Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hitting close to home

I just stumbled onto this and found it depressingly funny - I don't know about you guys, but this has basically been my life over the past 6 years or so. Just for the record, I can't say I'm much of a fan of that "those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it" phrase.

funny graphs - So You Like Reading About Dead People?
see more Funny Graphs

Saturday, August 6, 2011

"We sound good, man."

Sorry for the infrequent updates lately. But here's a little humor I thought I'd share just for the heck of it. I'm not always a Dane Cook fan, but Mrs. Flattery showed me this clip and I found it pretty amusing (is it just me, or does everyone think of the "most interesting man in the world" commercials when you hear a sentence begin with "I don't always..."?)

Just as a warning, there is some language so I apologize if it offends in any way (or you could just heed my warning and not watch it if it does).

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

First exposure to reenacting, or, the Battle of the Raccoons

A raccoon with a killer eye, preparing to attack Mrs. Flattery

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m still relatively new to first-person interpretation. My experience so far spans less than a year, although since it was a regular part of my previous job (at some points I was in first-person 3 or 4 times a week) I round it out to a full year. Recently Mrs. Flattery convinced me to participate at some Civil War reenactments, which I had never tried before, and after experiencing two different events I thought I would share my outsider’s opinion on it. I prefer not to bad mouth any of the locations or any of the specific people that were there, so I’ve decided not to say where these reenactments took place. I also apologize for the lack of pictures in this post: for some reason it never dawned on me to take any while we were there.

Mrs. Flattery and I portrayed civilians at both events, which of course got me some good-natured (I hope) jokes from the soldiers at my expense. My story was that the Mrs. would not allow me to enlist this early in the war, as we had just bought a new farm and she couldn’t be left alone to manage it herself (as an aside, after planning things like that out I believe Mrs. Flattery and I actually explained that to a whopping three or four people – ah, first person really starts to make you paranoid about the questions you’ll get). We had our own fairly large wall tent and Mrs. Flattery made historic meals with the help of a friend who joined us at the reenactments.

Not our wall tent, but a similar one (image from

First, I’ll start with the cons that I noticed. If it seems like I focus more on the downsides in this post, it’s because I think criticisms usually require more explaining - overall, both events were very fun experiences for me. Let me also stress that these are my own personal opinions about the downsides to reenacting; in other words, I have lazy moments and there’s a lot of work involved in historical camping. The main con for me was the set up involved. Part of this problem was situational: we were only able to stay one night on the first weekend, which was a lot of set up and tear down in just 24 hours. But even during the second weekend the amount of work involved always had an air of futility about it. I’m the kind of guy who likes to finish a job and have the peace of mind that it is done and over with, so even after we got the tent set up the tearing down stayed on my mind the rest of the weekend. It kind of had that old high school “Sunday isn’t really a day off when you have to go back to school Monday” feel to it.

A few of the people there made the experience a little less fun as well. One man came storming through our area about 5 minutes after we finished setting up the tent and started asking everyone nearby what group they were with. He then announced that we were all in the spot that his unit “always camped in” and stormed off (I don’t know which he was implying: either that he thinks so highly of himself that everyone should have known ahead of time where he planned to set up, or that we all should have packed up and moved 50 feet away for him. Either way he’s an idiot.) On the other extreme, some people obviously just did not care that much, especially about historical accuracy, which kind of makes the event as a whole look slightly worse (apparently both events were known as being slightly farby). Overall though, most people there were pleasant and tolerably dressed and I tried not to let one or two bad apples ruin the experience for me. And to me, that’s the important thing: reenactments are supposed to be informative and fun. The “battles” themselves were largely unimpressive, which may have been the fault of the locations or the type of reenactors there, but the reason this was an issue for me was because any public that had a budding interest in the Civil War or reenacting itself probably left with a stale outlook on that moment in history or the hobby. And I was not alone in my opinion, as I heard a number of spectators make similar comments to each other about how the reenactors didn’t seem to care or even enjoy it all that much. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, though, as the location of the “battles” may not have been ideal and the weather on some of the days was pretty rough.

