Happy Interdependence!

And under this costume is, of course, the corset.

The Corset

scillagrace

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…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Wisconsin Tour Guide

“Share with us an image, or two, or three, (or more!) of where you live.” 

If you look up over this post title, you will see two links to separate pages labelled “Wisconsin Historical” and “Wisconsin Outdoors”. You will find quite a few more than three photos there!

I moved to Wisconsin 7 years ago from Illinois, and have absolutely fallen in love with my new home state. I used to summer at Girl Scout camp as a child in northern Wisconsin, but I’ve come to feel like I’ve always belonged outside, here, even after living for 15 years in California. When I first moved north, I worked for 3 summers at Old World Wisconsin, a 575-acre living history museum that recreates 19th century farm and town settlement. Last year, I moved onto a property that is owned by the land trust that employs me. I have thoroughly enjoyed being surrounded by 56 acres of Wisconsin woodland, wetland, and restored prairie. 

Wisconsin is a ridiculously photogenic state. It can take your breath away, fill you with pride, and surprise you at every outing. When we’re out hiking, my partner Steve very often just flings wide his arms and remarks (to nobody in particular), “Ladies and gentlemen — Wisconsin!”

Yes, it deserves your attention and applause. Here’s why: 

Tour Guide

Irish Roots

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!  I woke up with Irish on my mind – soda bread and potatoes and cabbage soup and immigrants.  As a costumed historic interpreter at Old World Wisconsin, I told the story of Mary Hafford, an Irish immigrant, and worked in her house.  She had been widowed in the year 1868 with 3 small children and lived as a renter in a small village near Watertown, WI.  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, 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!

Mary Hafford’s family has died out; she had one grandson who went into the priesthood, and there her bloodline was cut off.  My children have 2 Irish great-grandmothers, one on my side and one on their dad’s side.  Marion Minto Keefe (possibly O’Keefe originally) was my grandmother.  Mabelle Claire Mahanna was my husband’s grandmother.  I used to wake them up on St. Paddy’s Day with “Top o’ the marnin’ to ya, dear!” at which they’d groan and ask me if I was going to talk in that fake accent all day.  The groans subsided at the thought of the corned beef dinner I always made.  I remind them now of their heritage via text message and think wistfully of the hint of green in their eyes — two daughters with brown eyes flecked with green, and my two middles, boy and girl, with blue-green-gray eyes.   I hope that green will remain on the land and in the eyes of its people for many years. (For a beautiful reading of an Irish Blessing poem, by a real Irishman, visit my friend Jamie’s blog here.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Warmth

How did people in the northern land of Wisconsin stay warm through those hard winters in the 19th century, without electric blankets, natural gas furnaces or radiators?  Wood fires, wool, fur and the sauna…naturally.

Seems pretty simple to me. 

(In response to the Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge.)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Relic

Oh, boy.  What a theme for a museum geek!  In case you’re new to this blog, let me tell you that I work at 2 museums, one being a living history museum featuring 60 historic buildings depicting 19th century immigration to Wisconsin.  In addition to that, my partner Steve & I sell books and other items gleaned from estate sales.  We have quite an eclectic collection of various ‘relics’ of the 20th & 21st century in our home.  Currently, the very home that we are renting – a duplex built in 1905 – is undergoing extensive upgrading: electrical system, roof, and paint so far.  I am surrounded by relics, and I’m always looking for more!  So….what to feature?

Perhaps a crumbling lime kiln I found at High Cliff State Park.  It was in operation from 1870 -1956 on the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago….

relic 1

Maybe Steve’s hiking boots – they’re not really that old, but they got a lot of wear last year when he worked as a mail carrier for the US Postal Service…

relic 2Or how about this corner of our living room, where we display some of our favorite oddities…

relic 3

Actually, my very favorite photo for this theme isn’t one I took.  It’s one someone else took of me.  Old World Wisconsin runs a photo contest every year, and the first year I worked there, a photo of me won Best In Show.  The featured relic in the photo is the 1839 Cathedral of the Diocese of the Territory of Wisconsin – St. Peter’s Church.  The pump organ/harmonium/reed organ is from 1890.  The stations of the cross are lithographs made in Germany between 1875 and 1900.  The photographer is Jay Filter, and he gave me permission to feature his photo on my blog in 2012.  Here it is again:

St. Peter's Church at Old World Wisconsin.  Photo by Jay Filter

St. Peter’s Church at Old World Wisconsin. Photo by Jay Filter

Yup, that photo is a real winner.  Can’t claim it as mine, but it sure fits this theme!  Thanks, Jay!

Memorial Day: A ‘Hair’ Piece (part 1 of 2)

Close your eyes. Imagine someone who is near and dear to you. You have a picture of how they look in your memory, the sound of their voice, probably some associations with certain smells, and memories of a tactile nature…the texture of their hair, perhaps. Did you used to watch your mother unpin a bundle of long hair and brush it out each night before bed? Did you perch on the counter and watch your father shave, feeling his scratchy face like Judy in Pat the Bunny and then the smooth, mobile skin of his smiling cheeks? Do you have a lock of your baby’s hair tied with a ribbon and taped to a page? Do you touch the ends of that fine, feathery stuff in wonder every so often at the turning of another year?

 

Hair. An intimate part of us mammals, dynamic and changing through our lifetime and, when preserved, a vault of information about culture, diet, and ancestry. It makes a very satisfying memorial, to my mind. Some people these days may find it distasteful, but at the turn of the last century, it was quite a popular material for crafting. Think of all the time, money and material spent these days on scrapbooks and photo albums. Money and photographs were hard to come by in the 19th century, but HAIR, hair was cheap and plentiful…and personal. Why not use it?

 

I first encountered examples of Victorian era hair art (see http://textilecollection.wisc.edu/featured_textile_articles/hair_wreath.html) while staying at a bed and breakfast establishment in Plymouth, Illinois. The lady who owned the place sold antiques, ran the village bank, and opened her home to guests…and cats. She told us that she had the largest private collection of hair wreaths in the nation. I looked at the framed pieces in awe. It was hard to believe that the fine strands so intricately woven were actually human hair. I couldn’t help picturing the mass of guck that clogs my bathtub drain and lurks in the corners on my bathroom floor. It made me think of how careless we are in managing our resources these days.

 

In the Hafford House at Old World Wisconsin, there hangs a shadow box that features a crown of small, white flowers and trailing ribbon, a photograph of a young woman in the habit of a nun, and a golden braid. When a novice took her vows, her hair would be cut as part of the ceremony of transformation. Families would not see this young woman once she was cloistered, so why not save her hair as a remembrance? This is possibly what Mary Hafford did to memorialize her daughter Ann, of whom we have no record beyond her eighteenth year. The artifact we have is not actually Ann Hafford, but it makes a good illustration for interpretation.

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My partner, Steve, told me that his mother honors her loved ones on Memorial Day by visiting their graves. While I was growing up, my family never observed this tradition, probably because all my parents’ relatives are buried far from the states where we lived. I had considered Memorial Day a day for commemorating military casualties, but I welcome the occasion to remember three very important people in my life. My sister Alice, my husband Jim, and my father are buried in the same ground: the columbarium at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in California, where I was married. I am in Wisconsin and too far away to make a pilgrimage, so instead, I am visiting them in memory…and thinking about their hair.

(Part 2 to be posted on Friday…)