Summer vacation back in time

Farm museum camp lets youngsters travel to another century

  • Dressed the part, rising third-grader Matthew Chaffer fixes his fishing line as he learns how people lived 100 years ago at the Living History camp at the Carroll County Farm Museum.
Dressed the part, rising third-grader Matthew Chaffer fixes… (Photo by Noah Scialom, Patuxent…)
July 17, 2011|By Katie V. Jones

It's summer time in Carroll County; for Valerie Virchow, that means only one thing — Carroll County Farm Museum's living history camps.

For the last 10 years, Virchow has served as a group leader for the camps at the Westminster museum, escorting campers to various activities, from candle-dipping to fishing, toy making to tin punching.

"Hot weather and I are not friends. By the middle of the third week, I'm saying, 'Why am I doing this?' " Virchow said. "By October, I'm looking forward to the next camp. I look forward to it all year long."

"This is a camp where kids come because they want to," she said. That makes all the difference in the world."

Each week of camp is designed for a different age group, with rising third-graders attending the first week, followed by upcoming fourth- and then fifth-graders.

All of the activities relate to those that would have been done around the end of the Civil War, the time period for the farm museum.

As coordinator of the camps, Marian Witiak enjoys watching the campers learn history through the activities.

"Sometimes on the first day kids look like 'what are we going to do here?' " Witiak said. "Their parents say they go home and don't stop talking about what they've done."

Aiden Cregger, 8, a rising third-grader at Hampstead Elementary, was proud to show the hook he made during a blacksmith lesson this past week at the camp.

"It was fun twisting the hook. It's for hanging. You can put a coat on it," Aiden said, displaying the heavy hook proudly. "The flame was 1,900 degrees."

Fishing was one of Jonathan Michel's favorite activities.

"I didn't catch anything," Jonathan, 8, of Hampstead Elementary, admitted. "I got some nibbles but didn't catch anything."

Clare Leodler, 8, a rising third-grader at William Winchester Elementary School, was a bit more successful.

"I caught one, but it fell back into the water," Clare said.

A group helper, Carly Weetman, first attended the camp as a camper. Now a rising high school senior, the Westminster resident has returned every year since, to help.

"I still have all the crafts from when I went to the camp," Weetman said. "I love the camp. It is great to see the kids go through it like I did. I really like to work with the kids."

A traditional part of the camp is a talk about toys from the post Civil War era given by Nicki Alban, who has been collecting antique toys for almost 40 years. Each year, she brings items from her collection to share.

"I try to bring different materials like tin, wood and cast iron," Alban said, showing a table filled with sewing dolls with walnut heads, cast iron toys and figures of various animals. "The kids like the wind up ones."

The campers also like the cast-iron Santa bank — mainly because Alban lets them place a coin in it using the mechanisms to move Santa's arm.

"I let them touch the things (that are) not really fragile," Alban said.

Now in his fourth year as a group leader, Jason Wheatley joked that he came back every year to wear the uniform — skirts for the women, suspenders or a hat for the men.

"Why wouldn't I come back? I get to wear these suspenders every year," Wheatley laughed, as his campers complimented him on his attire.

"It's fun," Wheatley said of being a group leader. "I just keep coming back. Mrs. Witiak does a good job of keeping us busy."

About 40 to 50 youngsters attend the camps each week, with each group leader responsible for about 14 children. This year, enrollment is down due to a late mailing, Witiak believes.

"Registration went out in May, when many people had already made plans," Witiak said, adding that in the past, registration began in late winter. "Typically, we are filled and have a waiting list."

Both the upcoming fourth-grade camp (July 18-22) and the fifth-grade camp (July 25-29) have openings. The cost is $130 per camper. Call 410-386-3880 for more details.

For the third-graders camp, the average group had five campers.

"It is much smaller this year," Virchow said. "It's nice because you can do more with fewer kids."

Witiak hopes to coordinate the camps for as long as she is able.

"History is important to me," Witiak said. "This is my love. This is the job I do because I love it."

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