Sunday, May 18, 2014

Civil War Days

Last June we spent a day at Conner Prairie, which is an amazing interactive living history museum (I would highly recommend it if you're ever in the vicinity!)

We had a wonderful time last year, but I was thrilled to learn during our visit then that every May they organize "Civil War Days" and provide a venue for a mock battle with lots of reenactors--so of course I put it on our calendar!

Conner Prairie already has a pretty large focus on how the Civil War affected our state, but it was neat to learn even more, since they tailor the focus of some of the other exhibits (i.e. 1836 Prairietown becomes 1863 Prairietown and everyone changes their clothing accordingly). It was so fun seeing all of the reenactors there wandering around in their period clothing--my favorite was that it wasn't just men; there were tons of women and children too! They had all camped on site the night before and so there were two areas designated as campgrounds for the Union and the Confederate troops...we wandered through the tents and talked to people cooking over fires and sampled hardtack.

Surprise! It was super hard.

 There were lots of fun things going on--cavalry drills and musket practice (and bayonet practice, although we skipped that one) and drumlines and cannon demos and whatnot (oops, this one is a bit too zoomed in!).

A few hours after we got there, we found our places (front row!) for the battle. I think the most exciting part was that we were hanging out in Prairietown watching chickens, which we had been doing for almost an hour because all of us were completely fascinated with comparing them to our chickens at home--and Neil and I were both discussing our crazy envy of the awesome rooster!--and we heard the drums and huzzahing and realized the Union army was marching by on their way to the battle, flags waving and boots stomping and all that. So we caught up and enjoyed the noise and spectacle. 

And then we watched the Union troops come at the Confederates, who were hiding behind some cabins and fences. The Union eventually won (although we thought that in reality the Confederates would have won since they had a way better position and were firing from cover at a tightly massed group of soldiers who were marching veeerry slowly and making no use of their cavalry).

 Anyway, it probably wasn't very realistic but it was lots of fun to watch--lots of cannons making "shaky booms!" as Isaac called it, and I think the most interesting part was that we were right next to the field surgeon's tent so we had the entertainment of seeing actors come in on stretchers to be evaluated for their "wounds"--some of them were very into it and some of them totally weren't at all. We decided that the best actor we saw all day was this kid who was probably 12 and toppled over very realistically rather than carefully lowering himself down and finding a comfortable position. There were definitely different degrees of authenticity. :-)

I made it into exactly one picture the entire day and this is how it turned out. Oh well! I was there!

One of my favorite things about Conner Prairie is that pretty much nothing is off-limits and the people who work there are really friendly and informative, but not pushy at all--you know how sometimes you go on a tour and you have to hear every single detail about the provenance of each piece of china? I'm sure that the Conner Prairie guides could tell you about that sort of thing if you'd like, but they are SO great about being helpful without being intrusive. And everything is set up for you to actually DO something--it's not just a look and learn kind of thing. Want to learn how to spin or weave? Awesome, give it a try! Want to milk a goat? Sounds great! Right over here! Want to gather eggs? There's a bunch in the nesting boxes.

Case in point: my kids learning to use a draw knife.

Or Luke happily filling this wheelbarrow with straw and running it all around the barnyard.

Or Juliet getting things set up for milking (the guide here told us what dates we should return if we want to help with milking).

(At this point Neil turned to me and said, "We need a farm.")

 So, for instance, at this particular homestead, here are the things you can do:

1) Pump water and water all of the herbs.
2) Pump water and take it to the pigs (there is a map by the water pump so you know where the pigs are).
3) Pump water and use it to wash clothing, which you can then hang out to dry.
4) Go in to the apothecary shop and grind up the dried plants hanging there, which you can see growing out in the raised beds.

We love this little homestead and always seem to spend quite a bit of time there! I love the spicy-sweet smell of the apothecary and Abigail and I passed some happy time grinding up sage and thyme.

 I ran out of iPad battery pretty early on in our day, but another thing that the kids LOVE and probably could spend (literally) all day doing if time had allowed...there is a general store with a ton of wooden boxes stacked along one wall and a sign posted overhead asking you to move the boxes out to the waiting Conestoga wagon outside. And then once you finish moving them to the wagon, of course the wagon has a sign asking if you'd mind moving the shipment to the store! I don't know why this was so fascinating but I think the kids did box-moving three separate times. I offered repeatedly to let them carry groceries from the car to the 'fridge but they weren't interested.

No surprise here that Jules and Luke raided the dress-ups before we left home and Abigail and Isaac totally refused. :-) Oh these funny kids and their determined little personalities!

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