Friday, January 22, 2021

A Year in the Life of a Living Historian: 2020 - Reenacting Under Covid Restrictions

What a year 2020 has been,  eh?
Even outside of the virus,  2020 was rotten simply on the fact that my two sisters got breast cancer - one toward the beginning of the year and the other toward the end.  Thank God they are both doing well.
And I've had my own health issues...but I'm working on that,  too.
Then there's been the crazy political strife.
Oh! And how about that covid-19,  eh? 
Hey everyone! Everything's cancelled!!
There was only one bonafide public-invited reenactment in 2020 in my general area,  and yet,  I managed to grab quite a few other opportunities to wear my period clothing. 
Actually,  quite a lot more than I realized.
So---here,  in photos,  is how my year in period clothing went  (can you imagine actually spending an entire year wearing period clothing---day in and day out---morning til night?):  
January - 21 Mi Christmas Party
The 21st Michigan Civil War reenactors always throw a magnificent party,  held in an 1872 schoolhouse.  I believe,  perhaps,  more members attend this event than any other throughout the year...except maybe Civil War Remembrance held at Greenfield Village over Memorial Weekend in May.

January - 21 Mi Christmas Party
After we have our fine dinner filled with mostly period-correct food,  we'll move the tables aside and have a contra-dance.

January - 21 Mi Christmas Party
Jillian and I partnered up for a dance as well.

Now...onto another period party:
January - Colonial Christmas Party
For the past couple of years I also threw a Christmas party for my colonial group, 
Citizens of the American Colonies.  Members of the 1st Pennsylvania
usually come as well.

January - Colonial Christmas Party
Though on a smaller scale than the 21st Michigan party,  it was no less a fine time.

January - Colonial Christmas Party
We also had a fine repast of period-correct food as well as a fiddler supplying us
with music of the day
Once the covid crap has calmed down,  I will throw another party.

With that,  we'll move into February:
February - A Night at the Museum
'Twas a cold February night when Paul Revere was brought back to life for a group
of young boys who had an interest in history.
In fact - they had more than an interest; 
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that many of these kids knew who I was and of my most famous achievement.  They also knew other great American historical facts such as the date of the Declaration of Independence,  why the Revolutionary War was fought,  and the names of a few of the other founders.
That was awesome!

February - A Night at the Museum
Here are all of the participants of this evening's historical entertainment:
Paul Revere,  "Mr.  Nobody,"  Greta Zimmer,  Tom Edison,  Alexander Graham Bell.

There is also a most notable birthday that occurs in February:
February - George Washington's Birthday
Tony Gerring,  on the right,  holds an annual celebration
of the birth of the father of our Country.
It's also a great excuse for a wintertime gathering.

February - George Washington's Birthday
It's always nice to see friends,  some of  which I have not seen in months.

February - George Washington's Birthday
I have known Jackie and Amanda for many years,
for I've reenacted with them in the Civil War era.
And now we three are also doing late 18th century

On Leap Day - February 29 - Charlotte Bauer put together the Reenactors Swap and Sell,  which was,  like the last few gatherings,  held at the old 1872 schoolhouse,  and it was such a grand success;  after a wint'ry week  (a half foot of snow was dumped on us a few days before),  folks were itching to get out of their houses and think of the warm-weather when the major reenactments would take place  (or so they thought...)
February - Reenactors Swap and Sell
The fear of Coronavirus,  though in the news,  had not yet reached these shores, 
so Charlotte had quite the turnout of people.
February - Reenactors Swap and Sell
Charlotte was plumb wore out by the end of it all!
Soon after we all came to realize that this was it---the only reenactor swap and sell in Michigan for the year,  for the Kalamazoo Living History Show,  which normally takes place toward the end of March,  was cancelled within a couple weeks due to covid.

