Monday, October 16, 2017

Fall Traditions: Blending Now With Then

New traditions-old traditions---
It's autumn...let's celebrate the past!
Throughout the year there are annual traditions that I participate in, such as cutting down our Christmas Tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving, going to the Kalamazoo Living History Show in March, my 4th of July period-dress visit to Greenfield Village, Terror on Tillson Street in historic Romeo for Hallowe'en...
I am very much your a-typical creature of habit.
So why stop it if it's enjoyed, right?
The best part is, there is always room for a new tradition, and fall is the perfect time to do so!
You see, I once described autumn as "wooden." That's because, to me, its the time of year, more than any other, where tradition reigns, and the past and present can easily merge, for, whether they realize it or not, it's when modern folk tend to become a bit more old-fashioned and do more traditional things.
Maybe that's why it's my favorite season, for what other time of year do people visit the old cider mills, bake (not buy) pies, take walks or drives just to look at the multitude of colors - reds, browns, orange, golds, and even some still green - of the leaves on the trees. Entire sections of our great country, including the Midwest and New England, have become fall tourist destinations due to the colors that abound.
Even in cities.
Yes, autumn truly is wooden.
And traditional.
One custom that began for me when I was...um...well...I don't remember ever not doing it, is apple picking. Every September my thoughts drift back to my childhood where I would head to the apple orchards with my parents and run from tree to tree, picking only the most perfect apples. My mother, who made the best apple pies anywhere, preferred McIntosh (which have been around since the 1790s) for baking, and the big green Granny Smith (from the 1860s) for eating. And the scent of apples in our kitchen - whether still in the basket or being baked in a pie - along with a brisk fall nip in the air, are emblazoned deep in my memory, and will be, I suppose, for as long as I will have a memory
And maybe then some...
Yes...apples will do that to me...
McIntosh apple trees as far as the eye can see...

...and me and my family next to the misspelled sign.


A bushel full of apples
This family tradition is now carried on with my wife Patty and I and our children, and even to our grandchildren (who could not come this year, but we'll have 'em back next year!). Out to the rural orchards we go, still picking McIntosh for pie baking (my mother taught Patty well), as well as a few other types, including Jonathan (1820s) and Idared (Ida Red - from the 1940s).
We bring our own wooden bushel, more suitable to the 18th and 19th centuries than the bushel baskets we are familiar with today, and, quite frankly, over-fill it. But we're honest and pay for the extras.
Plus, there is nothing like eating an apple fresh off of the tree!
My daughter found the perfect apple!
Lately, because of my passion for living history and attempting to immerse myself into the knowledge of the everyday life of the past, I have been finding (and purchasing) heirloom apples - the kind of apples most people today know nothing about but were quite popular in days of old. Names such as Rambo, Maiden Blush, Roxbury Russett, Blue Pearmain - these were some of the popular cooking and cider apples of the 18th and 19th centuries. Yes, they can still be found if you search hard enough on the internet. I have taken to displaying some of these heirloom apples at our 1860s fall harvest presentation with the reenacting group I belong to.
Hmmm...in thinking about it, I believe McIntosh could be considered an heirloom apple since it was first developed in the 1790s!
We don't like going to the cider mills that have all the frills and spills of a carnival. We prefer the simple cider, doughnuts, apples, and maybe a haystack to climb on.
Melting beeswax over an open fire.
But there is always room for new traditions. One that I began last year was candle dipping. Now, I've done candle dipping plenty of times before at Greenfield Village, and also at reenactments, but recently it's been taking place at my own home in our yard. You see, last year I wanted to have a nice display of dipped and tin-molded beeswax candles for display at our annual historical harvest home presentation reenactment, and I knew it would be quite a long process if it were just me doing it. So I asked my daughter if she thought a few of her friends would be interested in helping out and she responded they absolutely would. It turned out to be such a good time, and I ended up with over thirty candles! Well, a number of my adult friends commented to me that they would like to try this old-time fall ritual, for they had never done such a craft before, so this year it was my friends who came.
First off, please understand: some of the things we consider to be 'crafty fun' was once a necessity.
For our ancestors, making candles was a necessity.

