It has been a fine month for telling holiday tales. First there was Downtown Springfield's Holiday Walks. The weather has just turned frigid and I was more than delighted to be comfortable and warm in the Herndon Law Office. I had hopes of venturing out and seeing the live reindeer, but wimped out. Of course, I did have Sebastian, the Christmas Moose (puppet) with me. (The quest for the reindeer did, however, lead me to start writing about Sebastian, which will be shared with - or inflicted on - my readers over the Twelve Days of Christmas.)
A Clayville Christmas was my next venue. The weather was clear, and so there was a steady stream of visitors through the Broadwell Inn.
So now we have passed the Winter Solstice, and soon Christmas will be upon us. Tomorrow night I will get the tree up, and turned on the lights. And on Christmas I will light a bayberry candle, to be burnt between Christmas and New Year for health and prosperity to the house.
As to how I will be celebrating the Twelve Days of Christmas I will be finding holiday facts and tales to share. Some may even be hidden in Sebastian's story. I also invite you to make use of my Christmas bibliography too - for some festive reading.
Finally I have sometime to sit down and consider a few conversations I have had recently.
Back in mid-May I attended LLCC's "Welcome Visitors," which was the lead off to Community Learning's intensive Interpreter training week. (http://www.llcc.edu/commed/CommunityLearning/tabid/989/Default.aspx) The evening was very interesting, and the speakers discussed the role in customer service at historical sites. I wish I could have participated in the whole week of classes, but that weekend was already booked.
This was followed by Clayville's Spring Festival (http://www.clayville.org), and conversations with many of the volunteers about what all had needed to be done to prepare for the festival.
I had had a little sample of the preparation, since I had been out that week to help dust, and I have to salute all of those who had been at it continually.
All of this is on top of keeping the site open weekly, and for private functions, such as weddings.
Later, thinking over the week, I considered how fragile the support is for many of our historical sites, since so many of the volunteers are retired individuals; many of whom are elderly. The main thing driving them is their great love of history, and their particular site.
It's not just Clayville that faces this, but many of the smaller sites, where the main bulk of their volunteers are in their later years. And the work they do isn't just talking to people and taking them on tours - it can require cleaning and some heavy work.
Now I'll grant that for Clayville's many festivals there is help of all ages, but the normal, weekly, part falls to just a few people.
What happens when they can't do it anymore?
Who will step in?
Places such as Clayville, the Elijah Iles House, and the Grand Army of the Republic - to name a few - are staffed by dedicated people, but the demands can be hard. These individuals strive daily to see the stories of these places told, and that the sites live on for other generations to know where history happened.
It also made me wonder if we couldn't create a youth volunteer program for historic sites, such as what is done with the Henson Robinson Zoo (http://www.hensonrobinsonzoo.org/page.php?8) and Lincoln Memorial Gardens (http://www.lincolnmemorialgarden.org/programsatthegarden.html)? Maybe there is one. Hopefully there is. And if not, one should be created as we need one to train future custodians of these sites.
But foremost, I offer a challenge - take some time this summer to help at a historic site. They need people to help keep them clean and ready for visitors.
And to preserve the property.
Plus you are helping the city by showing our many attractions in their best light to visitors.
The weather was wonderfully cooperative for both the Central Illinois St. Andrews' Highland Games (http://www.central-illinois-standrewsociety.com/), and for Clayville's Spring Festival (http://www.clayville.org).
On Saturday I spent the morning at the Highland Games' Heritage Tent. They had an very nice set up, with banks of computers for individuals to research Ancestry.com. Along with this attraction, author, Wendy Wilson (http://wendywilsonbook.com/), was signing her book, A Touch of Irish, and there was a talk by Tara McClellan McAndrew (author of Stories of Springfield) on, "The Irish in Springfield, Il." She is at
Ms. McAndrew's talk was very interesting, and Ms. Wilson's puppy, Zero, was quite the hit with everyone.
The high point for me was when one young lady, and later her older brother, came to listen to tales. The young lady was probably about 13 or 14, and so for the first round I told, "Tam Lin," and later, when she and her brother came back, I told "The Selkie Bride," and "The Elderly Seal." It is always lovely when teenagers, and young adults, take a interesting in storytelling.
Sunday saw me out at Clayville, and after finding a nice, shady, tree to place my chair I settled to tell tales (and occasionally have saltine crackers with homemade butter).
The 114th Cavalry was in fine form with their western skirmishes, and there was a steady crowd. My tree was right by the main route so I was able to tell my stories to people passing by. I often invited them to come, "Share my shade, the breeze, and a tale."
