For NBC’s new show “Revolution”, Vince Vitrano reported from Old World Wisconsin on Living Without Power. My honey, Steve, teaches him how to split wood in the clip. Visit this link, go to Most Recent Video with the News tab highlighted, and scroll down to find “Living Without Power” by Vince Vitrano. Enjoy!
Old World Wisconsin Foundation hosts a photography contest every year, and this year’s Best of Show picture included ME, the Church Lady! I remember meeting the photographer soon after we opened for the day. The heat had let up a bit, there were puffy cumulus clouds playing with the light; it was a brilliant, inspirational sky, and I couldn’t help looking up at its constantly changing aspect. He took several pictures and showed me with his viewer how the shadow of the window panes appeared and disappeared in various shots. I told him that I was planning to buy myself a new camera for my birthday. It was a very pleasant visit. How exciting to learn this week that the picture had taken First Place in the Historic Structures category and also won Best in Show! I saw the winning shot yesterday, framed and hanging in Harmony Hall. I got the photographer’s name and e-mailed him a congratulatory note and asked if I could post the photo on my blog. He graciously provided the jpeg and agreed. So, drum roll, please! Ladies and Gentlemen, Jay Filter’s award-winning photo of St. Peter’s Church and the “church lady” (me!):
You can see more of Jay’s amazing work by visiting his website here. I love seeing his dazzling images scroll by and exclaiming, “I’ve been there!” Holy Hill, Lake Michigan, Old World Wisconsin, Devil’s Lake…and various sandstone formations that I think I recognize, but can’t remember where I was. My next goal is to enter the contest as a photographer, not a subject!
My weekend working at Old World Wisconsin is over for this week. We’ve survived the brutal heat, although the beeswax candles in St. Peter’s did not…one suffered from heat exhaustion to the point that it fell out of its holder and now lays tangled in the brackets of the sanctuary lamp chandelier. Another of its mates is listing at about a 90 degree angle. We’ve had no significant rainfall since June 16. Crowds have been sparse, way off the season norms. How do I stay sane while the sweat drips down my corset? I meditate and sew. I was taught to make pinballs during my training week. These are dodecahedrons (12-sided spheres) of 5-sided bits of fabric, sometimes called “Bucky balls” (named after Buckminster Fuller and his geodesic domes). They hold pins and needs like a pincushion, but can also be used for playing hackey sack or juggling, or hung with a ribbon on a Christmas tree (not that anyone in the 19th century used them for that!). I find it fun to pick out the bits of fabric and mix and match the colors…and it’s a whole lot simpler than quilting. I can sew 12-20 stitches per inch by hand. I’ve made about 10 of these so far; a few have not been stuffed yet because finding the scrap wool and fabric to put inside requires a “supplies requisition form”. I have begun to hand hem linen towels as well, and when I’m at the Hafford House on Tues. and Wed., I crochet rag rugs. So here are some photos of my handiwork, and a shot of my favorite visitor today: a butterfly who landed on the 173 year old wood and spread his magnificent wings for me.
Hope you had a great weekend; maybe unlike you, I look forward to Mondays because it’s my day off!
We survived the festivities at Old World Wisconsin in 104 degree heat! I wore a very special costume that had only been worn once before. It was silk and “tropical weight” wool with beautiful accents of military buttons and lapels and florets.
I was interviewed by Fox 6 News about my experience wearing 19th century clothing in the heat. I relayed information about what I was wearing and how it felt and then said that I thought people in the 19th century lived more closely in harmony with their environment instead of trying to manipulate or change it. Therefore, they get used to variations in temperature and become more resilient….or something like that. Then I went into the church and played a few hymns on the pump organ while the assembly sang. Then another interpreter took over and I sang descants along to some more hymns. When that concluded, we closed the building and got ready for the parade. I was part of the Temperance Society and marched singing a song to the tune of the Battle Hymn of the Republic urging the whiskey shops to close! Steve carried the banner of the Democratic candidate who lost to Rutherford B. Hayes. There were stirring speeches, but we omitted the reading of the Declaration of Independence in order to keep the program short. It was, after all, about 95 degrees in the shade. After that program, I got to go take my lunch in the air-conditioned break room and sample the potluck goodies (including root beer floats!) that the staff had contributed. The afternoon visitors were few and far between, so I spent the time doing some sewing and mopping my head and neck with a handkerchief dipped in cold pump water.
