By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – Who knew simple items like hoops, sticks, wax and flour could provide such entertainment?
It was a lesson a handful of kids in grades 3 to 5 learned at historic Ogden House Tuesday morning, during Day Two of a five-day summer camp session titled “Colonial Kids Camp”. The sessions show children what life was like in the mid 1700s through interactive, hands-on activities like journal keeping, writing with quill pens, cooking, gameplay and candlemaking. Participants also learn about the history of the 1750 homestead, located at 1520 Bronson Road, once owned by David and Jane Ogden. Held June 27 to July 1, the program includes four days at Ogden House and a final day at the Victorian barn and Academy on the grounds of Fairfield Museum. The program is led by Walt Matis, a program volunteer on the museum staff.
As she dropped her child off for the morning, parent Monique Long shared, “The first session was yesterday and my daughter Naomi and her friend Aidan said it was fabulous. They brought home handmade journals and hard tack. The program is a great way for them to continue their fourth grade studies on Colonial American history and increase their knowledge of the past. Walt does a great job. This is something that needs to be done.”
Children began the morning playing a game called “Graces”, a form of ring toss with sticks. It quickly morphed into a modified horseshoes contest as participants applied their imaginations in finding new ways to add fun.
“History camp, where a stick is not just a stick,” laughed Matis, as the kids attempted to toss small rings in such a way that they would land inside of large rings placed flat on the grass.
“Kids in Colonial times invented games on the fly,” said Matis. “Entertainment was simple and engaging.”
Adding a ninja/Samurai element to the game, Francis Ohe, 10, who had given himself the nickname Francis the Grass Defiler, said, “We should have a Historical Ninja Day!”
After lawn games, the group moved to a table behind Ogden House to collaboratively mix and make cornbread.
“Cornbread was hugely common,” explained Matis. “Colonists learned to make it from Native Americans. Europeans had never seen it before arriving in the New World.”
As the kids used spoons to measure out ingredients for the bread mix, Matis commented, “People weren’t exact about measurements back then. A cup was different from house to house.”
“Does cornbread have any sugar in it?” asked Vincent Ohe.
“No, sugar in those days was very expensive, so most didn’t use it,” replied Matis.
As the cornbread went into an oven to bake, the group moved inside to a back room of the house where they sat on the wide-plank floor to talk about what the Ogdens’ life may have been like and some of the implements in the room.
“The Ogdens were farmers,” said Matis. “Their house would fill with smells from animals, their bodies, cooking… They would use fragrant pomander balls to mask the odors.”
Sticking to the topic, Matis added, “Bathing was almost avoided, particularly in colder weather. People were getting colds after bathing and made the connection that bathing caused colds.”
Matis noted that none of the items displayed in the house were owned by the Ogdens but were selected based on an original inventory list of contents of the house, called a probate.
Showing a scale device called a steel yard, Matis explained, “Weighing items was very important, particularly after fall harvesting. Food supplies had to be rationed by weight to last through the winter.”
Noting that many of the items in the back room were iron, Matis said that blacksmithing was a very important job of the period.
“Blacksmiths must have been rich,” observed Vincent Ohe, looking about at all the pots, pans, candleholders and other items that graced the home.
With each discussion, another fact was added to the learning experience, and that, of course, was the point of History Camp.