A friend of mine had worked for many years as a replica “Plimoth Pilgrim” at the replica “Plimoth Plantation” in Massachussetts.
I went on a visit and observed this strange way of life. For my friend, it was adopting the persona of one of the Pilgrim women. She had to get it down to a fine art. When a tourist came into her totally authentic Pilgrim house and asked “Can I take a photograph of you?” she would look up and ask “What is a photograph?” These “Pilgrims” were totally “In Character”. It was impressive. The first time I visited, I went into one of the cabins and observed a rat bobbing its head out of a hole in the corner of the room. I pointed this out to the Goodwife and she yelled for her boy John to “Bring in the cat”. That day it was 103 F in the shade and her authentic fire was burning.
Some six months later I returned to New England to see the “Fall” colours and that was a dream of delight up to Killington in Vermont via New Hampshire and then back down to Massachusetts where I was invited to be a Pilgrim woman for a voyage around the Bay in the “Shallop”,
the replica of the original boat the “Pilgrims” used to go fishing. Getting dressed up was a very odd affair. I had to strip down to my knickers. No bras were allowed. No make-up and no jewellery.
The first garment worn was a coarse linen shift, right up to the base of the neck, down to the wrists and to the ankles.
Next on was a very thick and coarse woolen “Kirtle”, a skirt tied at the waist and then, over that, was an equally thick woolen dress, up to the top of the bosom, down to the wrists and the ankles. Another garment I was offered was a “Bum Roll”. Something else to make ones “Pilgrim’s” hips look seriously huge. I declined. Oh, and last but not least, a linen coif to cover the head and, most particularly, the ears. Ears were considered to be very sexually arousing back then.
Suitably attired, for my next trick, I had to climb out backwards through one of the gunports of The Mayflower ll and down a period correct rope and wood ladder into the “Shallop” below.
I’ve never been particularly good with heights ever since I suffered a severe panic attack 2kms underground in a goldmine in S.Africa (claustrophobia can and does lead to vertigo) but, suffice to say, as I backed out of that gunport and looked down, I knew that if I slipped and fell, the water between the Mayflower ll and the “Shallop” would swallow me up and sink me like a stone.
That didn’t happen and the male Pils helped me into the “Shallop”.
We had a marvellous sail around the Bay that evening and, once out of sight of all of the tourist boats and their clicking cameras, our voluminous skirts came in really useful as the beer, grub and stuff the male Pilgrims had stashed on the “Shallop” and we girls had hidden, made it a proper party.
© Barbican 2019
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file