Read the latest dispatch from the What's It Wagon

11 Jul 2010 Gettysburg

19 Feb 2002 Olustee

27 Jan 2002 Alafia Mountain Man Rendezvous

19 Jan 2002 Brookesville Reenacment

21 Feb 2001 Battle of Olustee 2001

27 Jan 2001 Alafia Mountain Man Rendezvous

19 Jan 2001 Bitter Weather Makes Reenacting A Chilling Experience

23 Oct 2000 Hunsader's Revisited

16 Oct 2000 The Photographist

04 May 2000 Off to the Ancient City

31 Mar 2000 Cow Cavalry Wedding at Hunsader's Farm

21 Feb 2000 Front Lines at the Battle of Olustee, Florida

12 Feb 2000 Return From The 1840s

19 Jan 2000 Mountain Man Rendezvous, Alafia, Fla.

19 Jan 2000 Brookesville Raid Reenactment Brookesville, Fla.

03 Jul 1998 Mountain Man Rendezvous, Fla.

Report from the front at Brookesville, Fla.

19 Jan 2000

Just a moment to write to you before I fall down from exhaustion. Who ever said that Florida was warm and comfortable in the winter time never slept in an 1857 photographer's "What's It Wagon." The temperature slipped to 38 degrees Fahrenheit one of the nights this past weekend and duplicated it several times more over the three days I was "out standing in my field" so to speak.

I have learned several techniques for keeping as warm as possible. One, maintain an oil light throughout the evening in the wagon and pray that one doesn't immolate one's self. Two, put a gum blanket underone's feather mattress to keep out the dampness, place two wool blankets over one's body and another gum blanket on top to again avoid settling dampness. Wear a night shirt and cap, plus stockings. Pray that nature doesn't call to cause one to have to get out of the wagon in the middle of the night to water the trees.

Business was brisk from first light to "can't see" in the afternoon. I was graciously treated to fresh farm eggs and grits for two mornings by a fine fellow named Ray Eanes who also loaned me his banjo to entertain the passersby and I acted as my own "drummer" as salesmen of the period were called.

My apprentice, Doug Tittle set up the camp each morning with the 18"x20" banquet camera and the 6.5"x8.5" camera with the French rack and pinion brass housed lens with waterhouse stops. Finished pictures were set out to show off our wares. The most marvelous one to be seen at this event was one I took recently of "Three Ladies of Easy Virtue." They appeared only in their underpinnings and would have been a scandal to be blatantly shown to the general public. The gold framed image was discreetly covered with a black cloth and tantalizingly revealed to gents willing to part with a dime for the view.

Meals throughout the day were catch as catch can. Fortunately we had some chocolate chip cookies to munch on. There were several sutlers selling saspirilla so our thirst was quenched. We did not touch the hard stuff that can cause a photographer to lose his focus so to speak.

As troops headed towards the battle I stood on the side lines and hollered out, "Get your image struck before you die! Last chance this side the pearly gates!" I have used this hawking cry for years and it never fails to make the men think and those that can always find time to stand in front of my lens, providing they survive the battle to search me out later.

There were about a thousand soldiers on hand. The Rebels far out numbered the Yankees as per usual so in an attempt to make the battle appear more realistic a number of Confederates "galvanized" to Union blue. Fifty or more cavalry engaged in sword to sword attack before skirmishers emerged on both sides from the woods. The battle on Saturday and Sunday lasted about an hour and a half. The Union remained in charge of the field on Saturday and the Rebels were victorious Sunday.

As I have friends on both sides I walked through both camps calling out, "Preserve the image, err the flesh doth fade! Life is transitory and we are all like shadows upon the stage." Business was steady and all agreed that a picture for the home would be a good idea. Even British observer Lt. Col Fremantle of His Majesty's Royal Army had friends sit for an image.

Today I spent mostly recovering from my previous three days efforts and working with my negatives. I will write more as soon as I am able. Sincerely, your correspondent on the trail, Fritz Kirsch

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