Monday, November 23, 2020

Autumn at Greenfield Village 2020

Few things get me more excited than visiting Greenfield Village during the season of Autumn.  We got very lucky during this year of the covid-19 lockdown to still be able to visit the amazing open-air museum,  though numerous activities,  including the Fall Flavors  (harvest)  weekends had been cancelled.  However,  that didn't mean fall was not in the air.  In fact,  the powers-that-be who run the Village really did their best to keep history alive and truly did a remarkable job in doing so,  and for that my hat is off to them.
So,  let's begin in September and we'll move our way through most of November,  I tried to capture it all. 
Labor Day at Firestone Farm:  "Look at how well the corn is doing!"

"In fact,  I think I'll get me an ear!"

A visit to Greenfield Village is not a true visit unless I stop at the Daggett House.
You know,  with all of the changes taking place in order for the Village to stay open,  I have to say that the good folks who work there - this includes not only the higher ups,  but the presenters as well,  for I know they played a part in the ideas - made some of the best lemonade I ever tasted as life threw them lemons!
For instance,  this is the first time I saw them make soap over at the Daggett House.  Unfortunately,  I was not able to stay very long on this day so all I was able to capture was the prep,  but even that was very cool to see and hear about:
Set up to make lye soap
Some history for you:
After the colonists were settled and had been able to survive the first years of hardships,  they
found it more advantageous to make soap themselves using the copious amount of wood ashes, 
a natural result of their homesteading activities.  With also a plentiful supply of animal fat from
the butchering of the animals they used for food,  the colonists had on hand all the ingredients
for soap making.  They did not have to rely on waiting for soap to be shipped from England and
waste their goods or few pieces of currency in trade for soap.
You can see the ashes from the hearth.
Soap,  with some work and luck,  could be made for free.  Soap making was performed as a yearly or semiannual event on the homesteads of the early settlers.  As the butchering of animals took place in the fall,  soap was made at that time on many homesteads and farms to utilize the large supply of tallow and lard that resulted.  
On the homes or farms where butchering was not done,  soap was generally made in the spring using the ashes from the winter fires and the waste of cooking grease that had accumulated throughout the year.

For a while this year,  visitors were not allowed to go inside most of the structures,  so,  instead,  were able to peek through the windows to see the past:
Jan was carding the flax without the use of paddles.
Before spinning,  the flax needs to be  "carded." carding paddles are used.  Instead,  the flax is sort of fanned out on a table,  a few pieces at a time, all laying out in the same direction,  and making sure to remove any knots or small bunched up pieces.
This is a fairly long and tedious process.

Later in September we see the farmers at Firestone Farm making corn shocks.
The harvest of the field crops at Firestone Farm have actually been underway since July as the wheat ripened.  The fall is when the field corn was harvested,  however,  and by the end of September or early October,  the corn at Firestone Farm would be standing in neat shocks.  
Firestone Farm pre-dates the era of the silo,  when corn stalks were chopped up and made into a slightly fermented feed known as silage.  So instead,  corn stalks were chopped and fed as fodder.
Gathering the stalks into shocks had an important purpose.  The inside stalks,  sheltered from the elements,  retained their nutritional value for quite some time and the actual shock made a handy manageable portion for the farmer to haul from the field for his cattle.  
The corn was either picked before shocking,  or at the time the shock was pulled from the field.  

This picture in of itself reminds me why I love a Greenfield Village autumn.
Corn then had to be husked and then thrown into the corn crib for further drying.  Firestone barn has an enormous corn crib running the entire side of the barn shed.  Once dry it could be shelled and then either fed as shelled corn or ground into feed or meal.

With the early 19th century Edison house on the left,  and the 1832 Ackley Covered Bridge on the right,  the fall colors of the garden seem to jump out of the picture.  

