Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Colonial Ken: Spending Another Fall Day in Colonial Times

I sure do include historic Greenfield Village in my postings quite a bit, eh?
Especially in the fall.
Well, that's mainly because this open-air museum is the only place locally that has any sort of authentic colonial structures where a recreation of America's 18th century past can occur with the clothing I wear. Between the Daggett House and the Giddings House, both built around 1750, I feel like I can sort of become a part of another era - the era of the founding generation.
That being said, here is my latest. Yes, it's similar to previous posts, but I try a bit of a different twist each time.
And the many photos come from two different fall weekends in October: one at the beginning of the month, and the other at the end.
Hope you like it~~~~~~~

I suppose what I do can be, in a way, called time-travel...or maybe mind-travel...I'm not totally sure...
But what I am certain of is I sometimes feel more alive and spirited when I put on my replicated clothing of a bygone era than I do in my bland modern clothes. Add 18th and 19th century backgrounds and homes to the scene and, well, let's just say that the past is present:
Looking out the Daggett window...
We think the past is gone, the future hasn't happened, and that only the present exists because the present is all we can see. Albert Einstein once said time is like people in a boat without oars drifting along a winding river. Around us we see only the present. We can't see the past, back in the bends and curves behind us. But it's there. (From "Time and Again" by Jack Finney)
I don't know...I seem to be constantly paddling against the current, trying to get back to those bends and curves of the past...
Let's continue these thoughts on time and space by utilizing another idea Mr. Finney wrote about, and we'll include my interjections:
suppose you were to stand at a window inside the 1750 Daggett House, now located at historic Greenfield Village, and look outside; it is early on with no visitors as of yet. All around you is a building unchanged from when it was built, including the room you are standing in and very possibly even the glass pane you look through.
Can you, for that moment, be transported back into the fall of 1770?
And would that be - or could that be - a form of time travel?
Ah, there 'tis! My favorite home inside Greenfield Village - the Daggett Farm House. Built around 1750, it's presented as a household may have been in the 1760s, and it's during the season of autumn when this beautiful remnant of our colonial past comes most alive.
Do you see the smoke a-rising from the fire? It must be beer-brewing time!

The small vignettes such as what you see in these two connected photos can go a long way in adding to the visual experience.
I'm not sure how it is where you live, but autumn in Michigan is cause for a celebration, and something as simple as a couple of pumpkins, dried plants, and a wooden rake & bucket can stir that fall-is-in-the-air sentiment like little else can.

It was quite the busy time at the Daggett saltbox home, for it was beer making season, and the historic interpreters certainly know the importance of this beverage in America's history, and it is brewed here in the traditional colonial way.
(Don't ask me what that glowing whirly thing is at the bottom of the picture. 
Maybe it is some left over time-travel quantum energy or something) 

I certainly do enjoy taking part in activities with the presenters as they replicate a colonial family life (not necessarily the Daggetts), for not only does it make for good photo opps, but it allows me to feel as a part of an 18th century scene with this beautiful historical saltbox house as our 'set,' and for that I am filled with appreciation.
I like to view this as one of those moments where you think, "Am I really there?" - for it did have a touch of that in between past and present feeling, though because these good people are historic presenters our feet were firmly planted in the present. And, of course, as soon as visitors came upon the scene, I stepped back to allow the interpreters to do their job.

But for me, the feeling of the past was there.

By the way, note the colors in our clothing. Yes, the 18th century was not nearly as dull and bland as the old history books hint.
Behind the house is the garden. Part for the kitchen and part medicinal, it gives the visitor a very good overview of rural colonial plants used for a variety of things.
Besides the varieties of squash, beans, lettuce and other vegetables used to help sustain the family, Samuel Daggett's wife, Anna, would have also grown plants for medical purposes as well, including wormwood, which was a purgative for stomach issues or worms, tansy was used to stop bleeding and bruising, and chamomile, which was used, same as it is today, to make a calming tea.

Take a close look at the watering "can" that Gigi is using, for it is not a can at all. Instead, it is a red ware pottery jar with a spout opening small enough for an adult thumb to cover. Once the thumb is removed, water comes showering out of the holes in the bottom.

