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Saturday, October 15, 2011
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Saturday, August 6, 2011
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
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 http://www.pantherprimitives.com/military.html)
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
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Wednesday, March 9, 2011
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.
Saturday, February 12, 2011
I am not a fan of spiders - Mrs. Flattery can testify to that. I recognize the benefits to having them around and I think they are interesting, but try as I might to think rationally about it when I'm confronted by one I still can not get over that innate revulsion that I feel. I invariably feel horrible but it usually ends up becoming a "this-town-ain't-big-enough-for-the-two-of-us" situation, particularly in the winter when it seems even more cruel to toss them outside.
This phobia of mine makes working in historic buildings and museums fairly interesting (one school group was witness to a legendary duel between yours truly armed only with a broom and a gigantic wolf spider armed with olympic speed). But my phobia also made a particular 19th century decoration style catch my attention: that is, the use of spider motifs as house decorations. After seeing it for the first time, I have been noticing more and more depictions of spiders in historic homes (keep your eyes out the next time, maybe the next house you visit will have some of their own). It seems that while a few mythologies and legends do depict spiders as malicious in one way or another, many cultures actually view them as symbols of good luck and good fortune. The more I read about the topic the more myths I find, but it is intriguing how many of them are tied to luck or good fortune. Here are some of the interesting things I've learned through the use of Mrs. Flattery's "School of Google".
First of all, while many people have viewed spiders themselves as good luck, just as common is the belief that killing a house spider (emphasis on house) will bring bad luck to someone (this would certainly explain a lot of things about my life). Most of the rhymes and sayings regarding this seem to focus on the idea that killing spiders, who are industrious and build homes like us, will injure our own homesteads or work ethic. However, one rhyme that I found here at Purdue's website focuses less on the symbolism behind spiders and more on their practicality:
"Kill a spider, bad luck yours will be
Certain Native American cultures, for instance some of the Pueblo Nations, believed that "Spider Woman" created the entire Universe. An article at a website called Natural History Mag claimed that ancient Indian texts tell of a very similar story. The Greeks also saw spiders as the weavers of fate and destiny. I know very little about religious stories and texts, but a lot of people online talk about how spiders supposedly spun a web over the entrance to the cave that hid the baby Jesus from Herod; there are similar stories online about David and Muhammad as well. Some people link these myths and religious stories to the beginning of the belief that spiders are good luck, or at least something you should not harm. To me, luck and fortune seem pretty interchangeable with fate and destiny.
The second page of that Natural History Mag article I mentioned also discusses how there are superstitions about spiders and medicine, where they are used as charms for warding off certain illnesses. For example, it was believed that enclosing a spider within two nutshells and wearing it around your neck would help prevent ague. Additionally, some thought that getting spiders to breed and wander around your house as much as possible would prevent gout.
I'll end things on a pretty cute story I read at this website regarding a German tradition of hanging spider webs on the Christmas tree (I'm paraphrasing, the website tells the story better in my opinion). The story goes that traditionally families would let their animals inside the house to see the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve, since Jesus himself had been born in a stable. Spiders, however, were not allowed in because wives did not want to clean the cobwebs off of everything. The spiders were always really sad about this, but one evening they were allowed in late at night by Santa Claus (or the Christ Child, according to some versions). They excitedly ran all over the tree looking at the decorations and left behind spider webs wherever they went. In the morning, the housewives found the spiderwebs on the tree but instead of being angry they thought it looked even prettier. Today tinsel is used to imitate the look of spiderwebs.
There is interesting history and symbolism behind even the oddest things.
Edit: (Hopefully to avoid any copyright issues) The spider picture at the top was from http://www.luckymojo.com/spider.html Additionally, I found another interesting symbolic meaning to the designs: the intricate webs that spiders make represent our own lives and remind us to be careful about the choices me make every day. Basically, we are constantly "spinning our own webs" in life. Kinda poetic.
