You will note that the title of this week's posting is Our History at the Sixberry House at Charlton Park, not The History of...
This must be abundantly clear for I am not writing about the original family that lived there during the 1850s and 1860s, but of our living history experiences that have taken place here one day a year.
But each day we spend inside this old historic home is like a lifetime, for we build on stories, talk about our youth while growing up here, enjoy each other's company, and dine, all the while presenting ourselves as folks from the early 1860s in all ways possible.
Today's post is a history of our history there.
I hope you like it.
Charlton Park Historic Village, located in Hastings, Michigan, always has one of the best Civil War reenactments of the year. The battles, especially when they are held in town, are some of the most realistic and well-done anywhere. And the reenactments are always very welcoming and inclusive to civilians as well.
There were a few in our group who could not take part this year for varying personal reasons, including myself, so this year was a bit different than the norm for us. But we had three heroes that did make it: Larissa, Beckie, and Jillian!
In case you are not aware, I am very lucky to be assigned a historic home to use during the Charlton Park event, and over the years a few of us have created a reenacting family, which is unique in and of itself on that note alone. Our day is spent immersed, in mind and action, in the 1860s, which can be a little, shall we say, daunting at times, but so remarkable in its outcome.
It is not the only way to reenact, to be sure. But for those of us who do it, enjoy it immensely.
For today's posting we will take a journey through time to witness the growth and change that has occured over the last decade or so and see how we came to create such an 1860s family. And we'll do this by taking a journey into the past...two pasts, in a way...and I can show you the evolution of how it all became to be for us:
|Here 'tis, the 1858 Sixberry House, which a few of us have called "home" at least one day a year for over a decade.|
The front doors of Sixberry had mourning wreaths upon them to show the world that we had lost a loved one.
The parlor was prepared for mourning, including darkening the room with drawn curtains and the covering of any reflective surfaces.
We had a body. A real live body portraying a dead person.
She did her job very well.
All of us who participated had a tintype taken together with an actual period camera.
Looks real, doesn't it?
That's what it's all about!
In 2009 I was once again inside the Sixberry House, only instead of being in mourning, I had a summer fever and was very ill. That was the year that the MSAS members (including yours truly) put together a medicinal program, highlighting some of the medicines used during the mid-19th century to help cure illnesses. As I wrote in an 'after action report' - "I was sick on Sunday last...very sick. Some felt I had scarlet fever while others thought I had the summer fever instead. Either way, I had a fever and was put into what is normally the dining room daybed, where, as a healthy soul, I would sometimes use to try to take a quick nap after a hearty dinner before venturing out to continue the afternoon work at the mill. Unfortunately, since I was feeling rather poorly this Sabbath day, the day bed was used as the sick bed so I could be nursed back to health."
These two young ladies acted as my daughters caring for their sick
Papa and not leaving my side.
The preacher's wife came to visit and could not contain her sorrow of how serious my illness was.
Again, this was done very well and the visitors really received a fine history lesson indeed.
In 2010, I was asked if I wanted to use the Sixberry with whatever scenario I could come up with, for the MSAS had decided to pass on the house. I jumped at the chance! I mean, think of it: the opportunity to use this historic home, which was built in 1858, was being offered to me...and I grabbed it with both hands. But I knew I didn't want it to be just another place to reenact as if I were at my tent; as I said, I am using an actual house...a house that was around during the time of the Civil War. And I wanted to make the past come to life inside this old place in the best way possible. So for that first year it was two friends - Sue & Carrie from the 21st Michigan - who joined me in this first attempt at bringing the home to life in a 1st person manner. And we were sort of getting our feet wet in this living history style of reenacting.
Sue and Carrie also jumped at the chance and portrayed my visiting cousins.
We even took part in the battle, which was played out on the nearby Village Green. No, we didn't have muskets and join in on the shooting, but we, instead, came a-runnin' out of the house upon hearing the booming cannons to find a safe location, fearing we would be shelled.
Yes, this was an awesome first experience with me, especially since I was 'in charge' of the house.
Carrie would soon become our servant girl - - by choice.
In 2011, I expanded the living history scenario and used my actual family as, well, my family. That was great fun and fairly easy to do, for I had my wife, daughter, and two of my sons there.
