The man who makes kids like history

November 25, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Imagine hunting a woolly mammoth with a prehistoric weapon, resting on animal furs inside a tepee, and sharing your bed with insects.

That's what 750 students at Elkridge Elementary School did this week, with the help of "living historian" Harold Dellenger 3rd, of York, Pa.

"It's living history," said Amy Plotnick, a resource teacher who works with gifted and talented students and helped organize the three-day program, which ended yesterday.

Using artifacts, ancient weapons, and props such as a tepee 16 feet in diameter, Mr. Dellenger made history come alive for students in a program funded by the school's PTA.

"I'm a story teller, lecturer, historian, actor and showman," said Mr. Dellenger who, with his father, operates a series of historical programs about Colonial Americans, African-Americans, Native Americans, George Armstrong Custer and Buffalo Bill Cody.

Under his guidance, students in kindergarten through fifth grades learned first-hand how American Indians lived on the Plains, East Coast and in the South before westward colonization erased their lifestyles.

On Tuesday, clad in fringed leather pants and cloth jacket, Mr. Dellenger showed a group of kindergartners how ancient hunters used spears to kill woolly mammoths.

"We're going to hunt (a woolly mammoth) because we can't go the McDonald's for Happy Meals," he told the group, which erupted into giggles.

Afterward, Mr. Dellenger herded all 43 children into the tepee where he described different types of American Indian homes and showed them the animal skins of a black bear, white-tailed deer, buffalo and red fox. The students seemed impressed by the display.

"I really liked the bear and the fox," said 5-year-old Joseph Lewellen, a kindergartner. "I liked the claws because they can climb trees."

As a living historian, Mr. Dellenger says, he interprets historical events for listeners during one-hour presentations, rather than re-enacting them. For example, he tries to rectify what he sees as distortions from films about such events as the Civil War.

"I try to make people understand how hard war was," said Mr. Dellenger who tailors his information to specific age groups.

He said movies often glorify war, glossing over the number of lives lost and the amount of bloodshed.

"The real thing of warfare is so horrific that they can't show it in movies," he said.

Mr. Dellenger became a living historian eight years ago after failing to launch an acting career in New York.

The 33-year-old said he doesn't regret the change in careers.

"I find fulfillment in it," he said of his current job. "This was a little more worthwhile and it's an important message. I'm trying to make history come alive."

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