You might guess that wearing a Civil War era hoop skirt could be a challenge unto itself. "Personal space" takes on a whole new meaning when you effectively bump into people even though your body is still a few feet away from them. If you northerners thought snow parkas were bulky, think again.
Washburn-Norlands Living History Center this weekend for a Civil War rally. Carolyn Lawson, a reenactor from the Third Maine Volunteer Infantry, shared (discreetly, that is) how a Victorian lady would don a hoop, as well as countless other undergarments, including a chemise, drawers, corset, and so on with the help of the manikin (right). She explained the many layers and their function.
I was not among those who "floated gracefully." Rather, I caught myself stepping on my dress once or twice and looking around to see if anyone had noticed. When one is new at something, it's often desirable to keep a low profile. I found that was difficult at the reenactors' encampment. When I entered the row of tents on my route to "the necessity", someone shouted "lady in the camp!" and all the men jumped to their feet, faced me, and whipped off their caps. Uncomfortable doesn't begin to describe the cultural experience. I was later reminded that I should have been escorted, rather than wandering alone, when I entered the camp.
It didn't seem fair that on my first day on a hoop-skirt-wearing adventure, I should also have to navigate a porta potty. My skirt and I exited the confined space rather like a seed would be spat at a target. Later, I learned that there was a more "spacious" privy available, thank heavens.
When the public gates opened and visitors sauntered in for the day, it was much easier to walk about freely and enjoy all that the rally had to offer. During the Civil War, soldiers and their families exchanged letters at an unprecedented rate and this was no exception at the rally. The men shared their war experiences during a slow moment at camp (left) and the women wrote back to them from the civilian camp (right).
As the wife of the Third Maine's Captain, Carolyn could have stayed with her husband, but she chose to set up her tent near the other ladies who, as single women or wives of enlisted men, were required to stay in the civilian camp. Her quilt, books, and painted cloth floor transformed her small canvas tent into a welcoming retreat (left).
The camp held other surprises, too, such as this puppeteer (right) from the 20th Maine Regiment who prompted an extraordinary Abe Lincoln to dance as he sang "Lincoln and Liberty."
The rally's over now. The reenactors have returned to their regular jobs and packed away their blue and gray...and also their hoops. Who knew that a trip to the porta potty could be such an adventure?