Walk into any new age shop and somewhere, in a little basket, you’ll likely find a pile of sage bundles. A sort of metaphysical cleaning ritual, burning sage, or smudging, is believed to purify a space and clear out negative energy. Many people use it to rid old buildings and homes of ghosts.
But here at this old mill, we think a little differently about things that go bump in the night. “If I work late…I find myself talking out loud, telling the air what I am doing and how long it will take me,” says owner Abby Curtis. “My husband, Matt, says he feels a presence too, especially in the attic. We both agree that it is friendly.”
We tend to think of those entities we chat aloud to at night as our neighbors. We’re reminded of them as our footsteps trace the scuffs and scratches across our wooden floors made by each generation that has walked them before us. We see them in the shiny patches, polished from years of farmers pulling their lanolin-rich fleeces over our thresholds. We hear them rumbling and rattling every morning as we get to work on the daily tools of our trade - the cast iron tubs used for washing; the extractor, original to the mill, built in 1894, that rumbles down in the basement and spins excess water from the wool; the carding machines from the 1800s that turn washed fleeces to fluffy soft layers of wool batting. We even see the etchings of past neighbors on the walls of our attic. We can’t bear to paint over the places where pencil scratches from the turn of the last century tell us when machine wires were sharpened, and what yields were achieved. Abby and the other mill workers still check our production by those figures. Rather than worrying about making things faster and cheaper, since we’re still using hundred-plus-year-old equipment, we make sure everything is running correctly by verifying that we match the production yields from 100 years ago.
We live in fast-paced times, where the pressure to constantly barrel forward through history understandably ignites fears of the past. After all, if we don’t heed the times and find new ways to be faster and cheaper, how will our company compete with international pressure? It’s no wonder people are afraid of ghosts. We live in a culture that worships and demands the new, eschewing the old.
But when a company relies on the same tools, skills and machinery over a few hundred years, those ghosts are far from your average every day hauntings. They’re esteemed colleagues with years of experience.
Here at the Frankenmuth Woolen Mill, we can’t help but feel that with whispering walls and little metaphysical mysteries on our side, the race to the future matters a whole lot less Our work is as much about connecting with the past as it is about building a more sustainable and durable future. The simple traditions of craftsmanship and good farming practices create bedding designed to last generations. That means the tinkering, wrench banging and hand skills needed today are the same ones needed a hundred years ago. So those ghosts are important neighbors. We hear their stories, we feel their wisdom, we are inspired by the ingenious repairs they’ve left behind.
Thus, we’ll pass on those metaphysical cleansing rituals. We’re happy to keep our neighbors around.