Archive for the ‘Genesee Country Village & Museum’ Category

Caroline’s Pocket

March 5, 2015

Did you know that pockets weren’t always sewn into clothes? Girls in Caroline’s day most likely used tie-on pockets.

Temptation:  Fruit Stall, Victoria and Albert Museum

In this painting, the woman has pulled up her skirt so she can reach into her pocket, which is tied on over her petticoat. (Temptation: Fruit Stall, Victoria and Albert Museum.)

In The Smuggler’s Secrets, my new mystery, Caroline has a problem when she travels to Lydia’s farm:

Caroline climbed to the loft and dug through her valise. She had no trouble finding her handkerchief, but… “Oh, feathers!” she said, frustrated.

“What’s wrong?” Lydia called.

Caroline came back down. “I forgot to bring a pocket. I do wish that pockets were just sewn into our skirts!” That would be so much nicer. She had two pockets at home that she’d stitched of cotton and decorated with embroidery. She usually tied one around her waist so it hung over her petticoat, hidden under her skirt. A little slit in the seam of her skirt let her reach into the pocket.

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In this political cartoon, you can clearly see the big pockets two women are wearing on top of their aprons. (Scandal Refuted, or Billingsgate Virtue. Collection Guildhall Library, Artist C. Williams, 1818; Reference Number v9045412, Collage 18969)

Caroline usually wears her pocket beneath her skirt, but she chooses to wear one over her skirt during a quilting bee. Doing so let her keep thread, thimble, and needle case handy.

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In this painting, a girl has reached beneath her apron to get coins.

In The Smuggler’s Secrets, Caroline makes a new patchwork pocket using scraps of cloth. I was inspired by this original pocket, which is on display at the Genessee Country Village & Museum in New York.

pocket Genessee Country Village

If you’ve read The Smuggler’s Secrets, you know that a pocket like this one got Caroline into trouble!  (Susan Greene Historic Clothing Collection, Genessee Country Village & Museum.)

Next time you put something in your pocket for safekeeping, think how much more complicated it was to tuck things away in Caroline’s time!

Welcome to America

July 3, 2014

Scott and I spent Independence Day at Genesee Country Village and Museum in New York last year. Having celebrated the 4th of July in 1876 style at Old World Wisconsin for 12 seasons, I was eager to see how another large historic site interpreted the holiday.

The first special event of the day, however was not an historic reenactment or period activity. It was a citizenship ceremony that took place in front of the town hall in the Village square.

Town Hall Genesee Country Village

The presiding judge told of his father and grandfather, who had immigrated from Italy. He spoke eloquently of visiting Ellis Island. He assured the newcomers that this was a country where they could keep cherished cultural traditions from their homeland while embracing their new status as American citizens. He reminded them that as citizens, they have a responsibility to help govern; to be involved.

Genesee Country Village

Thirty-two people recited their oath of allegiance. They represented twenty-three countries:  China and Somalia, Australia and Russia, Sri Lanka and Honduras, and many more.

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Then each came forward to receive their certificate of citizenship. Some wore something traditional from their homeland. Many clutched American flags.

Genesee Country Village

I had a lump in my throat. I could think of no better way to begin celebrating the Fourth of July. And I could think of no better place to hold a naturalization ceremony than at an historic site like Genesee Country Village.

Many of the participants stayed at the site for the day. They were in the crowds as interpreters reenacted celebrations from 1836 and 1876.

Genesee Country Village

Reading the Declaration of Independence.

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And patriotic music.

And the site had lots of opportunities for guests of all ages to simply have fun. Period activities included sack races and a pie-eating contest.

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A rather chaotic egg toss.  A good time was had by all.

But the ceremony lingered in my mind. Modern immigration is part of the continuing story. The juxtaposition of period reenactments and modern ceremony reminded everyone, I think, of some of the principles that formed our nation, and continue to do so.

Genesee Country Village

Interpreters at the 1830s festivities…

Genesee Country Village

And Civil War Veterans at the 1876 celebration.

