In this late 1800s trade card, a young girl in her Sunday best demonstrates the ease of operating a Chadborn & Coldwell Manufacturing Co. lawn mower. (Object ID.89.0.541.430).
A large expanse of manicured lawn was once something only the wealthy could afford. It was necessary to have full-time gardening help to cut the grass evenly by hand with a scythe and then roll the grass flat to achieve a perfect look.
The introduction of a practical automatic lawn mower in the 1870s made it much easier for the average homeowner to maintain his or her own neatly trimmed lawn with minimal labor. Soon, a flawless lawn became a sign of the arrival into the middle class.
Keeping a lawn lush and green in the hot summer months could be accomplished with a range of sprinkling devices. Sprinklers were very popular when they first became common in the late 1800s. Of course, only people living in cities and towns that had water systems could use these “lawn fountains,” since they required constant water pressure to operate. By the 1930s, lawn sprinklers came in a variety of imaginative shapes. The iron figures helped to anchor the device, while being amusing as well as decorative.
This American fascination with a well-kept, velvety green lawn would develop into a near-obsession after World War II, as suburban homeowners spent many weekend hours and much money on fertilizers and herbicides—trying to create the perfect lawn.
By Henry Prebys, Former Curator at The Henry Ford.
Summertime is fast approaching, and that means it is ice cream season. The Henry Ford’s collections contain ice cream containers, ice cream makers, sundae dishes, and more related to this icy treat. We’ve just digitized some of our holdings related to ice cream, including this mid-20th century tub intended to hold Velvet ice cream.
The first complete Moog Synthesizer with modules, built by Robert A. Moog, 1964 (Object ID: 82.68.1).
What does a Moog synthesizer sound like? The word itself is often mispronounced. Moog sounds nothing like the moo-ing of a cow. I was guilty of this faux-pas myself for many years until I was chastised by a musician friend: “No! Not like the cow! Moog rhymes with vogue!” When the experimental composer Herbert Deutsch first met Bob Moog, he told him that he wanted an instrument that didn’t exist. He said he wanted something that could “make these sounds that go wooo-wooo-ah-woo-woo.” Moog’s electrical engineering skills and openness to collaboration played well alongside Deutsch’s musical engineering talents. And so, as they developed the instrument together, the short version of the story is that Deutsch began to hear the first signs of his “wooo”’s and “ah”’s in July of 1964. By October, Deutsch was composing electronic music on the first complete Moog prototype – the very same synthesizer that was eventually acquired for our collections here at The Henry Ford.
Love for the Moog continues today, evidenced by the recent celebration of its 50th Anniversary at Moogfest 2014: The Synthesis of Technology, Art & Music. I was privileged to be able to attend this festival, and to meet the foundational members behind the history of synthesized music, to hear presentations by people influenced by Bob Moog and his legacy, and to participate in demonstrations alongside current visionaries in the field of technology and sound.
Music to the engineering world’s ears would align the Moog synthesizer’s best qualities as coming from its feats of interior technology: electronically generated sounds, driven by voltage-controlled transistor technology, organized into standardized modules, oscillators, and a keyboard. I promise I won’t go too far down this technical rabbit hole, because while this history was absolutely crucial to its invention, I believe that the legacy of the Moog synthesizer is rooted in what it can do, and what is has done, rather than what it is. In a world that is saturated by creative invention (and equally rapid obsolescence), it is often difficult to imagine there being enough space left for something truly original and lasting. But Bob Moog’s synthesizer was pure innovation: no one had ever heard anything like the sounds it produced.
So while I’m doing a roundabout job of describing what the Moog sounds like, I’m comfortable in assuming that you have probably heard it, and perhaps not realized it. While Wendy Carlos’ 1968 classical application of the instrument in “Switched on Bach” is considered to be the first commercially successful Moog recording, its use quickly branched into popular music: The Beatles’ Abbey Road, Kraftwerk’s Autobahn, and Giorgio Moroder’s production on Donna Summer’s disco hit “Love to Love You Baby.” Musicians working today love the Moog because it supports organic experimentation and seemingly limitless sound potential, distilled down into a portable instrument with a physical interface. In spite of the widespread availability of computer-based music programs, many performers are choosing to return to analog instruments. Clicking buttons on a laptop is simply less satisfying than making a physical patch with a cord. Signals travel from one patch port to the next, travelling over wires, producing otherworldly sounds.
