Tuesday, April 28, 2015

This Is the Modern World

"Ken, if you could choose any era in time to travel to, aside from your own, where, in all the past, would you go?"
This way! This way to the past! Step lively, now!
Quite frequently I am asked this question. And the thoughts I have for an answer never fails to pull me in a few different directions. Of course, my easy response of "any time between 1750 and 1860" (and *maybe* sneaking up into the 1890s) should be of no surprise to any of you, I'm sure. I have little interest in going back before 1740 or 1750, for I believe the survival skills needed go far beyond anything I could handle. At least there was some sustenance that I could learn and handle easier in or near a later-period colonial village. The decade that interests me most from that time is the 1770s.
Of course, the 19th century is of great interest as well and I have studied much of the daily life of that century. I believe I could handle living during the 1800s, as long as I had some initial guidance.
But for me to time-travel to sometime in the electric era of the 20th century doesn't make much sense; there is no excitement for me personally to reenact a time that I, for all intents and purposes, lived through. I have lived through most of the 20th century, even if much of it was, to an extent, vicariously: my parents were born in the 1920s, grew up in the 1930s, met, dated, and married in the 1940s, had children in the 1950s and early 1960s, and lived the so-called "perfect life" of raising kids during the baby boom era.
There was also electricity, thus having electric lighting in homes for most of the 20th century. They had motor vehicles, phonographs, flashlights, buses, telephones, movies, radios, flashing neon advertisements....so much of what we have today.
And their children? We grew up with much of their 1940s life still with us: the morals, mores, music, movies, and even conversations - don't forget, the WWII generation were in their 30s and 40s when I was a kid, and much of 'their time' was still with us; my dad loved to listen to the Big Band music of his youth, and my mom would sing us to sleep with "Chickery Chick." And much of the entertainment on TV consisted of the singers, comedians, and actors of their time.
Though I have done a few living history events of the 1910s and 1920s here and there, time-traveling to the 20th century is not something I often think about or really care to do.
So, being that I prefer an earlier era than of my parents or grandparents, one of the questions I am asked is what would I miss from our modern 21st century times if I chose to live in the pre-electric past.
That always gets me to thinking....and so I did come up with a list of items I would miss and why I would miss 'em:

First off, I believe I would have a difficult time without modern medicine and medical technology. It's amazing how far we've come in saving lives, especially for babies and toddlers. The infant mortality rate has plummeted with the gained knowledge in child care and with the help of certain vaccinations. And death for women during childbirth has become a rarity in our society today.
I can not even imagine...
The invention of aspirin, a wonder drug if there ever was one, was a breakthrough. Of course, surgery as performed today (including heart surgery & transplants and brain surgery) is something they could only dream of "back then" - though it was through their experimentation with anesthesia that greatly helped here.
Oh yes, now I feel much better!!
How about the realistic artificial limbs of today? Amazing.
And we could go on and on...so many would not have lived a normal life if it hadn't been for the emerging medical technology.

Those who know me know I love to take pictures, so how about them digital cameras, eh? Yes, I know picture taking doesn't even come close to the importance of modern medicine, but, well, I don't want this to be all serious, you know? Anyhow, I remember having a 35 mm camera back in the 1990s and took some really cool photos at the Holly Dickens Festival - one of a kind you had to be there shots. And guess what? Out of the couple dozen pictures I took, only six turned out. Six out of two dozen! Was I upset!
So when digital cameras came around at a somewhat reasonable price a few years later, I was elated.
Don’t you just love modern technology?
Now I could actually see the pictures and how good or bad they were right after I took them. Add to that the awesome photo/graphics editing computer programs such as Paint Shop Pro or Photoshop and, well, I am as happy as a pig in...well, let's just say I love having instant photos and a literal photo lab right there in my living room!
And don't even get me going on the printing options! Woo hoo!!

