Published: January 9, 2014 at 9:47 PM
This wasn't at a theme park, but it was at Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan, an outdoor village created by Henry Ford. He collected historic structures from across the country- actually the world, and brought them to Greenfield Village, restored them and created a village that shows how the Industrial Revolution changed the world. Here you can visit the Wright Brothers home and shop, where they built the first airplane; the Noah Webster House, where he wrote the first American dictionary; Menlo Park, where Thomas Edison invented the electric light bulb, the phonograph and just about everything else; and dozens of other homes, factories, farms and structures from all over American and the world.
Enough of the history lesson. One evening in December about twenty years ago my wife and I went to a Christmas celebration there, where we had candlelit tours of many of the restored historic homes. After the tour we had a candlelight dinner served in the Eagle Tavern, a restored stagecoach stop from the mid-1800's. Dinner was delicious and the entertainment was top-notch, but we were tired from spending all day exploring the village and the massive Henry Ford Museum next door. We decided to skip the final activity, a concert and carol sing in the Town Hall, and decided to head back to the car. We found ourselves walking alone through the village, with the buildings lit by nothing but candles in the windows and torches lining the streets. The night sky was crystal clear, and the cold winter air made the stars brighter than I ever remember seeing them. The distant sounds of the early American band in the Town Hall was the only sound of other humans we could hear. We walked down the street with the Heinz House (of ketchup fame) on the right and the restored Henry Ford Birthplace on the left- a few sheep in the field beside the farmhouse where he was born made a few bleating noises. There were no other people in sight. It was peaceful. It was perfect. We stopped for a few minutes, just soaking in the peaceful perfection of the spot, the sights, sounds and- yes- the smells of the animals, the wood smoke from the chimneys, and the lingering cooking aromas from a home where we watched period meals being prepared by the historic reenactors earlier that day. The cold winter evening's air regretefully encouraged us to move on, arm-in-arm, to the front gate of the village and back to the modern world.
We've been to Greenfield Village many times before and since, and to many other historic villages and sites, but nothing has ever quite matched those few minutes when we imagined that we were the only people in Greenfield Village, and we felt for those few minutes that we weren't in the 20th Century, but were in a village in the 1850's, on a cold winter night just before Christmas.