Last year I confessed my desire to be a historic reenactor. The blog post made the rounds in the encampment during the inaugural War of 1812 Muster in Greenfield Village, and at the event when I revealed in conversation that I was the "wannabe," many participants generously shared with me some of their stories and why they reenact. I got some great insight that isn’t often revealed when walking though as an observer at such an event. For visitors, the reenactors faithfully remain in character - teaching us through living history. And over the years, through the Civil War encampment, the dramatic performances at the village and museum, and now through this 1812 event, I know my family and I have learned so much. (This year’s War of 1812 Muster is Aug. 18-19.)
After last year's 1812 muster, I received a nice note from a woman who participated as part of the First Regiment Volunteers:
I am so glad you came (back) out to see the GFV 1812 premier! I had read your “Reenactor Wannabe” blog the week prior and wanted to share an insider’s view with you. I thought that perhaps you had considered mostly the more superficial aspects of it as a hobby.
I have re-enacted on the coattails of my husband these past 16 or so years. He deeply loves late 18th- and early 19th-century American history and has a passion for sharing it with others. Now our two pre-teen sons are also involved. I have been in two different groups and found them both to be wonderful communities. I say “community” as I really feel that when we come together, we recapture that sense of small town support and interdependence that goes way back and often feels to be missing today. This community will gently nudge you not to be “farby” (unauthentic). They will share their patterns, stories, accounts, antique finds, historical tidbits and camaraderie with you. They share the clothes off their backs (hand-me-downs for the kids or an extra cap when you forget to pack yours!). They teach you and your children period card games, how to use historic tools, play a fife, make lace or rush a chair for example. They work together on the demonstrations (like the kids’ recruiting station) and cooperate on projects such as making reproduction wooden boxes or shingles to give back to the host historic site. Community members reach out to each other in order to overcome - as you said - “the logistical feat it must take for those involved to be there.” They help each other put up tents or work to save them from rising flood waters. They potluck communal meals and share fire pits. I could go on. I have learned much and look forward to my weekends with my community of dear friends. Nothing else propels me to research historic recipes and then to eagerly iron clothes for a couple hours like a reenacting weekend on the horizon!
I was grateful for her perspective, and her note prompted me to dig a little deeper and learn more. During the Civil War Remembrance this year at Greenfield Village, I had the opportunity to talk with some of the reenactors while they were preparing their camps for the annual Memorial Day Weekend event. (Reenactment groups from near and far participate in the event. They register in advance and are required to meet certain authenticity guidelines to ensure historical accuracy is presented to visitors.)
“Can I fire a musket?” Ken Giolando told me was the first question his then 15-year-old son Tommy asked when in 2004 Ken proposed the idea of participating in Civil War reenactments.
And, since the answer was "Yes," Tommy's reply was an enthusiastic, “I’m in!”
Ken, his wife and children joined the 21st Michigan Reenactors, after years of wanting to reenact - but just not knowing how.
I met Ken and his family as they were setting up camp for the annual Civil War Remembrance at Greenfield Village. It was an unusual sight for me: The village filled with present-day trucks and trailers.
Patty Giorlando demonstrates a spinning wheel, a skill she recently acquired participating in reenactments.
As an annual attendee of the remembrance event, I’ve always marveled at the detailed camps built by reenactors. My appreciation of the event grew tenfold as I witnessed all of the effort the participants put forth sharing their love of history with those of us who walk through. I think it really hit home when I saw cannons and horses unloaded.
Since I continue to toy with the idea of participating as a reenactor some day, I asked Ken how he got involved in reenacting.
“I used to go to events and think, 'Oh, we can't do this.’” He suspected you had to have all kinds of money to buy "all the stuff," or the people who did it must be part of some special club or professionals or something.
“Then one year, I was organizing a living-history event in the city that I live," he said. He went online to find some Civil War reenactors and came across 21st Michigan. “They came out to the event and were great.” The members who participated learned of Ken’s interest and - just like that - they asked him if he wanted to join.
He said the group was so welcoming and encouraging – and getting involved was not as hard as he thought. “We had never really inquired because we just assumed." He said there's a good lesson in that: Do not assume.
Dave Tennies portrays Senator Jacob Howard, and Ken Giorlando is the Postmaster.
Ken portrays a Postmaster of the mid-19th century. He uses period correct stationary, stamps, pen and ink and a desk to accent his presentation. Letters written by the many members of the living history community are actually sent and picked up through his post office.
