Wednesday, September 23, 2009

In the Good Old Summertime at Greenfield Village

Summertime and the livin' is easy...

There aren't too many places one can enjoy summers of days gone by like they can at Greenfield Village. The atmosphere alone will allow the visitor to time-travel to a summer from a hundred years or more into the past. And, if the opportunity arises to visit the Village during a balmy weekday - away from the weekend crowds - one can immerse themselves even deeper into another time and place.
A visit to the 1880's Firestone Farm is always a good place to begin. This is where the visitor can see that the heat and humidity of summer does not - can-not - prevent the daily chores from being done. To fully appreciate how our ancestors lived without air-conditioning is to see the women of the house prepare and cook a hearty meal on a wood-burning stove: weeding and picking the vegetables from the kitchen garden, slicing and dicing them on the kitchen table, heading to the cellar for meat, retrieving water from the hand-pump near the dairy shed, all the while keeping the stove in the kitchen good and hot.
No, that's not pretend sweat you see above their brow.

And, depending on the day of the week, you'll also see the ladies washing clothes, ironing, mending, doing dishes, feeding the chickens, cleaning...on top of the chore of meal making.
And let's not forget the most important job they have: to speak with the visitors!

That's not to say the men had it any easier: taking care of the livestock, tilling, plowing, harvesting, raking, digging, spreading manure collected from the livestock, repairing fences and equipment...

Over at the 18th century Daggett Farmhouse one will also see the ladies of the house hard at work: cooking meals made from scratch over an open hearth, spinning wool into yarn on the large walking wheel, and, my particular favorite, allowing visitors to dip their own beeswax candles.

My daughter and I have dipped nearly a dozen between us over the summer season and wait until fall and especially the Christmas Season to light them.
Late summer will find the Daggett House workers using the giant loom to make rugs.

The Susquehanna Plantation gives the appearance of living in the 1860's and, again, food is being prepared over an open hearth while the story of the Carroll family is told.

The Village has hired actors to perform vignettes in numerous locations throughout the historic structures: an African-American man and woman explain their lives as slaves at the Susquehanna plantation. They also put on a wonderful skit of "Br'er Rabbit";

see how the proprietor deals with a "difficult customer" at the J.R. Jones General Store;

19th century school days are relived in the Scotch Settlement School;

Huckleberry Finn tells his own tales with Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher; Thomas Edison, over at the The Menlo Park Laboratory, tells of how he and his men worked on their inventions; and, at the Wright Brothers Home, Orville and Wilbur, along with their sister Katherine, speak of that day in December when man, for the first time, flew an airplane.
There are also the Village Singers performing tunes mainly from the turn of the 20th century.

Along Main Street, which has more of a decidedly early 20th century feel, the sounds of the Herschell-Spillman Carousel can be heard for quite a ways...

...and the La-De-Dahs, Greenfield Village's own 1860's baseball team, play a rousing game of 1860's baseball against numerous other period teams from the Detroit area down in the Walnut Grove area.

One of the highlights of the entire summer at Greenfield Village is the 4th of July Celebration Spectacular - -
...armed with chairs, a blanket, and a cooler with sandwiches for a picnic, the mass of eight thousand plus patriots swarm into the Village at the six o'clock hour to find there "spot" on the grassy area in and around Walnut Grove where a massive stage is set up for the evenings concert performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.
But, before the DSO takes the stage, people-watching during the festival atmosphere ensues: men riding the old-time high bicycles, strolling singers with Captain Banjo, and tents for food and drink with vendors yelling out their wares. The 1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps march up and down the sidewalk, performing Revolutionary War music.
The DSO will then take the stage and, after a two-hour performance, completes their show with what is now a standard at most 4th of July musical celebrations - Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. Of course, real cannons are used for the BOOMS at the end of the piece. To complete the evening, a beautiful fireworks display, accompanied by the DSO, gives everyone for miles around that very American thrill.
Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed for this particular extravaganza, so I have no shots to show.

I visit Greenfield Village quite often throughout the year, but the summertime seems to bring out more excitement than the other seasons. I especially enjoy the presenters bringing to life the everyday lives of our ancestors - rural and urban.


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