Moogfest attendees logged many hours of play on UM Projects’ theremins (left); thereminist Dorit Chrysler kicks off the festival at Pack Place Lobby, April 23, 2014 (right).
Daily performances by Dorit Chrysler were played out among the custom-built theremins by François Chambard of Odd Harmonics / UM Projects. In addition to being considered one of the world’s preeminent thereminists, Chrysler is also one of the founding members of the New York Theremin Society. Attendees were welcome to try their hand at playing the theremins during the open play hours. Most people (this curator included) were shocked to find out how difficult it was to get any sense of control out of the oddball instrument.
Mark Frauenfelder, editor-in-chief of Make Magazine, introduces the creative powerhouses that will appear in Make Magazine’s day-long panel (right); Nic Collin’s Tall Poppies film showed how simple contact microphones could be used creatively, to amplify the sound of the metal rods of fireworks sparklers. Watch (and listen!) here.
Make Magazine’s lineup for a day-long session did not disappoint. Tom Zimmerman, Master Inventor working within IBM’s Research Division, opened the floor by discussing his career in the foundations of human-machine interaction. His first patent was for the Data Glove, the same technology that helped to support early efforts in the Virtual Reality arena. His recent inventions have included digital tracking devices that alert a control center when endangered sea-turtle eggs are hatching, and Project Autobahn, a system to convert the mechanical data of a Ford automobile into music. Zimmerman’s passion for the importance of STEAM (that’s STEM + Art) education is clear, as he shared his mantra: “Hands-on wins, hands down.”
Jay Silver of Joylabz and Intel demonstrated the abilities of his creative platforms Makey Makey and Drawdio. With these devices, the world essentially becomes an electrical, interactive playground: you can turn your kitchen sink into a theremin, or make a working video game controller out of Play-Doh.
Nic Collins, author of the influential book Handmade Electronic Music, spoke about his career trajectory through the avant-garde music scene of New York in the 1970s to his current position as Professor in the Department of Sound at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. When he first arrived at SAIC, he realized that his students were “digitally saturated,” and that they were hungry to learn about the messiness of analog circuitry. Collins shared his knowledge of circuitry, ultimately sparking off a riotous revolution in sound-making and art at his popular workshops. A favorite moment was Collins’ description of his Tall Poppies project in which he built microphones to capture the sound of sparkler fireworks burning down and cooling – from the inside.
Forest Mims III has written over 60 books, many of them well known to Makers and electrical enthusiasts. His books Getting Started in Electronics and the Engineer’s Mini-Notebook series for Radio Shack have sold millions of copies and sparked off generations of garage workbench tinkerers in the process. Mims recounted his work over the years: the “Jokes That Bomb” noisemaker for the Johnny Carson Show, the Atari Punk Console, and infrared travel aid glasses to safely direct the blind. In 1975, Mims also wrote the very first manual for a home computer, the Altair 8800, manufactured by his company, MITS.
The vocoder began as a room-sized interface called SIGSALY, equipped with two turntables that are suspiciously reminiscent of the performance setups that hip-hop DJs would later use (left, image courtesy of the Audio Engineering Society); Douglas Vakoch (right) of the SETI Institute spoke as part of the Science Fiction & Synthesized Sound workshop presented by OMNI Reboot.
The overwhelming amount of incredible speakers to choose from found me session-hopping for the remainder of the festival. Favorites included hearing the history of the vocoder unfold through the captivating and humorous expertise of Dave Tompkins. His book, How to Wreck a Nice Beach, traces the vocoder from its beginnings as the behemoth SIGSALY, a WWII-era speech encrypting device, to its diminutive (but no less impactful presence) into its days of being harnessed for science-fiction film and television, and eventually bleeding over into robotically-inflected effects used in hip hop and electronic music.
Douglas Vakoch, Director of Interstellar Message Composition at the SETI Institute, spoke in depth about the history and content of “goodwill messages,” those inscribed pictorial plaques sent into space onboard Pioneer and Explorer spacecraft. The Institute continues this type of highly coordinated communication through their Earth Speaks project. Using crowd-sourced contributions, SETI invites people to submit pictures and text to be broadcast in the event that an extraterrestrial civilization is ever detected. The themes they ask contributors to respond to related to what it means to be human, and the provocation: “Should we reply, and if so, what should we say?”
Module synthesizers continue to be designed and crafted by hand at the Moog Factory in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. In a surprise unveiling, the factory wowed the crowd with a painstakingly recreated version of Keith Emerson’s iconic instrument. This engineering feat took three years to complete, and is a powerhouse of workmanship and commitment to the vintage synth spirit, from hand-soldered circuit boards to photo-etched aluminum designs.