It was us in the 1860s!
Yes, this was my house.
And it felt like it, too, for I hung my postmaster sign up
on the door. Especially in small towns, the postmaster would
work out of his home, which was my story as well.
And I brought along my postmaster desk and supplies to add to my impression, and tucked them in the office where all could see.
We had friends a-calling, as Liz did here, and that added to our experience.
Carrie, our servant, answered the door when folks knocked, which I had set up previous.
And when the battle took place, the kids came screaming out of
the school house.
But that sort of thing would change in the not-too-distant future past.
Alas, in 2012 my dear wife, Patty, who was not feeling very well, decided to stay home. My youngest son and daughter also decided to remain home as well. Instead I had to come up with a new 'family' to take part in this at pretty much the last minute. For something thrown together with the last minute change, we did a pretty good job and made a solid effort to remain somewhat in 1st person. Though it was kind of rough to put it all together, when you have good people to 'work' with, all goes well.
The Union and Confederate soldiers utilized the town like I've not seen.
The realism was there - - - -
And after the battle, our town ladies went out to help the poor wounded men. There was a lot of screaming and crying...it was a very real scenario.
It was in 2013 when we took our 1860s family to another level
And lucky for me, Patty, after much cajoling from me, did return to give it another try. You see, she does not like doing 1st person or immersion. She enjoys reenacting, but not taking it to that level like I enjoy doing. However, she did a bang up job, and it made 2013 another splendid year indeed.
My wife and I, back in the 1860s at the Sixberry House.
Here at Sixberry House, I do!
Another of my bucket list dreams come true (what can I say---I am a simple man with simple dreams).
Now, I must tell you, our scenario this year was one of the best we'd done up to that point.
Here is how it played out:
Unbeknownst to anyone but Patty and I, we had it planned to have our house requisitioned by the Union army. They knocked upon the door, and when Carrie our servant (now known as Agnes) answered it, they pushed her aside and came in.
During this ordeal, poor Agnes was frightened to near fainting, but I kept her calm and told her to do as was asked and I would make sure no harm would come to her. Kristin (who was now known as Christine) heard the raucous from up in her room and called down. I sternly told her remain where she was and to be quiet. My youngest daughter had come into the house with our neighbor, Mrs. St. John. Mrs. St. John, the kind soul that she is, had brought cookies over to share with us and had no idea of the discourse that was occurring. She was able to hide the confections under the skirts of my daughter's dress as they entered, ensuring no Yankee would lay a hand upon a single one.
Again, my eldest daughter peaked out and asked what was the matter. And again I ordered her back into her room and to stay there, of which she obeyed. The Lieutenant asked me who I was speaking to and I replied in truth. As he moved up the stairs I told him she was in mourning and to please show her the respect she deserved. He asked how did her husband die, and I replied that he was shot and killed last December in Fredericksburgh, of which he stated that it was no great loss that a rebel should lose his life and that the man got what he deserved. He then proceeded to search our 2nd floor, for what, I couldn't tell you. But he did show my daughter respect and spoke little to her. As for Christine, she can, at times, become vocally boisterous, though I believe fear had kept her quiet on this day.
At this reenactment, Kristen was in mourning. For the first time we portrayed a southern leaning family living in Maryland, and
her husband was killed during a recent battle.
During this time, my wife and sister-in-law had returned home, very frightened indeed at seeing Federal army guards at both of our doors. I calmed them the best I could and, under my orders, they dutifully sat in the front parlor, for I know my wife well and she would give them a what-for if she had the chance. Agnes spoke to my wife in secret to tell her they had made a great mess in the kitchen and were eating all of our food.
But there was nothing any of us could do.
After around 45 minutes of this frightful experience, the soldiers had eaten just about everything we had and the Lieutenant ordered them out of our home, and they obliged. He then held out his hand as a peaceful gesture and gave me his thanks for us being so accommodating. I said to him, "I will not take your hand, but I do thank you for doing no harm to my family and no damage to my home."
With that, the door was closed behind him and I locked it promptly.
The terrifying ordeal was over.
As the men marched off, our laundress, Mrs. Fiona Hanley, scurried in our back door, quite upset at the sight of seeing Yankee soldiers filing out of our front door. She spoke a mile a minute in her thick Irish brogue about how she was so frightened at what she saw that she dropped the basket of our clean laundry and it spilled all over the ground. I thought the poor woman was going to have the vapors. I really thought so!
