In a one-room log cabin on the grounds of Rose Hill Manor's Children's Museum in Frederick, a guide shows several youngsters a lifestyle that seems very different from their own.
There were probably up to eight children in the family, she tells the children, who silently contemplate the scarcity of private space. She invites them to touch several of the items in the cabin -- a spinning wheel, oil lamp and a cow's horn. That cane in the corner? It's really a "snake stick" for those nighttime strolls to the outhouse. Several young eyebrows raise in wonder.
She directs their attention upward to the sleeping loft. At evening's end, the family reached its feather beds by ladder.
A steep climb to those beds is almost the only thing children can't try in this "touch me" historical museum that explores Frederick County life in the 1800s (the climb might be too dangerous). Children have been cranking cherry pitters, weaving on looms and dressing up in bonnets and aprons here since 1972 -- well before children's museums came into vogue.
The philosophy is evident at the front door. "Welcome to Rose Hill. Come in and play with the toys in the parlor." A costumed guide welcomes visitors into a Georgian mansion once owned by Thomas Johnson, the first elected governor of Maryland.
A doll house, a barn with wooden animals and cast iron moving toys are spread on a huge rug. In the play room and in the weaving room and kitchen, Rose Hill's message is clear. The "olden days" may have looked different, but there were many similarities. Checkers were fashioned from corn cob slices. Popcorn emerged from a hearth popper, not a microwave. Milk flowed after a laborious workout at a cream separator.
What of the future of the historical items that are touched, cranked and probed by thousands of school children and visitors each year? Actually, many items are careful reproductions, explains Colin Clevenger, the museum's director.
Authentic items are preserved elsewhere for study and display. Clevenger spends some of her time traveling the East Coast looking for furniture and household objects for the museum. The effort is more than just cosmetic. "Children are the future preservationists," she says. Lessons learned in a relaxed, accessible atmosphere will last.
The museum shares its 43-acre grounds with a carriage museum and farm museum. An herb and flower garden, blacksmith shop, ice house and the log cabin are also included in the tour.
Rose Hill hosts several festivals throughout the year. Today and tomorrow, the Fall Festival celebrates the season with crafts, music and food. Colonial crafts demonstrations will give children an up-close view of numerous colonial crafts, including blacksmithing, hearth cooking, soap and candle making.
Other children's activities include hay rides, a pedal tractor pull, and a cupcake walk. Continuous bandstand music will fill the air today. Bluegrass tunes are featured tomorrow. Admission and parking are free for the festival. Reservations to tour the mansion should be made early at the information booth.
Rose Hill Manor children's Museum and Historical park, 1611 North Market St., Frederick. The museum is open from April 1 to October 31, and weekends in March, November and December. Hours: Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. Usual admission: adults $3; senior citizens and children $1. Call (301) 694-1648. Directions: I-70 West to Exit 56 (Patrick Street). At the third traffic light, make a right on East Street. Turn left on 16th Street and right on Market Street.