Most of the presenters at the Daggett Farm are women, and they do such a wonderful job in recreating their role as females of the 1760s. Fortunately, there are a couple of men included in the mix to give a more well-rounded feel. Chuck, pictured here, and Roy (in the pictures above) do chores more suitable to men during the 18th century, including repairs and wood chopping:

"Well, my dear, Mr. Giddings is asking for wood for his kitchen hearth. He asked if we might not spare his kitchen maid a few pieces." 

So off to the outbuildings I did go to gather what Giddings had asked for.
(Before anyone gets all up in arms about what I am doing here, I held a piece of wood for the initial picture, then photo-shopped the rest. I am not looking to get myself or anyone else in trouble with the powers-that-be at Greenfield Village so I have been very careful in what I do. Sometimes one has to do their own photo-shop to create a photo-opp!)

To the home of John Giddings we went where we were greeted by Mehetable. 
(Again, notice who is carrying the wood. Even though I am sort of portraying a country farmer, I do not work for the Village, therefore, even though I am a gentleman, 'tis not I carrying the wood for the hearth).

No, Mehetable is not Gigi's mistress, but she helps her adjustments nonetheless.

Carrots from the garden!

The Giddings House is plexi-glassed off most of the year and is only fully opened to the public during the Fall Flavors Weekends and Holiday Nights, so I always try to take advantage in my period clothing during those times we can wander through much of the structure.

Then it was back to the Daggetts, for the women were preparing to dye wool.
Now, I am not going to get deep into the wool dyeing process - I covered that HERE - but I would like to show you some of the basics of this ancient craft
Preparation for the dyeing of wool.
This is an annual presentation that the Village has every fall and, like the beer making from a couple weeks back, I try not to miss it.

The process of wool dyeing actually began about six weeks earlier when the presenters began collecting nature to use as the dye.
I followed the historical interpreter around for a bit as we spoke of the different naturals dyes available all around us and the colors they make.
On this day she was collecting walnuts for a deep brown. There was a squirrel up in one of the trees who wasn't very pleased, for it kept on tossing them down upon us, but luckily missing with each. I would hate to get knocked on the head by one of these buggers!

For only being out searching for a short while, she didn't do too bad.

And now, toward the end of October, they are ready for the dyeing process!

But brown was not the only color being made this day. To make red, cochineal beetles are used (yes, beetles!), while orange comes from the madder root plant as well as annato seeds (which could be imported from Brazil).

And there's indigo for blue (although, due to the clouds, it looks more black than deep blue).

In the basket you can see previously dyed wool - just see how vibrant the colors are. In all honesty, I have to laugh when I hear of people using Kool Aid or something along those lines to dye their wool. Especially if the wool was cleaned and carded by hand.

Click to watch my video about the wool dyeing process

As the day was waning, I decided to go off and see a few of the other sights of this wondrous historical place. Since I sometimes portray a farmer, and since the Daggett area has only a kitchen garden and little else for farming, I decided to head over to Firestone Farm.
Now, Firestone is representing the 1880s, and the process of farming as compared to the 1760s had not changed dramatically (aside from the threshing machine and the seed planter), I thought it could serve as a pseudo-18th century backdrop.
The corn is looking good this year.
There shall be plenty to eat in a variety of ways, such as on the cob, corn meal, corn bread, muffins, chowder, and even food for cattle, for months to come. 

Walking with the horses back to the barn...
(again - - no, I did not touch the horses. My son lined up the camera to hide the 1880s Firestone farmer as to not take way from the impression)

Barns from the 18th century, especially the interior, were not dramatically different from those a hundred years later. 

Look closely...and you can make out yours truly, heading back to the future.
As I mentioned earlier, here in the lower east side of Michigan we have virtually no original 18th century structures, so in order for me to get an authentic look for my images I have to utilize whatever I can to do so, and Greenfield Village is the place - the only place - where this can happen for me.
Please understand, when I visit this beautiful museum dedicated to Americana, I do not take part or interject in any way in the presenter's presentations to the public, nor do I pretend that I work there. I just enjoy the atmosphere and can feel the history and the spirit of the past so much more when I can visit while I am dressed period.
It's a little hard to explain, but I know there are a few of you who will understand.
Until next time, see you in time.

