Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Christmas for a Dollar...

2014 Christmas Exhibit at Old World Wisconsin
- Photo by Anne Danko

By 1880, many Americans had already been decrying Christmas as overly commercial for years. There were those who chose to celebrate Christmas elaborately with all the baubles the Victorian era could gloriously muster, but for many Christmas still celebrated modestly. Below is an excerpt which was printed in the Milwaukee Sentinel on December 20, 1880 and now found in the Wisconsin Christmas Anthology edited by Terry R. Engels and printed by the Partridge Press in 1989.

Who authored the piece is not recorded; but it stands as an example of the frugality of Wisconsin and the Greater Midwest. It is that same frugality which has become a stereotype and is often the butt of many jokes but is also the frugality many of still know and have learned to embrace…

Christmas for a Dollar

2014 Christmas Exhibit at Old World Wisconsin
 - Photo by Anne Danko
 “First the tree, fifteen cents secures a splendid one. Somewhere in the shed or cellar is an old box, just the thing to set it in. Ten Cents buys eight good candles that can be cut in two pieces. A pin stuck stoutly wherever a light is wanted, will hold the taper well in place. Five cents gets a pound of corn for popping. Then purchase twenty cents worth of stick candy with a quarter pound of raisins (five cents) to sprinkle with it. Gauze to make little bags in which the candy could hang on the tree takes another five cents. Now, forty cents still remains, and with it can be purchased a whittling knife with two blades (fifteen cents) for a boy and a set of toy dishes (twenty cents) for a girl. The remaining nickel can be used to buy a brightly colored Christmas card, and the children’s joy will be complete.” --Milwaukee Sentinel, December 20, 1880

Merry Christmas! May your stick candy and popcorn be plentiful…and your family and friends be happy and healthy!


2014 Christmas Exhibit at Old World Wisconsin - Photo by Anne Danko

Engels, Terry R. A Wisconsin Christmas Anthology. St. Cloud, MN: Partridge, 1989. Print.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Pranks and Practical Jokes...

Photo by Jim McGuigan 9.6.14
Pomeranian Weddings are filled with merriment including pranking the Bride and Groom.  This can include practical jokes and/or attempts to get the Bride or Groom drunk. Often these pranks can happen days before the celebration or anytime during the 3 day wedding celebration.
The Polterbend was the climax of the pranks.  The day before the wedding friends would gather around the bride’s home making noise and general ruckus while banging on pots, ringing bells, hollering and whistling. Pranks could include stuffing old quilts down smoking chimneys, stole her clothes or removed wheels from the family’s wagon/carriage.

One of the tamer tricks was to wrap a box of broken china in very decoratively. A bridesmaid or friend would present the bride with this gift and as she reached for it, it would drop to the ground shattering. We chose to represent this prank because it was safe in a museum setting BUT I didn’t expect the pomp and circumstance between my brother and sister in presenting me with the gift. ….I began to have doubts as to what was in the box.

Only days earlier, my bridesmaid, Sandy had an unfortunate moment at home.  A shelf in her china cabinet became loose, fell and sent china crashing everywhere.   Although the loss of sentimental china pieces is never a happy moment, it did provide opportunity to fill a box with broken china. I had believed this to be the contents of the box until I stood on the back porch that afternoon and watched my brother and sister dance around and ceremoniously present the gift to me. The thought had seriously crossed my mind that the broken china had been replaced with something much less innocuous. After all, many interesting even nasty things can be found in a farmyard….
I was relieved when I found the gift truly contained broken china!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 6th, 2014 – Our Wedding

Photo by Cara Spoto of the Racine Journal Times
After more than a year of planning, Karl and I stepped into a different chapter in our lives on a gloriously, beautiful early autumn day at Old World Wisconsin!  The sky was as blue as it can be.  The gentlest of breezes blew.  The sun shone as brightly as possible.  Old World Wisconsin provided the perfect 19th century backdrop.   BUT… It was our family, friends and public guests that truly made the day a colorful, festive 1880 Wedding celebration! 
I will let the photos speak for themselves. I have given credit on the photos wherever possible. We only have the photos that friends have sent me or posted on Facebook. I am sure there are more somewhere...
Photo by Julie Peterson
My brother, Jimmy Danko, was incomparable as the Hochzeitsbitter (Wedding Inviter). As my dear friend, Kathleen, stated, "He was born to play the role of the Hochzeitsbitter".
Photo by Erica Laabs
As tradition has it, I arrived to the ceremony by horse drawn carriage... or rather, in Old World Wisconsin tradition, horse-drawn Omnibus accompanied by my Bridesmaids and other dear ladies...

