Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wolcott Mill 2014: Harvest Home!

A dream came true for me. It really did. I got to celebrate the fall harvest as they did in the 1860s!
I've often wondered why reenactors who attended the wonderful Wolcott Mill event every October did not take advantage of the season of autumn, which, to me, is the most historical time of year, what with modern folk still celebrating the harvest in numerous ways, such as visiting cider mills, apple orchards, having corn roasts, going to the pumpkin patch, drives in the country, etc.
So why hasn't anyone taken advantage of this time of year in their presentations?
The idea had been rolling around my brain for some time, probably for at least five years. Why I didn't act on it before now, I'm not quite sure.
Maybe because I wanted to make sure it wasn't done halfway. I'm a stickler for having things done right.
I actually have spoken a bit about the harvest at previous Wolcotts, and I would ask modern visitors how their crop fared and how their canning was coming along.
But I only touched upon the subject...just to get my feet wet.
No matter the reasons why celebrating the harvest hadn't been done before, it was during last year's Wolcott event when I finally decided to do something about showing this so important time of year, for I felt the time was right, and I grabbed the bull by the horns and forged ahead throughout 2014 to make it happen. 

Upon bringing in the last of his crop, the farmer would yell out, "Harvest Home!" to let his neighbors know his harvest was in. And since this is harvest time, we in the 21st Michigan decided to celebrate the harvest much in the same way as our ancestors did over a hundred years ago.
We have amazing civilians in the 21st Michigan - true living historians who love to show the past as authentically and accurately as our research will allow - and if any group could pull something like this off, our group could (yes, I know there are other amazing groups out there. I just happen to belong to the 21st Michigan so I'm gonna brag on them!). So I asked this talent if they would like to help bring the fall harvest chores and activities of 150 years ago to life.
And they excitedly said YES!
I knew they would.
It began with a civilian meeting back in August, where I put our resident harvest historian, Larissa, in charge. I call her the harvest historian because for the last 15 years she has been presenting the fall harvest of the 1880's at the Firestone Farm inside historic Greenfield Village, and I unabashedly asked her to share her knowledge of the season to guide the rest of us in the right direction, which she willingly did.
We also have a historic baker beyond compare, April, who agreed to head up the thresherman's dinner.
Follow that with many others in our membership taking on the activities of harvest time as well, made up of candle making, wool dyeing and spinning, corn husking, corn husk doll making, drying of vegetables, canning, pressing apples into cider, corn shocks, and wood chopping, as well as speaking of farming activities during the fall harvest, including threshing, plowing, and harrowing in preparation for winter wheat, and talking of upcoming winter preparedness and chores. Add to that plenty of historic cooking and baking from all...just so much history to present!
The walls were throbbing with excitement. Everyone couldn't wait for October to come.
And when it finally did arrive, well, it went every bit as good as I had hoped. And the weather was fall-perfect: mostly sunny with highs in the 50's, though we had frost on the pumpkin overnight.
Any how, I was with camera in hand, so I'll let the pictures and captions do the talking.

First off, the event itself:
Wolcott Mill is a top-notch reenactment, for it gives the perfect opportunity to stretch out and flex your historical muscle. It's harvest time, and as I mentioned above, there is so much to teach visitors this time of year.

 Most of the civilians in our group gladly participated in our Harvest Home celebration. The sign you see here was made by the father of one of our 21st Michigan members. The wood was taken from a 150 year old barn that was recently torn down. Isn't it great? And, as you can see, our tents were festively decorated with the abundance that only comes this time of year.

Mr. Cook and my son Miles are waiting for the horse-drawn thresher to make its way to our community.

Chickens! What would a farming community be without chickens?

Grandmother and her granddaughter -

Farming wives take a moment's respite from the harvest chores before continuing on with their work.

Mrs. Fleishman strings squash and other vegetables to dry as a way of preservation, as was done by most farm families.

Crocheting socks, mittens, scarves, sontags, and numerous other warm winter clothing accessories was also a necessary craft for surviving the long cold winter ahead.