However,  with Kalamazoo cancelled,  a few of us who had saved our money to purchase 18th and 19th century treasures,  instead,  purchased our wants on line directly from the sutler,  such as what you see in the following two photos:
In the above picture was a little set up inside the great hall of the 
Daggett House,  representing the 1760s,
and in the picture below is a similar scene in my own home with 
purchases made at Samson's Historical.
Portraying a colonial-era farmer means attempting to complete the period look I am striving for,  which means acquiring some of the everyday items I notice when I visit another 18th century farmhouse - Samuel Daggett's.  The curators of Greenfield Village have placed throughout the house items Mr.  Daggett and his wife,  Anna,  would have used during their time.  For instance,  in the buttery off the kitchen are shelves that hold a variety of interesting items:
Above:  shelves in the buttery of the Daggett House.
Below is my own replication:
So I always am on the look out for more items as I continue to Daggett-ize my house.

Still in March:  it the very beginning of the covid shut down,  I held my annual Citizens of the American Colonies period dress members meeting.  A few members did not come,  but most did,  and even a few reenactors who were a bit curious also came.
March - Citizens of the American Colonies meeting
Either way,  it was the last period-dress gathering of anything here in Michigan
for some time to come.

So now covid hit and my state of Michigan was in a lockdown.
Perhaps the most difficult part for me...well,  it was all pretty crappy...but I really felt sorry for the kids - the seniors in the high school where I work who were not going to have a prom,  a senior skip day,  a senior picnic,  or even a graduation ceremony.  My heart broke for them because they've worked nearly their entire lives for these moments.  Yeah,  there were some who felt I was making too much of it but,  well,  it truly upset me.  Anyhow,  my high school put together a video of messages from staff to students.  Of course,  I gotta be me,  right?  Unfortunately,  the video is no longer available for viewing,  but this was my portion of the message sent.

With the lockdown,  the shutdown,  and everything being cancelled,  my stress level was at a high so I thought I'd come up with something fun to do to help alleviate some of the anger and frustration that I,  along with many of my friends,  felt.
So I private messaged the following text to a bunch of my friends:
"I was wondering if I could have some fun help from you.
I am working on a totally farby blog post and I am looking for reenactors who are willing to dress impeccably in their period clothing  (whichever period you enjoy - RevWar,  F&I,  Civil War,  WWII,  Regency),  but only rather than be doing something historically accurate,  I want you to be doing something totally farby or be in farby surroundings.
If you would like to do this for me - and I hope you do - please private message the photos to me privately so everyone can be surprised."
Although many reenactors sent in  great pictures,  the majority did not.
Hahah---and there were numerous folks who sent me notes afterward that they should have participated once they saw what I did when I published this particular blog post!
Oh well---maybe next time----
April - Purposely Farby
No,  no,  no!  I did not shout,  "The British are coming!" 
This google thing has it all wrong!

May was a sad month...this was supposed to be the big Civil War Remembrance Weekend at Greenfield Village.  Unfortunately,  not only was the event cancelled,  but the Village,  which normally opens in mid-April,  was not,  at this time,  sure when or if they would re-open this year.
Thankfully they finally opened in July  (more on that later).
However,  my friend Joey and his wife Amanda planned a period dress get-together in his rather large backyard on Memorial Day Monday.
May - Memorial Day
'Twas not 1860s but,  rather,  more 1760s at Joey's place.

May - Memorial Day
There were a couple tents and flies set up,  which really gave it that feeling of
being at an event.

May - Memorial Day
A few of us,  myself included,  brought along period things to do.
I wrote in a journal.
Hats off to Joey for doing such a cool thing as this.  No,  it wasn't an actual reenactment,  but because of the reason why it was done,  it was every bit as good.
Thank you Joey & Amanda.

June was a non-period clothes wearing month,  I am sad to say.  However,  I did do a few historical things at my home,  including building a shelf as part of my colonial vignette in my back gathering room.
My replicated 18th century lanterns look pretty swell sitting atop my shelf.
I am no wood craftsman by any means,  but even I could make such a
simple addition.
Also in June:
I enjoy putting these vignettes together in my attempt to show a few of
my period replications.