Our laundress, Mrs. Fiona Hanley speaks to my wife on her
concerns of the Yankee soldiers entering our home.
That's when I told her it was all planned out.
She had such a look of relief...and was pretty surprised how well we pulled this off.
This is a group picture of everyone who took part in our activities for the day, including the Union soldiers who did a fine job in playing their part.
No, it is not as weird as it may sound. My reenacting wife would be my wife in name and in *public* action in the public eye - - and that's where it obviously ends.
Larissa and I have reenacted together for quite a few years. We also do presentations as well. She knows her history and she knows how to portray a woman of the 1860s, so it was almost a natural segue into the next level of living history for us.
For 2014, we created a completely new reenacting family.
"Good day Everyone -
A few of us will be in the Sixberry House on Saturday. We will be portraying a southern-sympathizing family and are planning to be in immersion.
We are asking our fellow (and fellow-ette) reenactors to act accordingly upon entering the house.
We would love to have friends come calling, and although it's not a *must*, we are asking any reenactors who do visit to act as if you entered our real home in the summer of 1864 and stay in period.
We will have a servant who will answer the door upon knocking, by the way.
The rules were set!
|Our daughter Sarah|
We had some very serious (and very *real*) family conversations during our immersion. An example of a pretty intense discussion was one we had with our daughter Sarah of her want of the frivolities of the finer things in life, including a new silk dress and especially a bonnet, ideas which came about after visiting her Aunt Sarah (my first wife's sister) last Christmas in the big city of Annapolis. Her Aunt put ideas of living a grandeur life of silk dresses and bonnets into my daughter's head, and went so far as to be given, without our knowledge or consent, a catalog book of life's supposed finer things. Elizabeth found this booklet in Sarah's chest of drawers, and was none too happy upon doing so. One must understand that since we have no sons, the help of our daughter in the running this farm - inside and out - was of utmost importance to us, and we needed to banish these foolish ideas from her thoughts immediately.
So Sarah was called down from her bedchamber and was confronted of our concerns of late.
Her insistence in wanting such fine things caused me to become most stern (this is almost the verbatim conversation):
"You must get these foolish thoughts out of your head!"
"But Papa, I can wear a new silk dress to the local ball."
"Sarah, you know we have barn dances here, not balls. If anything, I will get you material to make a new work dress. That is much more useful than something as frivolous as a silk dress and bonnet."
"Another word and I will send you to your room to memorize bible verses!"
Meekly, looking down, "Yes Papa..."
To back me up, her mother read from The Mother's Book by Mrs. Child, which, in part, says, "A dress distinguished for simplicity and freshness is abundantly more lady-like than the ill-placed furbelows of fashion. It is very common to see vulgar, empty-minded people perpetually changing their dresses, without ever acquiring the air of a gentlewoman."
Sarah thought about this for a moment and seem to understand. She then looked at Violet in hopes of lifting the mood and asked, "Grandmother, how was your journey here?"
And, thus, went our day. Very real.
And when visitors came a-calling, the portrayal of our neighbors by our reenacting friends was, simply put, perfect:
|Some fine local conversation took place with my wife's friends when they came to visit us. Yes, they read my request and did a |
wonderful job staying in the moment.
Of course, with this being a Civil War reenactment, we also had some battle troubles-a-brewing - - - and there were Yankee soldiers in our yard. I dare not confront them for fear of what they might do.
It was noticed that we had soldiers - Yankee soldiers - in our yard.
We remained inside our house, and, as we continued with our immersion, we could actually feel a slight touch of the fright and helplessness of what those who lived in that time and place may have felt. The ladies sang hymns such as Amazing Grace and Nearer My God To Thee to help them to overcome their worry. I commend all of my fellow living historians involved, for it was truly amazing.
Unfortunately, we found that our little town was about to become a battlefield.
Obviously, none of us would have been out in the open like this
had it been an actual battle with real bullets and all, but we
wanted to watch some of the battle.
On to 2015:
A new year and somewhat of a new family.
