Cultural attraction stands on own feet


June 11, 2000|By MIKE BURNS

TALK IS cheap. Especially from those who always speak with an outstretched palm, waiting for someone else to grease it.

They're accustomed to being served, a one-way street of automatic entitlement. They sanctimoniously preach the gospel of regionalism, when they're really begging for yet another handout. Their attitude is that we're all in this together, as long as the rest of you come up with the money.

It's not just the politicians, whose partisan rhetoric is aimed at their narrow constituency. It's also their whining cheerleaders in the media, fanning the flames of parochial resentment to further their own self-interest.

Do we need a history lesson?

Well, yes. But first, let's take a deep breath of fresh air and walk in the green pastures back to a distant place in time. Back to the mid-1800s, when farming was the main occupation. Not to a simpler time and an easier time, but to a different time and in many ways a harder time. Before electric power and motor cars, when horsepower really meant horse power.

Where are we headed? Geographically, the direction is down Center Street just south of Westminster. To the Carroll County Farm Museum.

There, spread over the 140 acres is a panoply of 19th-century farm family life, with living history demonstrations and talks and real animals. No stuffy museum, this.

It's a wonderful cultural attraction, a model for yesteryear recreations elsewhere. In fact, this unique place is perhaps the best kind of advertisement for Carroll County and its heritage.

I was last at the farm museum about a month ago, on a sunny spring weekday that drew mostly schoolchildren, as well as a smattering of adults who were apparently unattached to the clusters of excited youngsters.

According to the names on the school buses in the parking lot, they came from three different Maryland counties and Pennsylvania. Autos in the lot bore license plates from four states.

The Farm Museum is careful to avoid having too many school group tours on any day. Only a certain number can be comfortably accommodated because each group gets a personally guided tour of the main house, a highlight of the visit.

Leisurely time travel

It's a popular destination for area schools and for people in search of an unhurried, informative journey through the past.

On weekends, which often feature special events, the crowds are still tolerable. Sometimes free events, including fund-raising walkathons, bring extra attention to the complex.

But there's always enough room to see the exhibits without feeling cramped.

The tiny General Store is the exception. But that inconvenience may be an advantage as well: many people wisely decide to spend their time seeing more of the farm rather than standing in line just to buy a souvenir.

Each year, more than 100,000 people visit the Farm Museum. They not only tour the dozen structures (including a fire station and a one-room schoolhouse) but have the opportunity to talk with knowledgeable volunteers who are ever eager to share their experiences.

The cost of a visit through this time machine is also a bit anachronistic: $2 for children and $3 for adults. No rides or stage shows, but the price is certainly a bargain.

The money mix

The museum's annual budget comes to about $550,000. It all comes out of the county budget; admissions, sales, donations and occasional small grants offset about half that amount.

There's a full-time staff of nine, plus part-time and contract employees. Much of the work is done by a large cadre of volunteers, whose ranks can balloon to 800 workers for special events such as the Maryland Wine Festival and the Steam Show Days.

I asked Dottie Freeman, the museum's longtime administrator, how much the museum gets in supporting contributions from the city and neighboring counties.

She was somewhat puzzled. The answer is, nothing.

Does the Farm Museum ask the city and metro counties for budget support? Again, no.

Regional whimpers

Well, I wondered to myself, then where's the indignant reaction of the self-proclaimed giant of cultural regionalism, state Sen. Howard P. Rawlings? No threats of legislative retaliation against the freeloaders in Charm City and the other suburbs by the unabashed bully of the House Appropriations Committee? Not a peep.

And where were the anguished voices of sympathy from the tireless promoters of the city's "cultural" institutions that regularly plead for regional taxpayer support of their offerings?

Perhaps the problem is that the Carroll County Farm Museum doesn't charge $50 or more per ticket, like the high-rent venues that Mr. Rawlings would have the citizenry of other jurisdictions subsidize in his back yard. Or that this regional institution sells 15-cent stick candy instead of the $5 cups of latte favored by city folk.

Maybe the museum should adapt the idea of one city-chauvinist commentator, charging more for nonresidents of Carroll County.

No, not in a county proud to support its own regional cultural institution. That's the kind of self-defeating provincialism you don't find in the provinces.

Mike Burns writes editorials for The Sun from Carroll County.

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