by Paul R. Spitzzeri
It’s cool and there is a chance of showers today and tomorrow, while the end of the week looks to be pretty warm, so we were very fortunate to have excellent weather for the Victorian Fair this weekend. What was also excellent was the quality of the program, the presenters and demonstrators, and the work put in by my colleagues on our paid and volunteer staffs.
Yesterday (as is usual for our festivals) we had more visitors than on Saturday and our visitors appeared to have had a great time interacting with so many options, incuding music, interactive activities, lectures, demonstrations, house tours and more.
Community groups are becoming a larger part of what we do and, following on the heels of Saturday’s performance by the Hsi Lai Temple Orchestra, we hosted the Workman High School Dancing Lobos yesterday. Not only is the school a namesake one (bearing the moniker of William Workman High), but it is also one of two schools located in the City of Industry. Meghann Craft and her students did a great job showing some Victorian-era dances and it was especially great to see our professional dance demonstrators sit and watch and then interact with the students afterward, even inviting them to other events.
Another fun performance element is the recurring appearances of Dr. Malatesta, a snake oil salesman of the highest (lowest?) order. Performed by Walter Nelson, who has been a collaborator of ours for years, the good (bad?) doctor, bellowed through a horn to attract attention and then used his mellifluous (there’s a good Victorian word for you) style of oration to pitch his product: Kickapoo Indian Sagwa, an actual 19th century “medicine.” Of course, it just so happened that each time Dr. Malatesta gave his presentation, there was someone in the crowd who’d had great success with the product and gave a glowing testimonial. Whether many of our visitors handed over some of their hard-earned cash for the “renovator” that promised to cure all but gullibility has not been recorded!
Speaking of gullible, the subject of spiritualism and seances was deftly and entertainingly worked over by Misty Lee, a magician at the Magic Castle who has enlightened our guests for several years ago on the topic. Misty is not only highly knowledgeable, but has a great manner of speaking that’s really engaging for her audiences. She traced the rise of seances and spiritualism from the late 1840s through its peak later in the century and down to the 1920s, noting the men and women who, sometimes in very strange and salacious ways, purported to show proofs of their ability to make contact with the spirit world and alluded to modern practitioners (who, however, have technology as an aid!) Yesterday was my first time hearing Misty and she delivered as advertised, for sure.
In the courtyard of the Workman House, there were a number of organizations sharing their approaches to our regional history with our visitors. These included Heritage Square Museum and Grier-Musser Museum, both in Los Angeles; the Long Beach historic sites of Rancho Los Alamitos and Rancho Los Cerritos; the Drum Barracks Civil War Museum in Wilmington; our local friends from the La Puente Valley Historical Society; and the Kizh-Gabrieleño Band of Mission Indians.
Near the other courtyard, this being at La Casa Nueva, there were demonstrators showing guests about lace-making and calligraphy, while at the top of the driveway separating the Workman House from La Casa Nueva were some expert quilt makers showing their wares. Natalie Meyer, anothr long-time collaborator, conducted fashion shows featuring Victorian undergarments (“unmentionables” is one term that comes to mind) and had a dress-up rack to boot!
All of this was in addition to music from the Philadelphia Quadrille Band and associated dance demonstrations; enticing and entertaining talks from Chef Ernest Miller about Victorian-era food; pie-eating contests; a petting zoo; vendors selling Victorian period and period-inspired wares; our own Vital Apothecary; house tours; and more. So, there was plenty to see and do during the weekend. Come early October, we’ll have our “Ticket to the Twenties” festival, which provides an interesting array of comparisons and contrasts to the Victorian period.