The locations weren’t necessarily bad, however we did run into an incident with raccoons at one of the events which Mrs. Flattery dubbed “the Battle of the Raccoons”. On the second weekend we were camped at a spot next to fairly thick woods, and after getting the tent set up we went to get food (we didn’t cook Friday night since it was hard enough just getting things situated). When we got back, Mrs. Flattery noticed a raccoon was digging around our tent. After I chased it off I discovered that it had pulled my bag out from the side of the tent, somehow figured out how the zipper worked and unzipped it, and began rummaging around. Other reenactors nearby had similar problems. A whole bag of peanuts and saltine crackers were the casualties in this blitzkrieg, and the next two nights we built “Fort Flattery” by piling up boxes and firewood around the perimeter of the tent.

Two last gripes: the drives to and from were difficult and the firewood was crap. But now for the upsides and things that I enjoyed, which in the grand scheme of things outweighed the downsides for me.

As I stated earlier, most of the reenactors were friendly enough and it was a blast being around so many people with similar interests. There were also a wide range of portrayals there, from infantry and artillery to civilians and even “prostitutes”, and it was nice seeing a variety. The camping was pretty fun, and Mrs. Flattery made a mean breakfast and lunch – she hardly took a break the entire time. And I have to admit that even the setting up was fun in a way, especially when you saw the camp site start to take shape. There were a lot of knowledgeable people there, and I was particularly impressed by the talent of two guys who played a fife and drum remarkably well. Lastly, both weekends had relaxed atmospheres which was a big relief for me considering this was my first exposure. Some might have complained that they were too relaxed, but for me it was acceptable.

Anyway, there were a number of minor downsides, but overall it was a fun and enjoyable experience. The downsides (with emphasis on the cost involved) were enough to prevent me from reenacting every weekend, but I plan to attend more in the future and maybe even try my hand at “fighting” (that is, if the Mrs. lets me).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

History Dork Alert!

Yesterday I was digging through an old hope chest that I started sometime around the 7th grade and had filled to the brim by the end of High School.  Apparently I felt the need to save EVERYTHING, most of which I can't even decipher what it is or think of a single reason for having kept it.  This thing is basically a huge time capsule that will leave archaeologists centuries into the future scratching their heads as to why I felt the need to save a bottle of water I purchased on my 7th grade trip to Washington D.C.  Basically the thing is full of junk.

However, among the piles of old school-work and random bottles of water I did find a few things that gave me a chuckle and inspired me to share with you.  These items are some early historical documents that help validate my claim to being a "History Dork."

(Please excuse the blurry pictures, all these items were glossy and couldn't be photographed with a flash.)

Exhibit A:

My American Girls "Samantha" paper doll set.  I think I learned about American Girl sometime around age 13 which is about the age most girls give them up.  I however, reveled in my discovery and read the books from cover to cover.  And apparently, played with paper dolls.  Please note: on the back of the package it says for ages "7 and up".  They did not specify a cut-off age limit, so I feel validated in my having them into my early teens.

Exhibit B:

When I was young, I was a participant in a yearly "thing" called Young Authors.  Students wrote books, went to the local community college to all meet one another, and win prizes for their writing skills.  Again, when I was 13, I was playing the computer game "Oregon Trail" frequently.  I then had the bright idea to use it as the basis for that year's Young Authors book.  Essentially I played the game through, and wrote down key events as they happened.  I then used to events to shape a story about a woman traveling on the trail and wrote it all up as though it was her diary.  Above you see the cover of "A Journal by Melissa Trane", supposedly written in 1848.  It is made of "pleather" all stitched together in a crazy quilt fashion.  I even burned the edges of all the pages to reinforce that old-timey look.  But wait, here's the best part:

POLAROID pictures! For some reason I felt the need to illustrate my story with rapid-develop film whilst trying to represent an era where photography had only been in existence for less than a decade.  Go me.  Pictured above are one of my sisters and her two friends, all of whom I suckered into putting on dress up clothes and posing in our backyard as though they were out on the trail.  Please note the Teflon pan my sister is pretending to cook with over a non-existent fire.  Awesome.

Exhibit C: (Living historians with knowledge about 1860's clothing, brace yourself!)

