The residents of Columbus a couple hundred years ago seem to be as unlike us as people could possibly be.

They did not look like us. They did not talk like us. And on some occasions, they did not act like us.

But they were our direct forebears and, like it or not, much of who we are today we owe to them.

Perhaps in the end, that is why we look to the past. In that past, we see something of how we came to be who we are.

Columbus was founded in 1812 to be the new capital city of the state of Ohio. Initially a rather rough and ready sort of place, Columbus soon developed a genteel edge among its strong and able leaders. This was expressed in how people looked and how they acted.

An early account described the better dressed of the pioneer settlers.

"Among the striking articles of male attire worn at different periods were the queues, knee breeches and buckles, and ruffled shirts, of which the Virginians and Kentuckians, among the earlier, wealthier and more dignified citizens were fond. A blue dress coat with brass buttons completed the outfit, and is said to have been highly becoming. ... In the progress of events the queues and knee breeches were abandoned, and the shirt ruffles were reduced to lower terms, but the blue coat with its brass buttons lingered into the forties and fifties. It has perhaps never been improved upon as a keynote in the harmony of apparel for gentlemen of befitting age, manners and complexion."

Since the blue blazer with brass buttons still is around, it is fair to say the style lasted well beyond the 1840s and 1850s.

"Along in the fifties, woolen shawls came into vogue as substitutes for overcoats, particularly those of young men, apropos of which fashion the following editorial announcement appeared in the Ohio Statesman: 'A few dozen bonnets and petticoats for young men's wear, to correspond with the shawls worn by them, are on the way to this city from the East.' But in spite of such ridicule, shawls continued to hold their place in male attire until about the time when they began to be exchanged for United States blankets in the stirring months of 1861."

Those months marked the outbreak of the Civil War. But even the Civil War did not mark the end of this fashion trend. On the night he was shot in 1865 at a local theater, President Abraham Lincoln was wearing a shawl.

And what were the ladies wearing?

In 1851, Amelia Bloomer introduced her liberated form of ladies' dress with a short dress and pantaloons which alternatively fascinated and/or outraged much of America. One local newspaper editorialized, "On the whole we cannot for the life of us imagine what immodesty the most fastidious can possibly see in a dress which appeared to us so simple and so beautiful.

"On the other hand the opponents of the reform criticized the new costume as 'inconvenient, undignified' and not consistent with the 'modest apparel enjoined by the Apostles.' "

A local paper noted at the time of Bloomer that "her ideas of dress seem never to have made much headway in Columbus ...

"In 1855, great hooped skirts were among the contrivances adopted by the fair sex for keeping men at a distance. They were not always effectual in this respect, albeit fashionable, and well adapted to magnify the territorial importance, if not the charms, of their wearers. After having waxed enormously, the hoop skirt eventually waned, until the opposite extreme was reached and the geometrical relations of the sexes again became normal."

In an era before radio, television or movies -- not to mention the internet -- how exactly did people spend their time? Being endlessly inventive, our forebears found a number of ways to have fun.

"May parties, particularly for children, were common in the forties and fifties. If the weather was inclement, they were held indoors, sometimes at one of the hotels.

"Among the more unique social devices of the later period (That is: the 1880s-1890s) have been such as were descriptively termed necktie, leap year, surprise and ghost parties, gentlemen's receptions (by ladies), Dickens parties, smoking clubs, dairymaids' festivals, pound socials, trades carnivals, and many others mostly designed for charitable purposes and not of a purely social character."

Of course, what defined a "purely social character" often remained to be seen.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.