Lowell High School senior Zoe Swinson, 17, would like to major in something history-related at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., and perform in re-enactments while attending school. | Photo provided
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:04AM
“In ’61, war begun
In ’62, bullets flew
In ’63, slaves are free
In ’64, war is o’er
In ’65, Lincoln died”
— author unknown
Zoe Swinson and her mother just happened to catch the end of a PBS documentary that featured a girls’ school in Columbia, Tenn., where young ladies ages 14-18 can spend a full week; that is, if they are willing to dress in Civil War-era attire the entire time.
Mom got out the sewing machine.
Zoe, 17, lives with her parents, Jerry and Cindy Swinson, in a delightful farmhouse just off the nine-mile stretch of Indiana 55 between Lowell and Crown Point. Although she has a Crown Point address, Zoe is Lowell High School senior.
Are most of your friends from Lowell or Crown Point?
“Mostly Lowell, but I have friends who I attend church with in Crown Point,” she said.
What church is that?
“Hillside Community; it’s a Baptist church.”
“I’ve been in ballet for 11 years, and I’m a member of the Goodtime Cloggers out of Valparaiso.”
Do you ever perform in plays at the high school?
“No, I’m in color guard, and that takes up a lot of time.”
“History and English.”
“I love all my teachers, but, off the top of my head, I’d mention Mrs. Magley, Mr. Higgins, Mrs. Skurka and Mr. Werling.”
With your love of history, do ever think about getting into re-enactments?
“I volunteer at Buckley Homestead for its Fall Festival and the Christmas program there.”
Do you see yourself living in Lake County the rest of your life?
“I’d really like to move to Williamsburg, Va., and re-enact there while I go to college.”
Those folks will think you talk funny. In what would you major?
“Something history-related. I’d like to attend (The College of) William & Mary, but it’s very expensive.”
Are there certain eras that really hold your interest?
“The Civil War, obviously. I also like reading about the Revolutionary War and the Victorian Era.”
“I enjoy literature, but not grammar.”
What are some the best books you’ve read in school?
“I really didn’t care for most of the books we had to read in school, but I really liked ‘Flowers for Algernon’ and ‘Animal Farm.’ Personally, I prefer historical fiction.”
“For a long time, I had aspirations of writing novels, but I’ve never really finished anything I started. I do like writing poetry and performing spoken word. I’m pretty good at memorizing things.”
Tell me about this school in Tennessee.
“It’s in Columbia, Tenn., at the Athenauem Rectory. The rectory is all that remains, but from 1852 to 1904, there was an extraordinary girls’ school there.”
When were you down there?
“The first week in July.”
What goes on at this place?
“We had classes all day long. My favorite part of the day were the dance classes. The dance classes were held at a church about a block from the school. We would actually walk two-by-two every night for practice. Cadets from the boys school were there as well.”
What about the day classes?
“There were embroidery classes, music classes, art, tea etiquette, penmanship, proper mourning, archery, how to ride sidesaddle, how to curtsy ... .
“There also were math and science classes, which is what made Athenaeum unique back in the day; girls weren’t usually taught those subjects. They also taught us how to do different hairstyles for the period, and there was a ball at the end of the week.”
Very cool, Zoe.
“It was the most unique thing I’ve ever been a part of. We had a ‘current events’ class where we pretended it was 1861. They taught it like the Civil War was in progress.”
You had to wear 1860s attire the entire week.
“Yes, bloomers, cotton stockings, petticoats, hoop skirts, gloves, hats, parasols, fans ... .”
Did you spend your nights at the rectory?
“No, we were split up into groups of three or four and stayed with host families. I was lucky enough to stay in a fully restored antebellum mansion a block or two from the girls’ school.”
Tell me more about this lavish ballroom dance.
“It’s like the graduation; there’s a commencement at the church. Across the street was where the ball took place.
“The current girls had to wear all-white ball gowns, but alumni were dressed in beautiful gowns of all colors. We did all the dances that we’d learned all week. It really was an awesome experience; I can’t wait to go back next year.”
Were boys part of the ball?
“Yes, during the Civil War, the Jackson Boys School also was in Columbia; 95 percent of those cadets were killed in the same battle within a few hours.
“Since those young soldiers didn’t have any children or wives to remember them, a local group called the Jackson Cadets represents the fallen soldiers. The Jackson Cadets escorted us to the ball.
“Music for the ball was provided by the 52nd Regimental String Band of Nashville.”
Have you ever seen “Gone with the Wind”?
“Yes, I just watched it a few weeks ago.”
What a neat week in Columbia, Tenn., for a young lady who enjoys dancing and history.
Surely, Zoe Swinson was the belle of the ball.