Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

My Night at the Museum October 28, 2013

HISTORY BROUGHT TO LIFE pleases me, for I am an interactive learning history type of person.

I often get overwhelmed and impatient reading information in traditional museum displays.

Arriving around 6:30 p.m. Friday for A Night at the Museum at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault.

Arriving around 6:30 p.m. Friday for A Night at the Museum at the Rice County Historical Society in Faribault.

So I was excited Friday evening to attend the Rice County Historical Society’s first ever A Night at the Museum in which costumed men, women and children played the roles of historical figures. Like Evangeline Whipple, second wife of Bishop Henry Whipple, and Ordinance Sargent Jones, stationed at Ft. Ridgely during the U.S. – Dakota Conflict of 1862:

Role-playing Evangeline Whipple.

Role-playing Evangeline Whipple.

Playing the role of Ordinance Sgt. Jones.

Playing the role of Ordinance Sgt. Jones.

The buckled cloth covering worn by French Mary keeps mud from boots.

The buckled cloth covering worn by French Mary keeps mud from boots.

I spoke with “French Mary” Tepe about her role as a vivandiere with Pennsylvania volunteers in the Civil War. Vivandieres carried a canteen of spirits and more and attended to the sick and wounded. I’d never heard of vivandieres prior to meeting French Mary.

Noah, who volunteers at the library through its youth program, sat in the museum's barbershop chair during A Night at the Museum. in the museum barbershop.

Noah, who volunteers at the library through its youth program, sat in the museum’s barbershop chair.

Noah read a souvenir edition of the Faribault Daily News in an old-time barbershop while Leroy bathed in a second story room above.

Flash cards in the one-room school.

Flash cards in the one-room school.

Mrs. Sweet taught arithmetic in the late 1850s one-room Pleasant Valley School where Noah’s sister, Hannah, along with others, assumed the roles of students.

Playing the old pump organ.

Playing the old pump organ.

Holy Innocents, from the side.

Holy Innocents.

I listened to music played on the pump organ in Holy Innocents Episcopal Church built in 1869 in Cannon City and consecrated by Bishop Whipple.

Mrs. Morris supposedly cooking applesauce.

Mrs. Morris “cooking” applesauce.

Next door I spoke with Mrs. Morris who was “cooking” applesauce in her 1920s kitchen. Except she wasn’t really using the old cookstove. The inviting scent of apples wafted, instead, from apple slices heating in a kettle on a mostly out of sight hotplate. Ingenious.

This multiple engaging of the senses added to the experience. In the old log cabin, built in the mid 1800s by a Scandinavian immigrant in the Nerstrand Big Woods, I savored the yeasty aroma of bread baking—not in the old stove—but rather in a bread machine hidden away. Ingenious.

The setting for A Night at the Museum.

The setting for A Night at the Museum.

Outside, several tiki torches flickered, many snuffed out by the strong early evening breeze. Nearby, visitors gathered around a small campfire to sip apple cider, eat hot dogs and/or munch on cookies.

A barn front forms a backdrop in Harvest Hall, where visitors can learn about the area's agricultural heritage.

A barn front forms a backdrop in Harvest Hall, where visitors can learn about the area’s agricultural heritage.

Horses hooves clopped on the pavement as visitors were treated to a wagon ride around the adjoining county fairgrounds.

Brian Schmidt dressed as a hunter, not to be confused with a mannequin.

Not a scene from Duck Dynasty.

But the most memorable event of the evening for me, and likely Brian Schmidt who serves on the historical society board, occurred inside Heritage Hall. I stopped briefly at a display on outdoor recreational activities in the county and noticed what I assumed to be a camouflaged duck hunter mannequin in a corner. Except he wasn’t. As I walked away, a duck call sounded. Startled, I turned back, peered more closely at the masked face and realized I’d been fooled. By Brian.

A peek at Heritage Hall.

A peek at Heritage Hall.

Excellent. This Night at the Museum was not billed as a Halloween event. But in that moment, for me, it was.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling