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Down on the farm: Presenting Victorian farm life in 2017

Posted on Friday, October 13, 2017 at 11:46 am

The model we use as our “home.” We have reenacted in this 1850s farm house quite a few times over the years so it seemed natural to us to use in our description.

The past cries out to those who will listen.

And as true as this statement is, I wonder…is anybody really hearing the cries?

Because so much history is not being told…That’s why I am very happy that my friend Larissa and I have formed a partnership and created a living history presentation group, ‘Our Own Snug Fireside.’ Since we began this venture, we have presented at historical societies, libraries, schools, fairs, and, of course, reenactments, and I like to think that we are not your typical presenters; we try to be lively, personable, and interactive with the audience, and we have created a ‘credible’ story around our presentations based on how life was once lived – a story that we believe our audience can identify with. We search and research primary sources, including letters, diaries & journals, store business ledgers, and home account books in hopes of giving our audiences as truthful and accurate accounts of the way life was as we possibly can.

Recently, for the second year in a row, we did our Victorian/1860s farm life presentation at the wonderful Point Oneida Fair located along the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore near the top of the lower Peninsula of Michigan. “Each August, amid the pastoral setting of meadows, maples, barns, farmhouses, and corncribs, the Port Oneida Rural Historic District awakens from its peaceful slumber and comes alive with activity true to the period when it was a community of robust farms. Visitors are invited to step back in time to experience life as it was in the late 1800s and early 1900s.” This two-day rural history-based event spotlights historical demonstrations, including cooking, spinning, broom making, basket weavers, timber framers, quilters, and blacksmiths.

It is the perfect place for Larissa and I to give our 19th century farming presentation, don’t you think?

As I mentioned, we have a back story that serves as our theme during our talks, and for this particular exhibition we based our tale on an immersion event story we’ve done during reenactments.

Over the years, we have honed our story into what could have been a very real situation that tends to draw our audience into our world of the 1860s.

You see, we are a farm family with around 80 acres of good land in which to grow our crops. However, we have been blessed with only two children – and they are both girls. It seems that all historic stories and movies show farm families as having a dozen kids – six boys and six girls…you know, the perfect farm family…and everything runs like clockwork. Well, we know that life wasn’t always as what Hollywood (or storybooks) like to show, hence the reason why we decided ours would have that bit of realism added to it by having two daughters only – no sons. And the audience definitely took note of that situation.

As our story goes, my sister, who married a man that did very well for himself in the mercantile trade, offered to send our eldest daughter, Christine, who is 16, to a finishing school in the big city in hopes of her learning to be a fine lady instead of living the life of a farmer’s daughter.

And that’s where the conundrum occurs; because we have no sons, we’ve raised Christine as a boy, and thus, while our younger daughter, Jill, is helping mom in the kitchen with the food preservation, preparation & cooking, along with house cleaning, clothes washing & mending, soap and candle making, emptying chamber pots, and other duties, Christine is spending the four seasons of the year out in the fields with me doing farm chores normally more suitable for the male sex, including manuring, plowing, harrowing, planting, harvesting, hauling, fence mending, making maple syrup, banking the house against the cold weather, and other necessities that need to be done.

And because of the help I need completing these chores, Larissa and I then discuss with the audience how necessary it is to have Christine remain with us rather than send her off to some fancy school.

You see, at the end of our presentation, we leave it to the audience to help us in our decision by asking them what should we do – send Christine away to finishing school or have her remain with us.

More often than not, the audience votes to have her remain with us, for they realize how much we depend on her help.

In addition to our little tale we also speak about our clothing, show our period home and farm accessories, and throw in a little bit of fun humor to keep it lite.

The Port Oneida Fair really is the perfect venue for us to present our Victorian Farm Life narrative, and we appreciate that they have us. I also enjoy when many of the more elderly folk repeatedly come up to us to let us know the memories we’ve brought back for them. To me, when you can please farmers – those who remember hearing the old stories from their parents or grandparents – and you bring back in them a little flickering spark that had lay at the recesses of their mind for decades, well, that makes it all worth while.

-By Ken Giorlando