It’s About Time column: The pleasures of teaching young minds about history |

It’s About Time column: The pleasures of teaching young minds about history

Bill Kight
It's About Time
Bill Kight

There’s a word that keeps coming to mind that doesn’t seem to be used much anymore. Perhaps it’s because the world continues to present us with some rather harsh realities of life with pandemics, wars, school shootings …

Has the word magic lost its magic? Not if you watch young children as they tour our Frontier Museum at 1001 Colorado Ave.

This time of year when school is about to enter summer break, we book class tours with teachers throughout the valley.

Since we can only accommodate 20 visitors at a time, half the tour goes upstairs with either archivist Carolyn Cipperly or office wizard Sharon Haller, and I take kids through the downstairs, which is one of my favorite jobs: teaching young minds about history.

It often starts with the old, big, bulky Victrola in the first room of our 100-plus-year-old Shumate House. Victrola became the generic term for any brand of early turntable phonographs.

Eyes light up when you tell kids how it works. “You have to turn the hand crank on the side. Go ahead and try yourself,” is my usual answer.

We usually pass quickly through the next room in the museum, the dining room. It seems there is more interest in food itself than where it is consumed.

The first thing noticed in the kitchen is the not-very-attractive but very utilitarian ice box. I tell my captive audience that without electricity (which at one time must have been considered magic), ice was used to keep food from spoiling.

You can see the wheels turning in their young brains, when they learn that Glenwood Springs had an icehouse at one time. As I pass around the ice tongs that were used to carry the ice, and we talk about how saws were used to cut the ice from lakes, history works its magic.

A very old telephone is on the kitchen wall; one that you had to crank by hand. Children who have never seen anything but a cell phone seem genuinely surprised at such a thing as having to stand still, speak into a mouthpiece, and hold a funny black thing to your ear while remembering to use the crank.

In the big room upstairs it’s always fun showing people of all ages the direct connection our community has with President Theodore Roosevelt.

There is a picture of the president on a white horse to the right of the display of a saddle. It’s not just any saddle, it’s the saddle TR rode when he came to the Glenwood area to go bear hunting in 1905.

Sometimes we tour guides change places, and I take the students upstairs and begin telling the story of the saddle being made for the president by Rifle saddle maker William R. Thompson. The saddle was then given to one of the guides that accompanied Teddy on his bear hunt. It was kept in the Stephens family over the years, and they loaned it to the museum to bring history alive through its display.

One of the last stops on tours is upstairs at the arrowhead collection from a private ranch. It seems to produce magical thoughts in excitable young minds. Though the exhibit isn’t displayed like a big fancy museum would display the artifacts, it nonetheless allows the imagination to think back to what it was when the Ute Indians lived freely in their homeland.

Some local adults who revisit the Frontier Museum tell us with a smile how they vividly remember coming here as kids and now they bring their children.

The magic lives on. Sometimes the trigger is the object and sometimes the story conjures up our ability to remove ourselves from our world and place ourselves in the past’s ever-moving stream of history.

After all, isn’t it magical when we allow ourselves to become time travelers?

Bill Kight is executive director of the Glenwood Springs Historical Society. About Time appears monthly in the Post Independent.

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