Monday, August 18, 2014

A Night at the Museum - The Plymouth Historical Museum

The Plymouth Historical Museum, which is located in Plymouth, Michigan, does some pretty cool historical things to help the past come to life for people who might otherwise not give history a second thought. Aside from ever-changing exhibits that previously included one on the Civil War,  another based on the movie "A Christmas Story," Inaugural Gowns of the First Ladies, and even one on Bicycles, they also have a Lincoln Room where visitors can see actual artifacts pertaining to our 16th President and his wife.
And it's in the same general area there on the second floor where they have a permanent Main Street exhibit, installed back in 1972, where the visitor can "walk through" 19th century Plymouth. Yes, similar in style to the one at the Detroit Historical Museum, the Plymouth Historical Museum has a replica old-time main street with store fronts coming out of the walls and the utilization of their antique collection to help show what Plymouth looked like over a century ago.
It's pretty fantastic.
And every year - actually, a few times a year - they host cemetery walks, which is a very unique way of bringing the past to life.
And these are wildly successful, selling out months in advance.
One of the "ghosts" telling her story at the Plymouth Historical Museum's cemetery walk.
One of the really cool things the Museum does that I have not seen elsewhere around these parts is their "Night at the Museum" birthday party for kids, based on the very successful movies (click HERE and HERE). This is something that really gets the children involved in history
As the Museum's web site states: 

The "Night at the Museum" has come to Plymouth, and now children can experience a birthday party they will never forget. Plymouth Historical Museum staff, inspired by the movies of the same name, created this magical evening, where children discover that the characters within the Museum come alive after hours.
Kids begin the delightful evening in the lower level meeting room, where they gather and socialize before sitting down for a dinner of pizza or subs and drinks while watching one of the "Night at the Museum" movies. When the show ends, a reenactor meets them and their magical journey begins. They are greeted on the pretense of touring the Museum, but when presented with a personalized "Tablet of Akmenrah," they discover that not all is as it seems. This tablet is a recreation of the Egyptian tablet used in the movies that brings the Museum characters to life, which the children soon realize seemingly works in this Museum as well. 
The Museum is filled with reenactors silently waiting for the kids to bring them to life with the tablet. Kids could discover a Roman soldier dressed in full battle gear or Civil War soldiers preparing for war, or women wearing big hoop skirts and fancy dresses. There may even be a teenager from the 1950s hanging about, waiting to be awakened so she can dance and sing to her favorite rock and roll music. Anyone can be discovered at the Museum, and children will enjoy the living history. Each character chats with the kids about a slice of history so children might learn a thing or two while they are having fun at the party.'s very cool.
Do you know what I would have given as a kid to have such a party?
Mannequins that come to life when shown the "Tablet of Akmenrah:" meet (from left front row) a Civil War soldier, Paul Revere, Amelia Bloomer, Jane Austen, and (back row, from left): a Civil War chaplain, a farmer, Senator Jacob Howard. 
Well, as you probably have guessed, I gladly help out as time (and gas - the museum is located nearly an hour from where I live) permits. In fact, I wrote about cemetery walks a while back (click HERE to read about it), and even more recently, I was able to participate at a "Night at the Museum" birthday party.
The kids, however, were six-year-old girls and most had little knowledge of history beyond the "this stuff is old" mentality (pretty much anything is old to one who is only six, wouldn't you say?).
You would think we reenactors would have little impact on such a young group.
You would be wrong.
I saw Jane Austen gathering the kids up to act out a story, and Mrs. Bloomer explaining her style of clothing as compared to most other women's clothing of the time.
And Paul Revere was there, too!
And when the tablet was brought to me, I "came alive."

I startled the daylights out of the kids by hollering, "TO ARMS! TO ARMS! THE REGULARS ARE COMING!! TO ARMS!" as I became human.

Then, realizing I was not in the Massachusetts countryside but, instead, in front of a group of little girls, I calmed down and explained my purpose on this important night (April 18, 1775) in American history.
Most kids, even as young as five or six, seem to understand history in the way we present it to them, for we try to speak in such a manner that not only grabs their attention - which can be difficult to do with the youngest of the younger set - but they seem to know that we are doing it just for them. Not their parents. Not as actors on a stage. But close up and personal. And in this way we show the kids, especially the birthday child, that we are genuinely interested in them. They intuitively pick up on that.

A Civil War soldier came alive to explain a bit about a soldier's life during the 1860's and what it was like to fight in a battle.

The Civil War chaplain tells of comforting the soldiers who were wounded or homesick.
Though I know the two men portraying a Civil War soldier and Chaplain gave fine presentations to the kids indeed, from where I was standing, I could not see or hear them and I couldn't walk over because, well, I was a mannequin waiting to be brought to life. If the kids saw me, that would spoil the whole thing.
Regency era (1811 - 1820) author, Jane Austen (Pride & Prejudice), is awakened by the magic tablet, which, by the way, is cooler than the modern computer tablets!

Miss Austen, being the author that she is, gets the girls to act out a story, though not one of her own. I'm not sure the kids would understand!

Mrs. Amelia Bloomer speaks to the girls about her new-style reform dress, of which wearers became known as Bloomers.

The Bloomers put up a valiant fight for a few years, but were subjected to ridicule in the press and harassment on the street. By 1859, the fad was over.

Michigan Senator Jacob Howard explains how he helped to write the 13th Amendment (abolishing slavery) to the Constitution in a way that children can understand.

He even took questions from the audience. They're FIVE YEARS OLD! Smart kids!

Taking part in presentations such as the ones mentioned here are great fun. We get to wear period clothing - sometimes clothing outside of our own reenacting realm - and become famous people in history, such as I did as Paul Revere.
And I didn't need to learn every aspect of his life, but just the basics - enough for the children to understand this man's place in history.
"We would shew two LanthornS in the North Church Steeple; and if by Land, one, aS a Signal; for we were aprehensive it would be dificult to CrosS the CharleS River, or git over Boston neck"
~Original quote from Paul Revere~
Yes, I am holding my lantern prop here.

But the very best part is seeing children genuinely interested in history! Who knows what spark we may fan that will stick with them and grow to become a historical fire in their adult lives!
Just imagine...

My hat (tricorn, top, or farmer - whichever kind I may wear!) is off to the Plymouth Historical Museum's Executive Director, Liz Kerstens, who is the person behind so many of the events that takes place there, including the Night at the Museum parties and cemetery walks. She really has a way to entice reenactors and living historians to help out.
Historical presentation indeed!

~All photos by Patrick Currie~



Stephanie Ann said...

This is fantastic! I can't wait to see more events like this. Your photos are lovely and all of the crowd seems to be excited.

le prof said...

Thank you for blogging about the Night at the Museum and for sharing your time with us that evening. As the mother of the birthday girl, I can attest that you definitely reached one young person that evening. You and the other living historians did a marvelous job bringing history alive for all involved.

Rose Connolly said...

Lovely and educational. Wish I saw more 'leg' on Amelia.

An Historical Lady said...

This is SO COOL! I think every historical museum should be doing this!
Excellent post, Ken. I am so happy you had an amazing time too~