With 400 miles between us, Drunk Tailor and I have few chances to explore the past together, so I was both delighted and nervous when he agreed to join the British Garrison 1775 event at Fort Ticonderoga as one of Captain Delaplace's servants. Even better, we were also joined by the itinerant Deep North Yankee who wandered around the Fort (possibly seeking roofing shingles, of which he is much in need).
Friday nights are always magical, candle and firelight (and only the warmth of the fire) as we drink cider and talk about history. But morning always comes: Saturday, cold and clear, Mr S and I woke and blinked across the room at each other, and I wondered to what degree I really wanted to ever crawl out of bed...only hunger and an eventual need to pee (and fear of a Sergeant) propelled me.
First order of business: breakfast. Mr S, supplied with his corn meal of choice, made us johnnycakes, which provided perhaps more interpretive than nutritive value. Still, they were warm and tasty and he is the only person I know who can make them; my efforts end up as FEMA disaster sites.
Captain Delaplace's servants were tasked with cooking for his mess, so Mr S and I got a start. We had a chicken, an onion (I traded onion # 2 for some bacon), butter, carrots, potatoes, a butternut squash, salt, and some port. I don't know where this English serving woman of 1775 encountered mis en place, but she accidentally introduced coq au vin to the Captain's table with the dinner meal.
The Captain and his Lady dined on chicken braised in butter and bacon with root vegetables in a port sauce; we servants waited until they were done before we could eat. (Confession: I need to eat a <em>lot</em>, and have a sensory overload problem, so when visitors fully crowded the room, I had to dash across the parade ground for a Clif Bar and an Ativan before I could continue to wait for my dinner.) In the afternoon, dishes were washed at the table, as was common (at least in early New England), dried, and set away, while the Captain's lady and child played in the cabbage patch between the beds.
When the room was empty, servants were able to eat (huzzay!) and found the meal very tasty indeed. I would certainly make this again, and learned more about cooking-- a typically female task I generally try to avoid-- than I had expected to. Then we had yet another round of dishes before it was time to tidy the room and make ready for tea or supper.
To that end, we cleared the table and broke it apart to reveal the floor and hearth, which needed to be swept of bread crumbs, squash peels, dead leaves, and other detritus. The best way to sweep an unfinished floor in the 18th century (per Hannah Glasse et al) is to strew the floor with wet sand and then sweep. I mixed sand with lavender-infused vinegar and threw it on the floor; this keeps the dust down as you sweep months of dust and dirt out of the corners and from behind tables and chests.
The trick is to sweep in one direction (more or less) from the back of the room to the front, and then to gather up the sand (here in a shovel) and pitch it off the landing. Much was thrown out the door and over the stair rail, just as servants would have done in 1775. (And I am told it is soothing to nearly hit the sergeant, but perhaps that's merely hearsay, if not heresy.)
When we were done, we restored the table (Drunk Tailor noticed the height of the ceiling, and wondered about hanging birds in cages whist awaiting the return of the tabletop), fully reset with cloth, candlesticks, plates, and knives, ready for the supper we didn't cook, as we skipped away at the close of the day to find our own meal in Glens Falls, where live music is inescapable on a Saturday night.
Like an energetic Golden Retriever, I need to be walked daily, almost without regard to weather, and I have a fondness for water that I fear makes me a questionable house guest-cum-nurse. Fortunately for me, Drunk Tailor has a granular knowledge of his surroundings that allows him to recalibrate his understanding of the places he likes to suit my needs: hence a Sunday trip to Fort Washington, Maryland. Plenty of room to wander, a wide* meandering river, defensive weapons installations.
It’s a large site and we only explored the main fort structure, the shore by the lighthouse, and the visitors’ center (I’ve seen plenty of Endicott batteries before, both on the Potomac and on Narragansett Bay). It started out well enough: the curious tripping stick figure sign warned us of the wooden bridge into the fort, and reminded me of a friend with a fondness for fonts and curious graphic design.
Guardhouse, batteries, masonry walls, stables, earthworks, former ditches, the remains of powder houses: all good stuff. The signs were what one comes to expect from the NPS: UV-damaged labels, slightly behind the times graphically, indicative of the slow pace and underfunding of the preservation of our national heritage.
Drunk Tailor’s memories of Fort Washington include a first-person living history event set on the (literal) eve of the Civil War, with men portraying member of a Texas-based unit wondering how they would ever get home, and responding to a woman’s inquiries about General Lee and Grant with the suggestion that reading Harper’s would bring her up to date with current events. Now, we are in January and my expectations are low in the cultural heritage off-season: this is the time for maintenance, upgrades, rest and refurbishment.
All the pew. Plus some spinning.What I did not expect-- though I should have-- was the leftover daily event roster from some time in 2016.
Boom! Goes the cannon, et cetera. Because Boom! is easy. Add in a side of spinning and we are good to go, right? We got something for the ladies. (You know where this is going, right?)
The best thing I can say for Fort Washington is that I was spared endless racks of brown sticks displayed with only the barest of identifying labels and no interpretation**. But here we are at a site with over 200 years of history and just the vaguest hints in the visitor center of decades of use and change over time. And I like military history. I like weapons. But the more I visit the more I marvel at the way we underestimate our visitors’ capacity for understanding and interest in the past.
Bigger BoomsAs we drove away from Fort Washington, I began to think that once again, we are asking the wrong questions. Instead of questions that can be answered, "Guns Got Bigger," why not ask some of the following:
Perhaps the most salient question to ask, on the Monday of inauguration week, is why do we care so little for our shared past that we accept the level of funding and staffing that gives us this level of interpretation? Don’t we, as a people, and our history, matter more than this?
*For the East Coast. The Potomac ain’t no Mississippi.
** I'm looking at you, West Point Museum.