Hello Is Too Often a Formality

As few people really care to be inundated with my historical ramblings, I figured I would create a separate outlet that would be entirely optional for those who know me. For those acquainted with me, you know several things to be solid fact. One of those truths, is that I am a tremendous, self professed, inoperable nerd. Not the sort that ever could have tolerated being shoved in a locker, but one of those closet cases with endless scraps of utterly useless information.

That being said, one of my passions is living history. It was inevitable that one day I would be wholly ensnared in that realm and I must say, I thoroughly enjoy it. It's not necessarily something that I can explain, loquacious as I am known to be. Always have I been mesmerized by history. For as long as I can recall. Even as a child, I would enter an historic location and immediately become hypnotized by the essence yet thriving. It is no different now, and my heart is glad for it. The draw is undeniable and I do succumb.

View you these postings with an open heart and open mind. They are meant merely as a conveyance of my passion for history, connections and experiences.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Springtime in Virginia

Could there be a better time? Well, perhaps summertime in Virginia. Though there is something to be said of emerging from winter's dreary chill, sloughing off that melancholy aura and delving with sweet euphoria into the season of new life in the balmy south.

My latest sojourn took me to my heart's content and then some. Grappling with what was likely a case of tonsillitis, I embarked for Virginia on a Thursday afternoon. I armed myself with Emergen-C, cups of ice, and cough drops and braved the road. I stayed the night in Alexandria with one of my dearest friends and in the morning, drove with great anticipation for Fredericksburg.

My soul sang as I parked my car at the Sunken Road. Spring was jovially thriving, I was in Virginia instead of at work and in a matter of an hour, I would be making the ultimate pilgrimage. I sipped some chamomile tea charged with honey and wonder of wonders- my throat miraculously recovered (for the time being). It was not long before I was met by one of my favorite Dixie Darlings, General Ewell. Together, we drove to meet an actual descendant of Kate Corbin. He and his wife were simply fantastic. Great energy, brimming with family pride and just genuinely nice folks. More I will not relay. For once, loquacious Kristen will temper her reflections just a bit. It was a special occurrence and contrary to my typical mindset, not everything need be broadcast.

The General and I went with our new comrades to visit the actual home of Kate Corbin. The location of Jackson's winter quarters of '62-'63. It was breathtaking. Again, I will bow to privacy but I will state that it has been impeccably restored and going there was an unbelievable experience. To walk the halls of Kate's pacing, to stand in the room where Kate, Sandie, Smith, and Boswell sang songs to pass the time... unreal. Jackson, Lee, Stuart... they were all there. I consider it a great privilege to have been gained admittance. Over the last year, I have researched Sandie, Kate and their friends and family so thoroughly that I feel as though I know them personally. To stand on their hollowed ground was a dream come true. It was a rare opportunity and I will cherish that.

This was truly the glittering gem of the trip, but dears, it certainly did not by any means get less appealing. We were also fortunate enough to visit the home of Kate's father, where he settled before the war broke out while Kate and her brothers remained in the old family stead. It was a lucky pit stop where we met more wonderful people. How I have not moved South yet, I do not know. People are just plain better below the Mason Dixon.

The General and I parted ways for the time being and I bivouacked in historic Fredericksburg for the night were I scored some excellent antique books on Caroline Street. Both finds were pieces that Sandie read on campaign and will be perfect for my impression.

In the morning, after a quick stop to leave Boswell some daisies, it was off to Richmond. (I do so love Richmond). Here, I parked at my favorite spot (St. Paul's) and walked to meet the General. We spent most of the day driving around Hollywood Cemetery leaving flowers for "people we know". (And by this I mean folks who've been dead for oh, over 100 years). I was very pleased to leave some beautiful stargazer lilies for Kate's best friend, Sallie Munford (who also sewed the Virginia flag on display at the Capitol).

The weather was crazy, yet delightful. Storms with gorgeous sunshine. It cleared up just when we needed to check into our respective rooms at an inn that predated the Civil War. We changed for the ball and in the basking glow of the golden hour, General R.S. Ewell and Miss Kate Corbin walked half a block in full formal regalia to the Old Virginia Soiree. As we approached, bagpipers were playing on the lawn of the gorgeous Victorian mansion where the soiree was being held. It was a delightful evening.

To the right you will see my newest creation. I made this ballgown by hand. I didn't think I could tackle a ballgown, but, there ya have it. It turned out beautifully. I intended to add a pale green lace over-skirt to it, but I ran out of time.