Photo by Becky Bross
I might be biased, but my father looked so dapper walking me down the aisle...
Photo by Kim Shrake

The vows...
Photo by Ashlee Peterson
The Kiss... Okay, soooo this feels a little weird posting this photo myself, but then I remember this whole ceremony was in public with 650+ people. ...and if we did it all over again, we would do it the same way! Thank you Old World Wisconsin and Thank You to everyone who attended. Karl and I hope you enjoyed spending the day with us and at Old World Wisconsin!!

Photo by Sara Kaphengst

Our Families...

Photo by Ashlee Peterson

The Bridal Party...
Photo by Erica Laabs
Wonderful Wishes arrived from all over Old World Wisconsin...

Photo by Michael Cannon
There will be other posts with wedding details in days to come...

Visit Old World Wisconsin, the largest Living History Museum in the United States which focuses on 19th Century rural life.... http://oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org/
If you would like to read more:

Mukwonago Chief: http://www.livinglakecountry.com/mukwonagochief/news/couple-wed-in-unprecedented-ceremony-at-old-world-wisconsin-b99346913z1-274432341.html


Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Romance of Rural Architecture - The Frederich Koepsell House...

Some couples dream of a magnificent Cathedral with stained glass windows glistening in the sunlight as the backdrop of their wedding ceremony.  Others dream of a sandy beach, lapping waves and the scent of sea air. Our dream is that of a mid-19th century half-timber farm house flanked by hops poles and animal pastures. This dream will come true for Karl and me on September 6, 2014. 

Specifically, it is the front porch of a fachwerk or half-timber house built in the late 1850’s by Friedrich Koepsell.  Mr. Koepsell likely apprenticed in Pomerania as a carpenter prior to emigrating from Pomerania with his wife and children. Upon arriving in Wisconsin, he would establish a farm and continue to build Pomeranian style fachwerk structures for neighbors who desired buildings in this style as opposed to an American style structure.


The skill required for this style of home is learned over the course of years. Apprenticeships would last for typically 7 years.  Afterward a term of journeyman was often required before a level of mastery was reached. The location of the timbers was predetermined prior to the erection of the walls. These timbers were numbered and documented with their appropriate location for each piece. Filling the spaces between the timbers were stucco or the more expensive brick.

A glimpse of the garden...
Think of this beautiful home as a Mr. Koepsell’s model home.   It displayed his skill very well to others in the neighboring areas. It is important to note.  At the time, this would not have been viewed as a stylish home. The architectural style of this home is that of rural Pomerania. It was an anomaly in the United States and overly ordinary in Pomerania in its day.  We, however, are exceptionally fortunate this building was saved, restored and on display for all of us to appreciate.

Visit the house Friedrich Koepsell built at Old World Wisconsin. http://oldworldwisconsin.wisconsinhistory.org/

Douglass, M., & Perkins, M. (1978). Unpublished Old World Wisconsin Interpretive Plan Koepsell Farm.


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The American Twist...

Most commonly celebrated after the harvest in November or even December in Pomerania weddings were three days of music, food, drink, dance and games…

In the new country, American and Pomeranian customs would blend, change and morph into an occasion somewhat different than a wedding in Pomerania.  This fact doesn’t make a wedding in a community settled by Pomeranian immigrants ordinary or less special. Instead, the blending of the two cultures makes for an occasion which perhaps is more unique and indicative of the customs most closely held dear to the bride, groom, families and the community themselves. It also makes for interesting albeit challenging research.  By blending the two cultures, both Pomeranian and Victorian American, the combination of options becomes almost infinite. This is where our wedding begins…

In every conversation, the Hochzeitsbitter or Wedding Inviter dominates the conversation.  In truth, this colorful character is symbolic on multiple levels.  He is the indicator of the impending nuptials. He IS the social media prior to the age of telegrams, telephones and Twitter. A farmer or artisan doesn’t need to know how to read to understand the verbal invitation of the Hochzeitsbitter. He is a gentleman very special to the bride. He is also symbol of celebration…after months of work, the harvest is complete and there is time for great merriment.  Next to the Bride, he is the most visible symbol of a wedding. The tradition of the Hochzeitsbitter in his top hat and all his merriment crosses the ocean and finds a role in the Pomeranian settled communities into the mid-twentieth century.
Well, that was the easy part... The Hochzeitsbitter.  Next up...Koepsell House...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Traditional Festive Atmosphere...

