What are your fees?
Most honoraria are negotiable, especially for groups that do good work and not-for-profits with whom I have worked in the past. A general guideline is $275 for straight lectures and $350 for those in costume. Tasting History events last two hours plus prep time and clean-up, so they are billed at $400-500. I do not charge for travel within the Chicago area. If your location is more than 20 miles from my home (basically Wrigley Field for mapping purposes) I appreciate re-reimbursement for fuel. Travel time is billed at $25 per hour. Cooking classes require food ingredients and you may either provide those yourself based on a list I send you, or I will shop and present you with receipts. Most classes can be staged for $50-$100 in food costs, depending of course on the number of attendees. Please be aware that the Tasting History events are intended to demonstrate food and food preparation techniques from a specific era and the food served at the end should be considered a tasting, not a full meal. I am more than happy to prepare full meals, themed cocktail parties, etc for a separate fee structure. Please contact me for further information on that. The Dining or Tea à la Downton classes are $600 plus the cost of food. A variety of menus for à la Downton are available here. Yes I can take Credit Cards!
How do we book you?
It’s very simple. First look on the Schedule here on the website and see if I’m free the day that you want me to come. If I am, click here to be taken to the Presentation Request Form or send me an email to email@example.com or phone me at 312.771.2400 and ask me to hold the date for you. When you email or phone be prepared to give me the day, time and location of your event. I will send you a contract which you will sign and send back a deposit. When the deposit is returned, you’re booked and on the day we have agreed I show up. That’s it!
Why were no men allowed at Speaking of Unmentionables: The Rise and Fall of Ladies’ Underwear? Also Known As “The Tempest in a D-Cup”
I received a great deal of press early in 2011 regarding my desire to present this lecture to all-female audiences. I have been doing this talk for nearly 20 years and only recently has the gender issue become a real question. So, here is my explanation. This programme is often presented for ladies’ groups such as Questers, Hadassas and Women’s Clubs; groups that are nearly always exclusively female anyway. These groups sometimes contain ladies ‘of a certain age.’ Younger people really do not understand the marked differences between the genders in earlier generations. Women are very comfortable discussing all manner of issues in an all-female crowd. However, they become uncomfortable if a man is present. I once kicked the Rabbi out of a presentation, and the ladies admitted at the end that they were glad I did. I am always happy to present this talk to any co-ed group that is comfortable with the topic and respectful. I have done this and it is an excellent learning experience for everyone. It is never my intention to discriminate against anyone. This is a lighthearted talk on a slightly sensitive topic often presented to people who might be uncomfortable in a mixed crowd. Nothing more. Anyone who wants to hear my talk can tune into the podcast that WBEZ did.
Who is your favorite character that you do?
That is a bit like asking a mother who her favorite child is. I love them all. Mamie Eisenhower and Carry A Nation are my newest characters so, like babies, they are getting more of my attention right now.
This question had a very different answer before 2010 when I developed Mamah Bouton Borthwick. I did a tremendous amount of serious research, not to mention soul searching to take on Mamah. She has become almost a part of me and I am enjoying watching her grow. As she is a ghost, she arrives on the day of her death and describes how her life passes before her eyes when she is murdered. She was a fascinating, done-wrong woman who has lots to say and much to teach.
However, the answer used to be; no question, Miss Hoffmann. She is actually the original first person interpretation I developed. I borrowed her name from the actress Isabella Hoffmann who worked in the Resident Company at Second City when I worked there in the 1980s. When I developed the Little Schoolhouse on the Prairie programme I wanted a good German name for the character, so I borrowed hers. My Miss Hoffmann is a spinster school teacher, a rare thing in the 19th century, but the only way I can explain still teaching school at my advanced age. She would have boarded with a family in her school district or might perhaps have her own small house. With no husband, she would have been at the mercy of the community for her livelihood. In addition to really enjoying teaching reading, writing and, ‘rithmatic to kids, I very much enjoy the social history lessons Miss Hoffmann enables me to relate to adults.
How did you develop Mrs. Potts?
Many years ago I worked at a fabulous living history site, Volkening Heritage Farm at Spring Valley in Schaumburg. The Program Coordinator there, Jill Chwojko-Frank was doing a program on washing and ironing. The farm had reproduction Mrs. Potts irons. Jill asked me, “Do you know who Mrs. Potts was? Was she a real person?” I didn’t know but, typical Ellie, I had to find out so I started researching her and discovered that she was an amazing woman who patented an invention at the age of 19 in 1871. Jill asked me if I could ‘work her up’ for a presentation at the farm. Steph McGrath, a colleague and fellow museum curator had a copy of Mrs. Potts’ trade card in her collection and sent me a color copy so I could see what she looked like. I was very nervous to open the envelope, if she had been a tall blond with blue eyes I would have been in real trouble. I lucked out, as you can see. Since we interpreted the 1880s and I was about the age she would have been in 1885 at the time, I decided to do her in that time period. But as will happen, I got older so Mrs. Potts had to too. I now do her most often in 1893. This is wonderful for the Chicago area audiences because Mrs. Potts did have a booth at the Columbian Exposition in the Women’s Building. It gives me great opportunities to talk not only about her invention but about the fair and women’s enterprises in the 19th century.
Aren’t your costumes hot and uncomfortable?
I would rather wear a corset and a hoopskirt than hose and heels. It’s really not that bad. I do not lace my corset very tightly, I’m only taking an inch or two off of my waist; Spanx can do more than that. I don’t particularly like the bustle era in the 1870s and 1880s because the garments are very heavy and close. Hoop skirts are a joy, never a problem. We have played Chicago Salmon games in temperatures over 100° and I am certain I was more comfortable than my players. My 1893 Mrs. Potts costume is very comfortable, barely laced and the blouse is quite loose. The full sleeves allow for extreme ease of movement. When one actually wears the various eras of costume one really understands why and how the fashions changed. In the 20th century, seamed stockings are far superior to what we wear today, they make your legs look great and I need all the help I can get.
How did the Chicago Salmon get started?
I was hired in 1996 to organize a Civil War Encampment for the Mt. Prospect Park District. The Director of the PD at the time had seen an article in a magazine about Vintage Base Ball and asked if I could put together a team for a demonstration match at the event. I went to the Mt. Prospect Little League Coaches meeting where I recruited the first team. The men were to wear plain black pants, I made the 19th century shirts and shirt fronts, called shields. We thought we would just learn the rules, don the uniforms and demonstrate this early era game for the event. In the course of researching the rules we came under notice of many of the existing Vintage Base Ball teams. They were so excited to have a team in Chicago to play and started calling me asking for matches with my team (which really didn’t exist). We played four matches in all that first season. 2017 is our 22nd season. Although Zeus is the only original player left (second from right, front row, just behind me), we have added on players that have come to matches or seen us on the web. We even have five men who were little boys when their dads or family friends joined the team and are now full-fledged players. We say, “We started out as a joke, then we got serious, now we’re a serious joke.” -line shamelessy stolen from The Maverick Brothers, a Chicago singing duo.