October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween! A Short History of Jack O' Lanterns

We know Halloween is around the corner when we see cold nights, colored leaves and the scary faces of carved pumpkins staring at us from doorsteps.  But the Jack O' Lantern hasn't always been so ubiquitously linked to Halloween.

The tradition of jack o' lanterns was brought from Ireland and Britain in the early 1800s. Travelers through the moors and marshes had long seen flickering, wispy lights teasing them off of established paths and pulling them to get lost in the fog. The lights always receded when approached and followed during a retreat. They were sometimes called will-o'-the wisp, fairy lights or friar's lanterns.

One legend attributed these lights to a man named Stingy Jack who tricked the Devil and was not allowed into heaven or hell after he died. It was said that the when he asked the Devil where he should go, the Devil threw him an eternal ember that Jack stuck in a carved turnip which he used as a lantern as he roamed the Earth. On October 31st , during the festival of Samhain when fairies and ghosts were said to roam, turnip lanterns were carved to ward off evil.

When the tradition came to the United States, pumpkins were carved instead of turnips as their size made them easier to carve. They became associated with Halloween during the mid-1800s.

Civil War soldier, Sam Watkins of the 1st TN, Co. H recounted the first time he saw a jack o' lantern. He was stationed near Corinth, Mississippi and was engaged with the enemy that morning. Him and a comrade had both shot a sharpshooter out of a tree and macabre reported that the soldier tumbled out of a tree like a squirrel:           

This is where I first saw a jack o'lantern (ignis fatui). That night, while Tom and I were on our posts, we saw a number of very dim lights, which seemed to be in motion. At first we took them to be Yankees moving about with lights. Whenever we could get a shot we would blaze away. At last one got up very close, and passed right between Tom and I. I don't think I was ever more scared in my life. My hair stood on end like the quills of the fretful porcupine; I could not imagine what on earth it was. I took it to be some hellish machination of a Yankee trick. I did not know whether to run or stand, until I heard Tom laugh and say, "Well, well, that's a jack o'lantern.
Watkins, Sam. Co. Aytch, A Side Show of the Big Show. Nashville, TN: Cumberland Presbyterian Publishing House , 1882.

How scary it must have been to see that for the first time! Have a happy Halloween everyone! I'm glad everyone is safe after that storm. 

October 25, 2012

Cedar Creek 2012

Cedar Creek was a great, laid back event. I got more sleep over the weekend that I have had in at least 2 months. It was great!The landscape in Virginia is just beautiful at this time of year. I was afraid we weren't going to have much of a Fall because it got so cold so early this year.
Fortunately, the weather last weekend was nice, although the wind brought a sharp chill.

I took a lot of nice photos, but many of them came out rather dull due to the heavy cloud covering. 

I miss everyone so much. I have very little time to do anything other than plan for my classes. It's been tough. I really needed a weekend break for that. It was definitely worth the long drive. I'm also having a lot of issues with the new Blogger layout and the fact that I have to now host my photos somewhere else and link to them. I look forward to getting back in touch will all of you. I'm still reading, even I don't have time to comment on everything. Thanks so much for all of the support!

October 9, 2012

Helping History Survive: Resources for Teens Who Love History

Reenactments and living history museums tend to be full of families that love history. Mom and Dad show their kids how cool history is and a young age and their interest in history grows on its own. Recently I have noticed a trend in the older generation retiring. They are selling their historical clothing and promising that they will now spend their time relaxing and playing with the grandkids instead of playing in the field.  That may mean that the toddlers of today will be historians tomorrow. But as for right now, the current youth doesn’t seem to be replacing the veterans.

 I didn’t have a family into history. So I know how hard it is. I couldn’t participate in events until I was in college. I didn’t have the money or the means to get to events, but I did know what I was missing. In Middle School, a homeschool family was nice enough to take me to a living history museum with their daughter.  They knew that I liked history and it was such a kind offer. 

It’s hard to imagine, but families not into history don’t really know what’s out there. My family knew I liked history but they didn’t really know there was history stuff available. Unfortunately, once we found out stuff was available, most things were only open to children, if their parents participated and were there to watch them.  My parents both worked so history events went on the backburner until college. 

So what can be done to encourage the new generation? For starters, if you have the means to bring young people along with you, please do. That can mean a lot to a child or teen that loves history. If you can’t bring someone to far away events, try local events or town history days.   

One of my fondest memories from Middle School was that my friend invited me over to make costumes for a trip to the Renaissance fair.  We went to the fabric store and found a pattern that we liked and we bought broadcloth. We spent a whole day laughing and sewing and ended up with some badly sewn but wearable dresses. On the day of the trip, we felt like the belles of the ball. 

If you don’t have the means to take others with you, try to make your materials available to them.  Lend out the historical fiction that is probably collecting dust most of the year. See if your local library has good books you could suggest to a teen. Really any little thing could keep that passion going. 

If you are a young person into history but have no way of participating in any history events, spend this time feeding your interest. If you go to school, use the library to read books on the subjects you like. Listen to history related podcasts and watch videos.  Don’t let your passion die. When people find out that I am a reenactor they generally tell me that they used to love history but their interest waned in their teen years when many other things seemed more important. 

Utilize what you do have at your disposal. Ask the librarian for books on the subject you are interested in. Ask your teachers at school for information on a topic you find interesting. Use the internet to find information. The important thing is to keep feeding your interest.
Resources for teens who love history:



Historical Fiction:

- The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
-  Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (Free Online Ebook.)
-Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix


-To Be a Slave by Julius Lester
-The Civil War Chronicle by William C. Davis
-The Reenactor’s Handbook by
- Hardtack and Coffee by John D. Billings (Free Online Ebook.) This one was written by a Civil War veteran about army life. It has great images.
-Johnny Reb and Billy Yank by Alexander Hunter. This is a long but entertaining read written by a Civil War veteran. (Free Online Ebook.)

What are your suggestions? How can the history field do to make it more beginner friendly or what can be done to encourage people who can't participate? 

October 4, 2012

1850s Civil War Men's Shirt Pattern

This pattern is from 1852 and was published in a guide meant to teach sewing skills to ladies who might live "humble lives." It teaches the most economical ways to cut out multiple shirts so as not to waste any fabric.
 The book has basic instructions on how to assemble the shirt but only the basics. It does not include the front pleats which were a matter of personal taste.

Like many shirts of the period, this shirt is cut out of mostly rectangles and squares, using gussets instead of sloped shoulder holes to make the shirt comfortable in the underarm. The book suggests using linen fabric and the age-old technique of taking apart a shirt that the man likes and using it as a template for his new shirts.   

I've charted out the pattern but will assume that only seamstresses and tailors with some experience will be attempting it. For one, seam allowance is not included in my chart and you have to pay special attention to the seams that need a little bit of extra to sew without leaving an exposed edge.

Shirts aren't terribly hard once you make one. It is much easier to size when you do have a shirt from the person you'll be sewing for. 

There is a lovely tutorial for sewing a similar shirt (an earlier style but the basics are the same) at MY Mr. Knightley: Making a Shirt 

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