I’m delighted to welcome Meg Justus to Sites & Stories! Although we haven’t met in person yet, we are clearly kindred spirits. Meg is an author, an independent museum curator, and an avid traveler who has visited almost every national park west of the Mississippi. Her first novel, Repeating History, is set in Yellowstone National Park.
Thank you, Kathleen, for having me guest on your blog. I really enjoy reading your entries about various aspects of living history. My only personal experience so far with being a performer at a living history event is when I quilt in public, so to speak, at the Job Carr Cabin Museum (http://www.jobcarrmuseum.org/) during their living history day in July every year.
It’s a fun project. The Job Carr Cabin is a replica of the first building in what is now the city of Tacoma, Washington. It was the brainchild of two local businesswomen who started fundraising for it in the 1990s. The building, located only a couple of blocks from where the original once sat, was dedicated in 2000, and now it not only hosts the general public four days a week, but welcomes school groups of all kinds to learn about Job, who was the first mayor, postmaster, and justice of the peace in Tacoma, and about the city’s early history.
The living history day itself draws upon the local community to come and demonstrate skills and chores that were common in 1865, when Job built the original cabin all by himself in a spot where he predicted the Northern Pacific railroad would eventually have its terminus (as it turned out, he was wrong by two miles, but the town grew up around him, anyway). Various kinds of textile, wood, and food crafts share space in Old Town Park with booths where children can grind coffee and wash clothes with a scrub board and even pan for “gold” in a trough set up for the purpose.
As a freelance museum curator who specializes in working with collections and as a writer, I don’t often get the chance to see people react to my work. This event is very gratifying as I show people what it’s like to quilt by hand and tell how women made warm, serviceable bed coverings out of the materials they had to hand. Children, especially, seem to be fascinated by the whole process.
I find it also feeds both of my careers. As curator when I handle the actual artifacts used for those tasks back in the old days, and as a writer of fiction set in the historical West. It gives a sense of authenticity even when the fine details may be lost by the participation of 21st century visitors.
The one comment made most often at this event always seems to be to the effect that life was so much harder back then. Which is most likely the case, but it was also very rich.
My novel, Repeating History (an excerpt is at http://mmjustus.com/fictionrepeatinghistory.html), is about a young man from 1959, who is thrown back in time to the Yellowstone National Park of 1877, into the middle of flight to Canada of the Nez Perce Indians. It is available as an ebook through
Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/repeating-history-m-m-justus/1104728901