Friday, July 27, 2018

Charlton Park 2018: Upping the Living History Ante

~Not too long ago, my living history cohorts Larissa, Jackie, and myself, spoke on the subject of Bringing the Past to Life at an 1860s conference.  During our portion of the seminar, we explained how the three of us, as well as a few others who we "work" with in this capacity, immerse ourselves in the past, how it all came to be, and basically, shared our time-travel secrets in bringing the past to life. 
Well, in the posting herein lies our latest excursion, and if you happened to see our presentation at the Citizens Forum of the 1860s Conference, I can tell you that we utilized pretty much all of what we laid out as our groundwork to make it a success.
And I believe for all involved, it was.~ 

To the good people who run Charlton Park:
Thank you.
Thank you for allowing me and a few of my extraordinary living history friends the opportunity to bring to life a time that not a single person alive today has never seen. In fact, the oldest person on this earth as I write this was born in 1901.
But, through the good graces of your trust in us, we were, for one day, living in 1863.
And because of your trust in us to use one of your historic homes, the Sixberry House built in the 1850s, we felt as if we were truly "there."
And I believe the visitors who came in to see us felt that way as well.
Entering "our" home - the 1858 Sixberry House
Yes, there is nothing like doing living history in an actual historic home that was around in the time period being represented. It makes the past come alive like little else can.
And, while we are in the home, known at Charlton Park (in Hastings, Michigan) as The Sixberry House, we stay in an immersive 1st person manner; our demeanor, our disposition, our frame of mind is of one with those from the time we are emulating. best as we can.
Jillian imitating our table statue
I mean, we are 21st century people, and therefore some modernisms, in various ways, will find their way in. I suppose if we attempted this sort of behavior for multiple days in a row and include occupations and chores and the like, we could probably pull it off justly with each passing day, for our mindset would become quite used to the idea.
But we are only able to attempt this sort of time-travel expedition for about eight or so hours.
I will tell you, however, we do make the most of our time in the past, and when visitors from the 21st century "visit," why, we have been told that they have felt they were peering through some sort of Twilight Zone time warp.
And that is exactly what we hope to do for them.
In fact, I believe it can be much better and more authentic than period TV dramas or movies! And to capture our time in time, I had my stealth camera there. Yes, I know...immersion would not include modern cameras. I wish I could hide photographic equipment in places not seen as to not interfere with our time in the past. Alas, that is not the case, and we must, unfortunately, have some sort of compromise to document our time. But I really do try to make the majority of our picture taking as stealth as possible...and, of course, try not to use a flash.
Anyhow, I hope you enjoy this week's posting and our valiant attempt to bring the past to a certain extent...for I 'work' with the best living historians one could ask for.
As we have been doing for a good number of years now, a few of us civilian members of the 21st Michigan created a recreation of 1860s family life. In my past life I have a different family than my 21st century life: I have a wife with a daughter (sometimes two), and we are the Logan family. I also have two sisters and two servants. We live in Maryland - a border state - and lean toward the Confederacy. This is the only time of year, and only event, in which we switch sides. Why? To be a little different.
Here I am with my 1863 family in our formal parlor. 

