Greenfield Village

1 12 2009

About two weeks ago my dad and I went to Greenfield Village.  It was chilly, damp, and cloudy, which probably drove the crowds away—the village was pretty quiet, except for the sputtering Model T’s and that one green bus (a Model AA?) that everyone who’s ever been there will have seen.

We ate at the Eagle Tavern.  I don’t think I’ve ever dined there before, but my dad is convinced otherwise.  In any event, the food was great, and there was a lot of it.  I’d recommend it, and plan on doing that again sometime.  Though the Hobo Sandwiches at that other big restaurant next to the Eagle Tavern are reliably tasty, and a lot less filling.

Anyway, after that, we did the walk ’round the Village.  I always liked the Daggett House, which is the big grey saltbox in the back corner.

 

Nice door.

 

Inside, the staff (reenactors?  living historians?) were busily living their 1754 existence.  One woman was carding and spinning yarn, and another was doing something or other in the kitchen.  Mr. Daggett was presumably passed out in a ditch somewhere after hitting the tavern hard the night before, since he wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

 

I swear some of these colors are big again. Just pick up a J. Crew catalog; you'll see what I mean.

 

It’s impossible to ignore the tremendous amount of effort that went into creating the things we take for granted.  Take making clothes, for example.  Even a wealthy family like the Daggetts would have spent a considerable amount of time spinning and dyeing yarn, then weaving it into fabric and making garments.  As the yarn colors above show, it wasn’t a drab, dreary existence by far—just one that seemed to require a great deal more patience.

 

I always liked this kind of hearth setup. The massive chimney really retains the heat.

With all the quaint handicrafts and vintage farming methods and the notable lack of typhus outbreaks on display any given day at Greenfield Village, it would be easy to slip into a neo-Luddite mentality (“curse that Industrial Revolution!  We appreciated our winter coats so much more when they took two month’s time to manufacture!”), but that’s not what the broader message is.

Or at least it’s not what I take away from my visits.  Greenfield Village is not stuck in the 18th century, even if the people inside the Colonial structures pretend to be.  After all, the Model T’s run right past the Cotswold Cottage.  And Edison’s laboratory is just short walk away from the Daggett House.  Any visitor who isn’t caught up in some bizarre nostalgia for a sanitized image of the past (“But that lifestyle was so much more sustainable!”) will be able to see just how far we’ve come in a few short centuries.

None of the reenactors/living historians pretend to be satisfied with the era that they are pretending to be in.  They’re moving forward, looking towards a better, more prosperous future (well, kind of; it will always be 1754 at the Daggett House, but I think you get my point).  In every era featured, people embraced technological progress—and not the pixie dust “green” progress that is being shoved down our throats today.

 

Is this locomotive carbon neutral? Who cares!

At no point in the past did a successful society sit down and decide that civilization had reached its technological and economic peak, and from that point onward, sustainability and an equal, fair distribution of wealth were to be the chief societal objectives.  It seems to be a relatively modern phenomenon; imagine what would have happened if that decision had been made in, say, the 18th century.  We’d all be stuck spinning wool to make socks while trying not to die of cholera.

 

Hopefully I’m not the only person to view Greenfield Village from this perspective.  The Model T rides and Disney World-like fantasy atmosphere is enjoyable in its own right, or I wouldn’t keep going back—but there’s definitely a broader lesson to be learned from a visit.

 

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2 responses

4 12 2009
kathusitalo

Good insights.
See my blog post of today, Dec. 4: http://greatlakesgazette.wordpress.com

5 12 2009
Corinne

Great article. Love the comments about the yarn colors…..fashion does seem to come back around at some point 😉

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