Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Freaky Dancing 

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Picture this. The year is 1774 and you live in Manchester, England. To make matters worse, all four of your children have died in infancy, and you can no longer find in yourself the will to meet your husband’s physical needs.
What are you going to do?
Simple. You emigrate to America and found a colony of an obscure religious sect. You endure brutality and persecution and are dead within ten years, but the movement you dedicate your life to blossoms and thrives. By the mid-nineteenth century, The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, more snappily known as Shakers, has an estimated 6,000 members in 19 different communities. Oh, and your name is Mother Anne Lee.

We spent a few hours respectfully wandering around the Hancock Shaker Village. Shakers believed in racial and sexual equality, the communal ownership of property, and abstinence from alcohol and shagging. During their services of worship, which would sometimes continue for successive days, the ‘Quaking Shakers’ celebrated their faith by singing Shaker hymns, of which there are thousands, giving spoken testimonies, and most famously, dancing like Bez from the Happy Mondays.

Shakers paid their way by producing simple and elegantly designed furniture, which you can guarantee is being plagiarised right now by a furniture superstore somewhere near you.
Broom fans amongst you will know that the ‘common flat broom’ was invented by Shakers, and the Round Stone Barn at Hancock Village was an agribusiness sensation for it’s time. The latter enabled herdsmen to feed a previously unimaginable fifty four cattle simultaneously, while the resulting crap, erm, manure could be swept down state of the art trap doors to a ‘fermenting cellar’ below. Cattle feeding nerds would cross continents to see it in action.

Of course, one of the fundamental issues with any celibate organisation, and this is something you should consider if you’re thinking of starting your own, is the problem of perpetuation. If you don’t breed, you cease to exist within a generation. The Shakers bolstered their numbers by means of adoption and conversions, and although conditions were basic in the extreme, the community offered a better quality of life than what was otherwise available to many country dwellers at that time.

Today the Hancock Shaker Village is a not-for-profit musuem, the land and the dwellings being sold by the Shakers in 1960. It was sad to walk around the remaining buildings, once happy and industrious, and imagine how they once might have been. Girlfriend has given me permission to let you know that she cried.
We were both cheered, however, by a talk about Shaker music, given by a jolly volunteer lady in one of the many highly polished halls. A group of mainly old people in slacks and anoraks, but including us in suitably ‘middle youth’ attire, all sang ‘Simple Gifts’ in a way that wasn’t embarrassing or silly, and then with our spirits rejuvenated, we went on our way to eat more stuff. It was really nice.

We drove on, crossing State lines into Vermont, and stopping at the fabulously named Inn at Woodchuck Hill Farm. It was great, but more about that some other time, hey?

The last remaining Shaker community at the time of writing, by the way, is here . They don’t keep a tally on their website, but the only figure I’ve been able to find - and I suspect it may well be out of date now - said that there were only four remaining Shakers left.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Copyright(c) 2004-2010 by Tim, A Free Man In Preston.
It kind of goes without saying, but this is my blog. I own it.

Slightly daft MP3 disclaimer: All MP3's are posted here for a limited time only. Music is not posted here with the intention to profit or violate copyright. In the unlikely event that you are the creator or copyright owner of a song published on this site and you want it to be removed, let me know.