Lapham’s Quarterly: My Secret Life in 1848

hale_farmThe author, c. 2001, working at a living history museum. Photo by Rev. Brett R. Schutzman.

For five years as a historic reenactor, I could never escape the year 1848. I’ve got a piece up on the Lapham’s Quarterly blog about my past in a living history museum and the strange experience of living life in two timelines.

Our year was 1848. Several historic houses had been moved from northeast Ohio and arranged around a village green: this was our fake town. Visitors were free to roam the site, spending as little or as much time as they choose interacting with its townspeople. A family was cast in each house, and I “lived” with an older brother and sister, an Irish maid, and my mother—in this case played by my actual mother, one of the museum’s middle managers, who had decided when I turned seventeen that I was too old to sit on my ass over summer vacation. From June through August I spent more waking hours of my life in the nineteenth century than I did in the modern day.

Read more here.

5 Responses to “Lapham’s Quarterly: My Secret Life in 1848”


  • That was a beautiful read.

    What kind of foods did you make when you were still there?

    • I remember we used Sarah Hale’s book, The Good Housekeeper (1839) and also Lydia Maria Child’s Book, the Frugal Housewife, but I’m sure there were more period resources we relied on. I remember making macaroni and cheese with cheese made on site, with milk from cows on site (that I would help milk), and spiced with nutmeg and mace. I also remember these cheese tarts, we would make in small tart pans, with a handmade butter crusts, and an egg, butter and cheese filling. Those were really good; I should dig up the recipe and put it on this blog, they were serious spectacular. I remember chicken soup with handmade noodles, and one stormy day when we dropped potato slices in hot oil for homemade french fries. And I personally did a lot of the baking, cakes and cookies in particular, very butter heavy and flavored with lots of nutmeg and rosewater.

  • What a lovely piece. You put into words many of the emotions and sensations I experienced when I interned there for a summer–how putting on petticoats and washing dishes in a dry sink could push me into the past in a way that reading about it never could. Of course, you had a much more all-encompassing experience than I did, with the family histories and presentations. Beautifully expressed–and I’m looking forward to reading your book!

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