This goes hand in hand with modern ways of research technology (home computers, etc.). Yep...my very favorite thing to do on my home computer is to be able to have a world of research at my fingertips and be able to write this Passion for the Past blog. Just think...with a click of the mouse I can learn about and share my love of history with hundreds - even thousands - of other like-minded people! And I can read of others' historical passions and hobbies as well! Just as cool is the idea that we can all share our love of history through countless ways right in the convenience of our own living rooms.
See? It says here that George Washington was our first President! This computer is amazing!
I must say, through this blog and through Facebook I've become friends with some wonderful people - people who I have not ever met in person. Yet I've become close with so many others with the same interests.
Yeah, the home computer is pretty remarkable. It really is.

Something else that we have - or are allowed to have - in our modern age is close friendships with the opposite sex without "relations." In the past, men and women were not supposed to visit with one another as we do today unless they were beyond friends. Oh woe to me if I lived in the way past, for I count more women as my close friends then men.
I enjoy visiting (or phoning) my friends of the opposite sex. It would be awfully difficult for me to not be allowed to have a friendship with them.
I enjoy talking with my female friends on the phone, visiting in person, or just hanging around as a mixed group. And yet, there has never ever been a cause for mistrust. Thank God it's no longer a stigma.
However, as a living historian you'll never see me do this while at a reenactment:
 Or...could this be a time-traveler...?

Movies at theaters and sound quality. "Really, Ken? Is this really that important to you?"
Well, yes, for I do enjoy going to the show. And today's movie experience is quite engulfing, especially when you see an epic such as Titanic or The Hobbit or one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. You'll not see graininess in the picture, and the super-quality sound makes for an experience that we could not have comprehended in our youth. I sometimes imagine what the reaction would be like if 1930s movie-goers could see, for instance, one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with all of the sound and picture quality of today. Just imagine their expressions...
Along the same lines, I have to say I love the idea of having a plasma 50 or 60 inch screen TV with surround-sound for the home. In other words, a home theater system. Now that would be the way to watch John Adams, Gods & Generals, Braveheart, or any of a couple dozen other historical movies (or adventure/fantasy movies such as Lord of the Rings). The high quality of watching a Blue Ray disc on such a system goes beyond anything I would have hoped for back in the 1970s.
Ah...one day maybe...

Then there are cell phones, though I only want them just as phones without the internet and all the extras. I like to have the ability to get a hold of someone while I am away from home just in case of an emergency, but there's no need to be connected to the internet every where I am. I have an old flip phone that works beautifully, thank you very much, and I do not want a smart phone or anything along those lines. I just don't.
See the phone on the far left? Yep - that's my phone! Ha! Just kidding! But not too far off...
I just want a phone for emergency purposes.

Recorded Music - - specifically on CD: The remastered Beatles box set is total heaven to me. And the newly remastered Led Zeppelin CD's are not too far behind. Both groups are, to me, the best that rock/pop - heck! music in general! - has to offer.
My remastered Beatles and Led Zeppelin CD collection: to be totally honest, it would be very hard for me to not be able to listen to this music ever again.
Then there's my Time-Life collections...oh yeah, all of the glorious recorded music decade by decade from the 1920s though the 1980s (and a little beyond) - from jazz to big band to pop to early rock to top-40 of the 1960s to coming-of-age rock to punk & new wave to country & bluegrass to nearly anything else but death metal, techno/house, and rap. Understand that I have a passion for music that would greatly affect me if I could not listen to it anymore.
At least I can play the guitar, right?

I simply love my GPS and will take it with me anytime I'm traveling to an unfamiliar area. It's a 21st century version of the Triple A trip-tik in a way, only much, much better. Plus, it tells me what time I will be arriving at my destination. By the way, yes, I did name my GPS: I named it/her 'Sadie' after the Beatles "Sexie Sadie" (off the White Album).
Sadie is always there to help me find my way!
Her British female voice harkened me right to that tune - I had no choice but to name her that.

