Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Once Upon a Time...

Do you remember the scariest story that you ever heard? Was it around a campfire? Were you in the woods? What was it that sent chills down your spine? My father used to tell "The Golden Arm" story perfectly, always succeeding in getting a shriek or two. By the time I was a teenager (this is Nelda, the AWHC education coordinator writing), the hook story and the hitchhiker ghost story didn't do much for me. But I will never forget the night that I heard a friend summarize Edgar Allan Poe's "The Pit and the Pendulum." The woods were dark, the fire was dying, and I suddenly was that man in the pit, the walls getting smaller and smaller. Steals my breath just thinking about it.
Prepare to be thrilled AND chilled by the scary stories of the 2009 Haunted Hallow, brought to you by the American West Heritage Center and the famous Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.
What's that you say? Scary stories from the Grimms? Thanks to countless cultural forces (including Mr. Walter Disney), many people today are unfamiliar with the stories that the Brothers Grimm published in Germany between the years 1812 and 1857. The brothers' Kinder- und Hausmarchen contained tales based on the stories they collected from many people over decades of research. Contrary to popular belief, the tales we know as the Grimms' "Little Red Cap" and "Cinderella" and "Rumpelstiltkin" are not exactly the tales that working class or peasant Germans had passed down for generations through oral retellings. It turns out that even those peasants from the Black Forest weren't THAT strange.
The Brothers Grimm were intrigued by the stories and other bits of verbal culture that made Germans who they were. During the Grimms' lifetime, German scholars of all kinds were searching for anything that could define a German identity in the face of a very tumultuous time for the growing nation. France was trying to edge its way into German areas, French was the language deemed by many of the upper class to be the fashionable language to speak, and everyone wondered where Germany could fit into this big scheme of things.
To find this fit, scholars such as the Grimms began collecting folktales and folksongs, thinking that they would find The Original German Identity in the things the very simple, "uneducated" folk passed on to each other. After the Grimms collected their tales, they set themselves on the very curious work of "polishing" these tales to fit the "Christian" ideals, traditional family patterns, and a kind of quaintness that they believed the German folk should portray. The original tales were propped up, fluffed up, tidied up, and cutsy-ed up to convey what the Grimms thought Germans (and eventually German children) should know about themselves.
And what do we learn from these tales today? Why do we keep telling them? Ask yourselves these questions as you wander down our Haunted Hollow this year, which opens tomorrow (Friday, October 9 at 7:30pm). Due to the original Grimm-ness of this hollow, we would ask you to send your small children to the hay jump or pirate ship kids' maze while you go through. Or, you can arrive at 7pm, at which time our volunteer haunters will not be wearing masks or scaring people, and little ones can see the creepy decorations without the whole show. The Haunted Hollow will run Fridays and Saturdays throughout October until the 30th. (There will be no Haunted Hollow on Halloween night.) The haunted path will open at 7:30pm and the last ticket will be sold at 10:15pm.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It's a turkey! It's a chicken! No, it's a Muscovy!

If you have ever visited the American West Heritage Center and taken a stroll around the 1917 Jensen Historical Farm, you might have encountered these odd-looking creatures. You can find them waddling among the ducks, turkeys, chickens, and peacocks that call our farm site home. Farm interpreters often overhear visitors trying to guess what bird this might be-- what kind of turkey waddles? What kind of duck doesn't quack?
Allow us to introduce to you the Muscovy duck (Cairina moschata). This quack-less duck is originally native to Central and South America, but now calls North America and parts of Europe home. Though the common name may lead you to believe that these ducks came from Russia, no one actually knows how they came to be called "Muscovies." (They are also known as Barbary Ducks, but they're not native to northern Africa either.) Muscovies eat the same bugs and plants that regular ducks do, and our small flock of bumpy-faced birds contentedly join the other farm birds in a daily breakfast of grain.
Throughout the summer you could find various Muscovy hens nesting in our horse barn, sometimes to the dismay of our volunteer cow-milkers. One hen insisted on laying her eggs right next to the milking staunchion, and it took her a week to catch on that an animal 120 times heavier than she belonged there. Another Muscovy hen and a brown and white turkey nested right next to each other in the barn (in a section dubbed "the maternity ward"), and when the Muscovy chicks hatched, the turkey took to thinking that she was their mom too. While the chicks were still young and yellow, they could be seen paddling around the puddle in the corral, their turkey mom standing close by.
Our Muscovies are friendly, but if you come to visit, please respect their space! Nesting Muscovy moms will not hesitate to go for your ankle if you get too close, and little yellow chicks need to stay with their mothers (as cute as they are). If you're interested in taking some Muscovies home with you, stop in at the front desk to ask about prices. Our Farmtastic Fall festivities will be starting September 19th, providing many opportunities to get to know our Muscovy ducks. See you soon!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Train Has Arrived!!!