The new Emerson Moog Modular System, unveiled at the Moog Factory (left); Herbert Deutsch and Kristen Gallerneaux talk about all things Moog (right).
I was also honored to be able to spend some time talking to Herbert Deutsch himself in his down time between performances. Suffice to say, Deutsch’s role as collaborative advisor in the development of the synthesizer meant that he was well-armed with amazing stories and information about our artifact. I will look forward to revealing some of these in a future blog post. At his lecture, “From Moog to Mac,” Deutsch performed early compositions from the heyday of Moog experimentation, including music that was originally created on The Henry Ford’s own synthesizer.
When Deutsch played a recording of a correspondence tape from 1963, sent to him by Bob Moog, the audience fell silent. Above the stunned hush, we heard the first sounds of the synthesizer, and Moog himself, jokingly calling his invention “the old Abominatron,” warning Deutsch, “It doesn’t sound like much when I play it, but maybe somehow, someone with a bit more musicianship and imagination can get some good things out of it…”
Kristen Gallerneaux is Curator of Communications and Information Technology at The Henry Ford. Be on the lookout for sound and synthesis-related events at this year’s Maker Faire Detroit, July 26-27!
It’s been three months since my first visit to our Pottery Shop to learn about our potters’ studio pottery challenge. Since then the team has been hard at work not only finishing their pieces but getting back into the day-to-day routine that comes with the village being open to guests. Recently I paid my last visit to the group to see the final results and learn more about what each team member took away from the project.
For Alex Pratt, he was very surprised by how his pieces turned out. Some results were very unexpected, but that made for good results. He’s very excited by the promise of some new slip colors he was working with.
“I’m really pleased where this let me go,” he said. “I’ve got a lot to take away mentally; it was a really energizing project.”
Melinda Mercer was also very pleased with how her pieces looked after being fired, specifically the colors that were achieved. Our new salt kiln has been fired just four times so far, so it’s still very exciting to see how the pieces are developing. Melinda’s custom-stamped piecing required a lot of time-consuming glazing, but in the end it was totally worth it. The contrast between the glazed and unglazed portions are some of her favorite results.
“It was a very valuable experience to try things we don’t normally do,” she said.
For John Ahearn, the sculptural bowl he created was his favorite piece. He was very excited to see that his cake plate made it through the firing process. After all, “lots of funky things can happen in firing,” he said. As I took photos and admired the team’s hard work, John said how cool it was to see the group’s pieces finished and on display, especially thinking back to the first day he was given the creative assignment. He then summed up his feelings with a smile and this statement that I think we can all be appreciative of.
“I’m just really glad to be a potter.”
Keep an eye on the Pottery Shop and our Liberty Craftworks store in Greenfield Village in the coming weeks; not only may you be able to see the team’s hard work up close, but purchase one of these one-of-a-kind items, too!
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
By telegraph and letter, by railroad and newspaper, word of Virginia's deadly spring of 1864 reverberated across America.
This weekend, amidst the 150th Anniversary of the 1864 Overland Campaign, National Park Service battle sites in Virginia and communities North and South are remembering those who fell at The Wilderness, Spotsylvania Court House, Cold Harbor, and Petersburg.
The loss of men in Virginia constituted deep wounds to communities across Michigan. Places like Dearborn, Williamston, Pontiac and dozens more reckoned with the loss of men who would never come home—most of them buried today as unknowns on Virginia's fields.
This weekend, at The Henry Ford, in the village that reminds us so much that America’s heart is built around home and community, we join with the staff of The Henry Ford to remember.
We remember families like the Churches of Williamston, whose son Charles went to fight with the Third Michigan Infantry. War interrupted his quest to become a pig farmer, but he found both purpose and improvement in his service. “I am ten times better a man than I ever was before this war,” he told his homefolk in 1863. “It is the best school I ever attended and…people need not be troubled about my well fare.”
But then, in May 1864, came word from the Wilderness in Virginia, scene of the first clash between Grant and Lee, a horrific place of fire and death. That spring of sadness, letters like this flew across America like daggers.