I know that many readers here may be surprised or maybe even slightly disappointed at what I have listed, for, as you can see, I do like a lot of modern technology. I mean, this is Historical Ken we're talking about!! But, alas, I am a person of my time (whichever time that may be) and, well, so are you, otherwise you wouldn't be reading this, right? (heh heh heh)
However - remember: these are things I would miss the most, not things I couldn't live without.
And I certainly could live without them if I had to; if I was suddenly thrown back in time with no means of returning, I would obviously have no choice and would make do. But, in all reality (and let's be real about this, okay?), that ain't gonna happen. So why not enjoy the cool techie stuff of our time to help us recreate and accent the past? If it weren't for the home computer, for instance, I couldn't "publish" my historical musings here in my blog the way I do.
And I would not have been able to locate or even have known about so many of the wonderful history books available or cool historical items such as my Old North Church Lantern.
And a well-done movie can take me away to another time and place.
And it sure is nice to have my cell phone when my car breaks down. It's happened a few times and I certainly appreciate having it available.
And to come home after a particularly trying day at work and throw on my favorite tunes really can help me to unwind like little else can.
And if I'm not sure where something is located - especially a new reenactment that's way out of the way - a GPS can't be beat to get me there!
And if I happen to have a headache, nothing else helps me better than Bayer Aspirin.
And, well...I'll be honest with you - for the most part I like modern technology. It is a big part of my daily activities and, in so many ways, it has made my life easier. Just as the modern technology of our ancestors time became part of their lives.
But I can drop it like a hot potato while at a reenactment. Oh yeah. Like a hot potato. I'm not a believer in "if they'da had it, they'da used it" whatsoever, and I do get v-e-r-y upset when I see a reenactor out in the open with their cell phone in hand, not even trying to hide it.
I also have (mostly) technology-free places such as Greenfield Village or even the historical room in my own home for historical solace (aside from reenacting).
My time away from time...my solace (yes, this is the "period room" inside my house).
And that's where it counts.
Now how about you? What would you miss if you suddenly found yourself thrust into an earlier time?
Be honest...

Until next time, see you in time!


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Celebrating Patriot's Day 2015