Welcome to my back yard in suburban America.
No, the yellowish house you see is not mine...it's my back neighbor's who I have never seen in the 26 years I've lived here.
A-waiting their turn to dip.
I've been told that the average home during colonial times would go through 500 to 700 candles a year. Of course, larger more well-to-do homes would go through two or three times that many, while poorer folk and frontier families would go through much less.
I let my friends know this little historical bit before we began the candle-making process, just so they would keep in mind how ardently self-sufficient and perseverant our ancestors actually were.
Initially, my apprenticed chandlers found this ritual to be fun, though as they continued their dips it became a bit more trying. I believe they also learned to appreciate our ancestors a bit more and were glad to have the convenience (though expensive) of the electric light.
I find it interesting in the way that modern folks look at those of us who carry on past traditions in a rather odd sort of manner. For instance, my wife, who is constantly crocheting or knitting something (hats, scarves, afghans) will go through the process of skirting, picking, cleaning, and then carding dirty raw wool in preparation for spinning it into yarn on her spinning wheel. And then, after spinning, she will dye it to a preferred color naturally by using flower peddles, cochineal beetles or walnuts & tree bark. Only then will she begin her next crochet or knitting project.
My daughter has been dipping candles
since she was about four years old.
She's a pro!
That's quite a lot of preparation beforehand, wouldn't you say? In fact, Patty has been asked (or told, rather) why doesn't she just head up to JoAnn Fabrics or some other store that sells yarn and buy it cheaper and ready to go?
*sigh*
Some people just don't get it.
There's something about making or building an item from scratch. A good example is how my wife made for me a period knitted cap in the same style as was worn during the Revolutionary War/colonial period in our nation's history, and I proudly let people know that it is not only period correct in style, but that it began from her raw wool pile, meaning she went through the entire process from sheep to shawl, just like what would've been done in the 1770s.
And, yes, she takes great pride in that as well!
I mean, there's little pride in our Made-By-Cheap-Labor-in-Some-Other-Country-throw away society items. This, of course, is the same for making candles, which are so much better and last much longer than the store-bought tapers.
And methinks this candle dipping party just might continue to be an annual autumn tradition.
My friend (and co-worker) here teaches U.S. History to 10th graders, of which I help out, and I know she will use this experience to add to her teaching experience. 
She loved the fact that we were doing this chore very close to the same way as the founding generation did.

Here it is, nearly mid-October, and the temperature was sneaking up to the low 80's when it's supposed to be in the 60's! 
*sigh*
I look forward to that nip-in-the-air fall weather all the year long, and we're still stuck with summer! Grrr!
Well, I can honestly say, weather aside, it certainly looked and, because of what we were doing, felt like autumn!
We enjoyed soup, cider, doughnuts, and other snacks to munch on while we spent the afternoon making the candles. Time spent with friends old and new partaking in an ancient craft of our ancestors.
Awesome!
After dipping to the desired size, the candles were hung to dry on a traditional style candle rack that I had made.
Now, there were others ways to make candles besides dipping.
Our ancestors also used candle molds. It was in this way a goodly amount could be made all at once.
One of the questions a am frequently asked is how they got the candles out of the mold once they hardened, for our modern candle maker prefers to use a spray, which was something not yet available back in the olden days.
The secret used in days of old to pulling candles out of the mold was to dip the mold with the hardened wax into a vat of boiling water for only a few seconds, and then the candles will slide out like melted butter.

Yes, this works beautifully!
Our ancestors were brilliant people!
And here you go!
A lost art continues on in our modern day...
Nearly 40 candles were made this day - far short of the
500 minimum the average colonial home used!
But it was a good start and a whole lotta fun!

I live in a suburb bordering the city of Detroit. In fact, if you've ever heard of the movie called "8 Mile," well, that street runs right along the south border of my city. Being this is the case, one would think there would not be too much autumn beauty on the streets here.
Ah, but there is!
And I have pictures to prove it!
From my back yard looking to my neighbor's yard two doors to the north.
Beauty in the city...
For this next picture there's a neat little story to tell:
On Friday, April 29, 2005, my wife and I visited Greenfield Village in celebration of Arbor Day (yeah, we'll use any excuse to go), and they were giving away small saplings to the guests, so, of course, my wife accepted one.
Once we got home, she planted it in our backyard in memory of her sister, who had passed away the previous December. Patty cared for this tree, ensuring its survival by stacking bricks around it so no one would step on it or cut it with the lawn more (yes, it was that little), and hoping the tiny thing would survive our tough Michigan winters.
Well, here 'tis in 2016:
Patty's oak tree in all its autumn splendor, planted in
our backyard in memory of her sister Lisa.

My city little city, known for being the hometown of astronaut Jerry Linenger, has cookie-cutter starter homes for new families. But it also has beautiful late 19th and early 20th century houses that are very well kept in an area that is great to walk around during the colorful months of autumn.

Except for a seven year apartment life jaunt when I was first married, I have lived in my hometown of Eastpointe since 1968, when it was known as East Detroit.
I still do.
I loved the fall colors back then, too.

Not many cities can claim to have a South Park.
Mine can!

