I showed them a binder of letters written by 11 and 12 year olds to Johnnie Winters, a fellow student who was sick in the hospital with a heart condition back in 1911. I was surprised and impressed that they could actually read the letters because the letters were written in cursive. I guessed their teacher’s name at the elementary school (Miss Weston), because I know she makes a point to have her students practice writing in longhand.
Not only did the girls sit and read some of the letters, sitting in the same kind of old school desk the kids would have used to write the letters more than 100 years ago, but after that they seemed interested in everything. The first girl showed her friend the dental tool from the 1700s that often used to break a person’s tooth while they were pulling another one out. “You remembered me telling you that?” I asked. She nodded. Her friend wandered through while she looked at more unusual tools in the medical care display case. “I like history!” she blurts out.
Then she showed her friend Sophia Smith’s ear trumpet and the large green and white ceramic platter from Sophia Smith’s house , and they found both items illustrated perfectly by Monica Vachula in Jane Yolen’s text, Tea with an old Dragon.
And here you are, I thought, delivered like a late Christmas present, bringing hope. Hope that young people can be reached after all! Hope that history and history museums are alive, not dead! So let the new year of hope for all of us begin.