My wife and I, stepping into the past...
Patriot's Day, commemorating the events of April 19, 1775, is a holiday only celebrated in three states: Massachusetts, Maine, and Wisconsin. And to a lesser extent, Florida.
You do know of the events that occurred at that time, right?
Well, just in case you do not, I'll give a very quick summary:
on the evening of April 18th, Paul Revere, along with a number of others, journeyed out into the night air to warn the townsfolk of Lexington and Concord that the British regular army was on the march to gather the stored munitions in Concord to "end all hope of conflict"- to prevent a possible colonial uprising against the Crown. In an attempt to insure that the powder and musket balls were secure from the Redcoats, the men of Lexington heeded the warnings from Revere and the others and armed themselves by forming a sort of blockade in hopes of preventing the military from doing such a thing. Well, on the morning of April 19th, as the Regulars made the attempt to march through, such a skirmish occurred between the regulars and the townsfolk of Lexington, followed by an even larger encounter to and from Concord that it began the American Revolution (known as the Battle of Lexington and Concord), and America's fight for liberty and Independence from Britain's rule commenced. 
Now, without the events of April 18th and 19th, we might not have an Independence Day. Or a Constitution. Or the Bill of Rights. Or George Washington (et al,) as our President.
And yet, outside of the four states mentioned, our country, for the most part, does not celebrate Patriots Day.
Heck! Most people don't even realize what occurred on these dates!
Why is that?
I grew up learning all of the important historical events of our country, and we spent lengthy periods of time in school studying the aspects of our country's birth, especially the root and cause of the Revolutionary War. I'm pretty sure schools do not spend nearly as much time on our country's founding as they did when I was a kid.
Again, I ask why are kids not taught about the oh-so-very-important events of April 1775 in school?
And why, as a nation, do we not celebrate it?
I can tell you this - I taught my kids.
But I didn't only teach them of the battles, but of the every day life our colonial founders and citizens lived.
If you know me at all, you know that that's what I'm all about.
And I suppose it's up to people like me (and you!) to help to teach early American history to as many folks as we can. To make people aware.
My kids know, that's for sure, because I made for certain that if they weren't taught this stuff in school, then they would be taught by me.
I'm not looking for another day off of school or work to celebrate Patriot's Day; I only hope to give Americans more of an awareness and understanding and to stress the importance of what our Founding Fathers did for the future generations.
I feel it would be another great opportunity, besides the 4th of July, to celebrate National pride and history.
So...I decided to take it upon myself to spread the news about the importance of these April dates, and since I live in southeastern lower Michigan (the Detroit area), I could find no better place to begin this trek than historic Greenfield Village.
Now, if you recall, I actually began publicly celebrating Paul Revere's ride and the Battle of Lexington & Concord last year, with some degree of success, and was even more excited to do so this year because my wife, Patty, was joining me in this quest. 2014 was our first year venturing out into the world of the 18th century colonials. We've been doing Civil War living history for over a decade and, though I do love the mid-19th century, it is a different experience presenting the colonial era. It has a sort of patriotic pride that I can't seem to explain.
I'd love to see this feeling spread and become as it had once been at its peak back in the mid-1970s.
Super seamstress of period clothing! 
Since I purchased colonial clothing for myself in 2014, my wife, who had only borrowed clothing before, needed something specifically for her. So I commissioned my good friend, Beckie, to sew a period-accurate colonial dress for her. You all know Beckie through some of my Civil War reenacting postings as well as hearing of her beautiful singing voice in the period vocal group I head up, Simply Dickens.
Well, as you can see plainly, Beckie is also an accomplished seamstress (she's the one who made Patty's beautiful paletot you saw in a photo in THIS POST)
Did she ever do a fantastic job on Patty's colonial dress! My wife loves it and couldn't wait to wear it! (I just need to purchase a proper hat for her...and have her remove the sunglasses. Wait---Beckie put them on her to 'accentuate' the photo on the left. Hmmm...)
And now more of my friends are making, or planning to make, their own colonial clothing (right Larissa, Kristen, and Beckie?).
Anyhow, this year, on April 18, we had perfect spring weather here in Michigan, with the sun shining the entire day and temperatures reaching into the low 70s. It was a great day to don our colonial-period clothing and sort of, in a way, begin our reenacting season. What made it interesting is our friend Dave came along dressed in his 1860s clothing as Michigan Senator Jacob Howard, one of the authors of the 13th Amendment. My son Rob came along as well, dressed in his Civil War Union blues, though he wanted to dress as a Revolutionary minuteman. Unfortunately, he does not have all of his colonial clothing as of yet but he will be ready come summer.
So we were kind of a historical timeline...
(My daughter also came along, but she chose not to dress period, so she was the official photographer)
As we mosied about the Village, dozens of people stopped to ask if they could take our picture, or have a picture taken with us, or just to speak about history. And we loved it! I was able to share the importance of the dates in relation to Paul Revere and the Revolutionary War, and Dave spoke of the "recent death" of President Lincoln and of Senator Howard's part in writing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery.
In case you were wondering, plenty of photographs were taken to document our time-travel trip, and I would like to share the best here with you.
Hope you like 'em:
We'll begin this time-travel adventure at the house that I could see us living in had we been around in the 1770s: the Giddings House, built about 1750. It's perfect for a middling-class family. Unfortunately, this is one of the homes where, except for Harvest Weekend and Holiday Nights, is mostly is plexi-glassed off. I have hopes this will one day change to show contrast from the farming family at the Daggett house, of which you shall see momentarily.

That's me coming down the stairs from the bedchambers located on the 2nd floor. This house is a beautiful representation of a middling class city home of the 18th century. I just don't understand why they don't open it up more often like they used to do. It was great to see and hear of the differences between this city home and the more rural Daggett house.

My wife waits for me at the door. We plan to take a stroll around the small colonial town of Greenfield.

Like me, Patty is a descendant of colonials. But she one-upped me by also being descended from a Revolutionary War soldier.

Yes, my dear. Let us stroll about the village and meet the townsfolk.