Part of the reason for our success is a few of us have been working together in this capacity for a number of years and, because of that, there is a naturalness in our roles. Larissa, as Elizabeth, had returned for a second year as my wife, and her mother as my mother-in-law. Jaqueline returned as my sister, and I also gained another sister, Carolyn (who actually portrayed my real wife's sister a few years back, if you recall). Elizabeth and I also now had two daughters (again, my real life daughter does not care for immersion): Kristen returned and now we also have Jillian.
And then there are our two servants, Candace and Carrie (Agnes).
We certainly have put together quite a "19th Century House" - a play on words for all of the "house" shows PBS has put together, wouldn't you say?
Our reenacting family.
The two young boys are neighbor children
Larissa and I also portray husband and wife during our historic
farming presentations, so we have this down pretty well.
"You borrowed a book from a young man who's name you do not know?"
Her mother and I were quite upset at this and had a serious discussion about the matter. Even her aunts joined in and lectured her a bit on proper etiquette.
Just then, some young man was let into our home - - it was the same boy who loaned Jill the book! It just so happened that Caroline knew this boy and introduced us - including Jill - to him.
That's when the fun began.
I began to drill the possible suitor to the fullest extent, with Elizabeth whispering some of the questions to me; we preferred this to be a 'man-to-man' conversation to see if he had any interest in courting our daughter:
"What does your father do?"
"He's a farmer."
"What do you do?"
"I am in the Zouaves."
"What are your future plans once you leave the military?"
"To farm, like my father does."
"What are your intentions with our daughter?"
"What is your religious background?"
"I'm a Catholic."
"No - not a good answer!" (Elizabeth and I both said this aloud at the same time).
And on it went for a good ten minutes or so, which must have seemed to him, I suppose, like forever. But it was great fun for Larissa and I. He had no idea he had walked into a hornet's nest and fell head first into immersion. You see, the young man in question is, in real life, Jillian's (now former) boyfriend and he only wanted to step in for a moment to give her a quick message.
Heh heh heh - - - nope! It don't work like that 'round here!
Great fun indeed!
Kristen was, once again, in mourning, though we did not make
that our main objective for this year's scenario...
How ever, we, instead, enjoyed playing parlor games and had home entertainment, as would had been done at the time.
Here my sister reads poetry for everyone's enjoyment.
I then told a story I had of Jacqueline and a young man who wanted to be her suitor. Mr. Bagley wanted to be with her in the worst way but father did not like him. When Mr. Bagley came by late one evening to ask her to run off with him, he threw pebbles at her bedroom window to get her attention. Only it was not her window, but father and mother's! Father came out with gun in hand and you never seen anyone run away as quickly as Mr. Bagley did on that night.
We've never heard from him since.
|As always, eating our dinner in an 1860s fashion and |
surroundings is always such a highlight for all of us.
2015 was also the first time that we made and enjoyed ice cream with a replicated period crank ice cream maker and a recipe out of an 1870s home cook book.
On to 2016 - a year of great surprises.
So, I still have Larissa as Elizabeth as my wife, but now we have
a different daughter. Jillian and Kristen were not able to take part
this year, so Amanda stepped up to the plate.
Here you see mother and daughter putting on their bonnets.
This year, rather than have mother-in-law and sister already at the
house, we worked it out to go pick them up at the Bristol Inn
stagecoach stop down the road.
But this year, something different occurred:
we had an unexpected visitor come to our home, which took everyone by great surprise.
If you recall from 2015, my dear sister, Jacqueline, and I had come up with stories of our youth to regale the family with, including a former suitor wannabe for my sister that I explained about earlier in this post. Larissa/Elizabeth always takes great pleasure in these stories. 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 aside from the one about poor Mr. Bagley.
So in 2016 I tried a different route: rather than the telling of a story, 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 from everyone but Larissa.
Imagine the surprise on Jacqueline's face when our servant announced, "There is a Mr. Bagley here to see Miss Jacqueline."
She looked at me, mouth wide open. She said, "You mean there really is a Mr. Bagley? I thought he was made up!"Next thing you know, a sharp fellow comes into our parlor (my reenactor friend, Dan Conklin), and, upon seeing my sister, exclaimed, "Jacqueline! It's been so long!".
She became as flushed as a red rose, exclaiming, "I feel I have the vapors!"