For most of October,  the Village was closed unless you had tickets for their Hallowe'en event.  However,  rather than open up at 5 or 6 and be forced to follow a path,  this year for Hallowe'en,  the Village opened a couple hours earlier than they normally would,  allowing us to enjoy a bit of late afternoon in October and roam freely throughout.
It was awesome!
October 24:
The vibrant colors were beautiful amidst the historic buildings.
We were lucky we had a bit of sun as well.

Now we'll move onto the Hallowe'en experience,  which was the best they've had in a very long time...
As was stated it in the program,  their event has been   "delightfully reimagined to ensure every guest's visit is safe,  responsible,  and fun."
What they did was take a mostly children's oriented evening and threw some cool stuff in for us older kids and made it even better.  They even included an evening train ride through haunted forests.
Pretty cool.
And here are a few pictures from our time there - - 
Nods to the Legend of Sleepy Hollow could be seen in various areas.

This is also from Sleepy Hollow,  but I have no idea what it is called.

For the first time,  Greenfield Village introduced the Hallowe'en Express.
"Board one of our ghostly passenger cars for a ride on the Hallowe'en Express.  This 20 minute train ride will take you on a tour of ghosts,  monsters,  and urban legends as it winds through the erie but enchanted woods of Greenfield Village.  What sort of spectral beings or creatures of the night will you see?"
(from the Greenfield Village Hallowe'en hand out)
I was lucky to be able to take a ride on the train,  which took place after the sun went down.  It was at the end of our time at the Village and,  unfortunately,  I must have hit a button on my camera because my pictures were pretty horrible.  However,  I do have a few photos of the daytime rides:
This picture and the one below was very cool,  for the train on the left was a 
"ghost train."
Check out the next shot below  to see what happens:

Flames shooting out of the smokestack!
This was very cool!

Ian Kushnir took this picture of the  "ghost train"  as the sun was setting.

It is unfortunate my touchy camera decided not to work while I was on the train itself,  for I missed some awesome opportunities to get a few pretty cool shots.
However,  a member of the Friends of Greenfield Village Facebook page,  Kristen A. Dankert,  took a few photos during her daytime ride and graciously allowed me to post a couple here:
At one point a monster came out of the woods.

We were transported to the British Isles!
I believe these were Druids dancing around a fire.

(Thanks again to Kristen A. Dankert for the above two photographs.)

The one picture I did take on the train that actually turned
out pretty cool - the lantern hanging from the ceiling
of our train car.

It's not often I can visit my favorite house at the beginning of twilight time.
With few clouds I was able to capture that time wonderfully as the sun sank below
the horizon.

And then...the shadows began to blend with the darkness.
That is my silhouette in the Daggett window...

Ian captured a likeness of me in the Daggett kitchen garden.

Just a bit of  strategically placed lighting can transform a house into something
slightly more spooky,  such as what you see here at the Giddings House.
Of course,  it helps if the house is 270 years old!

~The Woman in White~
"Inspired by the character Miss Havisham in Charles Dickens 1860 Great Expectations,  the Woman in White has been trapped in a dimension of her own creation,  fueled by her grief and broken heart after having been jilted at the altar.  Though she reaches out,  she cannot see or hear anyone beyond her own sphere."
(from the Greenfield Village Hallowe'en hand out)

I like this picture for it has a sort of ethereal feel to it.
It's just kind of cool.

My son likes to dress in dark clothing,  so I thought posing him with the undertaker
at the cemetery gate might make for an interesting picture.
And it does!

The Eagle Tavern  was closed to the public during this year of covid, 
but it did have its own bone-chilling scenario displayed.

"The Grim Reaper has - falsely - been depicted as an evil spirit that preys on mortals. 
In truth,  he is merely a force of nature and order."
(from the Greenfield Village Hallowe'en hand out)

Could this be Sleepy Hollow?
Washington Irving's 1820 story,  The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,  has always played prominently in the Village's Hallowe'en event,  and they really do a marvelous depiction.
I see Ichabod Crane being chased by the Headless Horseman! 