~If I am in the photograph, then my son Robbie took the picture. He is an aspiring photographer and, though he has all of his own fancy camera equipment, he did a fine job with my simple point-and-shoot camera, don't you think?

If you are interested in learning more about a colonial Harvest, please click HERE
To study in greater detail the workings of the Daggetts and their home, please click HERE 
To study in greater detail the workings of the Giddings and their home, click HERE
To learn more about Taverns and Travel in the 18th century, please click HERE.
To learn more about food and cooking in colonial times, please click HERE
Autumn food preparations of (mostly) the 19th century HERE
Days of Autumn Past in Photos HERE
For an overview of everyday life during colonial times, please click HERE
Celebrating Patriot's Day - the New England Holiday - at Greenfield Village: HERE 
And to learn about celebrating Christmas in colonial times, please click HERE 
Happy Thanksgiving...in the colonial times - please click HERE

~   ~   ~

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Presenting A Victorian Harvest - A 2017 Civilian Event

The harvest through a window
For the past few years the Civil War civilians of the unit I belong to, the 21st Michigan, has put on a fall harvest demonstration we call "Harvest Home" at one of the best reenactments of the year, Wolcott Mill. Unfortunately, for varying reasons (or so I've heard), Wolcott was not to take place this year.  And that truly was unfortunate, for we have put so much time and effort into showing the visiting public snippets of harvest time of the 1860s, and I didn't want to see that go the wayside; it to be a real shame to let it go. So, with Wolcott Mill unfortunately out of the picture, at least for this year, I thought I'd try to keep our presentation alive by attempting a civilian event. I spoke with the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, those wonderful folks who care for Detroit's ancient citadel from the 1840s, to see if we could bring our harvest presentation there, and they were very accommodating (as they always are!).
For a first time event, I didn't think we did too bad, though I believe it could have been much better if more reenactors had turned out. Ah, but, that's okay. Their loss. We still had a fine time, as you shall see in the following pictures:
Here is my camp.
Harvest time was perhaps the most important time of the year for nearly everyone, but most especially the farmer, for if his crop took a devastating hit from nature, he and his family had nowhere to turn for help.
And that's one of the very important reasons for this sort of presentation: to teach of the importance of what too many today take for granted.
I brought a few of my period farm tools, our own
dipped candles and beeswax bricks (which some kids
thought were cheese!), and heirloom apples.

My display of apples from the past was a pretty big hit. This all-American fruit (which is not native to American soil) played such an important role in our ancestor's survival here in the 17th through the 19th centuries.
I am frequently asked where I get these ancient varieties. There are numerous places on the internet where they can be purchased - just type into your favorite search engine "heirloom apples for sale." The internet, in so many ways, has been my time-tunnel to the past.
The best part? Once our presentation was done, these apples from days of old became part of a pie!

Yours truly...
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Long

It always surprises me how so few reenactors actually portray this time of year. Our purpose as living historians goes way beyond the historic clothing aspect. And the response we receive from visitors is positive - very positive. They absolutely love learning some of these details of the past rarely spoken about anymore.
(This is the Paladino camp)

Over at Jennifer and Amy's camp, we find the ladies preparing for the upcoming winter by sewing warm clothing for family members.

Here's a bit of interesting Michigan history:  
Anastasia “Eliza” Truckey served as lighthouse keeper of the Marquette Harbor Lighthouse in Marquette, Michigan, while her husband was away for war. Nelson Truckey left Eliza and their 4 children for three years to fight with the 27th Michigan Infantry during the Civil War. During that time, Eliza kept the light burning without an assistant to help her.
Sandy Krueger as Eliza Truckey

The 21st Michigan purchased a cider press a few years back, and a couple of the apple orchards in our general area have been gracious enough to donate (or sell very cheaply) apples for us to make the finest fall drink since the 1860s!

Making baskets for collecting the picked fruits and vegetables.

The Woodruffs, 21st Michigan members from from Ohio, always have one of the best displays with period activities...

