Discover Vintage America - SEPTEMBER 2020
Youths put love of history on display
by Corbin Crable
It’s easy to marvel at all that a living history site offers. Take, for example, the Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm Historic Site in Olathe, KS (profiled for your convenience in this issue of Discover Vintage America, actually).
Whether for the local resident trying to see his or her town through fresh eyes, or for the cross-country traveler looking for a relaxing and educational respite from his or her journey, a living history site both informs and entertains. Not only can you read about what life was like in the early 19th century; you can experience it, too, through games, demon-strations, re-enactments, and (gulp!) chores, all led by volunteers in period dress with a passion for the past and hours upon hours of training under their proverbial belt.
Usually, these volunteers are adults, already longtime students of history who are adept at describing the day-to-day lives of 19th century farmers. For adult visitors, that’s all well and good, but the foundation of so many living history sites is a functioning relationship with local and area elementary and middle schools.
Great, another grown-up talking to me about old-timey stuff. Who cares?
Mahaffie is one of many, many organizations whose staff members are wholly cognizant of the need to successfully convey a sense of history – and an appre-ciation for history – to the younger generations of local residents who one day will possess a vested interest in this very community. What better way to interest them than to hear from younger volunteers? From costumed kids their own age to whom they can at least tangentially relate?
It’s a wonderful idea for many reasons, not the least of which is mentioned by Mahaffie site manager Tim Talbott and events coordinator Alexis Radil in this month’s article. Children need to see that they have a place in this history, too, that youths their age played significant roles in everyday life, most notably as a part of the heartbeat of a Mid-western farm. There, they played the role of miniature adults, engaging in the same work as their parents and reaping the same rewards as they worked the land.
Only other children – in this case, volunteers at living history sites -- can illuminate these points for their contem-porary counterparts. They are the best ambassadors to history, the best bridge between the past and the present, in keeping the past alive for their peers. The Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm Historic Site should be commended for its very active, popular youth volunteer program. I’ve been told that interest in the program is so high that administrators regularly have to turn away applicants. It’s a fantastic problem to have, and it’s heartening to see that we adults aren’t the only ones who appreciate the history of our community.
The students accepted into such living history volunteer programs represent the best of the best of our youth, and it’s a safe bet that we’ll see them out in our community again as adults years later, serving on city councils, volunteering for community betterment programs, or staying active in civic organ-izations. My thanks to Mahaffie and other organ-izations for taking such an active interest in the young people of our community – and thanks to the young people for taking such an active interest in your own community, too.
Corbion Crable can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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