Friday, February 4, 2011
Soon other eras were explored in historical reality television. I haven't personally seen them all as some aren't available in the United States, and as they aren't all filmed by the same production company I may be totally unaware of their existence. Regardless, here is my running list, I have seen most but will denote those I have not with a *.
1900 House: 1900, London. (1999)
1940's House: WWII, London. (2001)
Manor House (aka The Edwardian Country House): 1905-1914, Scotland. (2002)
Regency House Party: Regency era, England. (2004) (Half historical reality show, half actual dating reality show.)
Coal House: 1927, Wales. (2007) *
Coal House at War: 1944, Wales. (2008) *
Outback House: 1861, Australia. (2005)
The Colony: 1795-1815, Australia. (2005)*
Frontier House: 1883, Montana. (2002)
Colonial House: 1628, Plymouth Colony. (2004)
Texas Ranch House: 1867, Texas. (2006)
There are more, but I can't find much info on them as they are foreign. Up to this point the shows all have something in common: the participants could not be reenactors nor professional living historians as not to have a "leg up" on any abilities required to live in the past. (As both a Civil War reenactor and a professional living historian I must say that despite my background and skill set, I still don't know that I could survive [with my sanity] being cast in one of these shows, let alone living the real thing.) Most of them have a filming duration of just a few months and it seems that for a lot of the participants, a few months was plenty.
After Texas Ranch House things seemed to be rather quiet on the historical reality television front. Sure, I would rent and re-rent all the "House" DVDs from the library from time to time, but it frustrated me that no one was producing any new documentaries depicting more time periods. What about a show set during the Civil War? Separate the men and have them off living as soldiers would (minus the actual dying in battle/from disease etc. of course) and have the women back at home trying to run the farm and household, waiting to hear if their soldier-husband/father/son/etc. is even alive or not? I realize I'm being very broad and cliched here, but hey, no one is paying me to actually produce this thing... Or, set one in the later Colonial period, just prior to the Revolutionary War. World War One, anyone? "Biblical" times? There is a plethora of opportunities for good TV here. Actually, one of the foreign versions (I believe it was from New Zealand) was set in the Stone Ages. Now that would be pretty neat to see someone from 2011 try and survive.
Finally, this past December a Facebook friend of mine posted a link to a YouTube video that caught my eye. It was titled "Victorian Farm", and lo-and-behold it was a new (January of 2009) "House" documentary! This one is set in rural England circa 1870's/1880's (I believe). I began watching it on my iPhone in between scenes during The Museum's Christmas program. I made it up to about part 6 and loved it. There were some really great tidbits in there about laundry, cooking and farming that I really wish I could go back and take notes on, but alas, it seems it has been taken down due to copyright infringement. I'm pretty sure it's not available in the U.S., which is rather disappointing considering I never got to at least finish watching it on YouTube.
A key difference I noticed with Victorian Farm was that instead of having your "Average Joe" family donning historical costumes (and as with many of the other "House" documentaries, promptly stripping most of them right back off again, citing discomfort), is that the participants in Victorian Farm actually are historic professionals in one way or another. The woman, (Ruth) is a domestic historian, and the two men (Alex and Peter) are both archaeologists. Although one could say they have that previously mentioned "leg up" on things, they still have to put in the work and learn as they go. Another interesting change was that instead of having the project span only a few months, this time they stayed an entire year. I liked this concept, since at the end they would actually get to see their farming results instead of speculating if they would have survived or not as done in other shows such as Frontier House.
While looking up information on Victorian Farm just now, I found that there are even more historical reality shows I was unaware of! One being Victorian Pharmacy, again set in what they describe as mid-19th Century England. They start off portraying 1837 and progress forward to the end of the Victorian era. Ruth, from Victorian Farm, also appears in this version. And- it's on YouTube! I'm embedding the first part below, watch it while you can!
The other documentaries are called Edwardian Farm (guess what that's about?), Tales From the Green Valley (1620's Wales), The Victorian Kitchen Garden, The Victorian Flower Garden, The Victorian Kitchen, and the Wartime Kitchen Garden. Whew! Again, these are only available in the UK unless you get lucky and find them online. It seems like I will have to put in some serious YouTube time!