We enjoy presenting ourselves in a 1st person manner, and this year we actually remained in that mode for most of the day.
Here you see all of us gathered together, enjoying each other's company, and catching up on the latest news.
This was Beckie's first time out with us in this capacity, portraying Jackie's daughter. She is the young lady in the center.
And the latest news on this late July day was of the horrible loss we suffered at the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place only a few weeks before. We all agreed that if General Jackson had not died in May, the outcome could have been more favorable.
Eyeing Union soldiers close by our house
Even though we try to be natural and let the day happen as it may while in our state of immersion, we still create somewhat planned scenarios, and we do this for a number of different reasons, including the opportunity to show visitors some of what families of the time were going through during the War, especially in a border state. This being said, there were a number of differing scenarios that occurred on this day, and given the fact that we only had the one day in which to show and experience a multitude of situations, we were kept quite busy and constantly seemed to be on our toes throughout our time there.
Much more than the average family, that's for certain!
And sometimes surprises occur, leaving us with an even stronger sense of realism, depending on the situation, to where we are forced to think as if we were truly living back then. And because we have researched and studied times past intently, including letters and diaries of civilians, it almost gives us that feeling that the situation at hand is real. And when that happens, you know you're doing it right.
One of the best parts of all of this is the fact that, unlike many historic homes in a museum capacity, there are no electric lights to "accent" the lay out. The look is all real-to-life...much darker than most modern homes. At one point, due to the obstinate attitude of my daughter viewing the Union soldiers through the window when asked not to, I threatened to close the drapery, but was voted down by my wife and sisters, for it darkened the room greatly - enough to consider lighting a candle or an oil lamp. We did not do this, however, for rather than waste such items as beeswax or whale oil for light during the daytime hours, our daughter was, instead, reprimanded and promptly returned to her place at the table.
Throughout the afternoon we had friends stop by...
And our visitors remained in 1st person as well. Since we've been at this for nearly a decade, reenactors know to remain in an immersion manner upon visiting. Unfortunately, it doesn't always happen this way for a variety of reasons. But, when someone such as Mrs. Root comes a-calling, you know it's going to be quality.

Before our early afternoon dinnertime meal, we decided to stroll into town, for our guest had told us there were many Union soldiers about. Now, you may think me touched for wanting to venture out with such activity, but I was told there would be little danger for any of us, as long as we kept our allegiances to ourselves.
Preparing to...
...visit town.
It's here that I would like to, once again, express my sincere gratitude and honor to "work" along side such amazing living historians. Taking the wearing of fine period-correct clothing and looking like we're from the past to higher levels is something our little group looks forward to each time. We only do it to this level two or maybe three times a year (including Christmas time), so when we do, we try to make it as real as we possibly can, even if it is something as minute as preparing to go to town.

As you can see, Charlton Park lends itself to realism in its landscape as well as the structures. It is another of Michigan's little historic treasures not seen or known by a large part of the general populace, but worth the visit.
Dirt roads, wood-plank walkways, plenty of trees and growth...yes, we were there, back in 1863...

And the little town, with its stores, bank, barbershop, church, school, and the like, represents the 19th century well. In fact, some of the fashionable styles seen in the larger cities tend to make their way to Charlton Park, which grabs Jillian's interest:
Jillian noticed a bathing costume in one of the windows, and she greatly desired to purchase it for herself.
...her mother would not allow her to have such a such thing. To spend hard-earned money on such frivolous items during wartime would be considered a great waste.
(Ya gotta love this pose!)
Now, though Jillian is of age, she still lives at home with her mother and I, therefore follows our rules. When she finds herself a man - a good, southern man that meets our approval - then he would be free to set his own rules for her.
But until then...

The ladies enjoyed their time in the numerous stores...

...and shared with each other the items seen and would like to eventually purchase. Of course, the bathing costume was all Jillian could speak of.

Unfortunately, there were other sights to see...
Sights that caused the ladies great concern - - - 
The Union Army, right there, showing their might on our Village Green!
I thought it best to return to the safety of our home.

