Submitted by Barbara Pelissier, Westhampton
The Friends of the Westhampton Public Library hosted an afternoon of interactive history this past spring. They dusted off some of the museum’s items and put them in the hands of several teenagers with the request to research their use and demonstrate them to the public. As a result, many everyday tools and activities of our predecessors were demonstrated both inside and outside the library building. As an added enticement to encourage hands-on participation, guests who had their “Passport to the 1800s” stamped were eligible to win a door prize at the end of the afternoon. The teenagers learned their crafts over the course of the previous week, often using their own parents and siblings as guinea pigs. By the day of the event, they were all quite adept at demonstrating them and were enthusiastic in their interactions with visitors of all ages. In just two hours, on a rainy afternoon, over sixty visitors arrived, with 40 choosing to actively participate and complete their passport! There were plenty of door prizes for both adults and children at the end. The parents of the participating teens were very proud of how successfully their kids had mastered and presented their activity or craft, and the adult demonstrators were surprised at the amount of interest and positive feedback they received about the activities that they presented. There have been many calls for a repeat of the program, and we’re already in the planning stages for 2014. I would encourage all towns to dust off their museum relics and bring them to life again! We did all of this with very little money, two months of planning by a committee of three, and some local volunteers who were happy to set up the tent and move some furniture around. Most importantly, we created some lasting memories for many children and their families who had a fun participating and learning together about daily activities in the 1800s.
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Barbara, love this idea! I want someone to demonstrate the “lard squeezer” in our museum, and making butter, and then pressing in the butter molds. And maybe making rootbeer and using the handheld bottle capper. I’d like to hear more details about how the teens were “picked” (or bribed) or whatever! And were you concerned about putting the artifacts at risk?