Ken and his family - like other reenactors - are motivated by their passion for history. The Giorlandos are very active and participate in 20 or more reenactment events each year. Some are events that the 21st Michigan puts on for its members – such as a Civil War-era Christmas gathering. He and his family pitch their tents and interact with the public at some events (like at Greenfield Village), and at others, they have an opportunity to stay in authentic period housing.
Ken, his wife, daughter and one son are members of the Civilian Contingency of the unit, while his other two boys are part of the Volunteer Infantry – and that’s where the musket firing come in.
“The 21st Michigan’s view is to get you going, get you in some clothes and have you come out to see what it’s all about. If you have a love and a passion for this – we want you to do it.” Ken said the group strives for authenticity, not wanting visitors to see anything farby. “We work hard at that and encourage each other to do the same.”
Ken explained to me the different levels of reenacting - mainstream, progressive and what he called hardcore. Mainstream reenacting is where there is a lot of interaction with the public. The more progressive events may include public interaction, but in an overall environment that offers greater authenticity. He said the hardcore events are where there is no public, and reenactors are doing it for their own experience – like going off into the woods, setting up camp and reenacting battles, etc.
Andy Assenmacher, also a member of the Civilian Contingency of the 21st Michigan, added that the group has all levels of reenactors, its members are very encouraging and don't criticize. “We have lots of families,” he said. They also freely pass around clothes for the children since they are quickly outgrown
Dave Tennies (pictured above with Ken) got involved in reenacting by default. His son wanted to be a reenactor, and he needed a parent. That was 15 years ago. His son isn’t reenacting anymore, but Dave portrays former Michigan Attorney General and eventual United States Senator, Jacob Howard. During the Civil War, Senator Howard worked closely with President Abraham Lincoln in drafting and passing the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which abolished slavery.
I talked with Lorna Paul, a long-time participant in the Civil War event at Greenfield Village. She's a member of the 4th Michigan Co A Voluntary Infantry Reenactors, which also has civilian and infantry contingents. Lorna was encouraging and explained to me how her involvement grew. Like Dave Tennies from the 21st Michigan, it was Lorna's children who prompted the family's involvement in reenacting years ago. Her children are now grown and don't participate often, but her two-year-old granddaughter enjoys accompanying her to events. Lorna is a seamstress, and she often makes and repairs period clothing for other reenactors. (I actually met quite a few reenactors who are able to incorporate their love for history with their work.)
Jeff Sinclair is a member of the 102 Colored Troops. He's been reenacting for 16 years with the 30-member group that includes story tellers who portray Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. Their group also has a display of medical supplies and implements, and they set up numerous educational boards.
Jeff said he had come back to the states after working overseas and was looking for some fellowship. In his work, he came across some people who were reenactors; he was intrigued so he tried it out. He said it's a great group of people and that participating at the event at Greenfield Village is one his favorites. "It's always so joyful," he said.
Larry O'Donnell acquired a pre-Civil War transit made by Henry Ware of Ohio, which seemed to prompt his involvement. He's been reenacting for five years and was at Greenfield Village as part of the 4th Texas. Larry portrays General Jeremy Gilmer who was a topographical engineer. Surveying equipment was an essential tool during the Civil War. It was common for troops to build a bridge, retreat across it, then blow it up so opposing troops couldn't follow. In real life, Larry is a member of the Michigan Society of Professional Surveyors, a group that has an educational component that allows Larry and other members to borrow historic equipment to share with the public at events. He had some of that equipment at the event, too.
Many reenactors I spoke with told me of the sense of community they experience at events, that they have gained cherished friendships and made priceless memories. I can say after talking to many, many friendly people who were so willing and eager to share with me their stories, I realized that although how they got involved in reenacting is unique to each person - the reason they got involved is universal: They all have a deep passion for history, want learn about it by experiencing it for themselves and are moved by the desire to share it with others.
With greater insight and appreciation, I'm looking forward to learning even more at the War of 1812 Muster and want to say on behalf of those of us who visit as observers and students: "Thank you!" Thank you to all you reenactors out there for sharing your knowledge, your energy, your artifacts, your time and your passion for history with so many strangers. You are an inspiration to many.
