Store are of a higher fashion state,  for the latest styles are only a catalog order away.
Could this be the daughter of JR Jones?  
She certainly looks to be wearing the latest east coast 
fashions,  does she not?
And,  as the proprietor's daughter,  
she most certainly should!
Clothing and Textiles will give the presenters all of the layers to look historically accurate,  including foundation garments and under clothing for whatever particular time period a presenter will be in that day.  "Undergarments such as bustles and/or petticoats that have been assigned to you provide certain period silhouettes and must be worn,"  meaning women may also wear chemises,  corsets and stays.
As for the men,  yes,  they,  too,  must adhere to their own set of rules.  What you see below certainly is no farmer.  At least,  that's what his clothing tells us.
As you can see,  Mr. Jones is quite the dapper dresser...
as he should be since he is the owner.
Because presenters may work in the 1760s one day, then the 1880s the next,  some may have a few different sets of clothes, depending on the era assigned. 
At the cottage of Thomas Edison's grandparents  (Samuel and 
Nancy Edison)  we find a young lady dressed as if it were 1915.  
I'm not quite sure why they are showing the house as it would 
have been long after the death of Samuel  (1865)  and Nancy  
(1824),  but I suppose it is good to have a bit of the 
early 20th century. 
Though shoes are not provided to them,  they do have requirements that must be followed for the footwear,  and information on where to purchase the correct shoes and boots are given. 

From 1915 Edison cottage we will jump up to the 1930s and show rural life for an African-American family living in Georgia.
Again with the rural clothing.
Like a few of the other historic homes,  the Mattox house comes 

to life with the ladies by way of not only tending the garden,  but 
also other duties as well,  such as taking care of the chickens and 
cooking fine southern meals.  The Great Depression lives on in 
this home,  and so does the hope of a brighter future.

Mama Jean is one of the most beloved of all 
Greenfield Village presenters,  and,  to me,  
she is the matriarch of Mattox!
It's not very often that we'll find male presenters 
in the Mattox Home,  so it certainly is a 
historic treat when we do.
Sometimes presenters might arrive at the Village gates in various stages of dress;  a few might have their hair down,  have on modern glasses or jewelry,  or not have their headwear in place,  but  "as soon as we are out of our cars and walk past the fence line to the village,  we must be fully dressed"  from top to bottom. 
I do know in speaking with a number of the presenters that they have a lot of pride in wearing the clothing assigned to them.  In fact,  more than a few have taken to historical reenacting outside of working at Greenfield Village and will acquire their own period clothing  (Village clothing is not to be used for personal business).
Some of us that visit Greenfield Village really do not pay as much attention the the variety of fashion shown as we should,  for it truly is a timeline of three centuries.

Tasty treats from the
1850s at the Eagle Tavern

(Photo by Charlotte Bauer)
By the way,  I haven't even touched upon historic food,  a fare can actually be eaten by visitors when dining at the Eagle Tavern,  which includes food that would have been served in early-to-mid 19th century taverns.  The Eagle Tavern also has the same era atmosphere to boot, which is unique in itself.
Mrs. Fishers,  which specializes in late 19th century southern food,  is also a very popular summertime meal stop just on the other side of the covered bridge.
And A Taste of History,  which this year has really upped its game by featuring a number of recipes that were popular from the 18th century  (the fricandillas are amazing!),  the 19th century  (love those dressed greens!),  and even hot dogs for those with more of a modern fast-food taste,  is a great place to purchase reasonable priced food,  though without the atmosphere of the past.
But I plan to update a previous post later this year featuring the historic food served at Greenfield Village. It'll be a sort of part 2 to this post.

AND as far as the plants visitors find lovingly placed,  planted,  and cared for throughout the Village...well,  that,  too,  just may be the subject in an upcoming post.