Awaiting us upon entering was a fine dinner meal, utilizing the many vegetables grown in our kitchen garden.
Our summer harvest was almost as good as a fall harvest!
The opportunity to for us to eat our meal inside the kitchen of this historic home is, to me, the frosting on the cake. We do very much appreciate being able to enjoy such a period frivolity as eating our meal inside a period kitchen.
As we enjoyed our meal, our servants, Candace (top) and Agnes (bottom), were at the ready to serve us as needed.
However, we noticed a change in our back yard - - -
Some of the Yankees had taken to making themselves comfortable on our land. 
And I believe Jillian had taken a fancy to one of them!
How upsetting for us to see her ogling the enemy - -
Notice my daughter continually staring out the window at the soldiers nearby while her cousin, Rebecca, who had attended a ladies seminary school, where discipline, inculcating manners, decorum, discipline, and domesticity was a main goal, sits gently at the table, working on a sewing project.
Her mother and I have agreed that maybe it was time for our daughter to learn the ways of her cousin...
Now, I mentioned earlier that we let the day go as it may, for one can never know which direction the wind will blow; we can plan out scenarios, but that does not mean they will happen in the way we hope. And as you may also have read, our daughter, Jillian, has been acting pretty obstinate - very unladylike - so it was time to take drastic measures before it was too late.
Jillian had taken to running out back to speak to the soldiers, which made us angry and frustrated, and it was decided I would go to town to seek out Mrs. Carlson, the head mistress of the Carlson Seminary School For Girls. You see, the male seminary prepared men for the ministry; the female seminary took as its earnest job the training of women for teaching and for Republican motherhood, meaning if the republic were to succeed, women must be schooled in virtue so they could teach their children. Of the 6085 seminaries and academies operating in the United States in the mid-19th century, fully half were devoted to women, many of them started by Evangelical Christians.
And our daughter was going to be one of the attendees.
As the story goes, shortly after I left to speak with Mrs. Carlson, the Yankees out back entered our home and requisitioned some of our food, including our pies, bread, and other items in our kitchen.
(from left) Headmaster & Mrs. Carlson,
Jillian, and one of the other young ladies
of the seminary.
As you can see, our daughter is
now a young lady worthy of any man that
may come her way.
Luckily, they did not do any harm to my family nor did they damage our belongings. Upon returning home, my wife, frightened out of her wits, pert near scolded me for leaving the house without a man to protect them. I did feel bad that I left - I should have sent my wife instead but, with soldiers everywhere, I felt it unsafe for a female to venture out of doors unescorted. She was also concerned because Jillian was out back, flirting with the men! It took quite a bit of convincing, but we coerced her to come into the house, where - boy! was she surprised! - Mrs. Carlson, Holy Bible in hand, grabbed her by the arm and let her know that she was to come along to the seminary, and that she would not need to bring her ear baubles, fancy dress, or other frivolities. Jillian was truly and honestly caught off guard - that was the best part! - and she dutifully went down the road with Mrs. Carlson, and was lectured on the error of her ways as they walked down the road to the Carlson tent!
About a half hour later (we were wondering where Jillian was!), Mrs. Carlson showed up at our home with her husband (the head master) and another young lady, who was presumably a student. (You have to imagine, here, that months had passed since Mrs. Carlson took our daughter to her school) - - - and there, standing and looking as a young lady should, was our daughter, very prim and proper, speaking to us in a calm and delicate tone, thanking us for having her sent away to right her wrongs.
This was a perfect ending to the "core" part of our immersion experience. Jillian played her role perfectly in this, as did everyone else involved. And Mrs. Carlson was amazing as the school Headmistress, looking and speaking very curt and stern, grasping her Bible, leaving no question what her plans for Jillian were. And the fact that Mrs. Carlson carried on with the role as she pulled Jillian along the road was the icing on the proverbial cake!
She was perfect, and I hope to have her reprise her role in future ventures.
And the new reformed Jillian
with her cousin Rebecca
The newly reformed
For the past five years or so our time at Charlton Park has ended with the family making homemade ice cream. We all take a turn to churn, and the recipe is taken directly from the Buckeye Cookbook, printed in 1883. For years I've watched the historic presenters at Firestone Farm inside Greenfield Village make and eat ice cream. Since I am not an employee, I, of course, cannot have any. So my actual wife and I purchased one for ourselves to use at reenactments. And now making ice cream has become a mainstay with my reenacting family as well, and we make a pretty big deal out of it, inviting other reenactors (yes, including Yankees!) to enjoy the period treat:
Meet Larissa, who portrays my reenacting wife.

Meet Jillian, our reenacting daughter

Meet Carolyn, one of my reenacting sisters

Meet Jackie, my other reenacting sister

Meet Rebecca, my reenacting niece
(and reenacting daughter of Jackie)

And even the local wet plate photographer, Mr. Beech, also came by to enjoy the ice cream.

