Note: For pertinent background information, see A Date with History
So yeah, I went on a bit of tirade last week (see Fare Thee Well Flounders Hall). Lest you all think that I’m sort of radical or possess any political aspirations (I don’t – far from it), today we’re just going to chill, relax, and take another walk down memory lane. I don’t know about you, but I’m taking a bottle of Te Bheag along with me (a whisky local to Skye’s Sleat region, and pronounced “chay vek”, not “tea bag”). Now for a wee dram to get me started…yes, that’s the stuff indeed.
O.K., let’s begin.
It was July 2007. I’d survived my first summer (2006) at the Artifactory, squeezed in a few hours where I could that winter and – miracle of miracles – was offered an actual paid gig come the following June. Under the wise tutelage of Jason MacNeil and others, much had been learned, but above all one thing in particular: Always expect the unexpected.
My work term that summer began with what turned out to be a bit of an epic stint at the Green Park Shipbuilding Museum and Historic Yeo House. Over the course of three weeks, Jason and I commuted daily from Charlottetown to Green Park (and back), a round trip of about three hours. We would then spend our days dodging visitors to the site as we systematically inventoried each and every artefact at both the interpretive centre and the house, in addition to implementing necessary pest management protocols as much behind the scenes as we could (it wasn’t always successful, and I recall one time trying in vain to hide behind a door to a bedroom while someone stood at the threshold attempting to take a picture, only to eventually notice me lurking and get a fright).
One day, not long after we’d begun, Summerside’s Journal-Pioneer sent a reporter up to do a promotional piece for a historical re-enactment event that was to be put on at the Yeo House that would “capture the essence of life in the late 1800s”. On that fateful day, the young male summer student who had been tasked with playing the part of an itinerant peddler had been unable to come into work. For reasons I still cannot fathom, this role must have been an integral cog in the wheel, because the next thing I knew, Jason had taken me aside to quietly ask if I would be willing to act as understudy and play the part. But no pressure – only if I wanted to.
Did I want to play dress up and have my picture taken for local print media? Heck no I didn’t. The very notion ran entirely contrary to my introverted nature. But on the other hand, it was a golden opportunity, a chance to rise to the occasion and be a hero, humiliation – and what would turn out to be ill-fitting garb – be damned.
So against my better judgement, I agreed.
I was given my clothing and shown to a staff washroom in a wing off the second floor. Dropping my 21st century clothing I gallantly struggled to squeeze myself into the get-up of a 19th century peddler. When I finally emerged, my britches were about three sizes too small, my puffy white collared shirt pulled up a bit short on the arms, and my vest was more suited to someone half my size. On my head was something of a jaunty straw hat. I looked (and felt) positively ridiculous. All Jason could do was laugh politely…sort of. Actually, now that I think of it, it most definitely had a hint of uproariousness to it.
Thankfully, the whole process moved quite quickly. All that was required of me was simply to position myself so that I appeared to be displaying my goods to a servant of the household. Suddenly there were two snaps of the camera lens, and it was all over. I wasted very little time in returning to the washroom to shed the costume, and spent the rest of the day and evening convincing myself that I’d photographed well, and that it would likely never see the light of day anyway.
Sadly, I was wrong.
I awoke the next morning to discover that my heroics had been rewarded with an incredibly embarrassing picture printed in the Journal-Pioneer, much to my dismay, but very much to the amusement of numerous relatives living in western regions of the province. Thanks to my mother, who also doubles as my personal archivist, here’s the picture in all its glory. And should you perchance be so fortunate as to own a copy of that very edition, photo intact, I can sign it for you. For what it’s worth.
At least they captured my good side.
Anyway, the whole story has since become rather appropriate, as I recently discovered that my 3x great-grandfather once worked as a huckster (peddler) after coming to Philadelphia from England in the 1850s. So I guess you could say that it’s in the blood.
I just hope his clothes fit him better.
PEI History Guy
P.S. – In case you think I’ve fallen to day-drinking, it hasn’t come to that. I wrote this post last evening (Thursday). But there was most definitely whisky involved.
P.P.S. – Oh, and to those of you who submitted comments to last week’s post, I apologize for not having gotten around to them yet (I will). Unfortunately, I get quite a bit of spambots operating on my site and need to verify the authenticity of each comment before approving it…and it’s been another busy week.
P.P.P.S. – I just noticed that the photograph was printed on Friday the 13th. It all makes sense now.