It's at homes such as Firestone Farm and Daggett Farm,  as well as the Edison Cottage,  Ford Birthplace,  Mattox House,  and Susquehanna Plantation that one can get a fairly good glimpse at how life was lived during each season of the year,  covering roughly 170 years from the 1760s through the 1930s:  from traditional plowing and planting in the spring,  summer chores,  fall harvests,  and preparing for winter.  Each day of the week also follows the daily chores of times past:  Monday wash day,  Wednesday baking day,  Sunday a more relaxed day to do needlepoint,  &c. 
There is so much more to Greenfield Village than meets the eye.
Surrounded in history...

~Before I forget:  please do not think that I am discounting the modern-dressed docents from The Henry Ford campus.  I absolutely am not.  This Passion for the Past blog concentrates on history through not only the written words,  but through visuals - the many photos posted as well as a few videos once in a while.  I have learned much from the modern dressed employees and volunteers that are placed in some of the structures not mentioned above,  such as the Logan County Courthouse,  the Wright Brothers Home and Cycle Shop,  the Webster Home,  the Menlo Park complex,  and sometimes even in Mattox,  Edison Cottage,  and Susquehanna,  lest anyone think I forgot this wonderful group of docents.
I certainly have not!~

And because of the large variety of buildings,  because of the 300 years of history,  because of Greenfield Village's promise of authenticity,  and because of the mission to teach accurately the daily life of those from America's past,  one can visit the Village frequently throughout the year and never fail to learn something new. 

Until next time,  see you in time.

And,  if you are interested in reading more of my Greenfield Village postings:
There are not too many places one can visit and eat the same food that their 19th century ancestor's ate.  And then to enjoy it all inside an authentic building with a server dressed in clothing suitable to 1850 makes it an experience like no other.
I am lucky to have such a place not too far from my home.

A spooky history lesson about the ancient houses that have been relocated and meticulously restored at Greenfield Village.  True stories of spirits still roaming the rooms of these old homes - you decide if they are true or not.

Here is a house built in the mid-18th century by merchant John Giddings,  and we can follow its history with the Giddings family through marriage,  the Revolutionary War,  the War of 1812,  and then learn how it came into the hands of Henry Ford.
Interesting stuff indeed!

We've seen pictures and drawings of these unusual looking homes,  once very popular in the 18th century.  In fact, John Adams was born in one.  But have you ever been inside an actual saltbox house?
Are you interested in learning how farmers of the colonial period lived?
One more thing:  are you interested in how Henry Ford acquired such a wonderful piece of American history?
Your answers all lie within - - - -

Bringing Historic Homes to Life: Plympton Home
This little off-the-path house has so much history hidden within its walls,  including playing a part in the birth of our nation at the beginning of the American Revolution.  By the way,  it is the oldest American Home inside Greenfield Village!

George Washington,  Thomas Jefferson,  James Madison,  Benjamin Franklin,  John Adams,  Noah Webster....wait----Noah Webster??
Yes,  the man of the dictionary fame was actually a Founding Father.  We almost lost his house to history in exchange for a parking lot.  Read all about him and his house here.

Autumn: Days of Autumn Past in Photos (and Videos):
Experience the visual splendor of the autumn time of year as only Greenfield Village can show.  Loads of pictures featured in roughly a time line order.  There are also a number of video clips included.

The 1832 Ackley Covered Bridge
Most folks don't think of bridges as having a history,  but this one certainly does.  In fact,  we have at least one piece of written proof of a young couple getting  'hitched'  while on this bridge.
Also,  some interesting facts about the building of this wonderful vestige of America's Past.

Bringing Historic Homes to Life: Firestone Farm
Farm life in the 1880s is shown in a sort of  'you are there'  manner.  Cooking,  cleaning,  plowing,  sheep shearing,  period games,  and even newborn lambs all play a part in this history-comes-alive house.
By the way,  it's in this post where you can see what the second floor of this farm house looks like.

Finally,  thank you to The Henry Ford's BLOG for the information on what it takes to make period clothing.

~   ~   ~

1 comment:

The Victorian Girl said...

One of my favorite subjects...historic clothing. I really enjoyed reading this post!