I have officially logged about 160 hours since May 17th at the park, and I feel as if the biggest and most important parts of those hours have been yesterday and last week.
Tuesday I worked the FV shift, which meant I opened at the fee booth and closed at the visitor center. This also means that it is my job to walk down the stage road at the end of the day and lock up the Kelly house and the jail, and to send any visitors who may be down looking at the Stacking of the Arms site, on their way to the car. The funny thing is, I have worked in retail since I was 17 years old and my favorite part of the day, especially when I worked at Subway, was closing the store and send people home. However, when I am at the park, I always feel awkward telling visitors we’re about to close. I love Appomattox so much, so it kind of sucks when people are there, wanting to know the story and you cannot share it with them, because it is time for them to leave!
The nice thing is, often times those same people are staying in the area for the evening, so they know to get to the park first thing the next morning.
Then, one of the more interesting things that happened was Tuesday morning. My fee booth shift was about to end and a lady pulled up and tells me, “I was just driving along, and I saw the signs for this place but I had no idea what it was so I stopped. Can you tell me what happened here?” Stuff like that always catches me off guard, and it very rarely happens. The reason for that being is Highway 24 is not a very common road for traveling, and certainly not the most used way to get to Richmond, that would be 460. 99.9% of the time, if people come to our park they are going out of their way, because they want to be there! I had a lot of fun though getting to tell the lady what happened there, because again, I very rarely tell anyone anything new when it comes to “Well the surrender happened here!” People know that part usually-I am normally having to tell them that no the surrender did not happen at the Appomattox Courthouse, it happened in the village of Appomattox Court House, both two very different. The lady was excited when I told her that the war ended there, she paid the admittance fee and headed on in. Stuff like that, while bizarre is also kind of exciting, because as a budding historian it is my job to share stories about our past with people, and this was not only sharing our past, but sharing brand new information! Rarely do you get to say 151 year old news is “new.”
Last Thursday, the day before I started my living history program, I caved and tried calling Dr. Sackett at his office. Dr. Sackett is the great, great, great, grandson of Charles Sackett, Jennie Peers’ little brother. The one whose mystery I am trying to solve about serving in the 63rd TN? Well, I think I had mentioned before that I tried emailing Dr. Sackett a few weeks ago and I received no response. After a few weeks of waiting and trying to reach out to other venues, I called his office where he works. I left a message with one of the nurses and she said he would call me back soon. Well a few days go by and I still have not heard from him, and finally Monday afternoon I got a phone call from him. He tells me “Well I don’t really have a lot of information on the family”and I felt my stomach drop. I was scared that I was about to go back to step one! However, he then continued on to say, “But one of my cousins, I think she has a family history…” So Dr. Sackett ended the phone call with promising me that he would have his cousin, Ms. Wood call me. I talked to Myna that afternoon and I may or may not have hit the jackpot with her. She informed me that Charles’ youngest daughter Alice, wrote a family history about living in Appomattox County and about their family! There may be new information on the Peers’ in that book!! PLUS she informed me…SHE HAS A PICTURE OF CHARLES AND HIS CHILDREN. It is not the same thing as having a picture of Jennie, which I would die if I ever found one, but I am SO excited because this family history may hold a huge piece of the Sackett family puzzle for me! Ms. Wood goes out of town this weekend, and when she gets back next week, I am going to call her and try to catch up with her. She has promised me a copy of the book and I am hoping I can get a copy of the photo she has of Charles and the children. I am overjoyed and literally counting down the days until Ms. Wood gets back into town so I can call her. The best part though, came in the form of our historian Patrick Schroeder and his reaction when I texted him and told him about it. His response was “That is great work, I can’t wait to see it.” Which was just a huge compliment to me, because Patrick is the man when it comes to Appomattox and the village’s history.
So yesterday was my second official day of doing living history. Yesterday was also a very unique and interesting day…because we had four people doing living history programs, myself included. As a result, I was only scheduled to give one talk and it wound up being my roughest talk to date. The reason for this started out in the form of the fact that there were only three people who wanted to hear my talk…so I went over when one of the rangers brought the group out and I met him in the stage road and then I noticed one of my friends, who was an intern at the park last summer, and I had not seen him since then, decided to pop in for a visit at the park unannounced. I realized very quickly if I have no warning, and if there is a small enough group where no one can hide, it is just not great if I know the people I am talking to. I was nervous, couldn’t remember the stories I wanted to tell, the ones I did remember I didn’t tell them in order, and the best part?! I didn’t introduce myself or talk about Jennie’s children or the fact that they had a former slave living with them who was their slave before the war and Millie stayed with them after the fact!
Thankfully, the people that did come on the talk, and a whole family wound up coming and sitting on the porch to listen, they seemed to enjoy it and the one man actually asked me a question (about something I am supposed to mention in my talk, but forgot!), but I was grateful that he asked me about Lafayette Meeks.
The other interesting aspect about yesterday was that one of the other living historians…was none other than Millie Craig, the Peers’ former slave. I had no idea how any of that was going to play out, and I was not sure if Ebony, who plays Millie, was going to want to have interactions with one another or not. However, it turned out to be one of the best things we could have done, because we played off one another when Millie took groups out, and when visitors would come up and ask questions. We both sat on the porch of the Meeks store together most of the day and chit chatted, then the fun part was when visitors would walk up and we had to turn off the modern day language, and try to continue our conversation in 1865 speak.
Of the visitors who came up to me or both of us, here are the most interesting ones I had:
This first one happened when Millie was upstairs or somewhere. A male visitor and his wife walked by me and said “Your slave gave a great talk” and I just stared at him, because yes I’m Jennie Peers but being told “my slave” just made me so wildly uncomfortable, but I simply replied, “Sir, she is not my slave anymore.”
We also had another couple come up and say “So which of these buildings are original?” I looked from Millie to the visitor and said “Well sir, I am not sure what you mean.” He goes on with “Well they said the McLean house was reconstructed and the Courthouse burned down” and at this point I just stare at Millie because I am struggling to think of what to say and she goes “Well sir, I don’t know nothing about the courthouse burning down but there are officials inside the courthouse who can answer any questions for you.” Then finally the visitor gets it and goes “Oh right, you’re supposed to be in 1865” and he teased us about being from the future so I asked him if he had drunk an entire cask of alcohol at the Clover Hill tavern.
Another visitor asked if there were any tours going on, to which I replied, “Sir, I am not sure what you mean” and he replies “Well there’s a man over there” and he pointed at another historian’s program happening at the tavern and continues, “I just was not sure if anything was going on.” And so I told him, “Well sir, I am not sure about all of that, but that over there is Mr. Hannah and he is talking to some curiosity seekers about fighting in the war. You’re more than welcome to go and listen to his stories if you like” and the gentleman just smiled at me and said, “Good job for not breaking character.”
My last favorite guest interaction was when a visitor asked me what house the surrender happened in. So I said, “Over there in the home of Wilmer and Virginia McLean” and the man goes “Which house? The red one or the white one?” So I stand up, utterly confused because the only house over there is McLean’s and I realize he is pointing to the summer kitchen and the actual house. So I stared at him and I said “Well the red house of course, it would be quite silly if General Lee and General Grant surrendered in a kitchen!”
It was cold yesterday, weirdly enough, so I wore a cloak most of the day to protect myself from the rain and the wind.
Thanks for checking in, see you next week!