Monday, March 31, 2014

The 21st Michigan Spring Meeting 2014 - Bringing the Past to Life

Nothing like using a beautiful period home for a back drop, even when there's still snow on the ground at the end of March. I try to have a few group shots taken at many of our events - there's a sort of cohesiveness that one can see and feel when they gaze upon themselves amongst others of their kind and caliber.
As the civilian coordinator for the 21st Michigan, I normally have only one period dress civilian meeting during the pre-reenacting season when the cold winter weather seemingly prevents much from happening in the world of living history. Many of the members of our group use the January through April months to hone our historical skills, make or purchase new clothing, and take that opportunity to dress in our period clothing while at our period dress meeting.
However, coming off of the Christmas at the Fort 'high,' I decided to have two meetings this year. My immersion experiences at the annual Christmas at the Fort became the catalyst to raise the bar of our presentations even higher, for it's an amazing experience like nothing I've done before. It can feel almost like a literal time-travel encounter.
And I would love for other living historians to have that same feeling.
Hence the reason why I called for two civilian meetings this year: the first one, our winter meeting that we had back in February, was used to speak on how we've been putting our immersion events together and how to make the past a reality for those involved, and this second meeting to put it all into practice by giving members a few scenarios to "act out."
Not acting as an actor would, but acting as real life...without any scripts.
For instance, I chose two of our members to portray husband & wife and gave them the topic The Husband Is Telling His Wife That He Plans To Join In The Fight To Preserve The Union, then let them play it out. The two practically had everyone in tears in the way they spoke to each other in such a heartfelt and dramatic way.
Other topics for scenarios included Looking For a Room at a Tavern, A Wounded Soldier Returns Home from the War, A Laundress Looking For Work, Two Sisters Speak of Times Gone By, An Irish Washerwoman Explaining Why the Laundry Was Not Completed, and a few others.
We also showed proper ways for a man and a woman to greet each other in public and the response expected depending on whether they knew each other or not.
Then, after each scenario, we discussed the interaction that took place and the whys & wherefores of the etiquette of the time. 
I wasn't sure how a meeting like this would all pan out, for I've never done one like this before. I must say it went very well with each member there participating *almost* willingly!
On top of the meeting, our hostess, who happens to live in a house that was built in 1880, had an 1860's tea that also included finger foods, small sandwiches, desserts, scones, etc.
And we played a parlor an actual parlor! 
Meetings of this sort are important, for we need to spend more time on our impressions and impressing upon our membership that learning about the past and learning how to present the past matters as much as anything else in the world of reenacting. I cannot express this enough!
So anyhow, here you go - - - here are photos of the springtime period dress civilian meeting of the 21st Michigan:

Our hostess and her servant girl stand at the tea table. As more people showed up, the table top became totally covered with the delectable treats of the 1860's

Mrs. Frey and Mrs. St. John sang a beautiful duet of
"On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand." This really set a wonderful mood for the rest of the afternoon.

Mr. Cary and Mrs. Schubert listen intently to the two lovely singers perform.

Mr. Tennies also listens to the hymn. I believe all who were there would agree that this was one of those ethereal moments and was a highlight of this gathering of friends.

I tried to get a bit artsy here and used the parlor curtains to my advantage for this photograph. I think it turned out well. Of course, my two subjects *made* the image, wouldn't you say?

A few of the lovely ladies who attended the meeting, including the hostess, Mrs. St. John, on the left.

Usually I'm so busy taking other people's likenesses that I tend to forget to have one taken of my wife and I together. Well, here we are, upon the porch of the 130 year old St. John's home.

One more group shot, this one showing the entire house. Beautiful structure, isn't it? And a pretty fine looking group of living historians, too!

Well, every unit has their "class clown" right? We in the 21st Michigan have two! Yep, Larissa and Rebecca throw out the one liners and willingly make up poses that would make a stitch counter grimace.
I suppose that's what I like about these two: they're serious when they're supposed to be, and hilarious behind the scenes!

Hmmm...what's behind curtain number one? Or, should I say, WHO is behind curtain number one??

Poor Larissa was ridiculed and shamed by Rebecca for not wearing her collar. Will she ever be able to show her face at another tea?

Ha! Nothing shames either one of these ladies! A jolly good time was had by all!

