October 2012 Newsletter

New Product! VEGETABLE DYED COVERLETS!

UVeg dyed coverletp to this point, it has been catch as catch can with overshot coverlets, with the least amount of choice given to the actual fibers and dyestuffs. We are not offering 2 panel overshot coverlets, with hand piecing up the center.

The first in the series is pictured to the right, with others sure to follow. Up to now, one had to take out the machine stitching to correct the accuracy. These hand finished pieces will not require a single stitch to make them authentic.

 

 


Customer of the Month

Thomas Steele 

Thomas SteeleThomas started in the hobby in 1995 at his father's side in the 17th Michigan after a family vacation visiting Gettysburg. His father, now in his 70's, has long gotten out of the hobby but remains his inspiration for helping to get started,

In 1997, Thomas joined the Navy as a submarine radioman, staying in for 6 years. When he got out, he found the campaigner style of the hobby more appealing. In about 2007, he helped establish the Sally Port Mess with other like-minded pards; Jeremy Bevard, Sean Collicott and Guy Purdue.

Thomas not only enjoys delving into the period manuals, but the 19th century material culture in general. He prefers the events that are removed from any modern intrusion and has had the pleasure to assist in planning several adjuncts at local and national events. He enjoys helping his pards to design vignettes and scenarios, through specific and focused research, that attempt to leave an emotional imprint on event participants.

One of his favorite events is held at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. His participation in this event helps facilitate a functioning regimental headquarters and, in the future, may feature a commissary scenario with functional bread ovens. The museum goes all out and is extremely supportive of the reenactors who attend. The Henry Ford allows the exterior use of a historic Maryland plantation home and stages personal items as well as items from the collection to enhance the interior atmosphere of occupation by Federal officers.

Although much less familiar, Historic Fort Wayne Detroit, is another favorite site. Being in an actual Civil War fort makes it much easier to get the experience and feeling of being under arms as a battalion in drill or as an individual soldier. Assisting with rehabilitation and restoration projects with the Historic Fort Wayne Coalition, as well as living history events, participation at Fort Wayne Detroit is helping to bring stabilization and public awareness to this often forgotten site.

When asked what he would like to see in the hobby, he voted for less politics. He would rather see the focus shifted to more accurate scenarios; more widespread study of man, method and material cultures rather than the back biting that seems to dominate many aspects of this hobby.

Truer words were never spoken.

.

 


Vegetable dyed JeansVegetable dyed jeans!

Truly homespun fabrics, in vegetable dyed, in both jean and satinettes!

These 100% vegetable dyed fabrics, display the same banding found in original Confederate Uniforms. They are all avaialable at the links below:

Brown on Natuaral Veg dyed satinette

Dark Grey on Indigo Jeancloth

Brown on Brown Veg Dyed Satinette

 

New Kersey and Blouse Flannel!

 

New KerseyThrough several of my contacts in the apparel industry in New York, I was able to find several local mills that were not only capable, but willing to undertake our projects. The one what we are dealing dealing with is in the fourth generation, and were contractors for the US Army during Worl War II.

We have analyzed several pieces of original kersey, and we have some great results. In both the kersey and blouse flannel, the visibility of the weave is paramount. At the start, we are going to have analine dyed, but in the future we will be adding vegetable dyed versions as well.

On the horizon is a line of reproduction World War II fabrics, including the elusive filament herringbone rayone lining found in SS uniforms.

 

Ridley

Ridley Creek Presentation

Competing with a downpour, we did an hour and quarter presentation on finding a good reproduction at the Colonial Farm in Ridley Creek Pennsylvania. The event generated close to $5,000 in income for the museum, which was a new record.

We wanted to thank all that attened!


 
 Plain Weave Jeans

Upcoming projects

Plain weave jeans!

We have just received samples of ten differnt colors of plain woven jeancloth, which has been found on several Confederate pieces, as well as linings of Federal overcoats.

All of the samples pictured are vegetable dyed, some yarn and some piece dyed.


Phone Interview with Joe Covais



One of the first real pioneers in accurate reproductions, Joe Covais work in the 1980's and 90's was way ahead of its time. Joe lost his eyesight as a result of diabetes, and has not only remained optomistic, but has continued to make contributions to the preservation of military history.

This telephone interview was conducted on September 30th, 2012, and despite the tremendous challenges he had to overcome, he didn't convey a single word of self pity or bitterness. He is really an inspiration to all of us in many ways.

 

 

Joe CovaisWhat got you interested in reenacting?

