Reliving the Fourth
History in the making at old colonial village
By Brian Caulfield, Fathers for Good editor
This Fourth of July, my wife and I knew we had to do something that would make the holiday a living reality for our boys, so we drove to Old Sturbridge Village, a walk-through, hands-on museum that is arranged as an early 19th-century New England settlement, complete with actors in period dress and manners. There was a special program of the reading of the Declaration of Independence, a citizen’s parade around the village common and a musket-firing demonstration with gunpowder and smoke. It was a great experience for the many children there, who were able to feel a part of history in the making.
One of the messages of the village is that life can be simple, rugged yet satisfying. At the blacksmith’s shop, a large-handed man with his young apprentice run a hearth and bellows to heat iron and shape it on the anvil into nails and hooks. The man talks about the good feeling of working with his hands and crafting metal into useful objects by his own strength and skill and the (enormous) sweat of his brow.
Next door is a carding mill that prepares wool. A swift stream runs under the mill and turns the wheel that keeps the machine going. “No electricity, no gasoline, just pure water power,” I told my sons, and it took them a while to understand just how simple the operation was.
Then there was the sawmill, where water turning a wheel causes the blade to move up and down and cut the tree trunk into pieces.
Tough living, hard work and everything homemade, without a superstore or video screen in sight.
The best part for the kids was the parade, led by a patriotic group of fife-and-drum players, a phalanx of revolutionary soldiers shouldering muskets, and a collection of farmers with mules, cows and pitchforks, as the womenfolk followed in gracious formation. My boys joined the line holding the hand-carved replica muskets we had bought in the village store (modern price of $30 each) and had a blast imagining there were redcoats just over yonder bluff.
My wife and I appreciated most the reading of the Declaration by a distinguished gentleman in a ruffled shirt and top hat:
“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another …”
The words never sound old or unworthy of the next generation. They stir the heart and challenge the mind to grapple with concepts such as “of nature and of nature’s God,” “self-evident” truths, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” “sacred honor” and other cherished terms that still inform our nation and speak to the hearts of men and women today. There was something timely and timeless to the founding of our nation, and it is good to remember this in a special way at least once a year, so we can hand on this heritage to our children, with the privileges and responsibilities that come with it.
As we pulled out of the village and made our way back onto I-84, I couldn’t help thinking that our modern world seems a little more sterile, a little less connected to nature and a whole lot less daring and dramatic than colonial times. My youngest son gave me hope for the future though when he said, “This was the best day of my life ever. Can we come back again?”