Social Commentary:
- It's best not to get smash-hammered if you're going to partake in Victorian dancing. Just say'n. There are certain moves you need to be able to coordinate and if you've invested in half a bottle of Jack, you're going to look like a total dolt when you attempt to reel. (Gracious, dancing sober can be difficult enough!)

- I find it interesting that I have developed an eye for what is "correct" and what is a reach. I'm by no means an expert, I'm forever learning, but I like how much knowledge I've acquired.

- Some people in the hobby might wish to invoke the spirit of Victorian graciousness or for Christ's sake, Southern charm. It's inevitable that at any given event there will be people who aren't as well versed in what to wear or even the terminology. Not to sound like a Kindergarten teacher but... be nice!

It was a fantastic weekend. So many blessings, such a joy. I get to live the dream. My passion for history does not remain on paper, concealed in the pages of the books haunting my study. Not many people understand the drive to step back in time in such a way... but they don't have to. I get to connect with some truly lovely people that otherwise, I would never meet and I get to share history and happiness. What could be better? :)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Tip Time! Vulcanite Jewelry and You.

In the realm of reenacting, you come across many resources to better your craft. Or at least, you should be trying to come across many resources to better your craft! Diaries, letters, memoirs, biographies, authentic period handbooks and guides, official battle reports, reenacting websites and blogs, and above all- fellow reenactors. Let's not put all our eggs in the wikipedia basket. (I recently had to make some edits on Sandie's page. Kate Corbin was listed as his second wife *obnoxious scoffing noises*, well, it had to be rectified! Anyway, I digress.)

For my own part, I would like to post this evening about Vulcanite. Vulcanite, also known as Ebonite is a popular material in mourning jewelry. It is composed of hardened rubber and was more cost effective than jet, or even "French Jet" which is actually just black glass. Here, I will impart something I wish someone had told me as soon as I purchased my vulcanite mourning piece. Keep it in a box!!!! For the love of grits, do not leave it exposed to sunlight. Even leaving it on a harmless table in your unsuspecting living room can cause damage. The sunlight will oxidize the material turning it from blackish to a rusty color.

Fear not. As I said, reenacting (if you're blessed) provides great resources and one such resource of mine is a fantastic friend with clever web searching skills! Horridly dismayed by my innocent error, I mentioned it in passing to my friend who provided me with a link to redemption! If your vulcanite piece becomes discolored due to sun exposure, very carefully clean it with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. I was skeptical at first, but exercising great caution by wetting the sponge just a bit and then wringing it before gently scrubbing, I got to work. Be soft. Be careful. Be ginger. To my astonishment, it cleaned the piece right up. Ah, but the finishing touch. I applied vegetable oil to a paper towel and gently glazed the piece, allowing the glaze to soak in overnight. GOR-GEOUS. The incredible sheen on the piece restored it to a far better condition than I purchased it in. The piece is estimated to be from the late 1860's-1870's. A pretty, yet peculiar find.

Now... should the unthinkable happen... say... you're taking photos of a delicate piece such as vulcanite and it drops onto the floor breaking off a section- you do not need to be disconsolately sobbing on the ground as if you truly ARE a widow. (Though I would hardly blame you.) I was told by an appraiser upon purchasing the piece that super glue is ill advised (should I be looking to convert it into a brooch) but was told regular old Kindergartner tested, teacher approved Elmer's Glue would do just fine. It holds well enough and does not incur further damage to the vulcanite piece.

If you're too nervous to try this solution on your own precious piece, I completely understand. Do more homework and if you come across a better resource than this blog, that's awesome. You need to be comfortable and content with any action you take regarding treasures you've acquired.

Hopefully, you found this helpful. My best advice regarding vulcanite is to treat it like a Mogwai. (You know, Gizmo from Gremlins).
1. Don't get it wet (it'll smell bad)
2. Don't expose it to sunlight (it will kill it)
3. And don't feed it after midnight

Yours in historical reveling,

Belle Von Saxony

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mourning Belles Are Tolling

Behold the newest creation from 'Belle Von Saxony'! This is my mourning dress for Remembrance Day. Some of you are already aware that this very dress was simply the bane of my existence. Honestly, it was the Murphy's Law of dresses. Whatever could go wrong DID go wrong, about seven times. I battled it out though, cursed, tantrumed, thrust forth a determined chin and kept on. I completed the dress on Halloween. (For the exception of the collar, which I must still acquire on my next flight to Gettysburg).*

Mourning dresses are not meant to be very frivolous, as they are worn by those who are grieving. As such, there is not much razzel dazzel to this latest culmination of guesswork, luck and fabric. It is black cotton with black velvet trim on the bodice skirt and pagoda sleeves. (Big fan of the pagoda, right here. Although they do you no favors when you are trying to maneuver around a table of herb bottles and tonics).

