Thursday, May 26, 2016

AAR: A Country Ramble

Three years ago, I discovered this adorable bed and breakfast in the Kettle Moraine in Wisconsin - a reproduction of an 1840s stagecoach inn, faithfully decorated with antique beds and furnishings (with all the modern conveniences of plumbing, electricity and HVAC). It seemed purpose-built for a semi-immersion event. My mind churned it over for a year and some change before I figured out exactly what I wanted to do. And last week, my dream event came true - portraying pleasure travelers at an inn, going "rambling" during the day and enjoying the lovely inn at night, with a small group of friends who were specially invited.

The Gentleman Friend (aka Mr. Watkins) and I set off on Thursday and arrived at the inn on Thursday evening. The event was to start on Friday afternoon, but we wanted to make sure we had everything set up logistically. We took the opportunity on Friday to go scout out trails - we'd never been in the Kettle Moraine State Forest, so we needed to make sure the trail was accessible to everyone in the group, was interesting enough to keep everyone entertained, and was manageable in cage crinolines and leather-soled shoes. We were lucky - we stopped at the forest headquarters to grab maps and pay for our permit, and we got a hot tip from the ranger about a likely option just down the road. It turned out to have everything we wanted. This was an auspicious beginning! We celebrated with a Tex Mex lunch.

Everyone arrived in the afternoon - a group of several friends from across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. We had a brief meeting, went out for dinner as a group, then settled into our comfortable rooms for the night.

We woke up in 1860. Walking downstairs to the first floor in my wrapper, I discovered Mr. W. already awake and reading in the tap room. He had seen some of the other guests coming down for coffee and tea, but no one was around yet. The morning paper had arrived with plenty of interesting news and advertisements. Slowly, the rest of the guests filtered down for breakfast - cinnamon toast with syrup and jam, berries and cream, and local sausages. The newspapers had arrived, and the innkeeper was full of her own local tidbits - the train was delayed, she informed us. Thankfully, none of us had planned to leave that day. Conversation at breakfast revolved around getting to know one other - who we were, where we had come from, and what our travel plans were. I told our fellow guests, Mr. and Mrs. Warren, that I was visiting with my friend, Mrs. Middleton, and my sister, Mrs. Chapin, on our way to the resorts further north. Mr. W. was there as our escort. The Warrens were in between visits to their two sons, one of whom resides in Madison and the other in Milwaukee.

After breakfast, we retired to our rooms to change for the day. Once we were dressed (several of us in sporting outfits, with walking staffs), we set out to see the countryside. There was a nearby rock outcrop, known to the locals as Brady's Rocks, which we wished to see. We began first by walking across some tall-grass prairies - the sun was warm, but there was a nice breeze to mitigate that. We climbed a hill to see the view over the countryside, with its ridges and "kettles". Some of us stayed at the overlook, and the rest valiantly pressed on into the woods, to see Brady's Rocks, which were quite picturesque tucked back in the woods.

Back at the inn, we had a leisurely lunch on the porch. Some of us retired to rest (as they were traveling for their health, after all) and some of us sat on the porch. Mrs. Pestel read several stories to us, and Mrs. Lucking filled us in on the latest story in Harper's, The Woman in White. The rest of us sewed, or simply lounged about and enjoyed the peaceful afternoon.

In the evening we all sat down for a rustic but hearty dinner, with a delicious custard and raspberry preserves for dessert. Major Lucking offered a few toasts during the dinner. Afterwards we retired to the parlor for a relaxed evening. Some of the ladies played cards, while others read or knitted. Mr. Ackeret, Mr. Watkins and Major Lucking played an old board game, Every Man To His Station, which left them, according to Mr. Ackeret, needing to reconsider their life choices. The moral of the game was, apparently, a bit hazy, since every action required a forfeit.

The next morning dawned bright and clear. The newspapers waiting in the parlor provided interesting conversation about the Democratic Convention and the unprecedented split in the party. As we finished our breakfast (a delicious egg pie), we discussed our departure and where we would be headed next - some of us were headed home, some on to other adventures.

All in all, it was a fabulous event, and everything I wanted. We were able to achieve some experiences that few people get to have, like 1860s hiking, and the opportunity to experience pleasure travel. This event encompassed so much of what I want to achieve in mid-19th century events - finding opportunities in our own backyard to focus on being civilians and discovering through experimentation just what it was like to live in the mid-19th century, separate from the military. For these types of events, all you need is friends who want the same thing and are willing to have fun and work toward an immersive environment.

Have some pictures! They're slightly less terrible than usual!



As a note: the inn where we stayed is Eagle Centre House in Eagle, Wisconsin, between Madison and Milwaukee. It's a really gorgeous place, with a lovely innkeeper who deserves every single shout out I can give.

It's me! With a new dress that miraculously got done and FIT!
The elusive Gentleman Friend, in his 1860s clothes. It was his first event, and we almost killed him, but he survived, despite pictorial evidence. Better yet - he said he'd do it again!