Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Heritage Park Living History

I've been asked my opinion about building a Living History museum at Heritage Square. I think it's a good idea, especially when you take a look at it on this beautiful late May day. There it was, gorgeously empty. It sure would be nice to see lots of folks at the Park on a day like today - though most days at the park would be considerably warmer than this one.

One of the decisions that needs to be made before going much further in exploring the options of a Living History Park is what kind of park experience we'd like people to have when they come to our town. Right now the park is a Passive presentation of the past.

I've encountered three different kinds of Living History parks: Immersion, Representation, Guided tour of History.

The Immersion Park is the most exciting. I've experienced this kind of park in Norway, and in Minnesota. It's also the experience of Plymouth Plantation in Plimouth MA, and partly the experience of Colonial Williamsburg.

My favorite Immersion experience was at Norway's National Museum, Maihaugen.

At Maihaugen there is a working farm. In May of each year a family moves onto the farm and conducts the farm's business and interacts with the visitors to the farm. For three months the family eats, sleeps, works on this farmstead, just as they would have in about 1850. In order to interact with the farmers you have to speak a Scandinavian dialect. They don't speak English, though they do want to know about Kusin Lars who went to Amerika. Visitors enter this world, and stay for as long as they'd like. The actors stay in this world continually for three months.

The second kind of Living History Park is the Representation park. Here the players represent actual historical characters, or composites of historical types. They interact with visitors on the basis of their character's historical position and historical place. For example, the Truman library employes an actor to represent President Truman. He comes into the Oval Office, interacts with the crowd, and goes home when the Museum closes.

This is the kind of History Park I'd like to see the Heritage Square become.

I can see Dr. Swensson coming out of the Bethany Building each day to deliver an address on the need for Education in the new State. Later, he interacts with visitors, encouraging them to consider the merits of Bethany College and the ministry. He invites donations to the college, etc. Perhaps he passes out degrees at a ceremony for other "residents" of the square once a week.

G. N. Malm is there too, demonstrating his stenciling system. Discoursing upon the building of the castle on Coronado Heights (we have his original oration on the theme and occasion).

Anna Olsson is there too, telling stories of life in a dug out and on the plains. Talking about being a white girl in a little cabin surrounded by native Americans - and how her father made friends instead of war on the locals.

And there are, of course, Native peoples too - but I'm not the expert on the first Americans here.

Then, when the Park closes for the day, the Actors go home.

This is the way I'd love to see things happen at Heritage Square. In fact, I'm so positive about this option as being possible and exciting, that I don't want to even discuss the costumed tourist guide just yet. Maybe in my next Living History Park post.

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