Greenfield Village normally opens for the season in mid-April,  but Michigan's governor had the entire state shut down and the Village,  therefore,  did not open that month.
Or the next.
Or the next.
However,  it did open - finally! - on July 2nd.
Two days later,  you can guess where I was...
4th of July
Members of Citizens of the American Colonies took advantage of the beautiful
4th of July weather and came with me to celebrate the
Independence Day Holiday at Greenfield Village.

4th of July
Plenty of photo opportunities abound at Greenfield Village, 
such as this scene
in front of the Plympton House.
As we were all dressed 18th century,  we mainly stuck to the houses from that period.

4th of July
An English country scene on an American holiday.
Yes,  that's the 1620 Cotswold cottage from England in the background.

4th of July
We all also gathered at another mid-18th century house---the former home of
John Giddings,  who was a wealthy shipping merchant.

As a social historian,  I sometimes feel I have an edge in accenting and improve my own living history experiences,  presentations,  and impressions,  and I always tend to notice the many seemingly insignificant items in the background inside historic homes.
And then I ask about it,  take pictures,  and hope to see it in action.
From there I will oftentimes search high and low to find and purchase a replicated version for myself,  especially if it is inside the Daggett House.  You see,  before Greenfield Village allows an item to be placed inside their historic homes,  it goes through rigorous research and,  I was told,  must have at least three primary sources for proof.
That's why I know it is correct.
And then I will try and locate,  usually successfully,  one for my own home.
I call it Daggett-izing  (click HERE to learn more about how I've been Daggett-izing my home).
A good  (and most recent)  example of this is my flax break.
It took me a few years to locate the kind I wanted at a reasonable price,  but for me patience truly was a virtue for it was well worth the wait.  I initially Facebook posted  (on my birthday in May)  that I found a flax break located in Nebraska and had purchased it,  letting folks know it would be a couple of months before delivery.  Then in July I posted on my Facebook page about my latest cool acquisition's arrival.  I wrote:  I know it's probably the least impressive thing most of you have seen,  but to me it is golden.
Yep---Ken is happy...even in this unbearing heat.
July 9
My flax break...finally!
Now all I needed to get was some retted flax...which was also
pretty difficult to find.
To be continued...

On a hot August day a few of us decided to get on our favorite clothing and head out to Mill Race Village in Northville.
Just a few of us spent some time at Mill Race,  and although none of the buildings had opened to the public this year,  there were a few visitors who still roamed the small historic open-air museum.  A few of them spent time speaking to us about
our favorite subject.

Then,  after leaving Mill Race,  my friend Jackie & I decided to head to the Navarre-Anderson Trading post in Monroe.
Jackie had never been here before so it was a treat for her to see lower
Michigan's only actual 18th century building that still stands.

And here we are,  standing in front of this wonderful old historic building
that was built in 1789.

We had a nice little surprise upon arriving:  as we parked the car we saw a young woman dressed in what looked to me to be Regency clothing,  which took us a bit off guard.  But,  in walking into the area we saw a small group of Regency reenactors sitting underneath a fly.  We were just as startled as they upon seeing each other.  In speaking with the group we learned they were indeed of the War of 1812 era,  and were specifically portraying 1817 and were their to be a part of a photo/film shoot as an advertisement for the Monroe County Historical Museum.
So that certainly was a nice surprise.

A few photos back I mentioned my excitement of finally receiving a flax break that I've been a-wanting.
Well,  on August 31,  I noted on my Facebook page:
My flax finally arrived today!
I am as happy as you were when you got your smartphone or Apple watch------------
Yep---I am a happy man!
Late August
And here Patty and I are,  experiencing textile life of the 18th century.

Having had somewhat of a successful gathering on Memorial Day,  Joey thought he'd try it again on Labor Day.  There were not as many people that came this time,  unfortunately,  but we all still enjoyed ourselves.
September - Labor Day Monday
Grilling food - a tradition no matter which century.

A Night at the Museum at the Plymouth Historical Museum.
Yes,  the kids wore masks except for this photo.

September and we finally had an actual reenactment to go to,  though it was a private event.
But that's okay - - it was still wonderful to see so many friends who were not afraid to take part.
Everyone was excited to attend the only Civil War-era reenactment that
took place in Michigan this year!