Among the Pomeranians along with other German speaking peoples and other ethnic groups, weddings were a community event. These festive events were most often held in the late fall after harvest when the food selection was plentiful and variety was at its best.
Days are cool, comfortable and after long weeks of harvesting and preparing for the winter, family and neighbors are ready for a festive atmosphere.
Already months in advance, the Bride, Groom and their families would be begin making or altering special clothing to be worn by the Bride and Groom.
Now, it is time for neighbors to join in the celebration. In the coming days, before the wedding there would be baking of special sweet treats, cooking special savory dishes, gathering flowers for decorative displays, often times the carriage or wagon of the wedding couple would be decorated.

  Traditionally, approximately a week or two prior the wedding, the Hochzeitsbitter or wedding inviter would travel the village in his colorful garb inviting extended family, friends and neighbors. Being paid in coin or drink by the invitees, this would signal time for wedding preparations to start. The celebration would often last for 3 days.

Large luncheons and dinners would be prepared with a wide array dishes and treats. Invited guests would lend a hand bringing delicious treats for feasting and partying . Good natured pranks would be had while the beer, schnapps and wine flowed. Musicians would bring their instruments to fill the air with music and dance. Laughter, colors, music, food and fun would start the couple off on their life together….

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Bride, The Groom ….and The Hochzeitsbitter…

Hochzeits…what? Hochzeitsbitter... 

 The Inviter, known in Pomerania as the Hochzeitsbitter, plays an essential role in German weddings.  This colorful character with his trailing silk ribbons and his often flower festooned cane is traditionally the Bride’s brother(s), but it is also common to see the role filled by her future brother-in-law(s), uncle or close family friend.  He has no need to blend in to his surroundings for his job is to travel the community on horseback….by the 1880s by carriage…and invite members of the community to the nuptials. In return, for his invite he receives payment either in coin or in drink…or both.  

In keeping with the great importance of the community, the Hochzeitsbitter is as important as the Wedding Couple and Minister.  So central a figure, the Hochzeitsbitter still appeared at  least in a portion of weddings in strongly Pomeranian settled communities in Wisconsin.
As you can imagine with his red vest, top hat and silk streamers, the Hochzeitsbitter is not a sullen gentleman. His goal is to spread the joyous news to the community while having a bit of fun along the way.
…and you ask what the uninvited guests do? Well they crash the reception of course banging pots, ringing cowbells and creating a general ruckus and playing what is called Katzen Musik (Cat music).

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Time to for a Wedding...

Front Porch of the Koepsell House
By now, many of you are now aware that Karl and I after …ummm…let us just say several years, have decided to officially tie the knot...and most of you will not be surprised that we are getting married at Old World Wisconsin. The date we have set is September 6, 2014. An 1878-80 style Pomeranian-American wedding will be held in the German area of Old World Wisconsin in Eagle, Wisconsin.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Old World Wisconsin, OWW is a living history museum owned by the State of Wisconsin, and run by the WI State Historical Society. In short, OWW traces the architecture and socio-economic conditions of some the ethnic groups who made up the landscape of rural 19th century Wisconsin.  It is not uncommon for living history museums to have weddings as special events – albeit often these weddings are mock weddings. This event will not be a mock wedding. It is, indeed, our official wedding to be held in public as a special event. Weddings in Pomerania were most commonly community-style events.  This tradition would often continue in the rural areas of Wisconsin populated by Pomeranian immigrants. We wish to continued this tradition. Our guests will be made up of both public and private guests, and welcomed with opened arms.

The Koepsell House set in 1880 at Old World Wisconsin

Karl and I have had many people ask why we have chosen a Pomeranian-American wedding since neither of us are Pomeranian…at least as far as we know.  The answer is not a simple one and not one made lightly. It is a many layered answer. The initial reason traces back to a simple conversation that we had back in the early 2000s. I do not remember the topic of conversation nor where at Old World Wisconsin I was working that particular day. What I do remember is a topic about some of the buildings at Old World. Karl made a side comment that he “always thought the front porch of Koepsell {house} would be a perfect place for a wedding. “Hmmm…” I thought to myself and filed away that piece of information for possible future use”. I also thought to myself, “That is a gorgeous building”.

When we had finally established that we would like to get married at OWW, it was not immediately thought of as a public wedding. We thank Dawn St. George, our former director, for letting us believe that it was possible to have a wedding at OWW, and there were many incarnations of which all would have been wonderful.  As for the public aspect, turns out we were both thinking it, but unsure of how to broach the subject with one another. One day a couple years ago, must have been the right day because we mentioned to each other at the same time. It would be fun, meaningful and hopefully, a successful special event for OWW. It was then that we circled back to that conversation all those years ago regarding the perfection of the Koepsell House’s front porch.  Additionally, OWW had never held a Pomeranian-American wedding mock or otherwise. It was an easy and our first choice.
As for the likely reality neither of us is of Pomeranian descent is not important. We are indeed very proud of our Polish, Slovak, German, Alsatian, Lithuanian and Danish roots, and nothing can lessen that pride. That said, in working for over 2 decades at Old World Wisconsin, we have adopted the represented ethnic groups at OWW as our own. For in truth, these ethnic groups have been part of us for the vast majority of our adult lives - whether we speak of Norwegian, Finnish, Yankee, Irish, or in this case, Pomeranian. We have incorporated many their food ways, traditions and history as our own and the fact remains, as lifelong Wisconsinites they are our own as they are every Wisconsinite’s.  It is the spirit of these ethnic groups that have laid the groundwork and shaped our modern State of Wisconsin.

