Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A Proclamation of Thanksgiving

For most of us, the term "First Thanksgiving" evokes images of Pilgrims and Native Americans and turkeys. While the details of that meal may not be quite right, the sentiment is great. But the official day of Thanksgiving was not declared until 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln. During the Civil War. Before an election year.

With no further pretext, enjoy his original proclamation below.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward*,
Secretary of State

*Secretary of State William Seward is believed to have slept in Riddick's Folly earlier in 1863 following the "Siege of Suffolk."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Christmas at Riddick's Folly

It's easy to take for granted what goes into a major reenactment, like our Christmas event on December 5th. Visitors see the final product, learn a little something, have a good time, and their whole experience takes less than an hour. The time spent producing such an event are numerous.

The costumes for our Christmas event have taken several hundred hours to produce, including several hems of more than 200 inches. The script for our event went through four drafts before the final version landed in the hands of our actors and actresses. The 12-foot Christmas tree that will stand in our front parlor will take about three hours to decorate, and that doesn't count the time spent decorating the rest of the museum.

Then there's the advertising -- writing copy, laying out print ads, updating a blog...

We haven't even gotten to a rehearsal yet, haven't discussed the research that went into the script in the first place, the fund raising to pay for everything, the time spent by volunteers cleaning, practicing, and organizing... even as I write this I'm realizing more and more of what's gone into this event.

But you're not interested in all that. Unless you are, in which case you should absolutely volunteer at Riddick's Folly. Anyway, the event takes place on Friday, December 5th from 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm. Tickets are $3.50 per person, or just $5.00 per family. Come and see. Come and learn.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Grown-up children's programs

For several years, Riddick's Folly has offered children's programming focused on the American Girl book series. These programs exposed young girls to the life and lifestyles of their counterparts throughout American history. Now, after hundreds of girls learned lasting and meaningful lessons, Riddick's Folly bids adieu to the American Girl program.

This isn't to say that there will be no more children's programming at Riddick's Folly. On the contrary, next year's calendar has more children's events than ever before. The question is, if the American Girl programs were so popular and so successful, why change?

The reason is relevance. The mission of Riddick's Folly is to provide a tangible link to our community's history through the portrayal of the 19th century Riddick family home. While one or two of the American Girl characters fit rather nicely into our mission, most do not. And none, as you can imagine, are related to the Riddicks.

Instead, we've come up with a series of new programs tailored not just to young girls, but also to young boys, oft neglected by Riddick's Folly in previous years. These programs will be no less inspirational or substantial. Their relevance to our mission, and the variety of their content make them more impactful than anything we've tried before.

We start next year with a tea for the ladies, hosted by Mrs. Mary Taylor Riddick. She will entertain the ladies, teach them the history of tea, talk about life and literature of the early to mid-19th century, and allow plenty of time for socializing.

Mr. Mills Riddick hosts a similar session for young men with coffee and desserts, and a conversation about the roles of young men in the same time period.

In the summer, we offer a day-long experience for boys and girls exploring in greater detail the games, lessons, and lifestyles of boys and girls around the time of the Civil War. We hope to offer this as part of a rotating camp with the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society, the Suffolk Art League, and the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts.

In the fall, boys and girls, and men and women alike will be invited to attend a mixed cotillion, the ultimate venue for learning "proper" social interactions with the opposite sex. We will give lessons during the day on 19th century dancing and etiquette, and in the evening, all are welcome to attend the cotillion to show what they have learned, and to enjoy each other's company.

We will also host an 1860s picnic for families. Period cooking techniques will be on display, and parents and children can enjoy the party atmosphere.

And for the braver children, Edgar Allan Poe will visit Riddick's Folly in October to tell some of his darkest tales in the spirit of Halloween.

So as we say goodbye to the American Girls, we welcome children back to Riddick's Folly to see more, do more, and learn more about their community's history in the 19th century.

Be sure to check out our website as our new events will be listed soon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

We are all historians

When you work in history long enough, it becomes difficult to focus on current events and to evaluate them in a contemporary context. Every historian loves/lives to look at today's headlines and to compare them to those of the past, to see how a decision 200 years ago might have affected this or that. Last night, if just for a moment, we all became historians.

Senator Barack Obama was elected to the Presidency of the United States. An African-American was chosen for the highest office in the land, and we all witnessed it. Working in a building that was built by African-American slaves, paid for by their slave labor, and served by their unending domestic toil, I truly marveled at the sight. The contrast is simply amazing.

Non-profits get in trouble when they espouse political opinions, especially those that seem to endorse one candidate over another, so I won't do that here. I will say that the election represented a new level of maturity for all of us. We evaluated the merits of one candidate against another, and chose the man most qualified, not the man who most resembled us.

What does that mean for a house built when President-Elect Obama's ancestors were literally chained to one another? It means that the stories we tell here, and the lessons we offer about generations of slaveholders and slaves are all the more significant. We all become historians, and we all compare this new reality to our old one. When you see the laundry room, the kitchen, the low, plain, uncomfortable slave bed here at Riddick's Folly, you can now take solace that America demonstrated its ability to change, to self-correct, that America has made great strides in recovery from an illness that led to Civil War and Civil Rights.

Next spring, Riddick's Folly will host a traveling exhibit focusing on domestic servitude in the 19th century. We made arrangements to host this exhibit before last night, but after the election, we hope it will be all the more significant, poignant, and meaningful to those that see it.

In the meantime, like true historians, we look back. But maybe we can also, finally, look forward.