A kind of introduction

Carla poses with soldiers from the War of 1812, Ft. McHenry, Baltimore MD, August 2010.

Carla poses with soldiers from the War of 1812, Ft. McHenry, Baltimore, August 2010.

History is a kind of introduction to more interesting people than we can possibly meet in our restricted lives; let us not neglect the opportunity.”Dexter Perkins

It’s not surprising that the people who tend to show up in history books are interesting types.  But as I’ve often said here, I think everybody is interesting, when you look closely enough.  Many everyday people who lived in generations past would be fascinating to talk with today.

I appreciate the way historical parks and museums have become so much more interactive.  Costumed docents and interpretive staff members lend a touch of drama and an air of authenticity that helps us feel we have stepped back in time.  Some of these people are amazing in their ability to stay in character for the time they represent.  I imagine that many of them have some degree of theatrical training in addition to their knowledge of the era.

Often there are look-alike actors playing famous individuals from history, but most of these costumed staff are playing the roles of ordinary people: shopkeepers, soldiers, farmers, school children.  It’s fun to talk with them and pose for (anachronistic) photos with them.  I’ve “met” Thomas Jefferson, Queen Elizabeth I, Charles Dickens and Lewis Carroll, among many others, but some of the most engaging people I’ve met are typical citizens whose names are not often found in the history books.

We have so many opportunities, in reading books or visiting historical sites, to be introduced to unforgettable characters from other worlds.  I hope you will not pass up the chance to get acquainted with some of those who helped shape our past.

One year ago today:

Stories to tell

18 Comments

  1. singleseatfighterpilot

    Have you “met” Albert Gallatin Jenkins, of whom I wrote, yet? Like our Great Grandfather, G.W. Bond, had a famous namesake; Jenkins was named for a famous member of Congress, from Pennsylvania – one Albert Gallatin.

    On a lighter note, do you remember the “John The Baptist look alike contest”, back in 1982?

    • I might have met him, but I wouldn’t have remembered the name since I don’t know anything about him. I looked him up and based on his photo, I think he may have been part of a band called Z Z Top. Re: the JTB look alike contest, wasn’t that the same month as the “Seven Sons of Sceva” wrestling match? Brought back memories of the hilarious remark you told us about when you saw the man sitting at the gate of the “Bible times marketplace” (“silver and gold have I none…”) To anyone else who may read these comments, these are all obnoxiously esoteric in-jokes, the kind of thing where you had to be there. I would explain it all, except that it will definitely lose something in translation.

  2. I like historical tourist traps. I’ve been to plenty when I lived in Flemington, NJ with Lambertville right down the road. They had a steam engine train that ran between the two towns. When living in Illinois there was a community that set up camp in a log cabin town complete with Abraham Lincoln like townsfolk dressed in period garb and talking funny.

    The 2 renaissance festivals I’ve attended in Hillsboro, OR were a blast from the past. I’ve even attended a real Pow Wow with the local tribes of the Grande Ronde. That was different, colorful and very family oriented.

    I think life back in olden days was much more difficult than we could have imagined. Reality TV series have captured different wilderness groups struggling to stay alive in Alaska where their entire existence involved hunting for food, water and shelter. The lack of modern medicine and facilities could prove deadly. All in all I like where and when I’m living thank you! šŸ™‚

    • Aw, Bob, are they really just tourist traps? Here I was, thinking they were authentic pockets of lost civilizations where contemporary culture doesn’t intrude. But I guess even Nepal is a tourist trap now. Having said that, I still prefer the historical ones to the “Amusement parks featuring two dozen different roller coasters, along with overpriced bad food you should eat only AFTER riding them” variety. Have you been to this Renaissance Fair in California? It’s the first one I ever went to, way back in 1986, and I thought it was one of the best events I’d ever seen anywhere. We have been back several times since then. It would be well worth a trip down to SoCal if you ever have the opportunity. Of course, the Dickens Fair will always be my favorite. I do love the state and national parks for truly trying to “escape” into the past. The battlefields of Yorktown, as well as much of the historic areas, are so remote and uncrowded that it’s easy to imagine being there 250 years ago.

      I guess living in either Yorktown or Alexandria is a great place to be for someone who loves history, but I miss the history of the west. A Pow Wow would be wonderful! If I ever hear of one that includes the Chiricahua nation, I’ll have to find a way to go (family lore says my Daddy is one-fourth Chiricahua; his paternal relatives are from the west). You are right, though, about it being best to live NOW. I think it was Ashleigh Brilliant who said “the past is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.” šŸ˜€

      • Please don’t misunderstand me my use of the term tourist trap isn’t necessarily meant as with a negative connotation. They are pockets of historical relevance that draw crowds from everywhere. When I lived in St. Louis there was Grant’s Farm, home of the Clydesdales and Anheuser Brewery. The Midwest also had Onondaga Caves and Meramec Caverns, all tourist traps but very interesting. Then there was Hannibal, Missouri, home to Mark Twain and Tom Sawyer. They were very historical but very touristy. It’s all goo and lots of fun.

        • Bob, I guess my idea of tourist traps has more to do with souvenir shops and places that draw spring-break type crowds, such as Daytona Beach, Florida or Gatlinburg, Tennessee or Waikiki Beach on Oahu. Everybody who goes to San Francisco talks about Fisherman’s Wharf, but that’s my least favorite part of the whole town, with the exception of Ghiradelli Square which I always enjoyed. All of the places you mention sound interesting to me. Near Chattanooga, Tennessee, there are two famous “tourist traps” both of which I really enjoyed: Rock City and Ruby Falls. They are well known because of the “See Rock City” and “See Ruby Falls” signs that used to be painted on the roofs of barns for miles around the area. I guess every place has their local “must-see” list. I have never been to a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum or a Madame Tussand’s wax museum, but I think of these as tourist traps too. I’ve been to plenty of Hard Rock Cafes all over North America, and those t-shirts alone would qualify those restaurants as tourist traps, I’m sure.