"When I was a junior in high school, I found out that there were people in the N-SSA who were wearing Civil War uniforms and firing period firearms. In 1971 we moved from Long Island NY to Florida, and I attepted to start my own N-SSA team. This was the closest that I came to reenacting at that time. Shooting clay pigeons was okay, but I wanted more. In 1975 I graduated high school and moved to Atlanta where I met Spence Waldron. In the fall, I went to a living history at Kennesaw Mountain, and Spence introduced me to John Henry Kurtz. Spence and I were invited to John Henry's house, and were putting on some of his repro uniforms. As I recall I was wearing a repro forage cap with a 6th corps badge and late 19th century eye glasses. John Henry had a nice collection of original uniforms on display".

Was your family involved?

"No, my family was not involved. My interest was expressed at an early age, especially on the heels of the Civil War centennial in the 1960's. I didn't have any  familial ties or ancestors in the War.

Somewhere I have a school notebook from the 1st grade, and I had the words "I love the civil war" in the margins. As long as I can remember, I was intersted in the Civil War, I don't know, maybe it was the tv show, Johnny Yuma. I do remember that there was a book that my mother bought me at the A&P Supermarket, "The How and why wonderbook of the Civil War".

When you joined the N-SSA, did you make your first uniform?

"Yes. The first thing that I remember making was a J.T. Martin sack coat that was in kit form, and was advertised in the Skirmish Line. It was 2 1/2 yards of fabric and some muslin. The first N-SSA unit that I was in was the 2nd Florida Infantry. When I moved to Atlanta, I joined the 12th Georgia Volunter Infantry, and I sent away for a pattern for a Confederate shell jacket, which was made of brown brushed cotton. I later bought a frock coat made from a World War II army blanket. This was much better than the warmed over Sear Roebuck gas station uniform. My interest was always with the Federal impression. After I left the 2nd Florida, I moved to Atlanta and got tied in with Spence Waldron and Sherman's Bummers, which was a unit that always went Federal."

Speaking of Sherman's Bummers, I know that Steve Adolphson was a true expert in 19th century culture was one of their officers. Did you meet Steve Adolphson there?

"Yes, I met Steve Adolphson, but I was pretty young at the time, maybe 17-18 years old. I really didn't have any direct contact with him except in a general reference as Lt. Adolphson, who was much older than I was.I was only a wide eyed kid."

I have a copy of your old New Columbia catalog, and it was quite groundbreaking in that it contained a lot more 19th century material culture detail when compared to other sutler catalogs from the period. What was the influence for this focus?

"The N-SSA was basically costumed shooting. Although we were using orignal weapons, that is as far as authenticity went. Spence Waldron and Sherman's Bummers picked up the idea of being a living incarnation of a Union Soldier from the skin out, with 19th century pocket change and no modern underwear. Oftentimes, I thought to myself "wow, it could really have been like this". There were no modern intrusions. We saw it as our responsibility and privelege accurately portray these Civil War soldiers. I did march from Sharpsburg to Harper's Ferry-I utterly trashed a pair of Federal brogans, BUT...I actually made it. I didn't know if I could have been in a skirmish or a battle, but that march was a tremendous sense of accomplishment. That was however a time in my life where I could throw myself completely into the hobby of being a Federal soldier. I really didn't want to knuckle under and take on the responsibilites of 20th century life.

I was also very lucky in that both Spence and Stevie Waldron were good to me, and Spence took me under his wing. When he went into the army, he left his job at Kennesaw Mountain, he left his collection of original items in my personal care. He left me with an original sack coat with artillery 1st sgt chevrons, 2 forage caps, a frock coat, haversack with original hardtack in it, mounted trousers, mounted overcoat and artillery shell jacket. I was incredibly fortunate, as an 18-19 year old, to have access to his private collection. When Spence got out of the service, he wanted his collection back".

How did you get to New Columbia from this point?

"When I was in high school, I startd making stuff. I had no interest in sports or any other things that the other kids did. I was ordering things out of the Skirmish Line since 1973, and continued making things off and on for several years. In 1981 I started selling things under the name New Columbia, and moved to Cincinatti from Georgia. I met Bill Combs who convinced me to make the move. I was born and bred in Long Island New York, and moved to Florida, hoping to lose the "New Yawk"accent. I actually decided to move when I attended the big Civil War show put on by the Ohio Valley Collector's association. I got an apartment with Bill in downtown Cincinatti, and between us we didn't have 5 pieces of modern clothing. Our closets were a mix of Civil War and WWI German. I spent my days going from auction to auction, buying up pieces of period clothing.

Bill worked at WLW television and was able to get us a costuming project for the movie "the rebel slave", the story was a dilemma of a black slave, between his loyalty to his kind master versus his opportunity to become free during the Gettysburg campaign. At that time, I also met Larry Strayer and Gary Carpenter. I was also approached by a guy, Roger Steffen, who offered me a full time job making costumes. I wound up making all kinds of stuff to further the "Steffen empire".

