Friday, 5 February 2010

Now I’m on CNN: Timewarp Living

In the past couple of months a Producer for CNN in America, the excellent Henry Hanks, has been putting together a piece about (what he has dubbed) Timewarp Living.

Finally, it has just appeared in the iReporter strand on the following link:

All my chums are there: Tadd Casner in Pennsylvania, Mark Davids from Amsterdam, Mikael Sjolund in Sweden, Estelle from Rhode Island, Harry & Edna in Blighty.

Let’s hope they do a follow-up piece, there are plenty more of us out there.

Here’s what the text says.

(CNN) -- Social networking may be one of the biggest phenomenons of the 21st century, but for some denizens of the Web, it's a way to get in touch with the past.

Web sites like (with a membership of more than 5,700) and groups on Facebook allow people who enjoy past eras to connect with each other. But it goes beyond that: Some of them dress and live like they would decades, if not centuries, ago.

Step into Estelle Barada's living room in Providence, Rhode Island, and you might feel like you've traveled back to the 1890s.

Barada, a hotel caterer, sees it as an escape from her stressful job.

"I was the middle child and kind of like the dreamer, and for some strange reason I always dreamed of living not in America, but England," she explained. "I imagined having tea with the queen and touring the castle and that was my dream as a little girl."

Today, "Lady Estelle," as she likes to be called, lives out that dream by hosting tea parties for her friends while dressed in Victorian clothing, completely in character.
When going out, she's dressed in a more understated fashion, but still completely consistent with the late 1800s, with a long skirt and hat. "I always wear hats and when I go shopping, I get the attention of the older women, who say, I love the way you look," she said.

"Eighteen-seventy-four should have been my birth date ... instead of 1974," said Raychyl Whyte of Hamilton, Ontario. Her fascination with the Victorian era began in childhood, coinciding with a pop cultural revival of Victorian themes in the 1970s.

Whyte and her "Victorian gentleman" began restoration on a circa-1898 house in 2008. Now they host 1800s-themed events there, where dress from the time period is always encouraged. They use to organize these events as part of the Hamilton Victorian & Steampunk Society.

Why would one live this lifestyle? For many of these iReporters, it's a reaction to modern society just as much as a love of the fashion and style of days gone by.

"I suppose others might call me an eccentric, but I just live the life I want to live and don't care about what others say or think about me," said Ray Frensham, a "Living Victorian," from London, England. "Even though I've felt increasingly disconnected from the modern world for many years now, I'm not retreating into some past nether-world seeking a kind of comfort-blanket."

Modern society in the United Kingdom can be "remarkably cruel and unforgiving," Frensham said. "There is certainly no sense of any kind of community anymore," he said. "People are purely self-centered, only in it for what they can get out of themselves." He points to the recent MP expenses scandal there, which led to the resignation of British House of Commons Speaker Michael Martin, as an example.

At the same time, something just feels right to Frensham when he wears a suit and bow tie, or more recently, an ascot. "It just creates a mind set that you're ready to face the day," he said.

Frensham is also the coordinator of the London Victorian Strollers, who take walks around the city while decked out in Victorian garb, and says that the reaction from passers-by, especially tourists, is extremely positive. "It's quite extraordinary, people just love it."

Social networking certainly plays a large role, but Frensham also believes that groups like the Strollers (with its 125 members on Facebook) are emerging more and more lately. "I think it's just a lot of people saying 'I don't like what I see anymore, so let's create our own reality.' "

Carmen Johnson of Orlando, Florida, certainly sees that as being the case. She runs one of several social networking sites that bring together retro lifestyle enthusiasts of all stripes. "The first thing I ask [members of the Web site] is what they would like to bring from the past. Many of them say they would like to see the return of good manners and morals," she said. "They like the values of respect for women, respect for others. Now with the society we live in, anything goes."

Johnson, like Frensham, can trace at least some of what influences her to Hollywood. Growing up in the 1970s and '80s, she was a big fan of "Grease," Elvis Presley and "I Love Lucy," but "Back to the Future" captured her imagination. "Just thinking about traveling in time to whatever year that I always dreamed about was fascinating to me!" she said. Needless to say, the 1950s are her favorite era. This translated into her pursuit of art, which she described as both modern and retro.

When her love of this time translated into reality upon viewing a documentary about "time warp wives," she was inspired to start the blog, eager for the opportunity to interview women who live their lives as "traditional 1950s housewives."

Now, those with casual interest as well as those who live their lives in a past era, what Johnson calls "timewarpians," interact on her site,, which boasts more than 250 members. "When people come to this site, they see that they're not alone," she said.

Johnson considers "Lady Estelle" Barada to be a great example of a "timewarpian." Barada hopes to pass on the manners, if not necessarily the fashion, of the era to the next generation by hosting parties with young girls and teaching them about etiquette.