A young lady shows her patriotic spirit.

My wife and Miss Lynch enjoy a sip of cider together while enjoying the beautiful fall day.

Next up, presentations:

Mrs. Cary spent much of her time making corn-husk dolls and gave them away to the visiting children, whether period or modern. She was a very popular lady!

Making corn-husk dolls is a 19th century (and, I believe, 18th century) skill one does not see too often in our modern time.

Young Miss Woodruff spent plenty of time helping Mrs. Cary make the dolls.

Although threshing machines were becoming popular during the 1860s, many farmers insisted on using the tried and true method of the flail to thresh their grain.

The threshing machine "is a lazy man's way to thresh. Haste makes waste, but a lazy man'd rather get his work done fast than do it himself. That machine chews up the straw till it's not fit to feed stock, and it scatters grain around and wastes it. All's it saves is time, and what good is time with nothing to do?" (From Laura Ingalls Wilder Farmer Boy) Yeah, give me the flail any time over the machine!

The reenacting unit I belong to, the 21st Michigan, purchased a cider press so we can show visitors how cider was made back in the 19th century. I realize the wooden base may not be period correct, but the iron mechanism and the process of pressing apples for the juice certainly is.

Here are the apples waiting to be pressed. Yes, you also see beeswax there waiting to be melted down.

The neighbor children came to help make cider, for they know what their reward will be when the pressing was done!

Each child had a chance to drop apples into the grinder while another turned the grinding wheel.

The process in action.

And now to press press press the apples - - - squeezing the juice right out of them!

The children got a real kick of not only helping with the cider making process, but watching the juice empty out into the pan and then pour into the bucket below.

The cheese cloth ensured the excess 'droppings' from the apples (stem, seeds, skin) would not find their way into the juice.

All the children couldn't wait to get some of this real honest-to-goodness apple cider.

Good to the last drop!

Though it doesn't have anything to do with the harvest, phrenology was a psychological theory or a sort of diagnostical method based on the belief that certain mental faculties and character traits showed by the shape and bumps of the skull. Here, Miss Sofia applies her knowledge of the popular mid-19th century practice.

We made candles as part of our harvest time presentation. I took a couple pounds of beeswax and melted it over an open fire. Making candles remained popular on rural farms through the end of the 19th century.

Here, my daughter and I are preparing to pour the melted beeswax.

My daughter held the candle mold as I poured in the melted beeswax. She also did a fine job keeping the wicking, which were tied to two sticks above the tin tubes, straight up and down to ensure an even burning candle.

After a few hours, once the beeswax was good and hard inside the mold, it was time to remove them from the tubes. I really wanted to do this the way it was done in the 19th century, so instead of using the spray or gel that folks use today, I dipped the mold with the hardened wax into the pot of boiling water for a few seconds.

After a few seconds in the hot water, the candles slid out of the mold as easy as melting butter!

This old process works beautifully! This was a first for us, for usually we've dipped our candles repeatedly to allow it to build upon the wick rather than using a mold. I was very pleased to see that by following the directions in "Farmer Boy" we, too, could keep the 19th century way of this craft alive.

No, this is not pasta cooking in a pot. It's wool being prepared for dyeing. For the entire summer my wife has been processing raw wool, which was filled with poop, sticks, dirt, burs, straw, and all kinds of stuff, by way picking, skirting, cleaning, carding, and spinning into yarn. Now, for her first time ever, she is going to dye it by using the old method.

On the left you see a large pot filled with green beans. They were part of our contribution to the threshermen's dinner. But on the right you see a yellow substance being cooked over the same flame. That is the dye my wife, here, is making so she can dye her wool the traditional way. She is holding the marigold pedals to show where the color came from.

Before and after.

My wife pulls the dyed wool out to allow it to dry.

And here's the finished product as it dried on a rack. I think she did a very good job for her first time, don't you? Of course, the knowledge she received from our Greenfield Village presenter members helped quite a bit - - thank you ladies!

