I’m home at last from History Fest today. Most of the family has been going since Wednesday (and helped set up Tuesday) but I stayed home with Fiona until today (her birthday) because it’s such a long day that starts so early. We have to leave at 6:45 a.m. before the sun is up.
Every time I go I am just dumbfounded at how amazing it is, and the awesomeness of Jack McGowan and the mass of people who help make it happen. It’s like we have our own personal Walt Disney, except he’s an Irishman and he does it for free, for the love of kids and because he’s a bit of a big kid himself. It’s just INCREDIBLE what he’s created there and what he continues to build and dream and make happen just about every week.
Last year, the EPA or some crazy organization suddenly announced that his History Fest buildings (a saloon, chalet, places like that — wooden structures built to be used for special events like History Fest of Boy Scout events, stuff like that) were on the flood plain because his land is between a fork in two rivers, and that the whole county would lose flood insurance by the government if his buildings weren’t moved. They gave him something like 90 days to move 5 huge buildings and all of the outbuildings to another part of his property.
Keep in mind that History Fest is a nonprofit thing he does on an old sheep farm that the owner has let him use next to his house for years. It started as a project he did at a local park because he thought the Mankato kids ought to have something like the Renn Fest to learn about history, and it just grew and grew and grew. He’s a retired guy who owns a water conditioner business (that’s still big in Mankato), so this is not someone with the means to just move 5 buildings in 90 days. He’s like 70 years old (though he’s tough and sprite!).
And we did it. We moved all those damn buildings with help from all sorts of people and a construction crew that volunteered a bunch of it and donated money and Sentenced to Serve workers who did their time there and Jack busting his butt every day up on some ladder or using the backhoe or doing what needed to be done.
I was in one of the buildings today and realized I helped smooth that dirt floor and carry the log sections of floor back in. That’s a pretty neat feeling.
And the owner of that sheep farm finally officially gave the land to Jack for History Fest and the finished buildings are even better now that they’re moved to their own little village area… and somehow Jack has managed to build even more amazing contraptions and improve even more buildings and do even more great stuff, out of the scary situation of thinking it was impossible last summer and the government was going to shut it down… It’s done, and even better.
To give you an idea of how magical this place is, down by the river there’s a troll tunnel (marked with a painted sign) that goes all the way under the hill and comes up through a brightly painted grate in another part of the land. He built a concrete troll tunnel for children to climb through!!!!!
And there’s a giant piece of a house with a gas pipeline that goes on fire that the kids get to put out all day with water pumped through a fire hose from the river….. and there’s a trebouchet (sp?) that launches pumpkins into the river…. and he gives pianos to anybody anywhere who wants a piano (we got one last year and I love it)… and there’s an ENORMOUS sandbox that’s always filled with buried treasures like dragon tears and coins… and so much more.
Daryl plays a gambler in the saloon and teaches kids card tricks and how to play chuck-a-luck (a fun dice game in a spinning cage). He’s a hoot to watch — he really is great with kids. But I found out today that Jack built the saloon because this lady Annette came to play the piano for history fest a few years ago and there wasn’t a good building for her to play in. He asked where he ought to put another piano and she said, “Well, if you had a saloon….” and she said, “So Jack built me a saloon.” Just like that! This giant building with a bar and tables and stage and fun props (old time guns, funny signs…). It’s just so amazing.
And all the people involved are amazing too. I love being a part of it. We have sassy trolls who fight children with foam swords and shields (the children always win!), and SCA knights who battle and teach the kids everything authentically, and presidents Lincoln and Jefferson and Roosevelt, and a blacksmith and a 1600’s Scottish camp where they make bread in a real stone oven and wooden stilts and carts everywhere for children to climb on, and horses and goats and sheep, and people teaching you how to spin alpaca and sheep wool and then how to weave it, and gunfights and soldiers and pirates and our fantastic friend Susan Hynes who dresses all in period black with her temperance sign about the evils of alcohol who yells at that awful JD Wyatt (my hubby) and his hooligan children who steal her sign and give her grief. 🙂
Tonight was the pot luck for the volunteers and reenactors and there was a guy doing balloon animals for the kids. He’s one of the reenactors and he did these massive balloon hats and 8 silver swords for Alex plus giant horns for his head, and just dozens of crazy balloon creations for all of these elated children. And the trolls were still in character, giving me grief for having “a little fishy” (I was carrying Fiona’s balloon goldfish on a pole) and the pirates and settlers and everybody filled the hall and they’re just all such neat people and it’s such a magical thing to be a part of.
Anna was chatting with a friend tonight and said she had such a great day, and she told me afterwards, “It must have sounded like I was on a drug trip! I was talking about getting so many pictures of the belly dancers and that the pirate captain told terrible puns and taking Fiona to sit with the buffalo and jousting with my brothers.” LOL
I am just so happy that my kids have been able to grow up being a part of this. 🙂 And now I’m off to sleep! Tomorrow morning we’re heading back for the public day (the weekdays are for school kids — SOTH and HS) and it will be another full day! I just had to share it with you all though. I wish I could bring you all and your kids, and that everybody could come experience it.
Here’s an article that sums it up http://www.examiner.com/article/it-s-history-fest-time
and here’s a blog entry about it http://magicandmayhem.homeschooljournal.net/2008/10/12/history-fest/ Jack McGowan gave an interview to the local news about why he does History Fest and it sums up his funny spunky personality so well. You can also see my hubby playing the spoons in the beginning of it! I am so happy to be a part of this magic, and so glad that this is one way my kids are growing up experiencing history class. 🙂