Knowing that ultimately this would be OWW’s decision, we did spend time talking about all the possibilities and buildings as wedding sites. Any of them would have worked; all of them would have been beautiful, but the Koepsell House’s front porch with the Pomeranian influences would remain first choice.  The beautiful Koepsell Farm made up of several Pomeranian influenced buildings including 3 fachwerk (half-timber) structures will be our backdrop.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I will pick different aspects of the wedding to highlight in this setting...and promise to try to keep them brief.



Sunday, May 4, 2014

1993...Is It Really Over 20 Years?...

Yes, it is over 20 years ago that I started at Old World Wisconsin, the largest living history museum in the Midwest.  …and today I start another one.

It was spring of 1993. I had called Old World Wisconsin regarding openings for historic interpreters from the payphone outside of my apartment in France.  A couple weeks later and still jet-lagged from just returning from my stint at EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris), I believe I was late…or nearly late to my interview as I could not find the hidden driveway before the railroad tracks.  After spending months in Paris and being the ripe old age of 24, I was certain there was not any way my interview for museum work could be down this winding driveway amid the forest edge and wild marshy growth…  I parked the car in front of this old cottage-like looking house. “This can’t be right”, I thought.  As I walked towards the door, I must have looked bewildered. A kind gentleman greeted me at the door and I started a down a path I could not have envisioned…

Oh…the things I have learned over 20 years…far too many to list all of them here. I will however share 20 of them with you…

20.   Do not be afraid to try something out of ordinary. You might be surprised that it is really a good fit.

19.   Being a lady is hard work. There are often many layers and one may never slouch.

18.   Wearing 19th century clothes REALLY is fun…even if it is muddy.

17.   Washing muddy 19th century clothing is not fun.

16.   Old houses WILL tell you stories, but you have to know how to listen to them.

15.   Wisconsin is a beautiful place… Don’t take for granted where you grew up. It IS a special place with an important story.

14.   When learning to cook on a wood burning cook stove, the first important lesson is learned when you burn something you are baking beyond recognition.

13.   Cleaning the pan after you have burned said food with 19th century style tools is the second important lesson learned.

12.   To truly understand national history, one needs to study local history.

11.   When working at a living history sight, ALWAYS expect the unexpected. You never know when you may find oxen in your garden.

10.   There is something very magical when you witness someone “seeing” history in a different light for the first time.  Suddenly, the past is not merely something one reads in a book…it is all around us to be experienced with all of our senses.

9.       Coffee made on a wood burning cook stove is one of the best things in the whole world.

8.       Some of the tastiest meals are prepared on a wood burning cook stove, and it does not take 20 years of practice to get the hang of it.

7.       Ladies, never believe that women did not influence history. Studying our roles in society, the tools we used, the clothing we wore, the food we prepared, the relationships we maintained, and the activities we chose as a pastimes help define human history. Without our story, only ½ the story can be told.

6.       Children can be engaged and entertained by history. Let them experience it.

5.       Working in Living History is a gift. The ability to teach and to learn is equal and incomparable.

4.       Material culture is not a novel subcomponent of history. It is essential to understanding the past. With that understanding, we are able to understand the present and ourselves.

3.       The modern world is a good place to be.  Ultimately, modern plumbing makes drinking coffee made on a cook stove much more pleasurable.

2.       When speaking with the public, always remember, you never know with whom you are speaking. Influential people come in all shapes in sizes. They may not always be celebrities, authors, politicians, professors, or someone dressed in fancy clothes…they may be person standing right next to you. Listen and observe. You may have the opportunity to see the world through different eyes.

1.       You will not become wealthy working in Living History. You will become rich beyond imagination with experience… In these 20 years, I have forged some of the most important and long lasting friendships and relationships in my life.  The museum and my experiences there have forever influenced and shaped my life.  ….for that, I am DEEPLY and FOREVER grateful.

Yes, as soon as I shook the hand of Marty Perkins, that kind gentleman who greeted me at the door, I knew I was at the right place. I knew I belonged at Old World Wisconsin; I did not necessarily know that I would still be saying that after 20 years.