I snapped this squirrel in a pine tree near the house I grew up in.

My daughter.
She and I take annual autumn walks around the area where I grew up,
and she will ask me questions about my youth.
This is a very special time for she and I.
I am always amazed at how often I hear people say, "I would love to do that" when they see me or any other reenactor doing something that harkens back to days of old. My response is, "why don't you?" for, as you can see, one doesn't necessarily have to reenact the past or visit someplace historical to enjoy historical pleasures, activities, and traditions. 
And what memories can be made - - -

Until next time, see you in time.

To learn about autumn traditions of the past, click HERE









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Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Revolutionary War: Muster at the Mill 2017

~ There was no actual Revolutionary War battle called 'Muster at the Mill.'
It is called that due to the generous offering of land by the owners of Uncle John's Mill, and you will read about this wonderful cider mill in the body of this post
Enjoy!

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Back to the 1770's once again!
It's not very often that a reenacting event is an event in itself. But that is certainly what the 2017 Muster at the Mill reenactment felt like.
Everything just seemed to fall into place.
First, the weather was perfect Michigan fall weather: upper 60s and lots of sun. Second, let's look at the setting: it takes place at a rural cider mill in the middle of Michigan, and if you know anything about Michigan in the fall, you know that that is the time of year - September through early November - when residents flock to cider mills in droves virtually every weekend for cider and doughnuts. Going to cider mills has been a tradition that's taken place every autumn since settlers brought over apples trees from Europe back in the early 1600s, and it's a tradition still carried on here in the 21st century with throngs of visitors - thousands each weekend. Oh, maybe not in the same manner as done all those years ago, but, well, the act in itself is pretty darn close!
So what better time and place to have a historical reenactment than at a cider mill? Particularly, Uncle John's Mill, located in rural St. John's, Michigan. The owners and workers here really went all out for us, as they do for their visitors, and made us feel very welcome. Of course, they sell apples, apple cider pressed right there, and have a small country store filled with neat little crafty gifts and lots of apple-oriented desserts.
And their orchards seem to go on forever!
For the last two years, Uncle John's has given its visitors a little something extra: an early American history lesson by allowing living historians to set up camp on the grounds there.
I so enjoyed speaking to the public - those who came down the hill from the mill to see our reenactment - about the good old colony days, about Paul Revere, and about reenacting, for most I had spoken to had never been to a bonafide reenactment before.  And many knew little about our nation's early history.
Of course, my stealth camera was with me and I took plenty of photographs to document the event. I have also included a few pictures taken by others, with their permission.
As always, to see the images larger, please click the photos.
~Welcome to Muster at the Mill~
Yes, that's me, Historical Ken (or Colonial Ken, or even Paul Revere) 
preparing to enter the world of the past...

Aside from up in historic Mackinaw, reenacting the Revolutionary War/Colonial 
era of America's history is not normally as large (or plentiful) as Civil War reenactments in our neck of the woods. But, as interest in our nation's early years grows, so do the opportunities to bring this time to life, and this year, Muster at the Mill nearly doubled in size!

Upon entering this colonial tent village you will find a bustling town of common folk representing the period that produced the Declaration of Independence. 

On the edge of the little hamlet you will find Mrs. Hanson spinning 
wool into yarn. Mrs. Hanson actually owns about fifty sheep and, thus, 
she truly does go from sheep to shawl.

And what you see in her wagon is some of the raw wool she brought with her.

Could this be Dr. Benjamin Franklin and his daughter Sally?
Sarah Franklin was born to Benjamin and Deborah Franklin in Philadelphia on the eleventh day of September, 1744. Sarah, known as Sally throughout her life, had a typical education for a girl of her status in 18th century Philadelphia. She had a great love of reading and music and was considered a skilled harpsichordist.
Sally lead an active public life according to the standards of womanhood in the 18th century. As the daughter of Benjamin Franklin, she had an unusual access for a woman to the political life during revolutionary times. Although her primary role was caretaker of her family and home, she played an active role in the Revolution through her relief work and as her father's political hostess.
Sally is best known for her involvement in the Ladies Associated of Philadelphia. She took over leadership of the association in 1780 and supervised the sewing of 2200 shirts for the American soldiers.
In 1807, Sally was diagnosed with cancer and sought out medical care during the winter of 1808-09. Her disease was terminal and she died at the age of 64 on October 5, 1808. Her remains, along with her husband's (Richard Bache), are buried in the Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, beside those of her parents.
When Dr. Franklin speaks, everyone listens, for his talks range from the Declaration to electricity to his European travels to everything in between.