How did you get into World War II items?

"It was a connection through Bill Combs. My big break into World War II came through a judge in Indiana named Osborne who was a world war II collector.I don't remember his first name, but he was Terre Haute, Indiana, and had a large garage filled with tons of stuff. He had vehicles, leg wraps, boxes of World War II German waxed ankle boots dated 1944, piles of SS Camo. In 1981 or 82, I bought two bales of refugee clothing that he had found in Rotterdam; they were banded in steel. The majority of them were worn out 1940's German civilian clothes, but 20% of them or so were german uniforms that were "civilianized". For example there was a little kid's raincoat with hood made from a Wehrmacht shelter tent. There was a woman's jacket which was made from an assault gunner's wrap. When I took another civilian jacket apart, the interfacing was taken from an SS tent. There were also dead lice in the seams. I took these apart and was able to make patterns from them."

How did you make patterns from these and other items?

"With these civilianized uniforms, they had no collector value, so I took them apart and made patterns from them. For things that I couldn't take apart, I would lay them on the table, and put a sheet of paper underneath them, and prick holes along the seams, and then trace over these holes with a pencil.

Getting back to the World War II items, I started out with Civil War, and through Roger Steffen, I went into World War II. I threw the idea of making high quality uniforms to him, and he bankrolled it. He liked the idea of giving this new company a corporate/Wall Street sounding name, like Smith Barney and came up with Murdoch, Covais and Stone. He said that the name stone at the end was like a fist pounding on the table.

Roger was a very strong personality, and instead of being an investor, I wound up simply working for Roger. Although his main income was militaria, he was using this company as a vehicle to fulfill his dream of having a bar with exotic dancers. At this time, I was making the costumes for Roger's dancers, taking apart his girlfriend's bra and hot pants to make patterns for ones made out of gold and silver stretch lamee, rabbit fur and rhinestones. As odd as it may seem, it was this experience that I was able to later make period ladies' clothing.

I did this for a year to 18 months, and it started to wear on me. I was working exclusively for Roger, 7 days a week and barely meeting my rent. At that point, the entire business was his; he rented an entire second floor of a buliding in downtown Newport KY, I took out the only thing that belonged to me, which was my sewing machine and left.

Where did you go from there?

"This was 1981, or late 1980, about the same time that John Lennon got shot. It was through Bill Co
mbs that I found out about a caretaker's position for the Agnew House, which was a state owned historic house in Illinois. The house was partially built in 1860, and completed in 1871, and was under the care of the state department of conservation, and cared for by a guy named Dan Malkovich. It turns out that he was the father of the actor, John Malkovich. Dan Malkovich was apparently quite a big shot in state politics, and got the state to pay for the restoration. Dan Malkovich had died of heart attack, leaving the state with noone to care for the house. It was through Bill Combs' connections to someone in his rev war unit, the 42nd Royal Highlands, that I was given the position. As long as I took care of the building and grounds, I could live there rent free. It was at that time that I started doing business as New Columbia".

Where did you get the idea for the name New Columbia?

"It actually was a resurrection of the song, Columbia the Gem of the Ocean, and also the idea of the new republic. I wanted this line to be men's and women's, and all the while I had been collecting original examples of all this stuff. I probably had one of the best collections of hand sewn pre-civil war clothing at that time."

How long were you there?

"I was there for about 3 years. This is also the first time that I had hired employees, mainly local college girls from Carbondale. Most lasted 3-5 months, and a couple had lasted for two years. This location was pretty remote; the nearest neighbor was 2 miles away. During one winter there was a severe ice storm, and I was unable to leave for two weeks, and I realized that this situation was not going to work. Bill Combs had a line on another house in Charleston Ill, and at this period of 1983-1991 that New Columbia became a real business, with FICA, bank loans and so on. We had the entire basement of a house that we converted to a factory. The town got wind if it, and clamped down on it. We were forced to move to another location Charleston that was zoned for this. It has originally been a post office and grocery store. I used the old meatlocker to hang patterns.  They were all drafted on heavy tagboard in individual, graduated gsizes.This was the last shop.

In 1991 I moved to Vermont and this is when I started to realize that I was having problems with my eyesight. At the end of 1994, the business had been hobbling along, and the recession at that time had taken its toll. My original plan was to drive back every six weeks, and with my eyesight diminishing, it became impossible. With me going blind, and being an absentee owner, the business started to go to blazes. Ultimately, the bank shut us down. I hated to see it end. I tried to sell it, but couldn't find a buyer.