Oh.  My.  God.  It's me in a "snood".  Lord help me, this should be burned.  Here I am 13, (apparently I hadn't begun to pluck my eyebrows yet) and this was done at a 4th of July festival by a caricature artist.  This was at the beginning of my reenacting career, and as you can see, it was a rocky start.  The big crochet collar. The bangs. The white rayon snood.  The dress which I know for a fact was still being closed with Velcro.  (I later made my mother take the Velcro off and turn the "for show" buttons into functional ones.)  Somehow I went from THIS, to being on the cover of a respected Civil War Civilian living history magazine.  It took a lot of research, willingness to learn and change what was wrong with my impression, and time.  But if I somehow managed, I guess there is hope for all those snood-wearing history dorks out there.

Civil War Photographs

Not sure if this is a help to anyone out there, but I thought I would pass the link on. The yahoo news article claims that these are rare Civil War photographs . Personally I doubt they are anything ground-breaking, as I'm pretty sure I've at least seen picture 1 before. Either way, if Civil War era photographs are your thing then here ya go - just in case they are of great use to someone out there. Feel free to comment if they are/aren't.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Mess of Things

Someone please hit me over the head and put me out of my misery.  My thoughts are spinning 'round and 'round, swirling in a vortex filled with floor cloths, dress designs, domestic manuals, oil lamps, stone churches and chickens.  Yes, chickens.

Mr. Flattery and I are in the midst of planning out our new first person characters for this upcoming summer season at The Museum.  We will be working in the house I have called "my" house for the past year and a half, but this will be the first time we are officially together.  Heck, this will be the first time I have been officially placed with anyone, our staffing doesn't normally allow more than one person per site, but this year my house is getting re-vamped to better represent a working farm and thank God and all that is holy, someone in management actually realized that there is no way one person could manage all there is to do alone.

The museum has been portraying "The Years", meaning an 1861-1865 cycle.  I came in at the end of  '64, Mr. Flattery at the end of '65.  Now we have cycled back to '61 to coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and will get to experience things from the start.  A fresh start and a new farm project, I have a feeling we have our work cut out for us.

I have the tendency to go overboard in my planning for anything and everything, and creating a new character is no exception.  There is so much to think about, I've always said doing first person requires you to have a lifetime of memories to draw from that don't actually exist, and one must be able to do so at a moment's notice.  For us our personas will develop during the summer months and will culminate in the fall with the "Supper Season".

The museum hosts historical dinners set in different eras, one of which takes place in my (sorry Mr.Flattery, OUR) house.  They last about 3 hours during which you are in character constantly.  You had better have a lot to talk about or it's going to be a loooong night.  It's not a one-shot deal either, for each era there are around 6 different dates visitors can choose from to attend, so we can be doing this 3 hour-dinner upwards of 6 times.  Again, very important to have plenty of conversation material.

If you have seen the cheerleading movie "Bring it On" you may remember the head cheerleader Torrance (played by Kirsten Dunst) saying that for their squad, cheering at a football game is more like a practice.  What they are really preparing for is the big cheerleading championship they win every year.  That's how I feel about this year- the summer season is really a long drawn-out rehearsal for the Suppers.  We lost several of our experienced first-person staff recently and I'm feeling the pressure to be in the lead for the new people.  Is it hot in here?  I feel a slight panic attack coming on.

I do sincerely apologize if my this post is not very eloquent or even making any sense, but as I said my mind is a swirling vortex.  As I am writing I keep thinking about how I want to do more research on painted wood floors.  By the way,thank God for my iPhone.  Whenever one of these research attacks hits me and it feels like I want to know the answer RIGHT NOW I can always pull out my iPhone and Google it.  Ahhhh, Google. I have a feeling Mr. Flattery is going to have to sedate me on a regular basis to prevent first-person-persona-planning overload. I have even begun to have conversations in character in my head.  Is it possible for my new character to develop into a multiple-personality disorder?  Again, someone please knock me out!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Problem with Civil War Handguns

One question about the Civil War that I get quite often from people (my dad, for one) pertains to the use of revolving pistols. In movies like Gettysburg we see the officers blasting away with their pistols and the question often arises: if it can shoot so quickly, why weren't all the soldiers issued a sidearm? Well, there were actually a lot of reasons why - but first let me apologize to the Civil War gun affectionados out there who may stumble onto this article: while I have read up on the subject and find it interesting, I am in no way claiming to be an expert. So go easy on me if the terminology is a little off. On the other hand, feel free to chime in if there is any pertinent information that I left out.