Camp of the 3rd Michigan Infantry
May 20, 1864
Dear Sir it becomes my painful duty to inform you that your son Charles H. Church is [presumed] to be killed. Our regiment went on a charge May 6th and after going until the rebles shot fell thick and fast all around. We fell back and to our surprise he did not fall back with us… Some of our regiment saw him and they say he was wounded in the bowels and fell back a short ways but was compelled to give up. The johnnys soon held the ground that we had gained and all that he had with him fell into the enemys hands. Our regiment with you mourn his loss for he was a good soldier and a brave man. ….. We have lost two thirds of our regiment since we left on this campaign. Many brave officers and men have been killed. We mourn their loss.
Edgar W. Clark, Co. G, 3rd Mich Inf Washington, D. C.
Julia Wheelock, a teacher in Ionia, Michigan, traveled to Virginia to care for the wounded in 1864.
The Civil War touched every corner of or nation and drew into it not just soldiers and sailors, but sisters and loved ones. In 1862, Julia Wheelock, a teacher in Ionia, Michigan learned that her brother Orville had been wounded at the Battle of Chantilly. She rushed to Washington to find and care for him, but got there too late. Julia sought no refuge from her grief. Instead, she stayed and helped in the hospitals around Washington and would quietly forge a career of courage and accomplishment as a caregiver. Her published letters are among the best from a woman serving at the front.
In 1864, Julia (now an agent of the Michigan Soldiers’ Relief Association) traveled to Fredericksburg to care for the wounded from Wilderness and Spotsylvania. In her letters, she recorded heart-wrenching dilemmas, scorching moments. She wrote on May 15:
“Among the hospitals I have visited today is the old Theatre…I took a quantity of pillows, chicken soup, and crackers. The moment I entered the hospital, oh, what a begging for pillows came from all parts of the room! `Please give me a pillow, I’m wounded in the head and my knapsack is so hard,’ said one. Another wants one for the stump of his arm or leg. `I don’t think it would be so painful if only I had a pillow, or cushion, or something to keep it from the hard floor; there, that small one will do for me; please lady, let me have that….” For a few moments I stood with the pillows in my arms, unable to decide what do. I could not supply all, and to whom should I give?”
In that same theater, Julia came across a wounded captain facing death. Julia fed the Captain broth, then asked if there were anything she could do for him before she headed off to her next patient
“If you will, please write a few lines to mother,” he said.
Remembered Julia: “Taking her address, I inquired whether there was anything in particular he wished me to write. I shall never forget the expression…as he looked up and said, “Oh! Give her some encouragement, but tell her I’m trusting in God.” He hesitated a few moments, and then added: “It will be so hard for my mother, for she is a widow, and I am her only son.” I tried to speak a few words of comfort, telling him that if his trust was in God all would be well….In a moment the thought of the anguish that would soon pierce that lone widowed mother’s heart, rushed upon my mind, and poor, weak human nature was overcome, and I could only bow my head and weep. The poor fellow seemed fully conscious of the fact that he must die; and while he would have his mother know the worst, he wished the sad intelligence to be gently broken. The language of his heart seemed to be, ‘Who will care for my mother now?’”
The story of war invariably revolves around home. Some fought to defend homes. Others aspired only to reach home once more. Deaths in Virginia halted those journeys home and sent shockwaves through homes across Michigan and America, challenging the will of families, communities, states, and nations to continue.
Continue they did, crippled by hardship, awash in heartbreak, civilian and soldier alike. It is a sad, difficult story to be sure. But the hardship endured is also a measure of the commitment and determination of those who toiled and sacrificed on our behalf 150 years ago.
Those who gave so much asked only one thing of those who followed: that we remember. And this weekend, we do. We remind ourselves that the fruits of their toil and sacrifice constitute the foundation of our nation still: a still-improving place of freedom and justice and unprecedented prosperity.
John Hennessy is Chief Historian, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park, with the National Park Service. The Henry Ford is pleased to partner with the National Park Service in delivering special presentations and outreach programming through the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield relating to the 150th Anniversary of General Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864 during Civil War Remembrance.
Although there were no Civil War battles fought in Michigan, and we have not graves to decorate, Greenfield Village has become a place where we commemorate one of the most pivotal time periods of our Nations’ History. Since 1993, The Henry Ford has hosted Civil War Remembrance in Greenfield Village over the Memorial Day weekend to honor the sacrifice of not only those from 1861 – 1865, but of all veterans who have faithfully served in the protection of the United States. Memorial Day’s genesis can be traced to the American Civil War as comrades, families and small towns across the land decorated the graves of recently fallen soldiers.