She honestly didn't know what to say.
The rest of us could not stop laughing for crying at her expressions!
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.
Mr. Bagley...is real??
This was one for the books, that's for certain!
Ahhh...victory was mine that day...!
For the second year we made homemade ice cream.
So now we move onto 2017 - -
This was the year we gave ourselves a surname: The Logan family.
The return of Jillian as our daughter!
We sure do look like a proper Victorian family, don't we?
Enjoying a fine 1860s summertime meal with family and friends.
As you may see, sister Carolyn joined us again this year!
|This was the year Mr. Bagley returned to ask my sister to marry him.|
She, quite shocked, said, "Yes!"
Mr. Bagley and Mr. Heath duel to the death over the love of my sister.
Everyone watched in horror at what was about to take place.
Our Mr. Bagley - dear Mr. Bagley - took a bullet to the chest.
As saddened as we were, once the body was removed from our yard, the heat and excitement of the day beckoned us to...
Make ice cream!
By the way, this was the one year we didn't have a servant.
Let us now move on to 2018, another year of changes:
Another "family photo," this time taken inside our barn.
A new edition to our family unit: welcome Rebecca, daughter of
my sister Carolyn.
Taking the road to town.
Charlton Park is a wonderful replication of a 19th century hamlet.
And the ladies enjoyed their time from the house.
Of course, everyone had returned in time for the afternoon dinner meal.
As you can see, Candace had returned as our servant.
And so had Agnes (Carrie)
And so had...
The Yankee soldiers...
While her cousin Rebecca maintained a proper southern poise,
Jill kept peeking out the curtains at the soldiers. Her mother felt
she had an interest on one of them.
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, unbeknownst to her, 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.
This was a perfect ending to the "core" part of our immersion experience. Jillian played her role perfectly in this very real an unexpected turn of events, 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 to her school was the icing on the proverbial cake!
Everything was perfect...and real.
Carrying on our tradition with making ice cream also commenced.
So 2018 Sixberry again gave some surprises and realism to all involved.
Like I said, I work with the best.
Another participant family photograph.
And this brings us to this current year of 2019, the year I could not attend.
Not that I didn't want to, but there have been some health issues, especially the night before, so it would not have been a good idea for me to be there.
A few others of our "family" also had issues and could not make it.
Larissa, Jillian, and Rebecca, however, were troopers and did show (you have no idea how difficult it was for me not to be there - - yes, depression set in).
Anyhow, the three performed like champs and gave me a run down of this year's scenarios that they did, for the one we planned for this year we will do next year instead.
They even took a few pictures (I'm so proud!):
A few of us were missing, but these three ladies did just fine!
I can't wait to join them again next year!
Concerned about the Yankees out back
You should have seen it! I made the soldier get in trouble and clean the house! The soldier who was grilling us made a mess and was told to go back to camp and come back to the house to clean his mess up! And I showed him the front door and all the crumbs and he actually took the mat outside to beat on the fence! Hahaha!"
My defiant nature came back a bit! Lol. They asked us who we voted for and I replied with, “Sir, we are but women who cannot vote! Do you think we speak of politics?”
Larissa wrote: "They didn’t think about it before they asked us who we voted for in the last presidential election. We were like, uh. No one!"
Hmmm...when the husband's away...
So there you have a run down of our history at Sixberry House. Every year has a different story, though similar from a previous story at times. But we do try to make it come alive in a most(ly) respectful way to do honor to those we are emulating.
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 being depicted - 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.
It is not for everyone, and that's okay.
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 have found living historians with that very same mindset! Or, rather, we found each other.
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 other's 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 have 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 as realistic as we possibly can each time.
For all involved, I am very thankful; we did find ourselves and our story.
But I especially want to thank Sally Vander Ark Williams, for it was she who guided me in the direction of the house in the first place. And it was she that was able to allow me to use it in the manner we do.
By the way, this post does not signify the end of our tenure there. No sir or ma'am. We are already planning next year's scenario.
Until next time, see you in time.
If you liked this post, you might enjoy the following as well:
The Immersion Experience
Using Your Five Senses for Immersion
How Accurate Should We As Reenactors Be?
How We Became Reenactors
It's Just A Hobby
The Public Is Here To See You - - Be Kind
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