Friday, June 19, 2015

Mid-Atlantic Air Museum - WWII Weekend

My family and I were excited to make it out to the WWII weekend up in Reading, PA a couple weeks ago. We made the mistake of leaving around 9 am for the 2 hour drive and got there in the thick of the heat and the crowds. Once we finally made it onto the shuttle from the parking lot to the airfield and got into the event, it was non-stop 1940s awesomeness! I seriously didn't know where to look or go first. (Warning! Lots of pictures ahead! haha!)

Right past the gate, we walked into this little French village set-up. No one was speaking French that I could hear, but there were American soldiers everywhere including in this little restaurant. Inside it was filled with reenactors and I think they were actually dispensing drinks in there!

In the French village there was a soldier's barracks, a auto shop/house that was decked out to the hilt with period household items. I had a little time warp moment because the radio was playing '40s music as well. So awesome. There were quite a few outbuildings that I think are there permanently.

Cafe Napoleon 

Inside the auto shop/house. I love the stack of Coke bottles.
See the radio high up on the shelf? It was awesome that they had
'40s music playing on it!

Besides the French village, they had, a German camp (I'm pretty sure), a Soviet camp (located next to the machine gun shooting range! - another freaky time warp moment hearing the machine guns going off in the background the whole time), and a Japanese outpost.

Japanese outpost.
I love that they stuck bamboo into the ground to add to the "atmosphere".
They had bamboo stuck all over the place, actually. So fun!

There were dozens upon dozens of original, restored airplanes, even a Japanese plane. Because it's an airfield, they had them taking off to fly and land all day long. It was really cool! The highlight was when this airplane took off loaded with WWII reenactor paratroopers and they parachuted out of the plane!
"The Tinkerbell"

You can see the plane at the bottom of the photo.
Look at all those parachutes!

B-29? I can't remember now, but this airplane's engines had the most
incredible sound. I could listen to that plane all day, which is pretty weird for me!

There were so many tents set up in different camps. There were quite a few soldier's shower facilities throughout the camps, i.e. a line of 55 gallon metal drums filled with water and scrub brushes complete with pipes/heaters to heat the water. I don't know if they were just for show or functional use!

hee hee!

Can you read the sign??
Sheesh! :-o

I loved seeing all the reenactors dressed up. Some of the outfits were "typical" 1940s, but there were quite a few women that put a lot of effort into their outfits. I saw quite a few in uniform, a couple dressed in trousers, but most in various styles of dresses, hats, and sunglasses. I even saw one woman dressed as a pin-up girl which was a bit awkward...

I was especially thrilled to see kids dressed in '40s clothes. I'd love to go next year with our whole family dressed 40's style!
They look like they're having fun.
I'm a bit jealous myself! haha!

I absolutely love that he's got a ukelele.
I'm sure there was some authentic 1940s flirting going on here! haha!

"Female Personnel Only"
I think this was a nurse's tent. When I peeked inside I was so thrilled she was painting her nails!
How apprpriate!

I was saving the best for last. :-) My absolute favorite part of this event was "Main Street" put on by the local Victory Society. They did a fabulous job! In each section of this airplane hanger they had a different set-up. In the first one was an entire house laid out including kitchen, bathroom, living room, dining room, and bedroom!
Part of the kitchen

I didn't get a picture of the whole kitchen, so this is the one taken by the Victory Society. You can check out their facebook page here.
(taken by The Victory Society)

I love the stove! So cute!

Impressive bathroom!

Okay, it's pink, but I love this couch!
We recently bought a couch that looks very similar to this, just with different arms.
Oh, and it's not pink! ;-)

My kids enjoying a marble racing tower.
I really appreciated that they had some 1940s toys out to play with.

Next door was a 1940s "department store" where they were actually selling vintage 1940s clothing, books, magazines, jewelry, etc. (I bought myself a 1942 McCall's magazine. Yippee!)

Next to that they had a whole radio drama stage set up with vintage mikes and everything. They had several performances going on during the day. We walked by as they were performing a Superman show. So fun!

Next door to that was a movie theater. The tickets were free, so we reserved our tickets and came back for the show. They were selling popcorn and drinks to support the society and showed I think 1/2 an hours worth of film shorts including cartoons.

Last on Main Street was the gas station! I was so impressed with this. The reenactor/member of the Victory Society had me sit in the vintage car while she led my son around and explained how 1940s gas stations provided full service. She had him act out wiping down the car, checking the oil, checking the air pressure in the tires, and fill up the car with gas.