If you can't have a little fun, then why are you here? Or didn't they have fun in the 1860's...
(something tells me they did!)

And that's the way it was, on March 29, 2014.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Old Sturbridge Village

I've never been to Old Sturbridge Village (OSV), the outdoor open-air museum located in Sturbridge, Massachusetts, but I've seen many, many photographs from various friends who have visited the place. One friend in particular, Vicki Stevens, lives not too far from OSV and visits frequently; she regularly posts her photos on Facebook. For me, however, I have no plans to go there in the near future, though I very much would like to. At this time I feel the need to head to Colonial Williamsburg first, for due to my wife finding out that she is a direct descendant of a Rev War soldier and is now a member of the D.A.R., Colonial Williamsburg is at the top of my 'places I must see' list.
But you can bet that Old Sturbridge Village is not too far behind.
Old Sturbridge Village, as is written in a book by Kent McCallum, presents a vivid and unforgettable portrait of life in a country village in early-19th century New England. This outdoor museum has set new standards for the historical study of material life. With more than forty buildings----ranging from private homes to a working sawmill and gristmill----and an ambitious program of using interpreters in period clothing to interact with and educate visitors, Old Sturbridge Village, since 1946, has made the past come alive for millions of people. It's these presentations that document the work and daily life of a past that might otherwise be forgotten.
Vicki Stevens has graciously allowed me, for this week's post, to use a few of the photographs she has taken during her visits to OSV and I would like to thank her for the use of them. It's through her pictures that those of us who have never been can visit the Village vicariously, much in the same way Vicki has told me she visits Greenfield Village - through my own pictures.
So, off we go, traveling through 1840 New England.
Fenno House was built in Canton, Massachusettts, around 1725 and was moved to OSV in 1949.
The barn was reproduced by the Village in 1988.

The Fenno House is the oldest building at Old Sturbridge Village, and it's only been very recently that the exact date has been discovered. For more than 100 years, the house had been dated to 1704. In 2006, however, the Village conducted a study of the tree-rings on the timbers used to construct the house and discovered that the wood had been cut down in 1724. This was in line with the decorative details found inside the house.

The Fenno House is also a textile exhibit and the presenters show the cloth making of early New England. By the early 19th century, machine-woven cloth from Britain and New England’s own textile factories were eliminating demand for traditional handspun and hand-woven products. That's not to say they were no longer in use anywhere. One's access to the goods produced by textile mills was influenced greatly by one's location.

Also, a number of handloom weavers continued to find custom work making blankets, coverlets, and cloth.

To the left is the back of the Fenno House

Another photo of the back of the Fenno House. I just think these pictures are very unique in that most visitors tend to only see and take pictures from the front of the houses, rarely the rear. Scenes like this just brings the past vividly to life.

Here is a shot of the sheep pasture behind the Fenno Barn.

Next we have the Parsonage.

This was originally known as the Solomon Richardson house and was built around 1748 in what is now East Brookfield, Massachusetts. Relocated in Old Sturbridge Village in 1940, it is used as a parsonage, the home of the local minister. 

The Greek Revival style of the structure was the most popular style of architecture from 1830 to 1850, and many churches, commercial buildings, and dwellings copied the white marble facades of ancient Greek temples.
The barn (on the right) is from New York, and was built in 1800 and was moved to OSV in 1937.

A house like the Parsonage would have cost approximately $600 to $800 to buy or would have been rented for approximately $50 to $80 a year.

Upstairs main bedchamber at the Parsonage.

Upstairs main bedchamber at the Parsonage.

Bonnets belonging to the minister's wife in the main bedchamber of the Parsonage.

The parsonage garret, where the children slept.
Drying herbs in the Parsonage garret.

Parsonage kitchen - wood to keep the fireplace ready for baking.

Now we visit the Freeman farm.

Freeman Farm was originally from the same village that OSV is located in: Sturbridge, Massachusetts. It was built by a local housewright sometime between 1810 and 1815.

Pliny Freeman, his wife Delia, and their family lived in this modest one and-a-half-story gambrel-roofed house beginning in 1828. During this era, farm families were endlessly busy. Besides doing the sewing and the laundry, women were responsible for raising much of the family’s food. They tended large kitchen gardens, planting, weeding, and saving seeds and then harvesting and preserving the produce.