...especially for the kids!
The young man on the right is using a butter churn to make butter for our thresherman's dinner. Yes, it was some of the best butter, in all honesty, I have ever had! And it was made by a thirteen year old boy.
The corn stalks, gourds, pumpkins, butter churn...and the barrel filled with cider.
Fall is definitely my favorite time of year

Cutting up squash for our evening Thanksgiving meal celebration.
Yes, I said Thanksgiving.
It wasn't until 1863 when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the 4th Thursday in November be a National Thanksgiving Holiday that the majority of the country began to celebrate as one, and even after that many states (and even individual towns or families) would have their own harvest feast, which is what we had here, for actual harvests would usually be celebrated at varying times of the fall months.

Drying plants, fruits, and vegetables was very common in the days before refrigeration, and that is another aspect of the harvest we also try to show.

~Everything but the beak~
Chickens gave us eggs and meat to eat, gizzards to cook with, and feathers for our pillows and beds.
Everything but the beak indeed!

Visiting with friends~~~
I very much appreciate those who participated in our little event, for some fine conversation ensued. And later in the afternoon, Larissa came up with a very fun sort of charades memory game that had us laughing so hard we were in tears.
(Photo courtesy of Fahr Realm Creations)
A tale of two wives?
Ah! Don't tell my wife (lol)!!
Oh, and there's Paul Anka, too.

In case you haven't met him yet, Paul Anka is the newest member of our family. He's a chocolate lab and, as of this writing, is nearly six months old.
(Photo courtesy of Fahr Realm Creations)
Many folks don't get the reference of our pup's name (hint: a television show).
Neat and true story: my cousin's young son took a liking to our dog and spent quite a bit of time playing with him while at the reenactment. Later in the day, at another location, there was a balloon man making balloon animals. When the man asked my cousin's son what animal he would like him to make, the boy said, "Paul Anka!"
Yeah, Lorelei would be proud! 
(Photo courtesy of Fahr Realm Creations)

The line of harvest celebrators.

After a muggy hot September and a too warm early October, it was finally beginning to feel like fall here in southern Michigan.

A sampling of the what autumn has to offer: fruit leather, dried apples, raisins/grapes, summer squash, mushrooms, honey, and pickled vegetables.

The apples being peeled became a pie and fritters.

Mrs. Paladino's pumpkin pie was delicious!

To keep their homes in good operation, a farmer in the 1860s might use 30 cords of wood. This would be for heat as well as cooking.
In colonial times, before the efficiency of the wood stove, a farmer might go through upwards of 40 cords.

For our thresherman's dinner, 

Apple desserts

Since there was only one fire, the ladies shared the duties and took turns cooking the meal. And let me tell you, there is nothing like a period meal cooked over an open flame.

Yes, we did have chicken and mac n cheese as our main dish (and mac n cheese is period correct!)
But we also had....
...bread rolls and eggs...

....pies, beets...

...corn, ham, beans, mashed potatoes...

...more pies, plus breads, cookies, and squash.

The room we had our thresherman's dinner in was originally either a kitchen or a dining area for the men of the fort. It has been restored back to the era of the Civil War, so it was perfect for us.

The reenactors all brought their own period-appropriate dinner ware, including lanterns for light.

Imagine looking out the window and seeing this!

Having our meal in this beautifully restored room really topped off the day. However, I think if we do it again at Historic Fort Wayne next year we can maybe plan to have our dinner a little later for a better candle-lit ambiance.

I repeatedly say that in order for the past to come alive we
must use all of our senses. This includes taste. And to enjoy 
a meal from days gone by in such a setting is just about
as wonderful as living history can get.
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Long

And to end this week's post:

I just had to include this picture taken by Jennifer Long,
for it is almost like a painting!
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Long

Did you notice that everyone had some sort of a presentation? There were no camp-sitters...I repeatedly say here in Passion for the Past that reenacting is much more than walking around and looking period, which is why my hat is off to the wonderful civilians of the 21st Michigan, for I have not found another group who so willingly and so authentically enjoys bringing the past back to life.
Yeah...the 21st Michigan is a pretty unusual group.

Until next time, see you in time.

If you are interested in learning more about the fall harvest of long ago, please click HERE
And if you'd like to know a bit more about apples in America's past, click HERE
Click HERE to see even more pictures from this event taken by Fahr Realm Creations

~   ~