Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I Believe Introductions Are In Order- or- What's in a Name?

~Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Mrs. Thomas Flattery. Welcome to my first post.~

No, that's not really my name, but one that I have adopted for the purposes of this blog.  It was originally created for one of the characters I portrayed during a late-Victorian era supper at the living history museum where "Mr. Flattery", my co-author and I work.

You see, I am a history dork.  Always have been, always will be.  When I was very young my mother made the mistake of reading aloud to me from "Little House in the Big Woods" by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  It has all been downhill from there.  That book led to my sisters and I dressing as Mary, Laura and baby Carrie that Halloween, thus providing me with my first "historical" costume. (I use the word historical very loosely here, as it consisted of a prairie bonnet, white turtle neck shirt and a calico skirt with an elastic waistband.)  Regardless, I wore that costume proudly and often, making up stories and scenarios with my sisters as we played "Old-Fashioned" until those costumes fell apart.  Literally.  My skirt shredded at the seams I wore it so much.  These antics continued for years in the privacy of our home.  My father's tube socks were commandeered as stockings, the un-leveled grassless yard at our newly built home became the rough open terrain for our wagon train to cross.  You know, back when kids had imaginations...

This continued on until I was 12 years old.  That fateful summer, I attended the annual 4th of July fair in my hometown.  As I was perusing the craft booths and food carts I came across a group of people dressed in wool uniforms and long hoop skirts.  Curiosity piqued, I began asking questions and discovered they were involved in a hobby called "Civil War Reenacting".  I had never heard of such a thing.  These were adults who dressed up in old-fashioned clothing and pretended it was the 1860's?  In public?!  Sign me up!

I am very thankful to that group of hobbyists for giving me my "in" into the living history world.  However, for me, that was just a jumping-off point.  Looking back they weren't the most authentic-minded bunch, more of the "put on a skirt, white blouse and snood"  variety.  Not much better than my prairie skirt and bonnet.  Very nice people, but after a few years with them and other similar groups, I felt there had to be more to this hobby.

By my senior year in high school things finally began to change.  I networked before I knew what networking really was. I researched.  I began to learn what it was that I was doing right, but more often than not, I learned what I had been doing wrong.  I was lucky to meet and become acquainted with some of the more prominent and knowledgeable people in the living history/reenacting world.  I put a lot of energy into improving my impression, and began practicing speaking in first-person, etc.

After high school I took a job with a living history museum about an hour from where I lived.  For me, it was a dream come true- getting paid to do what I enjoyed as a hobby!  After about a year there I moved out of state with the intention of going to college, which- long story short- didn't happen.  Fast forward to 2009 and I found myself back right where I started- at the museum, wearing 19th Century clothes and portraying a young Civil War era dairy farmer's wife / widow / prominent lawyer's wife/ widow.  (That is just the rundown for my main character.  I have several.)  This brings us to August 2010 when I met Mr. Flattery.

He was the new guy at the end of the summer season.  He started off working in the craft section, mainly demonstrating candle making.  One day there was a sudden change in staffing needs, and as a spur-of-the-moment deciding he was selected to be the new "butter guy", replacing me in the dairy farm house when I was to be moved over to another site.  This led to our becoming better acquainted as I trained him to churn butter, during which time I decided to give him his first first-person persona.

I had been doing some research  on the original owners of the historic home in which we worked, and while perusing original census records on I came across the record of a young Irish farmhand who had lived with and worked for them in the mid-19th Century named Thomas Flattery.  Or at least, that's what I thought his name was. It wasn't until after he had been portraying my farmhand for awhile and borrowing the name "Mr.Flattery" that I went back to look at the record again.  There, to my dismay, I realized I had misread/mis-remembered the hard to read handwriting from the old census.  It turns out the original farm hand's name was Thomas Haggerty.  Oops.  Doing some quick Googling around, I found that Flattery was at least an actual Irish surname, being derived from the  native Gaelic O'Flaitre Sept that was located in County Offaly.  We decided to just keep using the name Flattery, as he was not attempting to portray the actual person in the first place.

Late in the fall we both participated in putting on a supper set in the 1890's.  For this we had to develop new characters and decided that Mr. Flattery would portray his own son of the same name.  We wrote it out as though the first Mr.Flattery (1860's) ended up marrying his employer Mrs. Richards (me) after she completed her 2 years of mourning for her second dead husband. (Quite the unlucky and scandalous one, aren't I?)  They produced a son, also Thomas Flattery (1890's.)  For this supper I portrayed the wife of the 1890's Mr.Flattery, Lilly.  So, if you are following along, I was playing my own daughter-in-law. Or, to put a weirder spin on it, I was married to my own son. Ew.  Trust me, with so little staff and several different programs/time periods to portray at the museum, our characters are all inter-related in similar fashion by now.

So, that's me, Mrs. Flattery. I tend to write about history from a less-than-formal point of view.  Like I mentioned, I didn't go to school for this, so I attend what I call the "School of Google" and do my own research when a topic comes up and interests me.  I also prefer social history as opposed to military.  I like learning how people really lived and am less than interested in memorizing names and dates.  I hope you come back to visit often, It has been a pleasure having you with us.

1 comment:

  1. Welcome back!
    I look forward to more postings - - -
    And I love your story!