What did you do from that point?

As my eyesight faded, I spent the next two years making a living selling off the antiques that I had acquired over the years.From there I found out about a job at Middlebury college, and was told that since I was legally blind, I should go on disability. It turned out not to be paying much, barely subsistence level.

I realized that I had to do something else at this point. I was basically starting from scratch at this point. It took me 7 years, but I was able to early my Master's degree in clinical psychology in 2003. As my eyesight had been failing, I started writing articles again, for military images and the museum trade. I had been researching the 121st NY with the idea of writing a regimental history. In 1994 I was approached by the Butternut and Blue press to edit the original regimental history. I added photos, an index, endnotes and a section of errata. My original research files on the 121st NYV were passed on to Sal Cilella, who later went on to write a new regimental under the title of, I think, Upton’s Regulars.

By 1998, I had gone completely blind, but started graduate school in 1999. I tried to get a job in psychotherapy, but at the time, I would have had to hire a medical secretary to fill out the forms Since this would have cost $18-$22 per hour, and I would only make $26 as a blind psychotherapist, it didn't make sense. My step daughter suggested that I turn to teaching. I was dead set against it, I was not going to stand up there and have people gawking at me.I was pretty desperate, and applied to teach 2 sections of intro to psychology, and found out that I really loved it.

In during my internship in 2001-2002, I worked at the Vermont State school for highly delinquent adolscents. I stayed there through 2007-2008 writing evaluations for these troubled youths. I left because I was teaching at the college, and also getting referrals for the state divison of the blind. I was doing both teaching, and doing psychotherapy for the blind.

I understand that you have just recently published a book. Can you tell me more about it?

"The title is BATTERY! C. Lenton Sartain and the Airborne GIs of the 319th Glider Field Artillery" I had started to write articles as my eyesight got worse, and in 2003, a friend who publishes Military Trader asked me to sit down and write some articles for him. I was able to put together several pieces, mainly from memory but also with the help of text to speech computer software. I published articles on reversible parkas, on World War I and II American equipment as well as the development of winter headgear. Unfortunately since most Civil War documents are written in long hand, I do not have the ability to do the research.

In 2004, my father died, and I had intended to write about his service in the 82nd airborne division. Unfortunately, all that I had to go with was a few horrible voice recorded interviews that I had made on cassette tapes. In searching one of my father's safe deposit boxes, I found the names of the guys in his glider battery, and I was able to find a lot of them through the internet. Some of them had some really amazing stories to tell.

I had originally planned to turn this into an article, but after 6-8 interviews, I realized that I had enough information for a book. If you are really into the details of American Airborne stuff, this is the book for you. I put in as much detail as I could; and the average armchair historian would probably want to take out 150 pages, to make it into a barnes and noble story. This was published by Createspace, and contains 175 never before published photos. There are pictures of gliders in flight, knocked out German tanks, pictures taken at Concentration camps, Italian prisoners of war working as stretcher bearers for allied prisoners. I think my favorite photo is one of my dad standing arm in arm with a Soviet officer in front of his tank.  It is a lend-lease Sherman with a soviet gun mounted in the turret.The entire book has only two signal corps photos, all the rest are from private collections. There are also parts of history that you don't read about; from the massive race riots in England between black and white american soldiers, to firefights between Russian and GI's at the end of the war. I did the interviews between 2003 and 2007, and several of these vets came to me saying that the doctor said I only have 1 year to live. Some of them wanted to get something off of their chest, and others had things that still bothered them since the war."

(editor's note, it is available at the link below on Amazon.com)

BATTERY! C. Lenton Sartain and the Airborne GIs of the 319th Glider Field Artillery


What are your plans for the future?

"It is funny, in that New Columbia produced over $1.5 dollars worth of reproductions during the course of business, yet, I didn't keep one single piece. I would love to find or purchase some of our old items, so if anyone who reads this interview, and is willing to part with them, please contact me at my e-mail address jsc319@gmail.com.

I am going to keep teaching and doing psychotherapy on blind people. I am also going to keep letting people know about my book, which has already sold more than 1,000 copies on Amazon. I get a real sense of accomplishment between teaching and "shrinking" people. I am a pretty driven person, and it was only out of boredom and the need to pay the rent that I discovered teaching, and found that I love it. No matter what life throws at you, I feel that you have a responsiblity to make the world a better place than when you came in.

Looking back on my life, I consider myself lucky".

 


Check us out on facebook!

Facebook image



 


We have current updates, and weekly (mostly) video blogs, discussing various topics of the hobby. Check us out when you can, and feel free to contact us for more information.

NJ Sekela on Facebook