The long wait is over and the train has arrived! Manufacturer delays put us 60 days past schedule but it is good to finally tell our visitors that it is here. It will take afew days to work out the bugs but we hope that it will be up and running for the Celtic Festival this weekend. We will keep you posted on any new developments. Thank you for your patience!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Farewell to Three Friends

In the past few days, three familiar faces have left us for other opportunities. I suspect that they won't be total strangers and that we'll see them once in a while, but we wish them well on their journeys through life! David Winkler has been with us for several years as a volunteer. He worked as a Mountain Man for several years, and was so engaging to folks of all ages. He's terrific! David, thanks so much for all you've done. Jennifer Bailey was our Staff Programming Coordinator for over a year. She helped schedule staff and interpretive activities on all of our sites. She is friendly, energetic, and amazing! Jen, your service here is much appreciated! Best of luck at your new position! Olan Mikkelsen was our Large Group Coordinator and also a Mountain Man. He was known at the Mountain Man site for his fun stories and energetic, hands-on presentations. Large groups loved his care and enthusiasm. He has taken a wonderful career opportunity with the Veterans Administration. Thanks for the fantastic work you've done, Olan! You set a high standard! We will miss you all very much. Thanks for being our friends!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Recipe: Victorian Brown Bread Ice Cream

This is an unusual but delicious way for Victorian women (like pioneers) to use up that stale bread that didn't quite get eaten! Ingredients:
  • 3/4 C brown breadcrumbs
  • 2 C cream
  • 2 large eggs (separated)
  • 1/2 C sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In a medium hot oven, bake/brown the breadcrumbs in a roasting tin for approx 10 to 15 mins, turning often. Mix 1 Cup of the cream along with the sugar and egg yolks and heat to 185°, stirring CONSTANTLY. The mixture should thicken up so it sticks to and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Let cool. When the mixture is cold, stir in the breadcrumbs, vanilla and rest of the cream and then transfer the complete mixture into an ice cream maker. Freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. However, just as it's starting to freeze whisk the egg whites until fluffy (stiff peaks) and fold into the ice cream mixture, then finish freezing. Yum!

The Ice Slough

Among the more interesting and unusual events that happened to pioneers while coming across the plains was the journey through/to the Ice Slough in Wyoming. It currently lies about 30 miles west of Casper. At the Ice Slough, pioneers could dig down through the turf to find a huge sleet of ice, even in the height of summer! They would break off chunks of ice and drink ice water--unusual even back east--make lemonade, make ice cream, and just enjoy the simple pleasure of being cool on the arid prairie in the summer. Can you imagine the delight that pioneers experienced? Long weeks of host, dusty trail walking (most pioneers walked, even if they had a wagon)--and suddenly ICE. What a treat! This was on the main trail for most pioneers headed West to Oregon, California, Utah, and other regions, so by the end of the summer, the Ice Slough showed much sign of digging, with turf piled up next to jagged holes. Nevertheless, there seemed to be plenty of ice to go around for the pioneers, even the later ones. ICE-SLOUGH ACTIVITIES Try these activities with your family or group! Icy Fingers Divide your family or group into TWO teams of equivalent size. You'll need a large block of ice for each team. At the start, a team member from each team should hold the block of ice as long as possible until they can't stand it any longer. They then pass the ice block to the next player. The first team to go through all players LOSES. Marble Toes Fill a tub or large bucket with ice water. There should be plenty of ice floating around in it! Toss a few dozen marbles in the ice water. Each player then reaches in with his or her toes to retrieve as many marbles as he or she can in an allotted time. The one with the most marbles wins!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Just getting started!

The AWHC is just starting to experiment with this medium of communication. We hope that in time it will be a valuable source of information for our patrons. Keep checking back! The Executive Director