Yours truly, as Paul Revere, also garnered listeners as well.
It always amazes me how little the modern people know of the founding generation. For instance, most seemed to have gotten their "historical midnight ride" information about Mr. Revere from Longfellow's poem, which is only loosely based on the true story (for 'dramatic purposes'), and is filled with much fabrication.
The above two photos courtesy of Mike Gillett

Speaking of fabrication - - 
No, Paul Revere never had a handbill asking for his arrest! This was a joke played on me by my, ahem, friends!
Still...it is kind of cool to see your own picture on a broadsheet!
.

Naturally, I had to have a quick sketch of myself standing next to my own wanted poster. Of course, having a Queen's Ranger with me makes it all the more interesting!
(It also helps if the said Queen's Ranger is a very close friend!)

David Schmid: commercial fisherman. 
Fishing was a prominent international trade and Mr. Schmid speaks of its importance using plenty of accessories to accent his presentation.

Taking care of the dishes by hauling water for the tubs.
Women and men working together at their respective
occupations ensured a successful and thriving family.
All jobs were important, and one link broken could cause
the day to go awry.

In case you hadn't noticed, our little town seems to have a number of military about it, which has everyone on edge, for we fear a battle - nay, a war - may be nigh.

Members of the 1st Pennsylvania

Still, it was important to carry on with our day and to make sure the children 
could enjoy some harvest games during this celebratory time of year, including 
apple bobbing.
Photo courtesy of Carol-Anne Mann

I've read that bobbing for apples has been around as far back as the Roman times, or it may possibly be from medieval England as a courting ritual...
Photo courtesy of Carol-Anne Mann

Either way, it is a very old autumn harvest custom that not only fits in well during the colonial period, but here in the 21st century as well!
Photo courtesy of Carol-Anne Mann

The adults also had some fun.
Contrary to popular belief, Native Americans and Mountain men rarely threw their tomahawks (or "hawks") during battle. A tomahawk was one of their best hand-to-hand weapons, good for both offensive and defensive moves. Throwing a tomahawk to kill an enemy put considerable distance between the thrower and his very best weapon. Even if a mountain man or an Indian warrior killed his intended target, he was pretty much defenseless while he scurried to retrieve his hawk from his victim's body.
Instead of throwing their tomahawks in the heat of battle, mountain men and Indians hurled their hawks mainly for fun. A few times a year, mountain men would come into town to gather supplies and trade pelts they had collected during the previous hunting season. They'd often set up a huge camp outside of town and take part in various contests such as tomahawk throwing. Some Native American tribes held similar contests of skill for their men to take part in. Indians would also come to the frontiersmen camps to engage in trading and throw some tomahawks with the men there.
The Royal Highlanders each took a turn at the tomahawk toss that was set up (and was also for sale) by Dr. Franklin.

We may not have had Native Americans give the contest a try, but we did have a frontiersman. 

I had never done this before, and for my first three tries I hit the target 
but the hawk did not stick...
...until my fourth throw...

Almost dead center!
Unfortunately, though they were invited, there was only one person representing the Native American at Muster at the Mill. And I did not see him try tossing a tomahawk.

Robert Jones explained a bit on the life of a Continental soldier to very interested visitors who listened intently to his stories.
Here I stand with Mr. Robert Jones.
He plays a large role in keeping history alive at Historic Fort Wayne in 
Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The military musicians, hoping to garner patriotism for 'their' side, made themselves plain to us townsfolk and played such tunes as "Road to Boston" and "British Grenadiers."

We were not at a loss for music, which was to be heard throughout the town, including traditional Scottish folk tunes.

Families rolled rounds together for a possible upcoming battle.

Others spent time alone before the men went off to fight.
The tension was thick...

Meet my friend Karen. She has taken part with my
living history group, "Citizens of the American Colonies."
No, I am not a military man, but I enjoy the feel of a flint-lock musket
One day I plan to purchase a gun for myself.

The conversations we, as historical interpreters have, are of teaching and learning, and all who share in them have the opportunity to do both, for most involved in this hobby study the times very intently. 
To the extreme, in most cases.
In terms of historical knowledge, I will place my money on a well-researched reenactor any day over any other scholar. 


The men from the various British and American troops entertained the public with their 18th century fire power. It's not very often in these parts where one can see, hear, and sometimes even touch such weaponry.
Though Revolutionary War reenactments may not be as large as some of the local Civil War reenactments around here, this corner of the living history hobby is growing, and Muster at the Mill could easily match up with nearly any other reenactments - no matter the era.

And the battle begins:
"The enemy, as we expected, were advancing through a level field..."
"Our regiment was now ordered onto the field...we soon came to action with (the enemy)."