Family and friends:
Yes, sitting upon our front porch turning the ice cream maker's crank has become a fine mid-summer's eve period tradition. Even visitors still wandering inside the Village all enjoyed watching, some hoping for a taste.
Being drawn into the world of long ago...through sight, sound, smell, and taste.
We were there.

A "Logan family" photo - -
Since Larissa and I often portray a farm couple, I thought this to be an appropriate photograph.

And me and my "sisters."
At times these two ladies remind me of my real sisters! 

And then we have our extended "family" picture, including our two servants.
Before we go any further Dept. 
And now a word about Charlton Park (as taken from the Charlton Park web site):
Historic Charlton Park was established in 1936 by Irving Delos Charlton, who donated the property to Barry County. Construction began on the stone Barry County Museum in 1944, but was not completed until 1950. It was the first building erected at Historic Charlton Park and is now known as the Irving D. Charlton Memorial Museum.
Charlton was an avid collector; he always dreamed of having a museum. Everywhere he went he collected old objects. Charlton began collecting them so future generations might understand the difficult tasks early inhabitants of Barry County performed without the benefit of powered equipment.
Charlton never envisioned a village here, although we are sure he would be pleased with the results. The village depicts more clearly the "day to day" life of the early inhabitants of Barry County. The variety of objects Charlton collected enabled the creation of a typical mid-Michigan village of the late 1800's to early 1900's. Charlton's collection preserves for future generations a rich heritage and Barry County's testament to an earlier time.
25 historic residences, businesses and community buildings were moved from throughout Barry County to create the village, eventually opening to the public in 1970.
And we who love history are so happy for what Mr. Charlton began all those years ago.

And finally:
We have fun!
Yes, we like to do fun things as well - - - so, here is the proof - - -
Three little girls swinging in their hoop skirts

"Jack! I feel like I'm flying, Jack!"

The "bell" of the ball!

A world turned upside down...
One final story that happened this day:
Do you remember last year when a man challenged Jackie's beau to a dual and proceeded to cheat and shot him dead without a chance?
If not, you might want to read THIS.
So, anyhow, the sheriff was looking for the dirty mangy coward who shot Mr. Bagley, and lo & behold...he caught him and promptly put him in jail for trial. Well, that wasn't enough for my sister Jackie - - she and all the ladies of the house marched right on down to the jail house and...
...Jackie grabbed the sheriff's gun and aimed it right at the man who killed her betrothed.

The sheriff looked none too worried...

...but "The Buge" certainly did!

He was so frightened of my sister's wrath that he chose the hangman's noose rather than face her!
And there you have it, my friends!
Our fine and fun day at Charlton Park.
Even though we're not perfect in our immersion and 1st person experiences (and we never will be - no one can), we are certainly striving to reach higher and higher levels. Like I said, the core group I "work" with are the best; in our reenacting world we have been together in this capacity long enough that I feel will keep us heading in the right direction of becoming even more of a believable and credible family of the 1860s (within limits, obviously).
And we see no end in sight.
By the way, none of the pictures herein were taken using a flash. I wanted to capture the realism of the 1860s in all of its glorious naturalness.

So, I hope the kind folks at Charlton Park who allow us such opportunities in bringing the past to life in such a unique way are pleased with our actions.
With all my heart I thank them for their trust in us.

Until next time, see you in time.

~   ~   ~


Unknown said...

It would be interesting to have period food as well. Who did the cooking and how was it done? Looks like it was a fun time for all.

Gina Danna said...

Looked like a fabulous event! So involved and immersion is so much fun! Years ago, when I live in St. Louis, there was Dr. Mudd's home that invited us in for Christmastime during the war. It was so much fun! Your blog on this reminded me of how great it can be! Thank you!

Historical Ken said...

Joyce -
The food was period correct, but nothing needed to be warmed up, for we had vegetables and ham. We have, on occasion (like at our Christmas event), have had traditional holiday fare, which the two women who portray our servants will generally make for us.

Gina -
I appreciate your kind comments.
Thank you as well.