They had a replica of a gas ration card & stamps on the seat that I handed to them. She explained how the gas ration stamps worked and that he had to make sure my car registration # matched the one on my ration card so I wasn't trying to steal someone else's gas. They were really strict about that gas rationing - it was no joke! They even calculated out the cost of gas together and I paid them with money that was also on the seat (which was real! haha!). The whole thing was awesome, and I know my son is going to remember that for a long time. Five stars for that wonderful lady taking the time!

Gulf Gas Station. I learned a lot about gas ration stamps, as did my son!

And finally, one of the coolest finds of the day - a woman with a tent, amidst the sea of reenactor's tents, that was teaching people about V-Mail. I had just been doing research about V-Mail for my book, having learned about it recently. So, I was excited she had put this together! She had original V-Mail you could look at along with the forms they would have had to fill out, envelopes the mail would come in, and that super cool poster. I really wanted to chat with her longer, but we had to hurry over to our movie at the theater. Then I couldn't find the tent later. :-( I really wanted to talk to her some more or at least get her contact info. Oh well. 

V-Mail tent

Original V-Mail.
I'll be doing a post about V-Mail soon, I think!
It's really fascinating!

This event was really amazing. I'm sure it was so huge partly because it's the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. I really didn't know what to expect when we headed out there, but I was blown away!

(One thing I did not expect, though I shouldn't have been surprised, was the depictions of scantily clad women (pin-up girls) on so many of the airplanes, hanging in the reenactor's tents, at the vendor's tents, and even in one of the film shorts they showed. I realize it's one of those things about that time, but still it was a shock, especially having our kids with us. So, something to definitely be prepared for if you have the chance to go to an event like this.)

Oh, and bring your own toilet paper! Nearly all the port-a-potties were out. That was terrible, but there really were so many people there. We ended up walking all the way back to our car because the line to the shuttle back to the parking was so, so long. It was quite the hike, but our kids were little troopers! :-)

I definitely look forward to going again, and boy I wish Reading, PA was closer! I would so join up with that Victory Society! :-D

P.S. Note to self for next time: save up your spending money. The vendor tents had amazing stuff. I was totally drooling all over the place. *sigh*! haha!

A very sunburnt me chilling inside the super awesome old car.
I totally wanted to drive that thing.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

John Brown Museum - Harper's Ferry, WV

We went on a homeschool field trip with some friends of ours last Friday to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. I've been wanting to go for some time - it's only an hour away! Our friends are studying the Civil War, so we just tagged along.

Harper's Ferry is a small river town tucked into the Appalachian Mountains. It's so beautiful! The town used to have a United States military ammunition storage (which is why John Brown raided the town), but now it's a sleepy little tourist town capped by the beautiful Catholic church at the top of the hill. Lewis & Clark also, incidentally, used Harper's Ferry as a place to stock up on supplies before heading west to explore.

Beautiful Harper's Ferry!
There were a lot of gnats though. Ugh!

A view of the river from the train bridge which you cross on foot to
get to the town. The bridge also serves as part of the Appalachian Trail.

One of the places we visited was the John Brown Museum. It was quite interesting. I learned a lot about John Brown that I didn't know, which is a lot considering I knew very little! I'm not really going to go into what I learned about him, but I was taken with a few elements of the museum that I thought I'd talk about.
John Brown Museum

The first exhibit that struck me was how they treated these photographs. I liked how they put them in frames - almost like a mini gallery or a portrait wall. It helped them to stand out.

Map! I love huge maps, and I loved that I could walk right up to this map and get real close to it to study. There was a plaque off to the side that had more details behind the meaning of the map. Cool.

I almost moaned when I saw these gigantic computers. The dreaded technology! At first I thought they didn't work, but my son and his friend figured out how to turn on the monitors. While they are large, they were touch screen which were responsive and you could choose various people that participated in the raid or secretly supported John Brown and read a brief bio about them. I did like that, though after a time the monitors would go to sleep and it was difficult to turn them back on. That was annoying, but in the end I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

The part of the museum that impressed me the most was the moving of visitors through the museum via the video presentation. It came in three parts - one video in each room. So, after the first 5-6 minute video, you moved into the next room where the next video started in 4 minutes and the same on into the third room. The photo below is of the 2nd room.

During the video, it showed on three different monitors behind that large, black glass. You might be able to see these strange lines... well, overlaid on the glass are 2 different maps of Harper's Ferry. Little green and red dots glowed and blinked during the video to indicate where in town things were happening. I thought that was very helpful and pretty cool.