Yes,  I dressed in my period clothing to attend.
No,  it is not a costume,  but I could not think of a better way to get
some of the evening and nighttime photos,  such as what you see here, 
unless I wore it for this Hallowe'en extravaganza.

In early November I took another jaunt to the Village

I visited Greenfield Village for the first time around 1972,  and the Daggett House was not there at that time.  It was not until 1983 before I made it back there again and guess what?  Yes---I saw the home of Samuel & Anna Daggett for the first time,  and it has been my favorite ever since.  I am just drawn to it...

Sometimes a picture is just asking to be taken!

As of this writing,  November is not over.  I have high hopes to do one more daytime visit before it closes up for the year  (aside for Holiday Nights in December,  which I also plan to attend).
You will probably see a blog post for each visit.

I am so thankful that those in control at The Henry Ford have been able to not only open the Village up,  but  (in their own words)  "re-imagine"  the presentations.  They kept it alive - the presenters found new ways of showing and depicting the past.  As a person who is already thinking of next year,  I am very interested and excited to see what the future past will bring.
"Gotta feeling  '21 is gonna be a good year..."

Until next time,  see you in time.

To visit a couple of other Autumn excursions - - - 
Click HERE for our Colonial Harvest Day in 1770
Click HERE for a modern twist to traditional activities

~   ~   ~

Monday, November 16, 2020

Keeping Fall Traditions Alive in the 21st Century

As a living historian,  I often find myself participating in activities of the past in a myriad of ways throughout the year,  but none as often as during the autumn and the harvest period.  It was,  perhaps,  the most active time of the four seasons.  And to a great extent,  it still is today,  for hitting the farmer's markets on country roads for fresh vegetables,  visiting cider mills for cider and doughnuts and apple picking,  having fall bonfire parties,  taking rural drives to look at the changing leaves...and many more traditions we still carry on here in the 21st century.
And I am no different.
This is what I see while sitting at my computer.
No,  it's not as  "country"  as where some of you live,  but the fall beauty still shines.
I've always been a traditional guy in every sense of the word.  The many things we do in my household is taken directly or is a sort of offshoot from the traditions of the past - long past and my own past.
Living history just enhanced it.
So,  for this week's post I'd like to talk a bit about the traditions I partake in today.

I don't remember a time when I didn't go apple picking.  As a youngster I went with my mom & dad,  and then my mom would bake apple pies,  for the cooler weather was settling in and the warmth from the oven and the mouth-watering scent of the baking pie would waft throughout the house.
And my wife and I have continued this tradition and go apple picking every September - September 1983 was our first time picking together.  Except for the drought we had a half decade ago,  we have not missed a year,  including this covid-19 year of 2020
Apple cider mills are big business in the fall here in Michigan,  and farmers depend on the surge of patrons to survive.  So,  along with my wife & I,  our kids  (now grown and a couple even married),  grandkids,  and sometimes various other family members & friends,  will join in and carry on the tradition and venture out to the apple orchard cider mill experience to enjoy one of the best ways we know how to celebrate autumn:  by picking apples,  drinking cider,  and eating freshly made doughnuts.
Yeah...we're  those  kind of people! 
And here in Michigan there are more cider mills than one can shake a stick at,  and each can be pretty unique unto itself,  from the ginormous commercial ventures that have singing hillbilly bears,  witches flying into poles,  and skeletons sitting on the toilet telling awful jokes,  to the basic no frills apples,  cider,  and doughnuts with little else,  which is the kind of mill I prefer - the no frills variety.
Our day usually ends with my wife baking a couple of homemade apple pies!
McIntosh apples -
from the late 18th century,  they are still popular today.
So...are they considered heirloom apples?

Ross's Stony Creek Orchard in Romeo,  Michigan is actually more rustic than this
picture let's on.  Actually,  it's one of the more rustic orchards around.

My granddaughter adds her collection of picked apples to the crate.