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A 94-year-old visitor/veteran of World War II—such a wonderful storyteller that he became an impromptu interpreter himself.

Historic sites are, of course, by definition largely about the past. And my personal philosophy of interpreting historic places is generally narrow. I’m usually not a fan of interjecting anything contemporary into an historic setting.

But historic sites also exist to help us all understand how we got to be here, now. Watching these modern immigrants, I thought of my own paternal grandparents, taking similar vows almost a century ago after they left Switzerland. I thought about how hard people have struggled for over more than two centuries to create and maintain a democracy. I was reminded that for all its heartbreaking flaws, the United States of American is still a beacon for, to paraphrase poet Emma Lazarus, the tired, poor, and huddled masses on distant shores, yearning to breathe free.

That’s interpretation at its best.

Genesee Country Village

Changes For Caroline

August 11, 2013

THE STORY BEHIND THE STORY

Caroline receives a letter asking her to come and help on Uncle Aaron’s farm. Although she hates to leave her family, Caroline is pleased to see her cousin Lydia—and to meet Lydia’s pretty cow and sweet baby calf! Determined to help out in any way she can, Caroline keeps watch when a thief starts sneaking around the farm. Then she makes an unexpected discovery—and learns that some things are not as simple as they seem.

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I had a lot of flexibility when developing a plan for Caroline Abbott’s six books, which was great! However, I did try to include familiar themes in Caroline’s stories. Traditionally, the six-book sets created for American Girl’s historical characters have ended with a “Changes” book. I liked the idea of giving Caroline new ways to grow and change, so I decided to take her away—temporarily!—from her beloved Lake Ontario. When the book begins, Caroline receives a summons to help at her cousin Lydia’s brand new family farm.

To learn more about farm life in rural New York two hundred years ago, I visited the Pioneer Farm at Genesee Country Village.

Genesee Country Village

Built in 1809, the Pioneer Farm is presented as it looked about 1820.

Genesee Country Village

Since Caroline and Lydia were responsible for kitchen chores, I enjoyed chatting with the interpreter about period cooking and baking.

Genesee Country Village

And here’s the garden. Growing food, and protecting it from pests, was essential to survival.

Since I spent twelve years working at Old World Wisconsin, an outdoor museum that includes nine restored farms, I was pretty comfortable writing about farm life. And when my colleagues at American Girl suggested including a calf, I was excited by the opportunity to learn more about old breeds of cattle.

Modern farmers tend to raise only a few breeds of cows, pigs, sheep, and other livestock. For example, Holstein cows are the most popular on dairy farms today. Holsteins don’t provide the richest milk, but they provide more milk than any other breed.

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Holstein (Wikipedia photo)

Lots of very old breeds of livestock are in danger of becoming extinct. Historic sites around the world play an important role in saving rare breeds from extinction. To learn more about cattle in Caroline’s era, I looked at the breeds being raised at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. (Curious?  You can learn more about Colonial Williamsburg’s Rare Breeds Program here.) Since that site interprets a period before the War of 1812, I could be confident that the animals they raise were known in the United States in Caroline’s time.

I discovered a beautiful breed, American Red Milking Devons.

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(Colonial Williamsburg photo)

Their rich milk was prized for butter and cheese production. They were easy to care for, intelligent and steady work animals, and provided quality meat.

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(Colonial Williamsburg photo)

Caroline Abbott isn’t a farm girl, so when she arrives at her cousin’s farm, she’s not sure that she wants to get close to one of these big cows!

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(Colonial Williamsburg photo)

Then Caroline learns that her job will be tending and training a baby calf.  One look, and her heart melts!

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(Colonial Williamsburg photo)

The photo above provided inspiration for Garnet, the baby calf in Changes For Caroline.

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(Detail from one of Robert Papp’s marvelous illustrations in Changes For Caroline.)

Training Garnet wasn’t enough to make a whole story, of course. I needed to create a bigger plotline, something to keep readers turning the pages.

(WARNING! SPOILER ALERT! I’m about to give a big hint about something mysterious that happens in the story. If you haven’t read Changes For Caroline, and you don’t want to ruin the surprise, stop reading now.)