I wish I had had more time to explore as I could hear the drums of the Native dancers, and caught a glimpse of the array of vendors. But by the time I was through I was just warm enough to be ready to pack up and held for some dinner.
On this All Hallow's Eve I will begin with the most important, though not the most scarey. Last night I attended a fund raiser at the Inn at 835 for the Historic Preservation Fund. It was exciting to hear that plans are in the works for a very well-designed Historic Trails through Springfield, Illinois. It will help to offer a connectedness for visitors between our many beautiful historical sites.
Of course, the Inn at 835 is a marvel of restoration, and it was a pleasure to visit it for the Gala (http://www.innat835.com/). Plus the food is very good too.
Now for more spooky updates.......
The Halloween season would not be complete without offering a pre-show scare at Clayville's Haunted House (http://www.clayville.org). Fortunately the night was clear, and cold, and the attendance was good for the night that I was there.
I even started off by scaring some of the visitors by just getting into costume!
One young lady let out a shriek when she saw something black moving in the shadows. I didn't spoil the moment by telling her it was just me pulling on a warm, black, robe. And, at least, that was not my only shivery offering - the stories gave a few more.
I also had great fun by telling ghost stories at Montvale Estates last Friday. The seniors were really into the spirit of the holiday.
I finished out the Halloween stories at the Dana Thomas House (http://www.dana-thomas.org/). They were again offering their Halloween event, which included docents telling of actual ghostly occurrences, and with me telling more traditional tales.
It was a great evening, and one of the most lovely venues I have been in, since I was situated in the gallery. The audiences were steady and engaged. While I was delighted to have so many interested in my stories I was even more happy to see so many visiting such a intriguing house.
I guess the spirits were content with my stories as I had no unusual visitations, but I know that the docents have had plenty of stories to share with the visitors. Someday I hope I can hear some of those stories too!
And since it is All Hallow's Eve and the discussion has been of ghost stories it doesn't seem fair not to offer one here......
Two men were on a commuter train, with one gentleman reading, and the other looking out the window.
Finally the reader gave a snort of disgust, and said, "I can't believe anyone would believe in such drivel about ghosts!"
His seat partner said, "I take you don't believe in ghosts?"
"No, of course not," answered the reader.
"Too bad," said his companion, who promptly vanished.
I knew it had been a long time since I wrote, but I hadn't realized how long; nor can I blame it all on the scorching summer (though it does explain the last few weeks).
Nor has it been due to a lack of things to do - there have been many an interesting activity. So interesting that I still want to do an overview:
April offered two fascinating events.
The Sangamon County Historical Society
(http://sangamonhistory.org/) offered a bus trip to the C. H. Moore Homestead (http://www.chmoorehomestead.org/) in Clinton, Illinois. The C. H. Moore house is a beautifully restored Victorian home, with exquisite furnishings, and material examples of the life of the time. The curator, Larry Buss, has a wealth of knowledge on the house and grounds, and along with the house's collection there is also the DeWitt County History Society's museum in the basement, three farm museums, a blacksmith shop, and a telephone exhibit.
This fine outing was followed by the Springfield Art Association's "Titantic Tea." (http://www.springfieldart.org/)
They had the Tea Ladies (http://www.thetealadiesinc.com/)back to host a tea party, which offered foods that would have been on the Titanic. The Tea Ladies then offered a brief history of the people on board, and asked that all those attendees of the tea party to read a card (or more) regarding some of the survivors.
With the coming of May came both the Central Illinois Highland Games (http://www.central-illinois-standrewsociety.com/)and the precursor to the heat), and Clayville's Spring Festival (http://www.clayville.org/).
Both were as fun to perform at as always.
The increase in the heat did cut into the performing schedule, with Clayville not having their usual July activities, and the Elijah Iles House (http://www.ileshouse.org/)cancelling their Strawberry Festival, but I have not been idle.
During this time I have decided to launch Tales of Sangamon (http://www.talesofsangamon.com/), which is a website devoted to collecting stories of Sangamon County, and the surrounding area.
I am truly excited about the site, and hope that some will use it so that stories of the area can be documented, since there is so little Illinois lore in print.
I'm not sure much more could have been packed into one weekend, but Springfield and the surrounding area tried. And though there were many other things going on the ones I was involved in were the Springfield Area Highland Games (http://www.central-illinois-celts.org/), and the Clayville Spring Festival (http://clayville.org/home).