The Civil War Remembrance program offers an opportunity to journey back in time to a moment when our nation was engaged in a massive civil war affecting lives across thousands of miles. Guests can appreciate and honor the memory of those four defining years where more than 3 million would have fought and over 750,000 will have died – the equivalent of 7.8 million dead today. As we are in the fourth year of the Civil War sesquicentennial years, it's important to reflect and think about this time period 150 years past and how it's relevant to our world today and for our future. One of the ways we make those distant events relevant is through commemoration and programming. Civil War Remembrance is one such way and is an officially recognized event by the Michigan Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee through the Michigan Historical Commission.
It's important that we remember the extraordinary service and paramount sacrifice of the common individual soldier who drew from that large reservoir of bravery and courage to continue onward in spite of almost certain death. To their families and to their generation they were known, for the pain and loss of a loved one was felt directly and with absolute certainty. To us they are unknown in name only as their actions will live forever. And to those families and loved ones who sustained incredible and permanent loss, undue hardships and burdens beyond imagine, we must always sustain and uplift the memory of those contributions that made such an indelible impression on our identity. As a principal defining moment, this monumental conflict put into motion a series of events that has brought us to where we are today as a people and as a nation. Their determination and perseverance wove yards of whole cloth creating a foundation for America’s tapestry that continues to be created.
Civil War Remembrance is one of the most comprehensive programs of its kind – we like to say it's the ultimate tribute to the ultimate sacrifice. This program draws participants, historians and experts from throughout the country. Over the three-day weekend Greenfield Village will come alive with special recognition opportunities, commemorations, musical performances, exhibitions, demonstrations (tactical infantry, artillery and cavalry), dramatic performances, hands-on and participatory activities and much more. One of my favorite program offerings is "Enlist in the Army" where guests can “enlist” in the army receiving a reproduction enlistment form from an 1860’s recruiter at the Phoenixville Post Office. After enlistment, they head to Dr. Howard’s Office to see if they are fit for service (everyone passes with a cursory superficial “if you're breathing you're good” exam), and then they are off to the Logan County Courthouse to be “mustered in” and prepared for military drill and schooling. At this point, the group of guests are commanded by an officer in the Federal army, given wooden muskets and then drilled on the Village Green with commands and movements as new recruits would have received during the war. We only need to figure out how to muster them out of service at the conclusion of the day!This year we have Tim Erikesen and The Trio de Pumpkintown as our primary musical performance with an extended concert Saturday evening with shorter performances both Sunday and Monday. Tim is acclaimed for transforming American tradition with his startling interpretations of old ballads, love songs, shape-note gospel and dance tunes from New England and Southern Appalachia. He combines hair-raising vocals with inventive accompaniment on banjo, fiddle, guitar and banjo sexto-a twelve string Mexican acoustic bass-creating a distinctive hardcore Americana sound. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the 1864 presidential election wherein Abraham Lincoln won a second term in office. We will have a re-created Lincoln Campaign Head Quarters stationed out of the Tintype Studio in Greenfield Village.
For 2014, The Henry Ford is very pleased to have partnered with the National Park Service in delivering special presentations and outreach programming through the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Battlefield relating to the 150th Anniversary of General Grant’s Overland Campaign of 1864. For the highlight of this partnership, The Henry Ford will take part in Reverberations, an innovative program initiated by the National Park Service connecting three national parks in Virginia and eight communities around the country to illustrate the devastating impact of the Civil War on communities across the country. Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan is one of those communities.
This special candlelight illumination ceremony with John Hennessy, Civil War historian and chief historian/chief of interpretation at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park military park, will be simultaneously conducted by the partner communities both North and South. This ceremony will culminate in taps being played in Greenfield Village and echoed to these other locations virtually as the event will be streamed live in conjunction with the other ceremonies. The activities will ultimately conclude with a grand illumination ceremony the Fredericksburg National Cemetery in Virginia.
Civil War Remembrance Weekend takes place in Greenfield Village Saturday, May 24, through Monday, May 26, with a special late night Saturday evening. Learn more about the program by visiting our event page.
Brian James Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford.
One of the core features of the Civil War Remembrance program are the nearly 450 living history re-enactors that come in and literally camp in Greenfield Village. What many guests don’t know, and is often a question that is asked of these participants is, “Where do you get your clothing and equipment?”