While doing my very early research about life for women and girls in 1812, I visited Fort George, a National Historic Site of Canada. I talked with a wonderful interpreter who told me about the children of soldiers who served during the War of 1812, both British and Americans.

Interpreter in the enlisted men's barracks.

The interpreter in the enlisted men’s barracks.

Although some officers brought their families along to their new postings, only a few wives and children were lucky enough to travel with the “common” soldiers.

It was a hard life. They lived in the barracks, and both women and children were expected to work. Girls helped with cooking and laundry and sewing.

Hanging blankets provided a family's only privacy.  Children slept wherever they could find a spot.  Wives and children were expected to work.

Hanging blankets provided a family’s only privacy. Children slept wherever they could find a spot.

And if a husband and father was killed in battle, his wife had to either marry another soldier or leave the barracks—perhaps with no other place to go.

I was touched by the stories I heard, and wanted to include something about the lives of army children in the Caroline series. Changes for Caroline provided the perfect opportunity.

I hope you enjoy reading as Caroline meets new challenges. And I hope you find the final chapter a perfect ending—not just for this book, but for the six-book series.

Boys in the Kitchen

August 18, 2010

When I was in middle school, girls had to take home economics and boys had to take shop. End of story.

Today kids have more choices. But when it comes to getting children engaged in hands-on activities at historic sites, traditional gender roles often kick in. Boys (mostly) sign up for workshops in blacksmithing and woodworking. Girls (mostly) take classes in quilting and baking.

Genesee Country Village & Museum photo.

We could debate whether such tendencies should be encouraged or not. In fact, I remember participating in such debates at various museum conferences I attended during the years I worked at Old World Wisconsin. One educator in particular felt strongly that kids learned an important lesson when they were separated by gender, with only traditional activities made available.

My bottom line? I think it’s great for girls and boys to learn anything about the past. When I worked in museum education my first goal was to engage kids in fun and active ways. Once they were excited about history, all things were possible. That said, though, I don’t remember ever having boys sign up for a cooking workshop. So I was intrigued to see that one large historic site in New York has addressed the issue directly.

Genesee Country Village & Museum includes over forty historic buildings, which progress through three different time periods:  the Pioneer Settlement, 1795-1830; the Village Center, 1830-1870; and the Turn-of-the-Century Main Street, 1880-1920.

GCVM offers an impressive list of day camps, scout programs, and classes. The first time I saw their offerings, I noticed “Boy’s Cooking” on the agenda, both beginning and advanced. Interesting.

I was able to visit last summer while one of the boys’ cooking classes was underway. Not wanting to disrupt the program, I peeked into the large kitchen where the boys were working. Instantly several boys greeted me enthusiastically:  “Want to see our possum?” (At least I think it was a possum.  Perhaps it was a raccoon.)

The boys proudly showed me everything they were cooking and baking. The workshop leaders provided guidance, but the boys were in charge. No sugar cookies and tea here. These boys were preparing the types of food that single Yankee men might have prepared when they moved into the area a century or so ago.

Later that day, while I was visiting other exhibits, the boys paraded through the village with their main course. It now looked a bit charred. No matter, they were excited.

I enjoyed touring the whole site. I had a great time chatting with interpreters, and learning about an area I knew little about. Still, seeing those boys so revved up was the highlight of my day.

Two other things impressed me. The site’s roster of kids’ programming included environmental topics. This is sometimes overlooked at historic sites (understandable, given scarce resources), but it’s difficult to consider and interpret the worldview of people in an earlier time without considering the natural environment in which they lived.

The programs list also includes “Historic Fiction Comes to Life–Farmer Boy,” “Tom Sawyer Day,” “Laura Ingalls Wilder Day,” “My Side of the Mountain,” and “1857 American Girls’ Book by Miss Leslie.”  Incorporating literature? Another gold star from me!

If you’re traveling through New York, be sure to check out everything Genesee Country Village & Museum has to offer.