Though she couldn't spin her drying dyed wool, she had enough other wool to keep her spinning-ly happy!

Friends always stop by and visit as my wife practices this ancient craft.

Here she is teaching a neighbor to knit.

Now we have the thresherman's dinner:

The ladies of town planned a threshermen's dinner, and all hands helped to prepare this harvest meal.

At least a dozen families took part in preparing the food for the thresherman's dinner.

Beckie is the pyro-queen and made sure her fire was good and hot all day long.
The St. John's spent much of their time preparing their portion of the meal.

Mrs. Folcarelli headed up the threshermen's dinner. And a fine job she did at that!

Finally, by evening time, the threshermen's dinner - er, supper (for it was evening!) was ready!

Can't you just detect the wonderful smells of our meal?

I mean to say, we had so much good food! It truly was a harvest feast!

And dessert, too! All period correct and cooked over an open fire.

21st Michigan president, Jim Cary, said grace.

Then the feasting began! We had over 50 "farm families" join in to celebrate the bounteous harvest.

The tables were set up in the middle of the road rather than having everyone eat on their own at their camps. This kept with the festive community feel of the event.

And here we are looking from the other direction.

We were also part of the lantern tour! Mrs. Folcarelli spoke to the paying patrons about the whys and wherefores of a threshermen's dinner.

Fun Stuff:
The photos here are some of the fun "behind the scenes" pictures we like to take every-so-often.
Why am I hearing the William Tell Overture when I look at this picture?

Ahhh! Don't be fooled by her sweet and innocent smile.

Will the real "woman with child" please let us know who she is.

Ah ha! There she is! The one in the middle! Fooled you, didn't they?

Group Pictures:

You know, trying to get this group of crazies to pose nice is nearly impossible. So, I guess I need to take drastic measures...

Post mortem? Maybe so, but at least now they're posing nice. Sort of...okay, now, let's try it again, shall we?

MUCH better!

We also had a travelling tin type image maker passing through and decided we'd like to have a likeness of our friends and neighbors.

Here the photographer is setting up his camera to work his magic.

Okay, everyone, hold still for ten seconds.

This is how we saw ourselves...

...and after the man with the camera put the tin in the chemicals...

Voila! This is how the future sees us!

And that. my good friends, was how the 21st Michigan's 1st ever Harvest Home presentation went. I am not even remotely exaggerating when I say that this was, without a doubt, the greatest living history/reenactment I have ever participated in (no, I am not including our immersion events - those are in a different category). Seriously, because it took the greatest living historians to help the idea come to pass. We plan on continuing this festive event next year. In fact, I'm already working on how to improve on what we did here and have been speaking with a few of our members about my ideas.
But I have to thank my 21st Michigan family for having the same want as I to bring the past to life in such a way as we did here at Wolcott Mill...for following the same historical dream. 
A reenactor friend from New York gave us, perhaps, one of the nicest compliments when she wrote to me: 
"I truly get such a great feel for the time period through your pictures of events.. It seems that the place to go for good and historically enthusiastic events is Michigan! I love the fact that every civilian brought something interesting to present." 
Yes, a dream come true.
(A number of the photos here were also taken by Larissa! Thank you!)



JacquiG said...

Congrats on organizing such a successful event, everything looks amazing! I love the photos you take. One of these days I'll have to venture out to one of your events.

the bee guy said...

This looks like a great event Ken. Was this open to the public?

Heather said...

Wow, this looks like such an amazing event! I love all the special harvest things you did--- like dying the yarn and making candles. Those are things I've longed to do in these modern times as well! Also love all the clothes and attention to detail. Such a wonderful day!

quiltingma said...

Looks like it is a great event.Loved looking at the pictures. I also portray Civil war. I demonstrate quilting and speak on the women life on farm and without husbands.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you everyone. This was a true labor of love. I love harvest time (as if you didn't know!) and to be able to actually participate in it really was very special.