Also, as John Brown's daughter was talked about, a light shone on the girl at the stove to the right, and the same for the stash of guns at center, and the two men on the left. The part I was unsure about is that on the audio there were frequent gunshots and these bright white lights overhead would flash in time with the gunshots, simulating the muzzle flash. That was a bit startling and could be scary for little kids.

Overall, I was super impressed with the video presentation. I liked how it catered to people who wanted to browse and read with time in between the videos, as well as for those who were more visual/auditory with the video presentation. It definitely kept things interesting and not static at all!

2nd exhibit room of the John Brown Museum

After the John Brown Museum we went into the tiny, but nicely done Lewis & Clark Museum.

Lewis & Clark Museum

Landmark Sign

I really liked this window exhibit. It does keep everything at a distance from the visitor, which can be bad in some ways, but there's nothing like peeking through a door in a window! So, this worked. There's an intimacy there that's different than a regular exhibit, almost like you're spying. I also liked that they had a sign with a numbered key and a photo of the tiny room identifying everything inside and its importance to Lewis & Clark as their supplies.

That is one of the most important things - having things labeled and giving them relevance, otherwise it becomes pointless without meaning.

Visitors are able to get up close and personal with a replica cross-section of one a collapsible boat Lewis & Clark experimented with. It leaked, so they weren't able to bring it with them and they ended up burying it.

I loved seeing this "shadow house" on the side of this building on the way to the gift shop. I wonder if something had been there?... This building also contained a tiny museum about the industry of Harper's Ferry. A large part of the room contained full-sized static machinery used in the the manufacture of rifles in the town with a video explaining the process. It was quite interesting!

After all our museum hunting, we had some ice cream, hiked to the top of the hill to see the Catholic church, the view, and Jefferson's Rock. It was a wonderful day and a nice little field trip not too far from home. If you're ever in the area, I'd recommend a visit.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Things Were So Cheap Back Then!... or were they?

If ever there was a myth about history it would be this: Things were dirt cheap back then.

Were they really? 

And this is where I rub my hands together and cackle with geeky glee. Just like we shouldn't judge our ancestors solely based on current standards and social norms, we shouldn't judge prices of yesteryear by today's dollar value.

I'll give you some examples.

(And don't worry. I'm not going to get super technical or get all crazy on the math, because Math is not my strongest subject. I'll fully admit I got my math-savvy husband to help me remember the equations I learned from my college economics class.)

I was looking in one of my Health-for-Victory meal planning guide from 1943. They stated that if you followed their meal plan, you could expect to spend between $14 - $16 a week on groceries. You're probably thinking, WOW! I'd love to pay $14/week for groceries! But what's the value of 1943's $14 in our current year of 2015?

Here's how you figure it out: Take the dollar amount in 1943, multiply by the average rate of inflation (that would be 3.22%), to the power of the difference in years (2015-1943) and you get your answer of the true cost in today's dollars. This is what the equation looks like:

$14 x 1.0322^(2015-1943) = $137.13

In other words, $14/week for groceries in 1943 in today's dollars is $137!
For the other end of their claim, let's do the equation again using $16.

$16 x 1.0322^(2015-1943) = $156.72

So, if we were to follow the Health-for-Victory meal plan today, we could expect to pay on average $137 - $157 a week. I think that's a pretty average price for today. (I'm judging by here in Maryland, which is a bit pricier than other states). So, not really that much cheaper.

Of course this doesn't take into consideration the cost of food itself and how it's changed over the years (especially meat!), but it gives us a good idea of how much they were spending a week on groceries based on the 2015 dollar value. If you want to figure out the true cost of 1943 food in today's money, just apply the price of the food with that same equation!

This is about as fancy as I get with math, folks, but math like this is fun when you can apply it in such a cool way to history!

Another example is gasoline. Oooooh! Let's try it!

We went to a huge WWII event this weekend which I'll post about soon. They had this neat little gas station set up. The lady working there said in 1944, gas cost 15 cents per gallon. Amazing! Only 15 cents??? Well, let's figure it out in terms of 2015 money.

Bust out the equation... (Notice how I change the year to 1944)
$0.15 x 1.0322^(2015-1944) = $1.423/ gallon!

They had a better deal on gas back then, that's for sure!
Speaking of which, gas was rationed, but not because they didn't have enough of it to go around! It's because rubber imports were controlled by Japan and were cut off. Without rubber for tires meant they needed to discourage people from driving by rationing their gas!

So, now we know that even though things appear to be dirt cheap "back in the day", we can't take those prices at face value. Do a little math and we can find out a more accurate picture in today's terms. I call that a pretty awesome application of history!

(You can do this calculation with wages as well. In case you want to go have some fun...) :-)