With the Games I balance being chair of the Heritage Area and storytelling, but once set up was completed, and Iain Thompson completed his "Introduction to Gaelic," I settled in for some tales.
I put up the "Storyteller is In" sign, and gratefully moved my chair into the tent's shade - for the day (despite ominous weather warnings) was sunny, hot, and windy.
The ebb and flow of visitors offered a fascinating array of individuals.
One couple stayed after a "Introduction to Gaelic" class, and to them I told an Orkney tale about "The Storm Witch." This is a tale of a young woman, named Janet, who was caught in the 17th century witch craze, and was rescued rather dramatically by her lover. It was my first time telling it in public, and I was satisfied it flowed well.
Though I had a moment or two wondering how my audience received it as the lady sat silent.
Finally she said, "My name is Janet." Then she smiled a little, and said, "I wonder where that took place - I got to visit the Orkney Islands once."
After that she told us about what all one should see if visiting.
Along the way I told the Irish tales, "The King Who Was a Gentleman" and "The Wolf's Story."
Of course "Tamlin" was a favorite.
The audience ranged from young to elders, and all in between, and at the end of one tale a gentleman said, "You are the first storyteller I have ever heard, though I have been interested in it for a long time."
So he and his wife told me a little of his days as a pastor, and how they were researching which storytelling festivals to go to. I was able to recommend the going to the Illinois Storytelling website (http://www.storytelling.org/) for their calendar.
It's an interesting feeling to learn that you are the first of your art that an individual has heard, and you hope you represented the art form well.
And when 4 came around my friend, Amanda, and I packed up and headed wearily, though pleased, to our respective homes.
For we both knew we needed rest for Clayville the next day, since we're both involved in both festivals.
The weather was still holding, though the reports remained ominous, and with less to haul we headed out.
I was offered a place in the Broadwell Tavern, which was very pleasant with both doors open to provide a breeze. A fact that was very welcome as I was in my full civil war era gown.
My first audience was a lad about 4 years old, named Otto, and his parents; they stopped to listen to "The Two Foxes."
As folks came to see the Inn they stopped to listen.
As one lady approached she exclaimed, "I knew it was you! I recognized your voice!"
It turns out that she had retired several years ago from Horace Mann, and remembered me from when I performed at the Horace Mann's United Way Talent Show.
She remained for a story.
Others stopped for "Jack and the Gower." (Including another lady from Horace Mann who remembered me from the Talent Show).
And to keep us from being bored the members of the 10th Illinois Volunteer Cavalry (http://www.10thillinoisvolcavalry.com/) changed to cowboy garb, and offered many an entertaining shoot-out. Oft using the Inn as a staging point.
But the thunder rumbling overhead put lie to the sound of their blanks, and soon everyone was squeezing into all available buildings.
If buildings have memories I am sure the Broadwell Inn had a sense of deja vu - for once again the Inn sheltered mothers comforting babes, bored children seeking entertainment or comfort, and equally bored men standing at the doors watching the deluge. How many times did the Inn have such crowd during its stagecoach days?
And from the crowd came little Otto, and who found me watching the rain too.
Who looked up at me and said, "Could you please come and tell us all a story?"
So while the thunder broke overhead and told him, "Michael and Friendly Leprechaun."
It seems both odd, but appropriate, that this blog has come full circle. My first "story" post was "Christmas at Clayville," and again we return to that event. I feel that I have again returned to my storytelling roots.
Oh so many years ago, in another incarnation of Clayville, I sat in one of Dan Keding's storytelling workshops, and I know that last year it felt so appropriate to be telling at the resurrected Clayville (http://www.clayville.org/).
And the phoenix continues to rise.
Last Christmas everyone was amazed that the Pleasant Plains Historic Society had managed to get the site ready for a Christmas event. And we spent a chilly, but loving, day.
This last Saturday it promised to be another chill, and very wet, day. However, this time the Broadwell Inn was warm with a furnace, and gas fires. (Though it does have one working fireplace.)
I was stationed in the parlor, with the gas fire, so I wouldn't have problems with wood smoke. And while most stayed across way with Santa (and were often loath to brave the rain to come to the Inn) some did come over; offering a very friendly audience.
I wish I could have stayed longer, but I was warmed to see that despite the weather people were turning out for the event. Many coming because they wanted to pay homage to how Clayville was rising again to take its place amongst Illinois's historical sites.
I am a Springfield, IL based storyteller with a fascination for how folklore travels, and for history.