A real bushel of apples----

My oldest son,  his wife,  and their three kids.
It's a family affair,  you know.

Almost my whole family.
We enjoyed doughnuts & freshly squeezed cider - both made on the premises.
The best!

My wife and I and our three grandchildren.
No corn mazes.  No haunted houses.
No singing hillbilly bears sitting on the toilet.
Just a stack o' hay for climbing.  And the kids had a blast!
And,  of course,  fresh baked apple pie made by my wife!

We will usually take a different way back home after apple picking,  enjoying a more rural route.  There is just something about the country that soothes my soul.  Well,  as we drove home we passed an old schoolhouse that just beckoned me to pull over to investigate.
Simply indescribable...just imagine the history this building has seen...

Now weather-damaged due to the broken windows,  my thoughts still drifted back
in time to what it may have been like over a hundred years ago.
The lone schoolhouse south of 31 Mile on Mound Road in what used to be called Thoringtonville - a town that is no more;  only this schoolhouse and a cemetery - Brabb Cemetery - both remnants of the 19th century,  remain.  There is extreme little information on Thoringtonville,  unfortunately.
The land that contains the old schoolhouse and cemetery was owned by a person named Mary Thorington;  this chunk of property was part of a larger piece of land that was owned by C.  C.   Thorington,  so,  obviously this area was named after them or their family...but it doesn't seem that it was ever an  "official"  town.
In the stillness of the country,  you could still hear and feel the spirits of those who
once attended school here...I needed to investigate to find out its history.
Some refer to this school as the  “Crissmanville”  school.  There is scant info on a  ‘Crissmanville,’  other than it is indeed the name of the schoolhouse,  located at 66885 Mound Road in Thoringtonville.  The info found says the school was built sometime in the 1860’s.  An actual area called Crissmanville may have existed just two miles south of Thoringtonville.  At the junction of 29 Mile Rd.  and Mound Rd.  was land once owned by a man named A.J. Crisman in the late 1800’s,  which makes sense that the area was named after him.  There was even another old one-room schoolhouse just a few feet down from the Crisman property,  but it was torn down in order to build a housing community.
It's a sad remnant of days long gone by...
but the cool things one can find traveling the backroads of America is amazing.
(I found this information on two other blogs,  so I copied and pasted it nearly verbatim here.  Other than that,  there is sadly no other information about life here 150 years ago.)

~Now onto another tradition~

2020 marks the 4th year of my candle-dipping  gatherings of friends and family.  Before I began having these frolics,  we would hand-dip our candles at Greenfield Village - it was a part of their public interactive activities,  but unfortunately it was discontinued,  which I believe was a mistake on their part.  So,  in 2017,  I decided to do it on my own.  To be honest,  it's a bit more fun now because not only do I get a goodly supply of candles,  but I can do it with friends in the comfort of my own yard!
Yes,  each helper gets to keep a candle of their own dipping,  though I keep the rest  (hey---I paid for the wax!).  But it is a fun time;  my wife will make a lunch - usually homemade chicken soup - and many participants will bring treats such as doughnuts,  cookies,  cider,  and other desserts.
It really is a great time.
My yard:  all set and ready to go,  and I included two historic 
Revolutionary War-era flags waving in the wind...just because.

Let's begin,  then,  with a bit of social history and thoughts on this art of candle dipping:
Most 18th and 19th century homes were as self-sufficient as they could be and those who lived in them did their best to produce as many things needful to life as they could,  and this did include candles.  As part of their domestic work,  women usually were the ones who carried the entire candle making process from start to finish,  though many times the children,  and even the men  (as opportunity arose),  would help out as well.
Well,  this male has taken on the chandler job at my house.  As I am not a farmer,  nor do I work long hours away from home----and especially since I have electricity lol----I have taken on this chore.  Since I started doing it four years ago,  all candles we have in my house are homemade in my backyard.
That's really kind of a neat feeling.
The molds and the wicks tied to dipping sticks were ready.