When I saw the photo of the President of the United States sitting on the Rosa Parks Bus in Henry Ford Museum – like many - I was struck by the profundity of the image. President Barack Obama visited the museum during a private event a month ago. During his visit, White House photographer Pete Souza Tweeted the above image with this caption:
“I just sat in there for a moment and pondered the courage and tenacity that is part of our very recent history but is also part of that long line of folks who sometimes are nameless, oftentimes didn’t make the history books, but who constantly insisted on their dignity, their share of the American dream.” - President Barack Obama, April 18, 2012 (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
As the photo of the president was making the rounds in the social sphere (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), many observant commenters noted that they thought Mrs. Parks sat on the other side of the aisle. She did. This diagram from the National Archives shows that her seat was across the aisle from the where the president sat.
The presenters at The Henry Ford knowledgeably point out the actual seat to visitors - who are welcome to sit on the bus. I've watched some eagerly slide right into the spot she sat, while others, like me, don’t feel quite as bold. Mrs. Parks’ personal civil disobedience makes the seat seem a bit like hallowed ground to me. I will say - while sitting on the bus and listening to the recording of Mrs. Parks' tell the events of that day in 1955 - that quiet moment in history really comes alive.
If you’ve ever traveled through With Liberty and Justice for All – the permanent exhibit at the museum that includes the bus – you can’t help but be reminded of the long line of people who stood up (or sat down) for freedom in this country starting from its very founding.
The photo above shows the camp cot and chest used by George Washington when he was commander of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War.
Visitors can get up close and see the rocker in which President Abraham Lincoln sat when he was assassinated on April 14, 1865, while watching Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC.
Of course there are more non-presidential items in that exhibit, but I found myself prompted to investigate some of the other items that are part of The Henry Ford's collections specifically because of their relationship to past presidents.
There are five presidential limousines in which many presidents sat. There are photographs of presidents sitting such as Abraham Lincoln reading a book to his son Tad, President Warren G. Harding and family sharing a dining table with the Vagabonds* on a 1921 camping trip, and my personal favorite is this one of President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover at the California Pacific International Exposition, San Diego, 1935. (Is he sleeping?) Whatever they are sitting in, I want one.
There are letters to and from some of the 44 men who have held the office - so in writing letters (maybe not reading) I can assume they were seated as well.
All sitting aside, there are also archived collections of presidential bumper stickers and banners, buttons and ribbons marking campaigns, elections and celebrating inaugurations (you can see some of these on The Henry Ford's Online Collections site).
There gifts given by and to presidents or items used by presidents while in office or at home.
Examples include the above Galvanometer used to receive Queen Victoria's message to President James Buchanan over the first transatlantic cable in August 1858, or the newly acquired portable outdoor kitchen once owned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I’m sure some artifacts from President Obama’s time in office will eventually make it into an exhibit somewhere in The Henry Ford (some election and inaugural memorabilia are already part of the collections). But for me - as a fan of The Henry Ford - it was especially poignant to see the county’s current (sitting) president seated in that particular artifact. It's a perfect example of how the institution uniquely gives visitors the opportunity to not only look at some of our nation's treasures from the outside, but to climb right in, take a seat and experience history from the inside.
* Between 1916 and 1924, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone, and John Burroughs, calling themselves the Four Vagabonds, embarked on a series of camping trips.
Kristine Hass is a blogger and long-time member of The Henry Ford.
Last week The Henry Ford posted this photo its Facebook timeline and asked friends for clues to identify what artifact it depicted. There were some crafty replies.
Some clues related to the artifact’s location in Greenfield Village, others to its former and current functions, others to its name. Examples of some of the clues are:
It seems to have an ornithological theme.
Hoo, hoo, hoo!
Lunch for the night shift.
You can get coffee there first thing in the morning.
A few clues made fortune-telling references, perhaps connecting some of the artifact’s similarities to the wagon Prof. Marvel used in the Wizard of Oz (where he looked into his crystal ball to tell Dorothy what he saw).
And although those clues were slightly off base with what the artifact actually is, the Owl Night Lunch Wagon is somewhat of a marvel on its own.
The Henry Ford's 1890s Owl Night Lunch Wagon is believed to be the last remaining horse-drawn lunch wagon in America.
The social discussion about the wagon inspired The Henry Ford’s Facebook friend Dennis Russell to share this photo.
It’s of his father’s high school class during a Spring 1940 trip to Greenfield Village.