"Our people let the enemy advance...
and poured in a heavy volley upon them."
"How many of the enemy was killed or wounded could not be known, as the British were always careful as Indians to conceal their losses."

"Fighting is hot work in cool weather; how much more so in such weather as it was (on this day)."
Photo courtesy of Henry Trippe

"The British gave back..."
We had eight or ten of our regiment killed in the action, and a number wounded. Our Lieut. Colonel was hit by a grapeshot, which went through his coat, westcoat and shirt, to the skin on his shoulder, without doing any other damage than cutting up his epaulette."

"We gave it to poor Sawney (for they were Scotch troops) so hot, that they were forced to fall back and leave the ground they occupied."

"When our Commander saw them retreating, and nearly joined with their 
main body,  he shouted, 'come, my boys, reload your pieces, and we will 
give them a set-off!' "

"We did so, and gave them the parting salute, and the firing on both sides ceased.".

~A view from a soldier's eyes~
This extraordinary photograph was taken by Jimmy Lapua, and he kindly allowed me to publish it here on today's post.


After the battle had ended:
Many of the soldiers from both sides spent time speaking with the visitors and answered their many questions about their uniforms, weapons, and battles.

The long march home:
A few from the 1st Pennsylvania

The Massachusetts Provincial Battalion

The Royal Highlanders

The Queen's Rangers

One of the more interesting aspects of any war, much less a war from 240 years ago, is the medical treatment the wounded men received. Woe to the soldier who required surgery after being wounded on the battlefield. The conditions in field hospitals were deplorable.
 Not only was the operating room simply table in a tent, but there was little thought given to keeping the table and tools clean. In fact, wounds were sometimes cleaned using plain water from a bucket, and the used water would be saved to clean out the next soldier's wounds as well.
If a soldier was shot with a musket ball, which had a diameter of about three-fourths of an inch, the damage was devastating, and he would most certainly require a visit to the surgeon. Since there was no anesthesia at the time, the soldier was strapped to the table to keep him restrained while the musket ball was dug from his body using tools that probably had not been washed after being used to treat the last soldier.
If the musket ball struck a bone, the damage was usually so bad that the only option was amputation, which was also performed right there in the hospital tent.
Patients were strapped down and given something to bite down on, like a piece of wood or some leather, to keep them from biting off their own tongues as they endured the agony. 
Of course, none of this did anything to dull the pain; if the doctor and the other patients in the tent were lucky, the man's screams would stop when he passed out.

 If the patient survived, he was given opiates for his pain, but the infection caused by unsanitary conditions was frequently the cause of death.

And then finally...
A while back I read that the past is a foreign place.
And to a large extent, it's true. 
But the more we study the environment that the people from the past were born into and the times in which they lived - not just the politics and the wars, but the everyday lives of those who lived there - the more we can understand and maybe even accept their ways, even though we may disagree.
One simply cannot put our modern values upon those from another era.
No we cannot. 

~ ~ ~

Epilogue:
As you can probably tell from all the pictures, this second year of Muster at the Mill was a grand success - much grander than, I believe, anyone expected.
And the interest in this moment in American History from the customers from Uncle John's Mill was at such a high level...I honestly believe that the local open-air museums are missing out by not including the Revolutionary War period in their annual schedule of events.
Thank you, Scott Mann, for putting this wonderful event together.
By the way, I have been asked why I use so many pictures in my postings.
To be honest, it's mainly because I consider my posts of this sort to be kind of a memory book - a diary in a way, where I can refer back to every-so-often and relive certain events.
It's also my own sneaky way to hopefully get my readers excited about our American history in a positive manner.

Until next time, see you in time.

To visit Uncle John's Mill's web site, click HERE
Uncle John's is a wonderful rural cider mill.
Thank you to Uncle John and all who made this event such an event!

And now for something a wee bit different:
So Christy mentioned getting all of those who wear Kilts for the King to pose for a sort of "Captain Morgan" photo.
And they did - -
No, guys! This is not the correct Captain Morgan pose!

There ya go!
Captain Morgan's got nothin' on these folks!

By the way, there were two battles held each day of the event, and, though not captioned, here are four photos from the first one of the day.
There was no historical battle called Muster at the Mill - that was just the name of our reenactment.









The quotes in the comments section of the battle pictures came from the book "A Narrative of a Revolutionary Soldier" by Joseph Martin Plumb
The medical information came verbatim from THIS site
To learn more about everyday life in colonial times, click HERE
Harvest time in the colonies? Click HERE
A Colonial Thanksgiving, click HERE
Christmas in the colonies? Yep---click HERE
Cooking in the Colonies, click HERE
Traveling in the colonies, click HERE
More about Paul Revere, click HERE












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