Last fall, a bunch of friends and I went to the Northville Victorian Festival. My roommate Kimmy, my boyfriend Greg, and I all dressed up in the best Victorian Garb we could come up with for the occasion. It was fun! There weren't very many people in costume, which was a little disappointing, but there were games, lots of food – including my favorite, shaved ice! - and we bought some really yummy smelling soap from a dapper young soap vender. A few of us also painted fairy doors that we now have hidden around our homes. (There are two at my apartment. Think you can find them?)
This year, Kimmy discovered that the village of Romeo, MI also has a Victorian festival. From the website, they seemed to have a very different bend than Northville. Romeo promised people in costume, a special Victorian currency printed just for the occasion that the local shops along Main St agreed to accept, a working blacksmith shop that dated back over 100 years, and a Civil War encampment.
Not really sure what to expect, Kimmy and I donned some garb and headed northeast to Romeo. Kimmy ended up with a more steampunk look this year rather than wear a more historically accurate outfit because it was just too dang hot to wear a high-necked, long-sleeved blouse. My outfit was actually pretty period, just not from Michigan. I wore the Mexican peasant dress that I'd made the week before with a blue skirt that I'd bought last year for various “reenactment” events, and a shawl about my shoulders, plus a paper parasol for shade (boy, was it needed). The least authentic things I wore were my really nifty sunglasses purchased from last year's World Steam Expo, and the bit of ribbon I had around my neck secured by a cameo.
Despite wearing what amounted to two skirts, I was kept quite cool. Both layers were 100% cotton, thus breathed, as they say. Even the shawl was light and comfortable. The suede boots I'd borrowed from Kimmy were quite warm, however, and became a little uncomfortable to wear as the afternoon heated up.
The Romeo Victorian Festival was not nearly as large as the Northville Victorian Festival, nor nearly as well known even to the locals (we had a few people stop and ask us if there was some event going on), but it definitely had a more historical intent. There were many more people in costume, some very beautiful and quite detailed, and the atmosphere of downtown Romeo was already very period without being dressed up for a festival. (We instinctively kept an eye out for fairy doors, but there were none.)
The Civil War encampment was in the park behind Main St, and was quite small, consisting of a few sleeping tents and a large common tent under which men, women, and children all in appropriate attire lounged in the heat, talking, doing needlework, and braiding each other's hair. Men dressed as soldiers stood ready to answer any questions. The park also had a raised gazebo where kids from the local school band played a few concerts throughout the day.
The welcome booth in the parking lot of a BP station offered free bottle of water, a raffle, and a walking tour guide map of the listed historical homes in the area – there were a lot! One of the women recognized Kimmy as dressing steampunk and asked if were going to World Steam the following weekend. We answered yes, and she said that she would try to be there, but her husband refused to go with her, though the man she gave the evil eye to was dressed quite appropriately in a suit and bowler.
We stopped for lunch at the Antique Bank Cafe, a – you guessed it – cafe built inside an old timey bank. It was also an antique store. You can see the old vault complete with door, and view a few pictures sprinkled around of what the bank once looked like when it was still operating as a bank. I chose a chicken salad on croissant and Kimmy ordered a wrap. Both were delicious, and the lemonade was most excellent on such a hot day!
We ended up taking the tractor-pulled trolley for $1 each for a tour of the area. It stopped at various points of interest, like the historical society headquarters located inside a home restored to look as it did when it was built, and the blacksmith shop, as well as pointing out various historical homes and buildings along the way and dishing out random facts about Victorian life, such as that it was considered rude at the time for a man to give up his seat to a lady because the seat might be warm from his bum. Though how she could feel it through all those layers of clothing, I'm not quite sure.
At the blacksmith shop there were not only three groups of blacksmiths working away, two on what I will call pop-up forges and the third inside in the actual shop (though he was taking a break to answer questions about the stuff in the shop), as well as a group doing vintage handmade rugs and another with a bunch of vintage bicycles. One gentleman rode around on one of those bikes with the ginormous front wheel and little tiny back wheel. To get it going, he had to push it, then quickly hop up onto the seat via a little step that jutted out near the little wheel and immediately start peddling. I was impressed. I'd like to see a woman in Victorian garb attempt this. There was a lady doing needlework that answered questions about the bikes and explained the history of the bicycle, which I found quite interesting.
All-in-all, a rather small festival, but interesting, and we did happily spend the entire afternoon there. On our way out of town, we took a detour in the car to follow the walking tour guide and gawk at all the beautiful old homes from the comfort of air conditioning.