The photo prompted some more investigation about the treasured lunch stand. This information comes from the rich database at The Henry Ford:
In 1927, Henry Ford acquired the wagon from John Colquhoun for Greenfield Village. The wagon was refurbished and parked in the village where it served as the sole refreshment stand for visitors through the rest of the decade and into the 1930s.
The 1933 fare included hot dogs, hamburgers, buttermilk, sweet milk, coffee and pop. (The image itself does not have a date, but Cynthia Miller, curator of photographs and prints at The Henry Ford, said it is circa 1933.)
According to The Henry Ford’s online collections, since its initial arrival in the village, the Owl Night Lunch Wagon has undergone several renovations. The wagon was in dilapidated condition when Henry Ford acquired it. He refurbished it, having it painted white with red trim. It was later "renovated" into a popcorn wagon. Few traces of the original lunch wagon remained. The most recent refurbishment was completed in 1986.
Jeanine Head Miller, The Henry Ford’s curator of domestic life, said that there are some late 1930s photos of the Owl Night Lunch Wagon hitched to a horse, but it was usually stationary, as shown in the above photos.
Early on, the wagon was the only place to get food in Greenfield Village . The Clinton Inn (Eagle Tavern) was dedicated to serving lunch to the children who attended school in the village. Miller also said the wagon wasn’t always in Greenfield Village; it spent some years on the floor in Henry Ford Museum in the horse-drawn vehicle collection.
The Owl Night Lunch Wagon still operates serving up nostalgia and history along with some good food. On the Owl Night Lunch Wagon's menu for 2012, visitors will find:
house made assorted muffins
fresh daily bagels w/ cream cheese
slice of Greenfield Village hobo bread
Becharas Bros. coffee
Absopure bottled water
The Owl Night Lunch Wagon is located in Greenfield Village right in front of the Ford Motor Company building and across the street from the Miller School.
Kristine Hass is a writer and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs for America's Greatest History Attraction.
If you watched any news over the weekend, you probably saw at least a few images of some spectacular hats - from the beautiful to the extreme. Fancy hats have long been a tradition - meant to bring good luck - at the Kentucky Derby.
You don't have to visit Kentucky to see some really stunning hats: Mrs. Cohen's Millinery in Greenfield Village has its share of beautiful one-of-a-kind headdresses right in Dearborn, Mich.
There's always something new to discover when you visit Mrs. Cohen's Millinery shop.
The store was built in Detroit in the 1880s and was run by Mrs. Elizabeth Cohen. She was a young widow who opened the shop to earn money after her husband’s death. She designed new hats and redecorated old ones. She also shared with her customers news about the latest fashions. She lived with her children on the second floor of the building.
The hats that are made and displayed now in the shop are representative of those made during the shop's operations in the mid 1890s.
The presenter at the shop showed off the lovely hat boxes and the display of hats that are for sale.
In years past, the hats made in the shop were sold at the Greenfield Village Store, but this year for the first time they are displayed and sold right from the millinery shop. Guests may choose a hat at the store where they'll receive a sales slip to take across the street for payment at the Emporium. When they present their receipt at the Mrs. Cohen's shop, they'll receive their hat, packaged in a lovely box.
The hats range in price from $40-$65. Girls' hats are $40 and women's hats are priced at $45, $55 and $65, depending on the embellishments. All of the hats are hand embellished at the shop by skilled craftswomen.
Although there isn't a record of what Mrs. Cohen charged for hats, an 1895 Montgomery Ward & Co. catalog lists ready-made trimmed hats ranging in price from $1.50-$5. (Montgomery Ward's prices were often less expensive than other catalogs at the time.)
If you're not purchasing a hat, there are many hats you can try just for fun. There are also some beautiful hats that are only for display.
There is a display at the shop of boys' hats that were typical for Sunday church-going. The hat this young visitor is wearing is a style that boys wore until they were about 10 years old.
Sorry to say, you're out of luck gentlemen - Mrs. Cohen's shop doesn't sell any hats for boys or men. But, there are some dapper hats for boys to try on for size.
Women of all classes (not just those going to the Kentucky Derby!) wore hats when they were outside. Some women may have only had one or two hats - one for everyday and one for church or special occasions - while wealthy women may have had many. Women of even modest means would buy trimmings or have someone like Elizabeth Cohen refresh their hat’s trimmings to fit current fashions.
Don't miss a stop at Mrs. Cohen's shop when you're in the neighborhood. You may find the perfect hat that's just your size, and if the hat fits ... buy it!