Two of the most common handguns in the Civil War and the types I'm referring to in this post are the Colt Army Model 1860 used most often by Union troops and the Colt 1851 Navy Revolver preferred by the Confederacy. However, it appears that most if not all handguns at the time were the same basic idea. The first and usually most obvious drawback to these types of weapons was their range. Various sources argue that the maximum effective range was anywhere from 50-100 yards. Not horrible, but as rifled muskets became more of the norm this range became increasing useless; for instance the Springfield Model 1861 musket was still very accurate even at 400 yards, meaning someone using a revolver would be under fire for 300 yards before they could shoot back and actually have a remote chance of hitting something. Additionally, that is the maximum range; whether or not a particular soldier was accurate with a handgun at 100 yards is a different story. This disparity in range and accuracy also implies that if you were on the defense you would essentially be waiting for a bayonet charge before you could use your pistol, as your opponent would have little reason to get within 100 yards of you when they could simply stay out of your range and blast away. Ignoring the fact that hand-to-hand fighting was fairly rare during the American Civil War, that leaves a pretty small window of opportunity for using the gun unless you're unit is constantly on the offensive and storming the ramparts.

To be fair, most people I talk to seem to be implying that the revolver could have been used as a sidearm only for occasions such as bayonet charges; in the mean time, they could still use a rifled musket for long-range fighting. The problem with this though is the added weight. A soldier would already be carrying their rifle, ammunition, and other various possessions (canteen, bedroll, etc.). Adding an extra gun with the ammunition and maintenance tools it would require would be added weight and take up space in a soldier's pack on the march, something soldiers were already griping about. It would also make movement and efficiency in battle clumsier. Apparently, though, a number of soldiers did buy their own revolvers during the war but ended up selling or even tossing them aside the next time they went on the march. When you consider that marching occupied most of the army's time during a campaign, the name of the game would be weight loss, not addition.

In addition to individual efficiency, the supply and cost were added headaches for officers and quartermasters who were always battling inefficiency. If individual soldiers were issued handguns as well, each man would require two different calibers of ammunition. This is not only added confusion for an already confused system of supply, but also added cost. Most revolvers were sold in the $15-20 range: a huge investment for an entire unit and more than a month's pay for an individual soldier. In the instances during the Civil War when soldiers were issued repeating rifles and handguns they occasionally found that the heat of battle caused them to shoot more recklessly; essentially, a faster rate of fire entails that ammunition will be expended faster. So while a particular unit might hit their opponent harder at the onset, they will end up taking themselves out of the fight faster as well by running out of ammunition if they are not extremely disciplined with their rate of fire.

The last, and perhaps the biggest, downside to the use of revolving handguns in the Civil War was the reload time. Apparently the rather simple method of placing pre-made slugs into the chambers had not been invented yet, or if it had it must not have been perfected for widespread use. The process during the war was fairly lengthy, meaning that once you fired all of your rounds the gun was useless until there was a break in the battle. First, a measured amount of black powder was inserted into each chamber from the muzzle end of the revolver. After that the bullet was added and packed in firmly with the loading lever. Then a variety of materials could be used to seal each chamber so that when one was ignited it would not cause the other five to misfire. Finally, caps had to be placed on the nipple of every chamber. This video shows the process.

I've never been shot at before, but I imagine the process is rather difficult to do in the thick of a firefight. And as I pointed out earlier, if you can only use it in close quarters combat it really becomes difficult to reload once you fire your six shots.

The American Civil War came at a crossroads in military history. Many repeating weapons, particularly sidearms, just weren't quite there yet. For officers, whose purpose was to command not fight, they were useful in certain circumstances (if only in those "Oh, shit!" moments during a firefight). However, for the common soldier they were impractical to buy, carry, and use.