Initially, I wanted to add this fantastic black velvet and braid trim to the bodice. Just a touch of it around the bosom. Well, not like around around, that would be really weird- not to mention WAY off from being period correct. However, when I donned the dress fully for the first time, in a very strange "Levys" kind of way- something decided for me that the bodice should NOT have the very pretty trim. Maybe it will eventually...

The dress is accessorized with black fancy undersleeves with black glass buttons that match the buttons down the bodice. (By coincidence, actually, not design). It should be noted that a few of these photos are missing the undersleeves and another key accessory because halfway through I remembered, 'Oh my, I'm not quite dressed!' Though difficult to see in most shots, I am also sporting a "French Jet" mourning brooch at the collar line. It's mid Victorian and gorgeous. That particular piece haunted me until I finally went back to the antique shop and purchased it.

You may note the locket my persona is clutching in the photos. The image therein is very near and dear to my heart. It is a handsome photo of Lt. Colonel A.S "Sandie" Pendleton. There is no feigned anguish upon my visage, it is genuine sorrow- reflecting upon Sandie's tragic death. He fell at Fisher's Hill September 22nd, 1864, going on to his Savior the following day.

The finishing and fetching touch of the ensemble is the Virginia mourning cockade, a very thoughtful and fitting gift from my very dear friend General Ewell. I feel it draws the whole outfit together and serves a beautiful purpose.

Come Remembrance Day, I will be with my Dixie Roses representing the widows of fallen soldiers during the Civil War. It is a privilege to honor those stalwart women who endured such hardships and loss. Many of these widows did not marry again, choosing to remain in mourning for the rest of their lives. Others, found love once more and set aside their weeping veils. I feel confident speaking for the rest of the ladies of our group in declaring heartfelt pride in showing our appreciation and reverence for the soldiers who have passed. We're not just wearing black on behalf of our personas. We don it for those who have served, those who have sacrificed and those who have fallen.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Heart On Campaign

The Dixie Rose Relief Society

There is more of a blessed release, more unprecedented exaltation in an escape to Virginia, particularly the Shenandoah Valley than my words may ever aptly express. Couple that with bivouacking with the boys, and darlin', you've got pure magic.

Two weeks ago I found myself on campaign again. This time, in Middletown Virginia. Ah, nestled near the Blue Ridge once more. This sojourn was for the reenactment of the Battle of Cedar Creek. With a joyful heart, I packed- JAM packed the car and was on my way. It wasn't until well after dark that I finally ventured alone into the campground near the battlefield (my temporary quarters). I crashed in my faithful little tent (oh, the wonder of a tent that sets up in less than ten seconds) and chased sleep.

Come morning, I awoke before the sun, packed up my little tent and set about my mission which consisted of showering and hot footing it down to Woodstock for some provisions. While there, I attempted to locate the site of Sandie Pendleton's death, but could not find the marker I recalled seeing on the internet.

Setting into camp (on the battlefield) was not without its excitement. Banged up the under portion of my poor, poor Sentra. Okay, so this time I SAW the boulder coming... I just... didn't know the ground dropped off so much right after it! (Battlefields: 2, Car 0) After some friendly inspections of my now wounded mount from various reenacting pals, I took daddy's advice and whisked my rattling Nissan to the nearest garage where the most delightful Asian mechanic took out some good old fashioned Virginia justice on the bracket holding my muffler in place and bam- good as new.

Windy may not accurately describe the conditions. Hurricane force reenacting. Now that's probably a little closer to reality! The cold did not keep me from sleeping. The greatest sleeping bag in the world did the trick of keeping me warm. The wind on the other hand, not as pleasant while sleeping in a canvas wall tent. I determined at some point in the night that if the tent fell down around me, I would resolve to stay right there in the sleeping bag atop my cot until morning light when someone would come and dig me out. Thankfully, it did not come to that. I awoke to reveille very early in the morning, with a broad smile on my face.

