Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back in the Day

Recently the Rural Life Museum held its Harvest Days weekend. The Rural Life Museum is a museum of rural buildings and artifacts from the local area, dating from the early 1800’s to early 1900’s. Several times a year they have special events in which volunteers in period costume demonstrate skills such as weaving, blacksmithing, making cane syrup, cooking over an open fire, and woodworking with 19th century tools. Children demonstrate how to roll hoops. There are wagon rides and occasionally a reenactment of the Battle of Baton Rouge by local Civil War buffs. At Christmas there are choirs.
Musicians at Christmas time
Gospel quartet from Southern University, December 2008

Reenacting the Battle of Baton Rouge

For years when we went to the Rural Life Christmas event I wanted to take a wagon ride but the lines were always too long. Three years ago I finally decided I was going to take the wagon ride first no matter how long I had to wait on line. It was the most uncomfortable ride I have ever been on. I couldn’t wait for it to end. As my late mother-in-law used to say, “The good old days - you can keep them.”

Wagon of the type used for wagon rides

There are a number of old buildings to see, including an old church from St. James Parish and several buildings from Welborn Plantation. There’s an overseer’s cottage, which was actually lived in until 1960, a general store, a small post office, a dogtrot cottage, two barns, some slave cabins, some Acadian cabins, a blacksmith’s shop, and a kitchen with a large hearth for cooking. New acquisitions are made from time to time. Now that the museum has a new display and office building, it seems to have acquired a dozen or so quilts to hang from the high ceiling and a display of funerary items to keep the old hearse company. The gift shop has expanded, too.

Cottage with bousillage walls

Old barn, before Hurricane Gustav

As much as I enjoy the Rural Life Museum, Magnolia Mound Plantation, and other attractions devoted to teaching about local life back in the old days, good or otherwise, I never feel like I they give a realistic picture of life back then. The problem is, all these buildings and artifacts are old, and consequently dilapidated. The people who lived and worked with them 100 or more years ago saw them brand  new. The barn was not about to fall down, it was a snug home for the family’s livestock. The treadle sewing machine and steam powered saw blade weren’t old and quaint, they were new and high tech. The floors the overseer’s cottage weren’t worn and sagging, they were glossy and as clean as slave labor could make them. The old hearse was shiny black with plush green velvet fittings, not worn and faded. I don’t have the imagination to picture these items new, so I am always left with a picture of the original owners, rich, poor or middle class, living surrounded by rust, dust, and squalor.

Steam powered saw, still runs

I suspect even if I could see the dwellings brand new and furnished straight from the general store, I wouldn’t choose to live back then. I like my home comforts. Hundreds of years from now, though, archeologists will pick over the remains of our homes and technology and put them on display in museums. People will come see, and then say, “The good old days - you can keep them.” 

Food cooked in the old kitchen. I made a pumpkin stuffed with apples
like the one in the picture in my oven at home. It was good.

Pineapple growing in the kitchen garden

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