If there are any more of this type of historical reality show that you are aware of but I haven't mentioned, please tell me! I've been dying for something new since 2006 and am excited to see what else is out there!
Monday, January 24, 2011
For a lot of people, I am immediately able to crush their dreams (mwahaha) when I point out the use of outhouses and chamber pots. Let's all be thankful us living historians don't have to interpret that fun cleaning chore at museums. Nothing makes us appreciate the comforts of the present day faster than the thought of needing a restroom and having to use a jar with virtually no privacy. And while this may seem comical to some of the visitors, it was a rough , everyday reality in the 1800s. True, it wouldn't kill us to use chamber pots today. But given a choice I'll take indoor plumbing.
The list of discomforts does not end with restrooms, either. The psychological issues could be intense in the 1800s, especially if we put modern-day people in their shoes. One woman traveling out to Ohio in 1810 wrote in her journal that her party had just crossed a river where a wagoner had fallen and drowned just a few days prior. For a single woman who had left most of her friends and family hundreds of miles away and was traveling into an completely unknown area with no guarantee of success, this sudden realization of the dangers involved undoubtedly would have left quite an impression. And if they did succeed in getting their new home established, the well-documented boredom that accompanied 19th century rural life, particularly during the winter months, would take additional tolls on one's psyche. I feel ridiculous when I have to say this to the occasional stubborn visitor, but boredom is the opposite of fun. And it doesn't strike me as too "quaint" either.
Another unpleasant reality of the 19th century and wilderness living in general is the lack of sanitation, as well as other health issues. Open up a journal or chronicle from the 18th and 19th centuries and count how many time "ague" or the "bloody flux" comes up. Again, not too pleasant to deal with at all, let alone several times a year. The incidence of rotten food is one condition that always hits home with me personally. Granted, 19th century stomachs were probably hardier than ours today, but eating rotten food is not pleasant regardless of whether it makes you physically ill in the end. And considering the amount of work put into raising/growing it, when the food did reach the point where even 19th century stomachs couldn't handle it it would have been yet another psychological blow when they had to toss it out. Makes the disappointment I feel when my store-bought lettuce wilts seem pretty trivial.
In addition to the discomforts and hardships of 19th century living, the dangers that people faced in the previous centuries should also make most visitors feel grateful. At this point I'm starting to run out of steam, so I'm just going to list a few of the things that have stuck out to me while reading over the years. To start, let's not forget the wagoner who drowned and the danger of the settlers' journey itself. And once the farm was established, there were plenty of other dangers to look forward to. James Buchanan, traditionally considered one of the "log cabin presidents", was the second of eleven children; three of his siblings died in infancy, and only one of the ten brothers and sisters survived with Buchanan past 1840. Keeping in mind that Buchanan was born in 1791 and that he was the second oldest, it seems likely that most of them died before they were 40. On that note, my brief search through google for the average life expectancy in the 1800s didn't turn up much (again, I'm really running out of steam here), but my intuition says that it probably wasn't much higher than that - if anyone knows feel free to share. James A. Garfield, the last log cabin president, had two of his seven children die in infancy, and that was nearly 80 years later and under better living conditions than a frontier cabin. They died of diphtheria and whooping cough, two very treatable diseases today. Wild animals were another problem for families, especially on the frontier, whether it was bears breaking into your barn and killing your livestock and thus threatening your food security or cougars trying to rip through the roofing of your house.
As I said earlier I really can't hold it against people who admire the lifestyle, and I think I know what they're trying to say: there's something about living simply and making it on your own that is appealing to a lot of people. But while it may be enjoyable and interesting to learn or portray, it's important not to romanticize the time period - to me, doing so is tantamount to rewriting history. It was serious and often dangerous work for those who experienced it, and they can plainly tell us that through the journals and stories they've left behind.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
LNwCOB - 1864 Baseball
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