If you’d like to find out what life was like in 1897 and don’t have a time machine handy, you can do what we did and visit the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. We entered this wonderful historic village and explored all the hands-on exhibits. What I loved was that each exhibit had some terrific senior citizens in historic dress ready to show us lots of cool stuff. You could just tell how much they enjoyed being there, role playing and sharing their knowledge, and that just inspired me to chat them up even more.
First we stopped in the general store. The kind man behind the counter asked Isaac and I what we’d like to buy. He told us we could get some nails and proceeded to show us what they looked like and weighed them out. They didn’t look like the run of the mill made in China variety nails we use today, these were handmade and he made Isaac weigh out one and a half pounds of them which he had to do using the weights and the scale. Isaac did a great job figuring it out selecting the different weights and balancing the scale till he got it just right. Meanwhile Joel and Mona’s son Aron busied themselves in a game of checkers like two little old men.
We moved on to the blacksmith shop where we watched handcrafted nails being made as well as a horseshoe being formed while it was red hot being hammered on the anvil-which forever in my mind will remind me of Wiley E. Coyote from the Roadrunner cartoon and the ever present Acme anvil that would fall off the cliff onto his head. Next up we headed to a woodworking shop. Two lovely grey haired gentlemen showed us some handy household items they’d crafted using really old pedalpowered jigsaw. After watching a demonstration, it was our turn to give it a try-he even let the kids take a turn. I climbed up onto the seat which felt a little bit like a bike. Pushing the pedal ran the bladed up and down. The idea is to take a piece of wood and turn it while you pedal the saw so you can cut out curved designs. The saw moves up and down and you can move the wood in any direction as long as you watch your fingers. We fashioned some fancy belt hooks to hang in our closets…We never really hung them up, but they were really cool to make.
There’s always so much to see and explore but for me I guess the message I always take away from these living history museums is that while the clothes, tools, technology are so different from what we use today, the human experience is universal. People back then faced similar challenges and problems to solve in how to support their families and how to instill values in their children. I also often think that for as far as we’ve come technologically, it also seems in some ways that we’ve gone backwards when it comes to our manners. We dress and speak so casually. Now mind you, I would not want to go back to wearing bustle skirts and corsets and lose my right to vote, but there is a part of me that does wish we all acted a little more civilized and exhibited more decency in the way we present ourselves just like they did back in the olden days.