A rather robust industry of proprietors, merchants and cottage business people have emerged over the past several decades to make and provide reproduction clothing, equipment, accouterments and just about every other imaginable article from the Civil War (and other) time periods. These merchants have created their own living history impressions known as sutlers. Sutlers were mobile stores and merchants that followed the armies and set up shop, usually under large canvas tents and temporary structures, to provide articles and goods that the army did not issue or supply to the troops. Today, re-created sutlers follow re-enactors to events across the country, including Civil War Remembrance, to sell reproduced living history items.
Many of the re-enactors purchase most, if not everything, from these sutlers and proprietors, but a small group of living history people make their own items. This group of living historians, both men and women, examine originals articles in museum collections, draft patterns and notes, conduct primary research and then go about re-creating said article to the exact detail. Often times this requires searching far and wide for the correct and appropriate fabric, notions and materials to create an absolutely faithful recreation that they will then wear and use. Often is the case that many of these items, including the specific fabrics, have to be made from scratch as they cannot be found at your local fabric shop. For some, this “obsession” with the period details, may seem like too much work, but for those who have embraced such aspects of the material culture from the time period their work has added immeasurably to understanding the time period and the details of everyday life for both soldier and civilian through one of the most universal and common aspects of our ancestors of the past and with us today – clothing! Everyone has done in the past, does today, and will probably for the foreseeable future, wear clothing!
Those of us who have researched, examined originals, and then set out to recreate accurate period clothing and attire from a particular time period have found that it goes well beyond generic fabric choice, color, etc. It is a must to have not only the correct weight, content, and properly (authentically) dyed fabric, but it is also cut, construction technique, thread use and more. An example of this may be a re-created Federal Fatigue Blouse commonly called a four-button sack coat. The army issued nearly 3 million of these and it was the most basic article of clothing for every Federal soldier (and even many Confederates that captured supplies from wagon trains, battlefield pick-ups, etc.). Although there were some variations in the fabric and construction techniques due to the various contractors making them, the regulations called for the fabric to be made of flannel (a lighter weight/utilitarian type wool with a distinct diagonal wale/twill) that was indigo dyed, cut in a specific manner/style, and constructed with #30 logwood-dyed linen thread. Although many were machine sewn, especially by contractors, many fatigue blouses were completely hand sewn, including the button holes. Government clothing depots issued kits to civilians to sew for contract pay – to make it equitable to all since not all had machines, they insisted they were completely hand sewn. So depending on the style of fatigue blouse you are re-creating it needs to be entirely hand sewn or a combination of machine/hand sewn.
Does all of this make a difference in building an authentic and accurate impression? Yes, it does. The jacket hangs differently off the body, the stitching is noticeably different, and looks nearly indistinguishable to the originals sans age. These differences, in conjunction with all the other aspects of putting an accurate impression together, really do create the, “that person looks like they just stepped out of a Civil War photograph,” comment.
Women and civilian impressions are equally wrought with attention to details down to the exact style of stitch to create a specific look on the bodice of a dress or a knife-pleat on waist seam. Creating the ever important then, and equally important now, proper silhouette starts with the appropriate and accurately constructed foundational undergarments for both men and women. Constructed appropriately and with the correct fabric, an exact look can be created from the time period. Whether it is the fine detail of tiny stitch revealed 5" from a skirt bottom, where the false hem was sewn in by hand, on the inside or the reinforced top stitching along the outer edge of the side back seam on a woman’s bodice, these are all the important details that many of the living history pursue to create a most accurate window to the past.
It's all in the details and the outcome of such can be profound. A photograph taken using a 1860s wet-plate process of a colleague taken years ago illustrates this point exactly. Robert Lee Hodge, noted living historian and Civil War battlefield preservationist, had created an impression of an early-war civilian soldier. Wearing accurately constructed period clothing, sporting period facial hair, carrying a battle knife, and even crossing his eyes slightly, you would not know if this man is alive today or if it was taken of a Missouri or Kansas “cut throat” or “boarder ruffian” from 1861. Rob’s accurately constructed drop-shoulder cotton plaid work shirt (or battle shirt), fancy silk cravat, jeans-cloth trousers – all with a great deal of wear patina – make this image indiscernible if was taken within the past ten or 150 years. Rob was one of the subject matters in Tony Horwitz’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Confederates in the Attic and this image was used on the paperback version of the book.