Larissa and I did our farming presentation.
I have to admit it did not go nearly as well as I had hoped. 
It had been a while so I was a bit rusty.

Members of the 24th Michigan were there as well.

Larissa,  Jackie,  and myself posed for a tintype taken by Robert Beech.

Taylor and Morgan posed for a tintype as well.

Well,  whaddaya know!  A few weeks later we had a bonafide public-invited full-blown historic reenactment!!
Scott Mann worked with the owners of Vermillion Creek Cider Mill and made sure that our sites were safe.  Masks for reenactors were not mandatory,  though they were for the visitors.
The campsites were also roped off,  preventing visitor and reenactor from
getting too close.

The carriage had some mighty big wheels! lol
But seriously,  the road here lead to the Indian camp as well as to a
log cabin set up as a trading post.

I absolutely love  when  we cab get Natives to participate.
And  to do scenarios as well,  such as trading/bartering.

The 1st Pennsylvania.  Accurate to a  " T " ~

In October I put together an 18th century fall harvest event for a few select friends,  and this day will stand out as one of  the best I've ever been a part of.  This was a  "you are there"  day,  and I believe all who took part felt the same way:
The day centered around the frontier-style log cabin.

Gonna go hunting for fowl for our dinner.
Yeah...we did fire our muskets a bit as well.

The ladies worked inside preparing an 18th century meal -
a true 18th century meal that was cooked on the hearth!

I finally was able to use my flax break.  I mean,  yes,  I did use it at home.
But on this day it felt like I used  it more in its proper context,  if that makes sense.

There was also outdoor work that needed to be done -
yes,  we cut down a tree with an axe.

Our group of pioneers.
It was like we travelled from eastern Pennsylvania to western Pennsylvania, 
as was done in the book,  "The Cabin faced West."

There are those who feel wearing reenacting clothing on Hallowe'en is almost akin to heresy,  for our clothing are not costumes.  They're right to an extent.  However,  how else can I get some cool nighttime pictures at Greenfield Village?  Plus I do not like wearing actual costumes.  So I go colonial.
October - Hallowe'en
As the sun set,  I spent time in the Daggett garden.  Even with all of the Hallowe'en
activity going on throughout the Village,  there is still a peacefulness here.

October - Hallowe'en
This just might be my favorite picture taken that night.  

I have visited Greenfield Village on Thanksgiving Weekend for years now - as near as I can figure it I began this tradition in 2007.
And in 2020 it continued on...
November - Black Friday
Ken and Ken on the Ackley Covered Bridge.

November - Black Friday
The three brave souls who ventured out on this last weekend of
November in period clothing to enjoy the last daytime hours
of the season.

Any excuse to get into my period clothing...
This was taken in my own home

Merry Christmas:
From what I've been able to find out  (thanks to History Myths Debunked),  the phrase  "Merry Christmas"  is indeed the greeting one was more likely to use in colonial times for this festive time of year.  "Different sources trace the origin of the phrase back to different dates,  but in each case,  they all pre-date the 18th century.  The casual use of  'Merry Christmas'  in Charles Dickens'  "A Christmas Carol"  seems to suggest that it was already well-known to the English by the early to mid-19th century."
Though this photo and the one below were both taken a few days before Christmas, 
I like to think of them as my wife and I having a colonial Christmas dinner.


Patty and I ended the year by going to Holiday Nights at Greenfield Village.
Per normal for me,  I dressed in my colonial clothing.
December - Holiday Nights
Patty captured the night time atmosphere perfectly here as I stand in front
of the Plympton House,  which was built in the early 1700s.

December - Holiday Nights
And finally - baby,  it's cold outside!

And there you have it:  the reenacting year that wasn't...and yet...was.
Kind of.
I do have high hopes for the new year,  however.  As Roger Daltrey from The Who sang on the  'Tommy'  rock opera album,  "I gotta feeling  '21 is gonna be a good year..." 
Or,  if nothing else,  a better year.

Until next time,  see you in time.

~   ~   ~