          • I’ve been to both Rock City & Ruby Falls as well as the inclined railroad down that mountain. I also enjoyed the Hungry Fisherman and Chop Chop Restaurant where you can eat dinner in a railroad caboose. There are so many wonderful places to visit in all parts of this great country it’ hard to name or even remember them all.

            • Bob, isn’t that the truth? If I didn’t love staying home so much, I could happily spend all my time (and money) just moving from town to town all over the USA and then the world. I don’t know how anyone could ever be bored by life.

              • Boredom has never been an issue with me. I tell people I’m “self entertaining”. I’m content being single as I’ve been that way for nearly 20 years now. Remember I just discovered that my last wife, Ann, passed away in 2011. Sure I miss certain aspects of married life, companionship, conversation, intimacy, but I also appreciate my solitude and quiet times, especially now living in my new home. It’s as quiet as a tomb! Sublime!

                • Bob, it is definitely a blessing to learn contentment in whatever states we find ourselves. As you point out, there are good and not-so-good aspects to everything. I think more marriages would succeed if people didn’t feel so much pressure to get married in the first place. Paul clearly states in Corinthians that it’s a gift to be happy with a celibate life.

  3. raynard

    Julia years ago I visited Valley Forge Park on the other side of Philadelphia. It’s a national park and still has those cabins the old soldiers from George Washington’s army slept. I use to know a friend who on weekends did civil war reenactments.. I was once told” how do you know where you’re going, if you dont know where you came from”..( You must of been around( is that a Beach Boy’s song I digress) when I was having a ” wayback 70’s moment last night. While I never owned a 68 VW bus, they did look” groovy” to me lol

    • Raynard, we really need to make a visit to Valley Forge, although it might be the most fun to go in winter šŸ˜€ but I’d rather not risk driving in that weather. I cannot think of Valley Forge without thinking of this hilarious meme, which you probably have seen. Yes, it would be groovy to have a VW bus to travel in, especially if it was fixed up inside and had psychedelic graffiti on the outside. JUST KIDDING! I’d have to make sure it didn’t show up in any of the photos I took at all the historical sights I’d be seeing.

  4. MaryAnn

    When I was a child, Mother took us to Gallup, NM for the annual Indian Ceremonial. It is a highlight in my memory. The ceremonial dances made me feel like we had stepped back into early America. The costumes are magnificent! Like you said, they stayed in character.
    Fast forward to grandmother-hood: I accompanied Aaron’s 4th grade class to Sutter’s Fort in Sacramento, CA. Everyone was dressed in period garb, cooking, weaving, chopping wood, building, making tools, etc. Aaron was allowed to use the loom. It was a very good learning experience for the children & for me! Makes me feel so blessed to be in this era.
    The big surprise for me was the size of “Patty’s Doll”. So tiny to fit in her pocket.
    Thank you once again for sparking wonderful joy in memories!

    • Mary Ann, I always enjoy reading about your memories because you enjoy so many of the same things I do. The only native American sites I can remember are Cherokee, North Carolina (which I visited nearly 50 years ago, but it stayed with me and I still have a necklace made of seeds that I got there) and at the Manitou Cliff Dwellings in Colorado, over 20 years ago. I hope we can get back to Cherokee since it’s not too terribly far from here. I too have fond memories of Sutter’s Fort. I have a photo of Patty Reed’s doll, but it’s kind of blurry. I have a blog coming up about the Meriwether Lewis monument on the Natchez Trace, and it has the same melancholy atmosphere as Donner Pass has for me. I visited Donner Pass several times, always drawn there by the haunting beauty and isolation that were the backdrop to a tragic story. I have an etching of it (with the Lake in the center) hanging in our entry hall at our York home. Aren’t we lucky to have lived near these interesting places? I hope everybody feels that way, since everywhere has its unique history.

  5. I love the historical theme parks. We have two great ones near Edmonton. One celebrates Fort Edmonton (Brad Pitt filmed scenes of Jesse James there) and the other is the Ukrainian Village. Both have rebuilt actual donated heritage buildings on site and have buildings dedicated to the ‘everyday lives’ of people who choose to be pioneers in a foreign land. The hardships these people had to endure should alone, make them hero’s. It’s really fun to talk to the characters too. I visited with two girls baking in a Ukrainian farm house and they did not break their characters at all. I love investigating histories at home and when I travel. You’re in a wonderfully historical location rich in history and I can’t wait to see it with you. xoxo

    • I wish I could go to that Ukrainian Village! We don’t have anything like it around here. Though we do have lots of other interesting places to see. The hard part will be choosing what to do when you come. Here is a spot you may want to visit, and this other memorial has had several delays, but may be at least close to completion when you come. I saved the article about it in the WP magazine to send you, just haven’t gotten around to it.

      • Thank you for suggesting these Julia and saving the WP article. Both look interesting. It will be so hard to decide. We don’t want to wear you out either. I guess Alys and I should do some homework and you will add suggestions and then we could narrow things to the ‘must’ see, then save the extra’s for another trip. ā¤

        • Yes, between our two locations (here and Yorktown) there is WAY too much for just one trip! But if you get your maps out and plan strategically, you can maximize your time. No worries about wearing me out – I can send the two of you on your merry way during some of the day or evening times if I have too much to do at home. But it will be a good excuse for me to take some time to see the sights in my own town. So often we don’t do that because we think “I can do that anytime” and then never make the time for it.

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