After work, I dropped my costume off and changed into 21st century clothes. Now I’m home sipping a cold Wisconsin beer and lying nearly naked in front of a fan. It’s 90 degrees in the house, but that’s still cooler than it is outside! No matter how independent we think we are, we are still part of the environment, still interconnected to life, still dwellers in a habitat, trying to survive. That teaches me to respect the planet and everything on it and to strive to become happily interdependent in the world.
We haven’t had rain in a few weeks, and things at Old World Wisconsin (the outdoor living history museum where I work) are very hot and dry. We closed down to a skeleton crew on Thursday because the heat index was over 100 degrees. Only 25 visitors came the entire day. I worked both yesterday and today, and now I have my swollen ankles propped up on the couch. I don’t have air conditioning at home, either, but I do have a ceiling fan and a strategic plan to keep the house cool. That plan involves making it as dark and cave-like as possible. Here are some other tips for surviving the heat:
cheat on the number of petticoats you wear (I went down to only one, but I don’t think anyone knew).
hide a wet dishcloth under your skirts or drape one around your neck.
plunge your hands and wrists into cold water from the pump.
skip the corset, if you dare (I haven’t tried this yet).
move as little as possible. This means I opt for sewing over playing the pump organ.
drink lots of water and stay in the shade (well, that’s obvious).
take a cue from the oxen, Ted & Bear, and get a friend to lick your ears. Strategic evaporation, you know.
Hmm. That sounds rather interesting….I think I’ll go find out what Steve is up to. ‘Bye!
I took this picture yesterday at Old World Wisconsin. This is Rachel, one of my colleagues, at the spinning wheel in the Kvaale house. Rachel is over 6 feet tall, and it’s a wonder she hasn’t given herself a concussion every day as she passes from this room into the kitchen. The doorway is probably only 5 and a half feet tall.
The Norwegian immigrants knew how to stay warm – a very useful skill in Wisconsin winters, too.
Late in the afternoon yesterday, some VIPs came to tour Old World Wisconsin. Unfortunately, they arrived only an hour before closing and didn’t have ample opportunity to view the 575 acres and 50 buildings that comprise this living history museum. So today, my day off, I took them back to the site and gave them a personal tour. I also secured for them a copy of the historical gardening book that our expert, Marcia Carmichael, published last year. Putting Down Roots: Gardening Insights from Wisconsin’s Early Settler’s includes historical references, tools and plot layouts, produce recipes from each ethnic area, and a lot of other wonderful information and sumptuous photographs of the meticulously researched and maintained gardens. I know this couple is beginning to practice organic gardening, and they are eager to learn all they can. In addition to that, the young man is a carpenter, and was thrilled to see the craftsmanship on the original structures. They were able to get some behind-the-scenes photos and detailed descriptions of the building methods of the 19th century. Each of the interpreters in the various houses were in fine form, communicating information and interest in a very friendly and professional manner. The weather was perfect for our visit, and we skipped the tram rides and walked the entire circuit of trails through the site. It was an altogether delightful tour, and I enjoyed seeing parts of the museum that hadn’t been included in my training schedule. I consider it a privilege to have been invited to host this marvelous young couple. Who were they? My daughter, Rebecca, and her boyfriend Joe.
We’re closing the museum early tonight. Bands with modern sound equipment, street vendors with FOOD, and other period inappropriate shenanigans will materialize in the Village for a midsummer festival (and fund-raiser). Staff members get to mingle, eat, drink, and dance for free! Guess where I’m going to be after hours! Here’s a link to show you more.
Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in Wisconsin in 1867, in a Little House in the Big Woods (near Pepin, WI, close to the border of Minnesota). Mary Hafford, the Irish immigrant who lived in the house where I work as an interpreter for the living history museum, Old World Wisconsin, was widowed in the year 1868 with 3 small children and lived as a renter in a small village near Watertown, WI. The Ingalls family continued to move west and eventually set up a homestead in South Dakota, but Mary Hafford worked away at her home laundry business and eventually achieved social and economic prominence in her little village. In 1885, she had a new house constructed on the property that she had bought. She never learned to read or write, but her children did. Her youngest daughter, Ellen, studied dressmaking, a skilled trade, and became a live-in dressmaker. Ellen was married in 1891 (six years after Laura Ingalls married Almanzo Wilder), and her mother hosted a reception and dinner for 75 guests. Three months later, Mary Hafford died of dropsy. I imagine Ellen Hafford Thompson and wonder what stories she might have written about her life in the Little House where she lived. I have a burning question: what happened to her older sister, Ann, who is conspicuously absent from all records from the mid-1880s on? Did she die? If so, why isn’t she buried next to her father & mother? Did she go into a convent? Did she elope with a Lutheran? The mystery remains unsolved!