Artificial light in the 18th and even in the early 19th century was truly a luxury.  People were used to working by daylight while indoors,  so lighting a candle when the sun was up was rare  (sorry Outlander fans! lol).  It was customary for folks to move from room to room to get the most out of the day's light.  Generally,  candles were lit only during the nighttime hours,  and sparingly so,  due to the lengthy candle-making process.  According to one of the chandlers I spoke to at Colonial Williamsburg,  a typical middle class home in the 1750's could go through nearly 500 to 700 candles a year.  And that may even be a conservative amount for those who were a bit more well-to-do.
My son took care of the fire.

Though candles could be dipped any time of the year,  the main season for dipping was usually in early-to-mid November.  It must be remembered that candlemaking was not the fun hobby then as it is in our modern times;  it was a backbreaking,  smelly,  greasy task.  The making of the winter's stock of candles was the special autumnal household duty,  and a hard one,  too,  for the large kettles were tiresome and heavy to handle,  and the work was well under way at a very early hour,  with the temperatures being just cold enough for a quicker hardening.
I use my reenacting cast iron cooking accessories,  allowing me to slide the pot from the center heat to the cooler sides to help maintain the correct temperature and prevent the pot filled with melted beeswax from getting too hot.
I collect the wax over the course of the year and store it until our big
candle-making day.
I use only pure beeswax.
As you can see,  this block was not been filtered - it's about as pure as you can get.
One year I'd like to try making tallow candles.

Wicks were made from linen,  cotton,  hemp,  or,  less often,  from milkweed.  If they lived near a general store,  or maybe if a peddler happened by,  thick string could be bought to use as wicks.
Though my frolic began in the early afternoon,  during the 18th century an early hour found the work well under way for our ancestors.  Where mine is done outside over a firepit,  in the 1700s a good fire was started in the kitchen fireplace under two vast kettles,  which were hung on trammels from the crane,  and half filled with boiling water and melted beeswax or tallow.
At the far end of the kitchen or in an adjoining and cooler room,  sometimes in the lean-to,  two long poles were laid from chair to chair or stool to stool.  Across these poles were laid candle rods,  which were about a foot and a half long,  and to each rod was attached about six to eight carefully straightened candle-wicks.  With the fat/tallow or wax in the pot melted,  the wicking from the rods would be dipped into the pot and then returned to its place across the two poles.  This process would occur repeatedly as each rod was dipped into the tub of tallow or wax,  and with each dip the candles became larger and larger until the desired length and width was had.
My reenactor friend,  Micki,  shows well how the wax builds on the wicks after certain numbers of dippings.

It's here that we can quote Susan Blunt,  who remembered her 18th century mother during the fall candle dipping season:
"Mother used to dip candles in the fall,  enough to last all winter.  When a beef was killed in the fall,   she would use all the tallow for candles.  On the evening before,  we would help her prepare the wicks.  The boys would cut a lot of rods and she would cut the wicks the length of a candle and then string them on the rods.
As I've done in previous years,  I invited friends - mostly reenactors - to spend the 
afternoon,  dipping candles,  eating food,  and enjoying each other's company.

Susan Blunt continues:  "In the morning she would commence her day's work.   She would dip each one in the hot tallow and straighten out the wicks so the candles would be straight when they were finished.  By raising the candles  (out of the kettle)  at just the right speed and working on a day with a moderate temperature,  the fine quality of the candles would be assured.  The candles would be cooled overnight and the bottom ends cut off neatly.  The finished  candles were packed away in a mouse-proof container for safe storage."

The best part of this day for me was having my six-year-old
grandson dip candles for the first time  (with plenty of help
from Miss Jenny!).

Look how proud my grandson is!
As he should be!

And the diary of Martha Ballard tells us:
November 5, 1787
"Clear & pleast. I Came from mr Fosters. we made 25 Dozn of Candles."
Twenty five dozen - that's 300 candles in one day!  And the group of us were lucky to have made close to 70 in an afternoon.