Kristine Hass is a long-time member and frequent blogger for The Henry Ford.
“If we ever do anything worth doing, maybe we can get a car in here.”
That’s what Wood Brothers Racing's Eddie and Len Wood said following a 2008 visit to Henry Ford Museum when they had the opportunity to get up close and touch the 1965 Lotus-Ford race car that is part of their family’s 60-year racing legacy.
Well, to make a long (great!) story short: They did something. And it was big. Really big.
The Wood brothers and driver Trevor Bayne were in Dearborn yesterday to present to Henry Ford Museum that really big something: the famous No. 21 Ford Fusion that a 20-year-old Bayne drove to an unlikely victory in the 2011 NASCAR Daytona 500.
Fans and press were on hand to see and cheer on the unveiling of the museum's newest artifact.
Fans take photos as the car is unveiled at Henry Ford Museum.
The car will be on display in the Racing in America area of the Driving America exhibition in Henry Ford Museum. The Fusion's permanent home will be right between the 1901 Ford Sweepstakes car and the 1965 Indy 500-winning Lotus-Ford. The Sweepstakes marked the beginning of Ford racing, the Lotus-Ford changed everything, and now the No. 21 Ford Fusion has earned a spot as part of the Ford racing story.
The car is in the exact same condition it was when it left victory lane at Daytona in 2011. The exterior is ornamented with confetti - stuck to the car thanks to a glue of cola and Gatorade that bathed the car when celebrating the win. The car is authentically dirty; even Bayne's water bottle is still under the seat in the cockpit.
Eddie Wood gave a moving account of how events that led to the win just seemed to fall into place. Edsel Ford II told the crowd that although he's witnessed some exciting races in his life - including the 1966 Le Mans when Ford beat Ferrari - the Feb 20, 2011 win at Daytona topped them all.
Fans were eager to hear from Trevor Bayne who shared his account and gave some insight into all the people who are part of the story that led to victory lane. He also shared his own excitement about his car being part of Henry Ford Museum.
"When I walk up to my car and they call it an artifact, it kind of throws me off a little bit," he joked. "I got to flip the ignition switch. I never thought it'd be something I'm not allowed to touch anymore."
A few split-second decisions on March 30, 1981, made that the historic day on which Ronald Reagan survived an assassination attempt instead of the day he was assassinated.
When Secret Service Agent Jerry Parr reacted within four-tenths of a second from the time the first of six shots were fired by John Hinkley, Jr., he took President Ronald Reagan out of direct range of gunfire. Then, just minutes later, it was Parr who realized the President had been hurt and made the decision to take him to an unsecured hospital instead of returning to the safety of the White House and its medical staff.
Listening to Jerry Parr and author Del Wilber recount the story, in Henry Ford Museum during a lecture based on Wilber's compelling book "Rawhide Down: The Near Assassination of Ronald Reagan," while they stood near the actual presidential limo used that day was more than just a treat.
Wednesday night's event was just plain cool.
The free lecture required reservations, which met maximum capacity and had to be closed days before the event.
I know I wasn't alone in my appreciation. I talked with many people afterward and saw their enthusiasm as they asked Parr questions by the car, or waited to have Wilber sign their books. The place was really buzzing with a unique excitement.
As I was waiting in line to have a couple books signed, I met a woman who said her husband decided to be a secret service agent because of the events of that day. (He was just 11 at the time.) I couldn't help but wonder if the day had played out differently, would he have made that same decision. It was kind of a hit-you-over-the-head example of how certain events in history, and split-second decisions, can change our lives, collectively and individually. Cool.
Kristine Hass is a mother of five and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about her family’s visits to America’s Greatest History Attraction.
My husband, the kids and I spent the better part of Sunday at Old Car Festival at Greenfield Village. After all the bad weather we've been having, it was truly glorious to be out and about admiring the hundreds of vehicles displayed (and driving!) in the show.
Vehicles at the show are those built from the 1880s to 1932. It was fascinating to see how many unique ideas different vehicle manufacturers had building some of those really early machines. Since this show is more about what you could see (although the sounds of the old engines were like music), below are (some) photos of this wonderful event. And here's a video of the 1770 Fardier de Cugnot in action.
Kristine Hass is a mother of five and long-time member of The Henry Ford. She frequently blogs about her family's visits to America's Greatest History Attraction.