Volumes could be written on the material culture aspects and the use of such understanding for recreating clothing and articles of the past and it all begins with the study of originals. During Civil War Remembrance we are very fortunate to have material culture experts and historians bring in their magnificent collections for display in the Village Pavilion (the “Civil War Resource Center”) as well as provide special presentations sharing their deep and extensive knowledge. We have experts from Michigan, Alabama, Maryland and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania here over the weekend. The fashion show, “What We Wore – Clothing and Uniforms of the 1860s,” has been expanded this year and will be co-presented by local historian Beth Turza and Brian Koenig, material culture export from Pennsylvania. Both Beth and Brian construct exquisitely detailed period clothing.
Through researching, understanding and re-creating accurate clothing and articles from the past, we can get a clearer picture of the people and time period we seek to know. We are indebted to those who keep the skill, expertise and craft of the past alive and relevant. A quote that emerged from presentation workshop we conducted here years ago seems very appropriate for those who make period clothing for living history uses:
“We teach our hands with yesterday so the eyes of today will see the hearts of long ago.”
Brian James Egen is Executive Producer at The Henry Ford.
During Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village there are countless activities, performances and hands-on experiences to keep you busy all day long. Music is a large, important part of how we celebrate the weekend, so you can expect some fantastic performances all three days.
Taking a look at our lineup for this weekend you’ll notice some groups familiar to the stages of Greenfield Village. Included in that lineup is Tim Eriksen and the Trio de Pumpkintown. I had a chance to talk with Tim recently and learn more about his approach to songwriting and performing his own style of folk music.
Fans of the 2003 award-winning Civil War drama “Cold Mountain” will quickly recognize Tim and his work as he contributed several songs to the popular soundtrack. With a background working with some well-known names in the music industry, Tim’s career has been eclectic and fascinating all at the same time.
Describing himself as “hardcore Americana,” Tim takes an imaginative approach to his music. Guests can expect humor and intensity during his performance, especially those who are brand-new to his work; it’s an unusual take on folk music that will leave everyone pleasantly surprised.
Listening to Tim’s work can also be a bit of a history lesson, too, as he sings about a fictional New England village. To Tim, the line between history and fiction is often hard to draw. As he puts it, fiction is a very powerful tool in telling the truth. As an artist, he’s passionate about reimagining stories.
When it comes to influences, Tim finds inspiration from the New England communities of the late 1700s, a very diverse area during that time, in his opinion. Beyond the historical influences, Tim is inspired by the everyday objects he finds in nature.
After listening to Tim and the Trio de Pumpkintown’s performances this weekend at Civil War Remembrance, Tim hopes that guests enjoy themselves and engage in history. With Greenfield Village’s busy backdrop commemorating an important time in our nation’s history, you can assume that Tim’s hopes will definitely come true.
Tim Eriksen and the Trio de Pumpkintown take to the Town Hall stage in Greenfield Village for three performances during Civil War Remembrance: Saturday at 7 pm, Sunday at 2 pm, and Monday at 1 pm. For more information about this year’s weekend of events, check out the schedule and map.
Lish Dorset is Social Media Manager at The Henry Ford.
"The Theremin Played by Vera Richardson” Program Issued for Her Concert Series at the Dearborn Inn, c. 1935. (Object ID: 22.214.171.124).
Vera Richardson Played Out-of-This-World Instrument at the Dearborn Inn
Owosso, Michigan, native Vera Richardson (born 1891) was a musician of considerable talent, evident from an early age, and by age 10 she was singing and playing the piano publicly. Formative performances took place in the neighboring Shiawassee County city, Corunna, where she appeared as part of the entertainment assembled for club gatherings held in local residences. She attended Michigan State Normal College (now Eastern Michigan University) and was the pianist for her own graduation ceremony in 1914. She continued her education after college, including an advanced piano course in New York. In August 1919, she married fellow Owosso native Leigh H. Simpson, a high school teacher, and the couple settled in Detroit.
Though the young Vera was obviously gifted, her modest early years gave little indication of the unique path her life would take.
It wouldn’t be long into her professional career before Vera Richardson was known as a highly skilled musician and performer. In the June 7, 1922, edition of The Detroit News, the paper could barely contain their praise of her “in all departments of the difficult art of piano playing,” noting her “ready facility which makes a technical achievement seem quite simple,” adding, “life and vigor are in the tones she achieves,” and “a real sincerity makes her work vital.” She was backing singers for the WWJ broadcast, but listeners responded so strongly to her playing—lighting up the station’s switchboard with requests for more—that the pianist closed out the evening with three solo pieces.
