Children go back in time via camp Youths experience rural life of the 1800s in history program

July 28, 1996|By Traci Johnson Mathena | Traci Johnson Mathena,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Brittany Morris could never have lived in 19th-century America -- at least if basket making was a prerequisite.

"Basket making is hard. You have to have a lot of patience," said Brittany, 9, as she watched her group leader carefully thread a reed into what would become Brittany's basket. "It takes a lot, and I just don't have a lot of patience."

But her lack of patience didn't stop her or the 43 other fourth-graders from enjoying their activities at the Living History Camp, an annual event sponsored by the Carroll County Farm Museum.

The camp, divided into weeklong sessions this month for second- , third- and fourth-grade students, ended Friday.

"The purpose of this camp is to keep alive the sense of history that we have, especially in Carroll County," said Marian Witiak, camp coordinator.

"We're supposed to be a farming community, but there are an awful lot of new people moving here who don't know the history."

History became reality for the youngsters during their adventure.

From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily, the campers learned about rural farm life of the late 1800s not by reading, but by seeing and doing.

The children visited artisans and made many crafts, including a dinner bell (triangle), a folding fan that resembled a black-eyed Susan, a coat stand, gourd bowls, candles, rings and baskets.

The campers participated in activities modified for their ages.

Camp leaders and artisans instructed the campers and demonstrated their skills, including tinsmithing, dipping candles, gardening, cooking at an open hearth and blacksmithing.

"Group leaders teach minilessons on holidays, schools, clothing and chores," said Witiak, who has coordinated the camp two years.

Those chores included washing clothes in a washtub and something straight out of "Tom Sawyer" -- whitewashing a fence.

Local paramedic Dick Michael taught the children about mid-19th century firefighting, allowing the campers to participate a fire brigade by forming a line from the museum water pump and sending buckets of water to the end to help put out a fire.

"You get to see what it was like to live 100 years ago," said Brittany, whose grandfather Bob Morris was a blacksmith at the camp. "And you basically get to do what they did 100 years ago."

And living in the past must be the thing to do at present because the camp has more applicants than openings.

"We hold a lottery to see who comes to camp, because there are so many kids who want to get in," said Witiak.

Part of the camp's popularity, said Sarah Hund, 13, a group helper, may be that this history camp is more than meets the eye.

"When you hear about a history camp, you might think it is boring because it is history," said Sarah of Westminster.

"But once you get here, you see it is fun and you find out that it is NTC not boring at all. And you learned something," she said.

And you get to show what you learned. On Friday of each week, campers' crafts are displayed arena-style on a large wooden stage.

Westminster camper Russell Wantz, 9, paused a minute, and then carefully added his basket to a display including candles, candleholders and a wooden coat tree.

Contemplating the work that went into weaving his hand-sized "mug rug," or coaster, he said, "It was better than actually having to stitch it."

The group helpers, who are earning hours toward their public service graduation requirement, agreed that a tough part of the job is staying in character, making the 1850s setting believable to their campers as a car races by on the nearby road.

But they simply twist around in their long flowing skirts and ignore the 20th-century conveniences.

"We have to keep them in this time period -- until 2 o'clock," said Melissa Lowder, 13, a group helper from Hampstead.

Regardless of the success of the imaginary time travel, the campers and counselors seem to get into the spirit and stay there.

"The kids can relate to the things they did back then, like chores and cooking, and see that they've changed over the years," said camper-turned-counselor Beth Bromwell, 12, of Hampstead.

"The purpose of the camp is to teach kids about history and let them have fun while they do it," she said.

Brittany said she believes that students can learn about the past and to make decisions for the future.

"I think that it is important for kids to know what other people did in the past," said Brittany.

Said Witiak: "It's a legacy we have here. It's a way to say thank you to our ancestors for what they did, and what they went through.

"If they didn't work as hard as they did back then, we wouldn't have all the comforts we enjoy now."

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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