Next we have a wonderful example of candle-making from the Laura Ingalls Wilder book,  "Farmer Boy."  Wilder writes of Almanzo's mother making candles,  also from tallow.  One day I hope to make tallow candles - maybe next year - but the basic motions are the same as with using beeswax:
"The end of butchering time was candle making.  Mother scrubbed the big lard kettles and filled them with bits of beef fat.  Beef fat doesn't make lard;  it melts into tallow.  While it was melting,  Almanzo helped string the candle molds.  A candle mold was two rows of tin tubes,  fastened together and standing straight up on six feet.  There were twelve tubes in a mold.   They were open at the top,  but tapered to a point at the bottom,  and in each point there was a tiny hole.  Mother cut a length of candle-wicking for each tube.  She doubled the wicking across a small stick,  and twisted it into a cord.  She licked her thumb and finger and rolled the end of the cord into a sharp point.  When she had six cords on the stick,  she dropped them into six tubes,  and the sticks lay on top of the tubes.  The points of the cords came through the tiny holes in the points of the tubes,  and Almanzo pulled each one tight,  and held it tight by sticking a raw potato on the tube's sharp point.
Besides dipping,  I also used my tin molds.
They work fine,  but I do prefer the dipped candles.
Note the sticks holding the wicking in place as the wax dries.
When every tube had its wick,  held straight and tight down its middle,  Mother carefully poured the hot tallow.  She filled every tube to the top.  Then Almanzo set the molds outdoors to cool.  When the tallow was hard,  he brought the mold in.  He pulled off the potatoes.  Mother dipped the whole mold into the boiling water,  and lifted the sticks.  Six candles came up on each stick.  Then Almanzo cut them off the stick.  He trimmed the ends of wicking off the flat ends,  and he left just enough wicking to light,  on each pointed end.
All one day Almanzo helped mother make candles.  That night they had made enough candles to last til butchering time next year."
And that is exactly how I remove the beeswax candles from the tin mold tubes I have.
No modern sprays for me!
The chandlers - actually,  there were a few more but were not in the picture.
This was the best year for candles yet!

One definite lesson I learned about candle comparisons:  the 12" long tapered candles I used to buy at the store burn nearly three times as fast as the 6"  to 7"  homemade beeswax candles.  One beeswax candle almost half that size can burn for five hours or more,  while the longer modern store-bought one lasts maybe two or three hours at most.
We actually made more than the 64 candles you see here;  each dipper got to 
take one home,  so there would have been nearly a dozen more.

An interesting side note is how reenactors react during power outages;  our candles and oil lamps are generally more easily accessible than flashlights.  In fact,  many times I've used candle light to search for my flashlight or for the flashlight batteries.
Needless to say,  going to the bathroom becomes infinitely more interesting,  and can be a chore;  we are so used to high brightness that it's almost eerie without.
To head to the basement to get more paper towel?  Bring a candle with you.  Want to change into your night clothes?  Have that oil lamp setting near your dresser.  Need to get a drink of water from the kitchen?  Make sure to bring your light.
The funny thing is,  during these blackouts I still habitually reach for the light switch whenever I enter a darkened room.
You,  too?
I found it to be amazing how many candles one can go through during an outage;  we do try to conserve,  as did the folks in days of old,  by only using one or two candles in whatever room we are in,  with the second light usually for  "traveling"  around the house.

. . . 

In this age of high-tech,  it's great to see non-tech traditions maintaining popularity.  Especially when families are involved,  including the wee ones.  Gatherings such as this don't seem to occur nearly as often as they did only a few years ago.  But when we get together,  we have so much fun.
That's what matters.

Until next time,  see you in time.

To learn more about how our ancestors lived in darkness,  click HERE
To learn more about America's history with apples,  click HERE

~   ~   ~