In addition to her piano virtuosity, Richardson was also a composer, arranger, and recording artist, laying down piano rolls for the Duo-Art player piano in the mid-to-late 1920s. At an April 1930 event held at the Women’s City Club in Detroit, she seemingly concluded the performance by turning on a Weber Duo-Art baby grand, which started to play one of her own piano rolls—but she wasn’t done yet. For the conclusion, she sat at another piano and began playing as the automated Duo-Art rolled on. The audience, blown away by such an unusual duet, insisted on an encore. Once again, she obliged.
In the mid-1930s, Richardson began a weekly residency at the Dearborn Inn. Envisioned by Henry and Edsel Ford, the hotel incorporated design elements from New England inns built during the colonial period. A stone’s throw from the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, the inn opened in 1931 and quickly gained a stellar reputation for its elegance and colonial charm. It was in this environment that Vera Richardson performed her Sunday concerts, which were likely held in the hotel’s cocktail lounge. This time, though, it wasn’t her piano skills that she shared with the audience. Instead, the instrument she manipulated was unfamiliar to most. It was a device that didn’t exist in the not-too-distant past, and was seemingly from a world that did not yet exist. With just a wave of her hands, Richardson was able to produce otherworldly sounds, both beautiful and frightening.
The Theremin, Model AR-1264, Made and Marketed by the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) from 1929-1935. (Object ID: 68.62.4).
The theremin was the world’s first electronic instrument. Invented in 1920 by Russian-born Lev Sergeyevich Teremen (better known as Leon Theremin), it is the only instrument played without ever being touched. The theremin consists of oscillators, housed in a wood cabinet, which stands on four legs. A vertical metal rod is to the right, a metal ring to the left. Once turned on, the theremin emits an electromagnetic field, so when a person enters that field the unit produces noise. Moving one’s right hand near the metal rod influences the pitch, while gesturing with the left hand near the ring controls the volume. When operated by a skilled player, the sound of the theremin is similar to such string instruments as the cello and violin, while the musical tone emanated can vary significantly. A piece might begin in a soothing or lovely fashion and then escalate into moods that are alternately haunting, suspenseful, or hair-raisingly alarming. During performance, the musician operating the instrument—depending on the spectator’s perspective—might resemble a conductor or even a magician.
RCA began manufacturing the instrument in 1929. Though the company boasted that “anyone can play” the theremin, it is actually quite difficult to master. So much so that even a musician as capable as Vera Richardson felt she could learn a thing or two about the instrument and returned to New York in the mid-1930s to study theremin development and technique with Leon Theremin himself.
The theremin was featured in the popular radio program, The Green Hornet. The instrument was used in the show to create an ominous buzz, representing a monstrous bee that sounded like it was about to fly right through the speakers. It marks the first time most of the public heard the theremin used in such a way—if at all. The thereminist, from day one in 1936 until the series ended in 1952, was none other than Vera Richardson.
Around the time of her Dearborn Inn concerts, she opened her music studio in Detroit. Located on Ferry Avenue west of Woodward, in the apartment she shared with her husband, she offered demonstrations of the theremin and taught piano. Richardson continued performing with the theremin, including such notable dates as her return to Owosso for a solo performance on July 3, 1936, as part of her hometown’s centennial celebration; and the October 25, 1936, appearance at the Women’s City Club, where she was backed by the Detroit String Ensemble. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, she had a radio show on WWJ, playing the organ and the Novachord, an early synthesizer. She was also the organist at the Detroit Institute of Arts every Sunday morning from 1935 to1950, and beginning in 1946 she performed monthly organ recitals at veteran’s hospitals across Michigan. Her last known public appearance took place on September 17, 1957, at a home in Grosse Pointe. Performing as one of four pianists at a “get acquainted tea” social for a local organization, the event was similar to her humble beginnings in show business over fifty years prior.
The cocktail lounge at the Dearborn Inn, c. 1930s, the area in the hotel where Vera Richardson likely performed her theremin concerts in the mid-1930s.
Vera Richardson Simpson died in September 1977 in Santa Barbara, California. She is buried near her hometown of Owosso, in Corunna, the same city where those youthful performances took place.
In July 1986, the Stearns Collection of Musical Instruments at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor received Richardson’s theremin from her estate. In January of the following year, the Vera Richardson Simpson Memorial Scholarship was announced. The scholarship was to benefit 18-to-22 year-old college students majoring in music. In this way, Vera Richardson’s legacy as a community-minded individual, musician and pioneering electronic music performer continued for new generations.
Bart Bealmear is a research support specialist in the Archives & Library at The Henry Ford.