A Staff of Extraordinary Storytellers Demonstrate Living History

When the public visits Hale Farm and Village, most of them get eye-opening experiences of how dramatically different life in nineteenth-century Ohio was.

Thanks to a dedicated staff of museum educators, Hale Farm visitors see history come alive.

Guests experience living history – by touching a spinning wheel, tapping trees for maple sap, feeling woven cloth, and asking questions of the person doing the demonstration. Living History lessons are far more memorable than a textbook.

Just ask museum educator Kirsten Fitzgerald. Kirsten can be seen at a different site on any given day at Hale Farm and Village. She demonstrates crafts such as spinning, weaving, broom-making, and candle-making, as well as dairying and housewifery.

“What fascinates me the most are the histories of the people whom the artifacts and buildings belonged,” Kirsten says. “THEY are the history. They have a story to tell – something for us to learn from them. They are the reason we are. I have a genuine appreciation for all those who came before us and all they sacrificed so we could have all we do today.”

Museum educator Jim Schilling does such an effective job telling the history of various sites that young students will often ask him if he lives at Hale Farm and Village. Oh, and Jim’s favorite question from students is if he’s ever seen a ghost at the Goldsmith House? Not exactly a question he expected, but at least students visiting Hale Farm and Village are engaging with history. Hale Farm & Village Broom Workshop

Hale Farm’s chief storytellers

Museum educators are at the front line of Hale Farm and Village. They bring knowledge and personality together so that children can understand the history of the Western Reserve.

And let’s be honest, it’s not always easy to dress up in 19th century costume and either feel too warm or cold at one of the buildings. Or to be asked – as Kirsten often is – if she feels hot during the summer.

But no matter how uncomfortable the educators may feel, they love dressing up and interacting with kids and families. Museum educator Ron Meyer says most of the time he feels like he’s playing – like a big kid at “the Farm” almost year-round.

Ron loves teaching visitors how to make brooms, maple syrup, and cheese, and how to preserve food, among others. On more than one occasion, Ron has had children hang back from their departing group and thank him for showing them how to make a broom because now they’re going to make one for their moms.

Matt Stockhaus has had similar experiences with children on his Hale Farm and Village tours. Matt enjoys teaching children at the First Settlement log cabin and getting them to make sour faces when he tells them of all the chores they would have to do if their families were living at that house in the 1800’s. “I love hearing things like, ‘Wow! That was very interesting,’ or ‘I don’t think I’m ever going to forget that,’” Matt says about his interactions.

Last December’s Holiday Lantern Tours were especially satisfying for Matt. He loved researching and creating the skit to entertain guests. The whole time, he and his colleagues acted out their parts in first person, which led to unforgettable conversations with the kids. 3381MattHaleHouseUTOBEST

Matt recalls: “One child was trying to explain to me what Legos were, not understanding that I actually did know what they were. He told me they were bricks that you can make things with. And I said, ‘Oh! Like the one we used to make our house (Hale House)?’”

Kirsten summarizes the joy that she and her colleagues receive from recreating history for visitors: On a school field trip day, a group of children from a variety of other countries came and were “beyond fascinated” with her spinning demonstration. The lesson reminded them of home, and they left with big smiles and told their interpreters they were happy. Kirsten says that experience is what it’s all about at Hale Farm and Village.


How they landed at Hale Farm

How does someone become a paid museum educator at Hale Farm? And yes, they are paid for the time, research, and sweat they put in to make living history fun for visitors. Many educators have a background in education, majored in history at college, or had a passion for historical crafts. Others rely on their summers at Hale Farm for professional development and ongoing training.

Kirsten for example, had a love for crafts and learning about history. Jim wanted to teach part-time after retiring as a school principal, and Hale Farm was hiring. Ron volunteered at Hale Farm for a while after retiring, then applied to be a museum educator in 2012.

The history majors who first interned/volunteered at Hale Farm before hiring on as museum educators are Matt and Megan Smeznik. Megan is pursuing a master’s degree in public history from Kent State University, and her passion is to intersect technology, history, and museums to produce new and diverse experiences for museum goers. Matt not only interned at Hale Farm but also at the National Museum of the U.S. Navy (link to this page) in Washington D.C.

Some Hale Farm & Village educators have more unique stories, Becky Monegan was introduced to Betty Gatewood, then-head of Hale Farm’s Spinning and Weaving Department by a dead bluebird. No joke.

Becky’s husband found a dead banded bluebird in their yard and called the Cuyahoga Valley National Park to see if they could identify where the bluebird began his journey. They referred the Monegans to Betty, a local bird bander.