Besides Giddings, Greenfield Village has three other American homes that were originally built in the 18th century. This saltbox-style home, belonging to Samuel and Anna Daggett, was built by Samuel around 1750. Mrs. Daggett, on the left, was kind enough to greet us at the door.

Inside the Daggett home sits my wife and I. This home has always been one of my favorites of all the structures inside the Village, and the presenters who work there do a fine job keeping it "alive."

Here Patty helps Mrs. Daggett with her spinning. Well, not really. You see, since she is not a presenter, she did not spin here - she just posed for me. But she does know how to spin on a great wheel; we own one and she'll use it every-so-often. I'm hoping to bring it out to our colonial reenactments once in a while

Another home built in the 18th century - the early part of the century - is the Plympton home. For now this was about the best I could do for a photo because, unfortunately, like Giddings, the inside is plexi-glassed off and the reflection from the outside window onto the plexi-glass makes it nearly impossible to get an authentic looking photo. I have a trick up my sleeve, however, so you might just see one later this year...

This is perhaps my favorite of all the photos taken of Patty on this day. Yes, I know her hat ribbon should be tied behind her head and not under her chin, and it usually is, but the wind was blowing pretty hard (notice the neckerchief at her back flying up) and her hat kept on blowing off. I do plan to get her a new, more fitting hat soon, by the way, but this one will have to do for now.

Before heading home, a stop at the Eagle Tavern was a must, for I have heard plenty of their fine fare and drink. While inside there was quite a raucous by those who were discussing the recent attack in Lexington and Concord.

~An original clipping from 1775~

Inside the tavern, we also discussed the news of the engagement between the "Regular Troops and our Men." Something like this could start a Revolution!

My wife was frightened at the notion of war, so it was back to the safety of our home - - only to venture out when times will feel safer.
And there you have our time in the colonies in the colonial area Greenfield Village.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

As for other happenings that day...here are a few photos of Dave and Rob. Since Patty and I represented the year 1775, they traveled to 1865.
Relaxing on the porch of the local boarding house, Senator Howard listens to the horrors of battle from a Civil War soldier.

The good Senator, who helped to author the 13th Amendment to the Constitution abolishing slavery, overlooks a former plantation owner's home and land. He was dressed in male mourning for our recently deceased 16th President.

The Logan County Courthouse, where Abraham Lincoln once practiced law, was presented in mourning drapery to signify the former President's death on the 150th anniversary of the assassination.

Something he could not do while on the march...leaning on a lamppost at the corner of the street in case a certain little lady comes by. Oh me. Oh my.

As I've written numerous times before, sometimes these "pseudo-reenactments" are every bit as good and fun as the real deal, whether it takes place at an open-air museum such as Greenfield Village or in your own home (like my civilian meetings).
I don't need an actual event or, really, any sort of excuse for dressing in period clothing. Just pulling something like this together by simply calling a friend or two sometimes is as satisfactory as a regular reenactment. If you recall what I wrote about our 4th of July excursion from 2014, we had ten of us show up at Greenfield Village dressed in colonial clothing, and all it took was a couple of private messages on Facebook. Simple & easy and what a party we made! The visitors of Greenfield were so appreciated to see colonials there on Independence Day. I really believe the Village is not only missing out quite a bit by not having a RevWar/colonial event there, but they are doing a disservice to the people by not celebrating our colonial past. They used to years ago, and I recall it being very successful. With the sestercentennial coming up, I see an even greater reason why they should begin to make plans to bring it back.
Maybe those of us in the area should write them and tell them our feelings.
But in the meantime I will have to settle for doing these makeshift events.
Oh, and the actual events around here as well.
I'm ready!

Click HERE to read about my first excursion to spread the news of the Battle of Lexington & Concord
Click HERE to read how in 2014 we Celebrated the 4th of July in a Colonial Way
Click HERE to read more about Paul Revere and his ride
Click HERE to read about Colonial Life
Click HERE to read of our time at Colonial Kensington 2014

And finally, here is a picture of me as Paul Revere - -