There were not many taters that happened by our tent at this event. At any rate, I did not feel my normal convivial self, so I counted that as all right. For some reason, I felt rather withdrawn. Pensive. Just, quiet. It is an odd thing for me to be. Most all who come in contact with me are accustomed to a cheeky remark, brazen opinions and rather constant joking. Personally, I do not mind the quiet in me, as long as others don't mistake it for being aloof.

Seems the 'Roses' did a fair amount of shopping during our time at Cedar Creek. I feel as though several times a day we simply "had" to go to the sutlers. If the weather had been more agreeable, I feel we would have had more quality time.

Some folks were concerned about my safety, tenting alone on the ole campground. (My ladies know better and only feared that I would freeze!) Anytime I camp solo, I always pack the good old cold steel. It is much safer "in camp" though, and it's especially enjoyable when bivouacked next to my favorite Civil War fellas- Lee's Lieutenants. Not only are they great company (and positively the most fun to dance with), they always ensure that I am safe and sound.

Grace provided new friends to be made at Cedar Creek, and as I had hoped, a lovely degree of fellowship as well. For me, it felt more like living the history than it did just 'living history'. My interactions were far more geared towards my contemporaries than the spectators which I think this go 'round, is okay. My drawl is decidedly more natural now, but perhaps that is only because I was so subdued. I did feel very attuned to my newly decided character, and enjoyed being addressed as such! It gave me an odd sense of pride.

Another source of pride comes from the name the Dixie Rose Relief Society seems to be earning for itself. The magnetic Abigale Stackhouse (our Pokey) has succeeded in garnering much attention for the group which the rest of us ladies back up with as much authenticity and charm as we can muster. The talk we gave on civilians of the Shenandoah went over extremely well. It's fair to say Carol (Abigale) carried us during the lecture because prior to my portion of the talk I was not of my usual mind and after my "big" speech- my everything was somewhere else entirely!!! The talk I gave was on Sandie Pendleton and his bride, Kate Corbin. And as we are Civil War living historians, I simply will not apologize for acting as herald to their tale. When I spoke of their story, people were engaged. They laughed, they gasped, and they groaned with breaking hearts at each devastatingly tragic twist. I take tremendous pride in being able to convey their story to people and hope to continue doing so for a long time to come. Naturally, there will be a blog to come pertaining to Sandie and Kate.

Of the camp dance, I will say this- it is almost more fun getting in trouble by "the dance kaiser" than it is actually being able to do the dance correctly. Although, by the time we got Soldier's Joy down- it was probably one of my favorite dances of the evening. Each general I twirled with was great fun and the best company a lady could ask for. And without fail, each was generous enough to say it was a pleasure- even though I'm dreadfully rhythmically impaired. On top of that, for some reason, my poor hoop drooped and by the last of the dances, and I found myself taking great awkward pains NOT to trip over it. Perhaps a triple knot next time around. My only other observation is this- I find it a little silly when woman wear straight up legitimate BALL gowns to camp dances... but hell, at least they look pretty!

The Battle of Fisher's Hill was the best I've seen to date. (Though admittedly, my battle repertoire is not all that staggering). Having the Cav go thundering by us and having gallant friends atop those gorgeous mounts was very entertaining.

As usual, the return to civilian life tugged on a sullen chord. (I will share that before arriving home, I actually rubbed Secret on the length of my arms and about my neck because sweet biscuits and gravy... it is not at all a dainty scent, coming home from camp.) "The season" is almost over, much to my lamenting and I find myself greatly looking forward to Remembrance Day and the highly anticipated sesquicentennial next year.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

I'm No Lothar H. Miller...

But I do what I can!

Here is the "revamped" tea dress. Also known as "the dress that almost cost 'the roses' the once in a lifetime opportunity to meet Stephen Lang". Yes, it was this tempestuous little beast that I was wrestling with in the tent in 9,000+ degrees, trying to jury rig this and that.

Given key ingredients (more TIME, garnering construction tips, trial and tons of error, and lessons on being period correct from fellow lovely reenactors) I was able to revitalize the pathetic green and white 'camp dress' into a fairly fancy tea dress!

Okay, so the bow in the back is a little
"Bo-Peep", but hell, I thought it
tied the ensemble together with just the right amount of femininity.

It's not perfect. It's far from it. But to be fair, I think it's also far from a piss poor piece of crap that shouldn't be seen in public. What can I say? Kristen H. Miller aims high, damn it. That's right. I said Miller.

