Summer is in full swing at the museum. School is out and the weather is warm. It’s time to celebrate! One of our favorite simple pleasures at the museum is having a party. We will have many types of parties in the summer months—including weddings, parades, picnics, and even a birthday party. Some people might argue that a party isn’t really simple. True. Some parties can seem complicated—decorations, music, food, games, and guests. But they are really made up of many simple things that make us happy!
How about pioneer parties? One of our favorite pioneer parties is the Pioneer wedding at the 1850 Farm. Every summer, museum guides pretend to have a wedding. It shows people how a party looked a long time ago!
This wedding party is held outside under the shade trees. The bride and groom wear their fanciest clothes and the bride will have a bouquet of fresh wild flowers.
After the wedding ceremony, guests might enjoy dancing to a fiddle player. Reels, danced with partners in a long line, were a favorite. In a reel, partners step around each other with a do-si-do and arm swings. Couples take turns skipping down the line, called a “sashay”, while the other dancers clap to the music.
A wedding party, even in pioneer times, might also mean a special cake. This wedding cake is a recipe found in a cookbook written in 1832! It would have been baked over the fire in a special pot called a bake kettle. It is filled with special ingredients that would be expensive in 1850, like sugar, spices and fruit.
Holidays are a great reason to have a party. Walnut Hill, our 1875 town, has a big July 4th party every year. The town is decorated with special fabric called “bunting”. It is red, white and blue.
People play old-fashioned games, like “Graces” and have sack races or walk on stilts.
The town mayor reads the “Declaration of Independence” to celebrate America’s independence as a country. There is a parade in the afternoon with townspeople walking or riding on a wagon.
After the parade, the Walnut Hill Bluestockings play baseball using rules from the 1870s. On July 4th, Walnut Hill has watermelon slices and sarsaparilla. The Tangen House staff bakes a national cake with red, white, and blue layers.
Later this summer, the museum staff at the Flynn Mansion will have a pretend birthday party, the way a wealthy farm family might in the 1870s. At a fancy party, the birthday child would invite friends to come and play games, have special cake or ice creams, and the host child would give party goers little presents to take home. Friends might sign an autograph book to wish the birthday child a happy birthday.
On July 6th, the Flynn Mansion staff spent their morning putting together a lawn party. Picnics were a favorite party in Iowa in the 1870s. For a wealthy family like the Flynns, a picnic meant taking tables and good dishes and even rugs outside to the yard!
Pretty sandwiches, pickles and relishes, and little cakes might all be served. For a farming family that did not have all the Flynn’s extra money to spend, a picnic might be served on a blanket with fried chicken, biscuits, jam, and pie for dessert. This family might bring tin plates to eat on or they might bring their everyday dishes.
There weren’t any paper plates in the 1870s! If a group of friends went out for a picnic, they might each bring baskets of food to share with their neighbors, along with crocks of lemonade. Fancy or simple, a picnic party was definitely a summer pleasure!