We all have them. What do you say? To nix the proposal looks sacrilegious and, gasp, uncultured, but you’ve already seen just about all the unimpressive doodles and dusty old pottery you can handle for one holiday. Not to mention that museum guide, who seemed to think that speaking slowly and monotonously imparted gravitas to the situation.
Hoorah then, for living history museums, a special kind of open air museum where costumed interpreters depict life in an earlier era. Forget dry ‘n’ dusty history books, these museums brush the cobwebs off the past and present it in technicolour 3D detail that even film studios can’t compete with.
America has hundreds of them. And because *cliché alert* the country is a melting pot of different cultures and has such a chequered and tempestuous past, they vary so much you could pencil in heaps of them as you plan your adventure travel holiday across the country.
In 1620, the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth Harbour, Massachusetts with a boatload of English colonists later known as Pilgrims. By 1627, around 160 colonists were living on the Plimoth Plantation and this living history museum shows their story and their interaction with the Native American tribe, the Wampanoags. The highlight is the 1627 English Village, where ‘interpreters’ act, speak and dress in 1627 mode. The day to day activities of the time are played out in a village of 12 houses stuffed full of 17th century implements, while the cooking displays will make you thank your lucky stars you were born in the 20th century. There is also a recreation of a Wampanoag settlement where modern Native Americans inform visitors about the way the Wampanoag people lived, their traditions, eating habits, music, and their testy relationship with the settlers.
El Rancho de las Golondrinas
This early 18th century rancho is spread across 200 acres south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was a paraje, (stopping point) along the Camino Real, the 1600 mile road from Mexico City to San Juan Pueblo, New Mexico. It dates from the early 1700s, mere decades after Spain had reclaimed New Mexico from the native Pueblo Indians after years of attempted revolts. A mix of original and reconstructed buildings form the Rancho, including a school house, blacksmiths shop, wheelwrights shop and a molasses mill. Actors go about their daily 18th century business and you can take a traditional New Mexican baking class and even make tortillas from scratch. It’s worth checking the events calendar, which has everything from painstakingly recreations of battles, to wine festivals, to arts fairs.
Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg depicts the same era as El Rancho but is the story of the city that was once a bastion of the British Empire and later played an important role in the American Revolution. It’s the daddy of all living history museums, spread over 301 acres with hundreds of reconstructed and restored buildings. The opulent Governor’s Palace gazes grandly over the slaves’ brick-making yards, bawdy taverns and the printing office and bindery. Listen to harpsichord concerts, observe colonial beer brewing or watch a 19th century trial in the Courthouse- you could even be chosen to take part. The actors recreate scenes from the American Revolution, including the collapse of the Government and the citizens at war on the streets.
The Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer
Prior to the California Gold Rush which began in 1848, Nebraska was home to Native Americans only, in particular the Pawnees. The Stuhr Museum depicts the lives of the pioneer European American settlers who first built towns in Nebraska during Gold Rush. Broadly, it covered the period from the 1840s to the 1920s, but the highlight is undoubtedly the Railroad town, where it’s a different year, every year. In 2012 it’s 1892, and the interpreters act accordingly. It’s hands-on too; you can listen in at the telephone exchange, help the women of the village make dresses or play games from the time. The Pawnee Lodge, complete with teepees and grazing buffalo, shows the lives of the people the pioneers displaced, while the log cabin settlement is a recreation of the1850s road ranches that were stop-off points for people heading west.
Greenfield Village is the open air section of Henry Ford’s gigantic indoor-outdoor museum. Along with the Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village is Ford’s love letter to technology and tells the story of America’s past through its inventions and innovations, and the people who shaped them. Over 80 restored buildings from the 17th century to the present day make up the village: including the Wright Brother’s house and their ‘Home and Cycle’ shop, Thomas Edison’s Menlo Park laboratory, where he invented the light bulb, as well as farmhouses, mills and workshops. Unsurprisingly, iconic cars and other modes of transportation also play a big part- You can travel around the village by old passenger train, Ford Model T, or horse-drawn omnibus. It’s not all light bulb moments and life-changing inventions, however. Costumed actors demonstrate glass-blowing and other trades and also go about daily tasks like farming and cooking.
This post was written by a guest contributor. About the Author:
Laura’s ideal adventure travel itinerary is a morning of cultural exploration followed by an afternoon of white-water rafting.