They preserved the harvest by putting root vegetables in sand in the cellar, drying or smoking meats, or pickling food in brine. They also planned, cooked, and then served the household meals. Farm women took care of the family cows as well, for that chore was considered women's work in New England, and they would make butter and cheese to provide much of the home’s trade with the outside world.
Today at the Freeman Farm, work still follows the same seasonal and daily  rhythms. Crops are planted and harvested, food is cooked at the kitchen hearth, animals are tended in the barnyards, and meat, butter, cheese, and produce are prepared for household use.
This building was moved to Old Sturbridge Village in 1950

(information from the Old Sturbridge Village website)
A downstairs bedchamber at Freeman Farm.
Note the trundle bed.

The same bedchamber as the above at Freeman Farm.
From the book, Old Sturbridge Village by Kent McCallum, we read an interesting bit of social history about the Freeman family:
Pliny's farm and family evidently went through difficult years that coincided with the declining health of his wife Delia, who fell seriously ill in 1836. Previously, he had kept a horse, a team of oxen, four cows, several young cattle, one pig, and about twenty five sheep. But in that year he had sold off most of his sheep and all but one of the cows: there was no one at home who could tend the dairy. Pliny took work as a housewright until "hay time," and his teenage daughter went to live with one of her married sisters.His seventeen year old son stayed on to work the farm.
Deprived of the labor of women, households in early New England literally fell apart. Only the year before, Pliny and Delia had been caring for an infant grandson, whose mother, their eldest daughter, had been killed freakishly by a bolt of lightning. Pliny wrote to another son living in Ohio that the grieving son-in-law had "stopped housekeeping and will hire his board."

Freeman Farm Kitchen
In 1839, Delia died of consumption. Following hard upon Pliny's sorrowwas the pressing need to locate someone - whether it be a daugher, a wife, or hired help - who could keep his house, and he wrote to his family sharing his grief and revealing his worry over "how to calculate about a housekeeper."
Son Dwight and daughter Augusta dutifully returned from an extended journey to Ohio to help their grieving father on the farm and to keep his house.
Work continued on modest improvements around the farmstead, and some of it must have been finished late in 1839. The following February, the widow Mary Peas wrote to congratulate Piny: "I was glad to hear you have got your house painted and a dorryard."
Both of these efforts were major steps in the history of rural improvement, and Pliny must have been greatly pleased when, later that year, Mary wrote again to accept his proposal to marry.

From the Freeman farm to the picturesque covered bridge.

The Quinebaug River Covered Bridge spans the Quinebaug River, which runs through the Village. Quinebaug is an American Indian term meaning "long, slow-moving river." 

This photo also shows the millpond.

Though the style is based on covered bridges from the 10th century, this bridge dates to the 1930's.

Here's a wonderful scene out of the past - a carriage in front of the tavern!

I absolutely love old taverns, and I’m sure I will love the Bullard Tavern when I am able to visit. This reproduction of an early 19th century tavern was actually built by Old Sturbridge Village in 1947 to serve food and beverages to visitors. Today, it is named for Cromwell Bullard, who owned and operated a tavern in Sturbridge in the 1830s

When this tavern was built in the mid-20th century, the architectural philosophy was that buildings needed to look and feel appropriate to the time and region but did not need to be exact reproductions. Therefore, while the tavern incorporates some original materials, the building is primarily a 1940s impression of a 19th-century tavern.

Tavern barrooms were busy places in early New England. There, local men and travelers socialized over liquor and tobacco, discussing politics, farming, and current events. Some customers read newspapers or perused advertisements, while others sang popular songs or played cards and other games. Except for the tavern keeper’s wife or daughters, barrooms were the domain of men; female travelers were entertained in separate rooms.
(Information from the Old Sturbridge Village web site. If you would like more detailed information on 19th century taverns that I wrote a couple years ago, please click HERE)

Preparing to make and serve hot cider to guests of the Bullard Tavern.

In this photo from Bullard Tavern, the proprietress/presenter is getting the mulling irons hot enough to mull cider.

Bullard Tavern: Stoneware pitchers of cider warming by the fire for the mulling process. Note the mulling irons getting good and hot.

Bullard Tavern: Mulling the cider with the mulling iron.

The presenter stirred the cider with the hot iron taken from the kitchen fireplace. I've never tasted hot mulling cider made this way, but I've read that it has a sweet caramel taste to it.

Here we have a house with an interesting "history:"
Small House is a reproduction building that was built by Old Sturbridge Village in 2007.

The Small House is OSV's newest "old" house, built with historic construction methods and materials between 2003 and 2007.  

This reproduced building represents the small homes that were common in New England in the early 1800s. Homes of this size or smaller sheltered newlywed couples, poor families, laborers, people of color, and renters.

Though small at 400 square feet, the Small House is multifunctional. The main room serves as both the kitchen and parlor, where most indoor work and social activity took place.

Cooking at the Small House....a small home representative of the first home a young family might acquire in 1830's rural New England.

A winter's evening in the Small House

It also includes a "turn up" bed, which can be folded up against the wall to make more floor space. The back room behind the stairs is a bedchamber and storage space. There, a family might have stored cheeses and other agricultural products. 
(Information from Old Sturbridge Village)

For many at Old Sturbridge Village, the first whiff of spring isn't the aroma of spring flowers - it's the smell of wood smoke and maple syrup, a sure sign that the sap is rising and spring is on the way.  For four weekends throughout March OSV has a Maple Days event where visitors can witness a 19th-century rural New England working sugar camp.
They can see the entire sugar-making process, from tapping the trees to "sugaring off," and examine different tapping techniques. The period dressed historians will also cook foods of the early 19th century made with maple products by the hearth at the Village’s Freeman Farm.

Boiling the sap into maple syrup
What a sight this must be, seeing presenters in period clothing tapping the trees and boiling the sap into maple syrup. It's a long process, I know, but for folks like me who study the daily lives of our ancestors, this would be quite the treat to witness.

Cones of maple sugar and sugar molds at the Small House.

And off we go for a couple of miscellaneous pictures I found historically interesting:

I'm not sure which building this picture was taken in, but I found it to be an intriguing shot of a winter's eve, perhaps at Christmas time, and I can almost hear the musical sounds of days gone by.

The presenters are preparing to watch the 4th of July Parade

Of course, not every building in Old Sturbridge Village is featured in this post. As stated at the top, there are over 40 historic structures situated inside, many with period-dress presenters and artisans speaking and teaching about New England life in the early part of the 19th century.
It would take at least one more posting to do it some kind of justice.
But OSV really does sound like a wonderful place to visit...
I have a five year "history" plan, and visiting OSV is part of that plan. In the meantime, vicariously ain't so bad...
And when I do go there, you can bet I will revisit this posting and give a full-fledged update.
Once again, I would like to thank Ms. Vicki Stevens for her willingness to share a few of her many pictures she has taken.
I hope you enjoyed them as well.
Until next time-----!

By the way, if you're interested in learning about the daily lives of our Victorian American ancestors, please check out a few of my other postings on the subject:

1st Person Trip to the Past Written By Those Who Were There
19th Century Mourning Practices (Revised) 
A Fall Harvest Link to the Past
Autumn Food Pleasures of the Past
A Visit To the Photographer (or, Having Our Likeness Taken)
Dinner or Supper?
Early Farming (and other) Tools From Days Gone By
Heating Stoves and Wall Pockets: Items That Made A House A Home
Mourning Practices of the 19th Century (revised)
Taverns of 19th Century Michigan - Updated
The World of a 19th Century Country Doctor
The World of 19th Century Rural Michigan Teachers - - Updated
Zap! You Are Suddenly in the Mid-19th Century, and it's Spring! What Do You Do Now?
Zap! You Are Suddenly in the Mid-19th Century...and it's Summer - What Now?
Zap! You Are Suddenly Thrust Back in Time, and it's Autumn - What Now?
Zap! You've Been Thrust Back in Time to the mid-19th Century...and it's Thanksgiving! What Now?
Zap! You Suddenly Find yourself in the Mid-19th Century...and It's Winter - What Now?
Zap! You Are Now in 1850...What the Heck are all These Mills for Anyhow?
Zap! You are Now Living in 1860 - What Now? (The World of a 19th Century Repair Shop)
Zap! You Are Now in 1860 - - - And You Need To Go Shopping! - - - What Now???
Zap! You are in the Mid-19th Century, and You Need To Know the Basics to Survive - - What Now??