As for her own granddaughters, she said they love paying a visit. "They ask their mother if they can wear a pretty dress and go to grandmother's house."

Photo details (from the top):
1 & 2: Myself with the London Victorian Strollers
[ ]

3 - Estelle Barada (Providence, Rhode island, US)
4 - Mark Davids (Amsterdam, the Netherlands)
5 - Raychyl White & John Stewart (Hamilton, Ontario, Canada)
6 - Friends of Vintage Baseball, Hartford, Connecticut, USA

7 - Tadd Kelby Casner (Pennsylvania, USA)
8 - Carmen Johnson (Orlando, Florida, USA)
9 - Harry & Edna Dickinson (Norfolk, UK)
10 - Mikael Sjolund (Trollbacken, Sweden)

Alongside the main text, the photos (above) had sidebar information as follows:

1. Whether they consider themselves Victorians, Edwardians or “Timewarpians,” iReporters from around the globe are so fascinated with past eras, they are practically living them. Meet Ray Frensham of London, England, a “modern-day living Victorian”.

2. Frensham is also coordinator of the London Victorian Strollers, seen here on a stroll. Frensham finds himself “increasingly disconnected” from the modern UK society, which he calls “cruel and unforgiving”. He prefers the Victorian view of “respect for one’s fellow human beings, courtesy and pleasure in the simple things of life”.

3. Beginning in 1997, Mark David’s home in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, slowly became what he called a “living museum in the style of the 1880s-1940s”. He said that he now has nothing modern except from his tv and computer. In about 2001 I started to dress in older clothes as well”, he explained and he now wears them daily.

4. “Timewarpian” Estelle Barada keeps her Providence, Rhode Island living room and dining room always ready for a Victorian tea party. When she goes out, she likes to stay consistent with styles of that time as well. She traces her interest in a more refined lifestyle to seeing the “Nutcracker Suite” as a child.

5. Raychyl Whyte met “the Victorian gentleman of my dreams” in 2003. Now the two live in a circa-1898 home in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, which they recently restored.

6. The “Friends of Vintage Baseball” play “America’s pastime” in Hartford, Connecticut, using 19th century rules, equipment and uniforms. Organization president Karen O’Maxfield said that cries of “Huzzah!” and “Well struck, sir!” can be heard during the games. They hope to start a league in May,

7. Tadd Kelby Casner says he has a “natural talent for history and historic information”. This interest in history led to a fascination with vintage men’s fashion., accessories and etiquette. He counts himself “terribly lucky” to be live in a Victorian mansion in Reading, Pennsylvania, where he often plays his 1923 Victor Victrola phonograph and writes with his restored vintage fountain pen. (The hearse ion this photo, shot at a party, belongs to a friend who owns a funeral home).

8. Carmen Johnson of Orlando, Florida calls herself a “retro artist, reporter and film-maker”. A documentary on the subject inspired her Web site,, where she interviews people like her from all over the world who take a great interest in times past. She refers to them as “timewarpians”. Johnson shared a video on her exploits with CNN iReport.

9. Harry and Edna Dickinson” use the names of their grandparents when performing historical re-enactments. They first met while attending nostalgic events such as these. The 1940s became a lifestyle for them when they started replacing their modern furniture with period pieces. “Why have a modern coffee pot or salt shaker, and nor use the wonderful, original deco coffee pot you have packed away in the loft?” Harry said.

10. Pay a visit to this small office in Trollbacken, Sweden and you might meet Mikael Sjolund, a technician and assembler who lives the “time warp” lifestyle whether at work or at play. “My interest for Victorian clothes came about five years ago, but it’s only been a year or two that I’ve dressed historically accurate”.


lady Estelle said...

Oh my,
I just had the call from Mr Hanks, but I didn't think it would be out so fast. I am charmed. It's strange to read about myself. At time I just feel very ordinary, but he makes me seem very exciting. Nice job.

Jovan said...

All these photos are fantastic. While I'm not quite set in the past as some featured (including the lovely lady who posted above me), the styles really work for all of them.

I'm more of a '50s or '60s guy myself, but we get a bad rep because of those who want to go back to the social mores of then -- "women belong at home" and all. Yech!

mdavids2000 said...

It's is fantastic that are (my) idealism and view of the world has made it on CNN exciting indeed.

Ray Frensham said...

One of the most touching developments is the number of people who have contacted me across the world saying: "this is how I live My life too - at last, I am not alone"...

Carmen Johnson said...

Thanks Ray for adding my picture in your post! I am happy that all of you got to be part of the story! And like lady Estelle, I don't think that I am going to ever get use to all of this attention. I rather interview people than being interviewed myself.

Oh by the way when I saw your picture without your mustache, you reminded me of a younger Anthony Hopkins.

Take care,


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