When the Monegans arrived at Betty’s house, Becky said they were kindred spirits from the start.

“As we walked into their house, I saw a weaving loom (and I have a weaving loom), a spinning wheel (and I have a spinning wheel), a dulcimer (and I play the dulcimer), a dog (and we have a dog), and a bee hive in the yard (we are beekeepers) and even a ceramic tile on a living room end table matched tile in our kitchen.”

Naturally, Becky followed Betty to work at Hale Farm and Village, and she’s been weaving her history with Hale Farm for over 30 years now.

Each and every staff member has a special story to share with guests. When you visit Hale Farm & Village next make sure to listen, share and create your own story!


Citizens of Hale bring spirit of volunteering at Hale Farm & Village

Citizens of HaleHistory and education naturally intersect at Hale Farm & Village. In June, that intersection will comprise a garden symposium and the Sow and Grow Festival, which is a family experience of the past and present farming lifestyle.

And at both events, visitors will see the presence and influence of the Citizens of Hale.

I’ll bet you’ve never heard of the Citizens of Hale. And that’s OK, because they’re a fairly new group committed to volunteering around Hale Farm & Village and its events. In fact, they are often the helping hands that make things happen at Hale Farm.

The Citizens of Hale’s handiwork is visible everywhere at the farm: in new coats of paint on the historical buildings; in neatly cultivated gardens with perennials; and in the overall landscaping.

Although a recent volunteer concept, the Citizens of Hale’s roots come from a women’s committee that met at the farm years ago to discuss and implement needed gardening and building improvement projects.

Today, anyone who chooses to become a member of the Western Reserve Historical Society can designate a rider from their dues to go toward the Citizens of Hale as a classification of membership. That rider supports many projects at Hale Farm & Village, and Citizen members meet once a month at Hale Farm to discuss various projects.

A passion for preservation

Kathie VanDevere, co-chair of the Citizens of Hale, is spearheading Hale Farm’s “Fields & Forests, Farms & Gardens – A Midwestern Garden History & Design Symposium” from 9 am to 4:30 pm on June 9. Cost is $50 per person and includes the lectures, lunch, and tours.

The symposium is open to everyone and its purpose is to teach how to beautify our green spaces here in Northeast Ohio. But in order to do that we need to understand which trees and plants are native here, and therefore will grow very well on our properties.

Enter William Hahn, retired arborist for the city of Akron. He will kick off the series of presentations at the symposium by describing the types of forests that were in Ohio when the first settlers arrived and how we can plant those types of trees in our yards.

Kathie and the Citizens of Hale are also bringing in Dr. Casey Hoy from Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio, to discuss how to best restore nutrients to farmland. Kathie noted that anyone who has a home built on former farmland, such as along Route 18 for example, would benefit from Dr. Hoy’s advice on restoring the soil for gardening.

Landscaper Amy Frietag will be another presenter who will bring her experiences and lessons from restoring New York City’s parks.

And S. Victor Fletcher, head archivist the University of Akron’s archival services, will conclude the lectures with documents showing what previous generations did to the gardens and landscapes around what are now historical homes.

As I spoke with Kathie about these various presenters, she was passionate about the historical significance Mr. Fletcher will bring to the symposium. Many townships in Summit County have homes that are or nearly 200 years old, and as people attempt to restore them, having old photographs or letters documenting how they used to look like will go a long way in their preservation.

“People with historical properties need to write it down and save it somewhere because it increases the resale value of the home,” Kathie explained.

Celebrating gardening with the Sow and Grow FestivalHale Farm & Village Sow and Grow Farm Festival

Hale Farm & Village’s Sow and Grow Festival will occur immediately after the symposium on June 11-12. Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children, while members are free.

Similar to last year, the festival will include all early American craft and trade demonstrations, including; glassblowing, blacksmithing, broom making, spinning and weaving. History of the buildings and horticulture will also be presented.

Pam Reitz, also co-chair of the Citizens of Hale, will be on-site with the Citizens and other volunteers selling older varieties of plants that grew abundantly in the Western Reserve area: shrubs, perennials such as older hydrangeas, annuals such as begonias, herbs such as Astoria and hyssops; day lilies, and snowberry bushes, among others.

“We’ll have a little of everything,” Pam said, noting that the plant sale is a fundraiser that will enable the Citizens of Hale to continue to do projects around Hale Farm.

The plant sale will be behind the Welcome Center at the carriage shed. Pam plans to recruit volunteers from the local garden centers to help with the plant sale throughout the Sow and Grow Festival weekend. Like Kathie, she believes that raising awareness of volunteer needs for gardening and preservation will help Hale Farm and our local communities.