As some of you may know, my grandfather, Lothar Miller owned his own dress company from the 40's-60's. It was called "Daddy's Girl". He was a cunning business man with taste and vision. It's kind of funny if you think about it- this daddy's girl has gone and made her own dress. Like I said, I'm no Lothar H. Miller. Dad tells me he was a genius on a sewing machine and I usually manage to snap needle after needle and paint a vivid mural of obscenities thanks to hyjinx'n tension. Being an excruciating perfectionist, I can pick out a hundred things that should be fixed on this dress and I do intend to tweak a few things here and there before I don it at the next reenactment. But to be able to sew something on this level and strive toward even half of what my grandfather was capable of, feels pretty good!

Looks like Miss Virginia is gather'n some
herbs for another decoction!

Bottom line, it's a process. This was the first dress I ever constructed and I'm pretty happy with the trim I added on. Especially the double bow at the collar accessorized with a yellow flowered brooch. You'll note that the collar is not the popular 'lay down' white collar. Why? I hated it for this dress. I basted one on and could have puked. Okay, so my reaction wasn't that volatile. But it was very clear that that style was not going to flow with the design. The 'stand up' collar, while not the norm, was sported in the 1860's. Though more popular after the Civil War, the stand up style did appear on ladies in the 15-26 age group and even 26-40 (so I'm covered for a while). The skirt on the bodice is a little German ingenuity. The pattern for the bodice skirt was aggravating to say the least and many reviews online echoed this sentiment, so I just made my own design based on the bottom of the bodice. Not bad!

Next on deck is a mourning dress, because every respectable Dixie Rose has one. I also plan to make a matching reticule and bonnet for the tea dress featured above. Which could use a better nickname than the aforementioned one. Overall, I really enjoy being able to make my own Civil War dresses. It's challenging, interesting and rewarding!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Unique Victorian Names- From Confederate Muster Rolls!

So, I'm always on the look out for fascinating southern names. Since most of the characters from my novel are from Virginia, I try to find authentic names that would be fitting from the era without resorting to "the biblical classics" all the time. That being said, I've sifted through a lot of muster rolls. (Those are lists of soldiers in a given regiment). In doing so, I've picked up some cool names to use, but I've also found some real whoppers. Now, I'm not making these names up. They really did come off muster rolls from Virginia regiments during the Civil War. This batch came from the 12th, 24th, 42nd, 50th, 51st, 54th, and 58th VA.

First and last name combinations that are worth noting:

Coon Spangler
Dexterity Varner
Peter Handy
Tazewell Gallington Wells
Costly Belcher
Josiah Waddle
Green Penn
Nimrod Poteet
Ham Belton
Green Berry Luster (he sounds like a crayon...)
Fountain Gille
Cpt. Hiram Demosthense Pridemore
Doctor Puckett
Forest Sargent
Peachy Hopkins
Edward Snodgrass
Peter Cockram
Calvin Unthank
Algernon Rhinehart
Cyrus Bushrod
Constance Canidy
Archibald Hunsucker
German Wood
Littington Cool
Lafayette Livesay
Squire Asbury Blakemore
Nasham Cap
Nathanial Swordcox
Atlantic Ocean Crook
Green Berry Compton
Hezekiah Head
Elihu Vermillion Litton
Zion Parsons
Wales Wellington Wallace Peters (try embroider'n THAT on a hanky)

Phew! In addition to my growing collection of "fascinate'n names" there is also my list of first names that I deem to be just plain cool.

Crockett (Gotta love Don Johnson)

Now, it was quite common to name your son "Doctor" or "General" or as you saw, "Commadore". Pretty weird, if you think of it in childhood terms. "Haha, Doctor Puckett just peed his pants!" Another common naming technique back in the Victorian era was giving your (son, mostly) the full name of a hero from history as his first name. For example, Thomas Jefferson Jones. A pretty famous one, and due entirely to the family connection, would be George Washington Custis Lee, General Robert E. Lee's first born son. (And naturally, following the Civil War, many children were named for generals, including Robert E. Lee). My personal favorite in this category is the first name Patrick Henry because he was a mouthy bad ass who didn't give a shit about what people thought, was all about rebelling, and any dude who locks his crazy wife in a basement is all right by me!

This has been today's lesson in Victorian names. Believe me, the list will continue growing as I continue learning! I hope you found it interesting!