Last week I tagged along on my sisters’ field trip to Old World Wisconsin. It is one of the largest (maybe even the largest?) living history museum in the country. All of the homes and buildings they have are original and have been moved there from various locations around Wisconsin.
I liked walking the grounds and seeing the houses, of course. However, I have decided that I prefer museums over the whole living history experience. My problem with Old World Wisconsin is that there was absolutely no signage in any of the buildings to give the history of it. One is supposed to learn from the actors at each location as he or she brings history alive. Besides the fact that I prefer reading over listening to a 20 minute presentation about what went on in the general store (I’m betting it wasn’t much different than what went on in the other half a dozen general stores I’ve seen), some of the actors are better than others at providing historical information.
As someone who works in local history, I know that it can be difficult to find out specific information about specific people, but I felt like too many of the actors at Old World Wisconsin spent most of the time just giving generalizations of the period–all things I’ve known since I was about 8 years old. (Yes, I am aware that most people read a lot less than I do and I acknowledge there are probably plenty of people who are hearing these things for the first time.)
When I visit an historical location, I really like to get to know the specific history of what I’m seeing so I wish there had been more of that. There was one old man who was terrific. When I arrived at the house he was working that day he told me all about the man who had lived there. It was fascinating and made the whole trip worth while. I have found that old guys are usually the best storytellers at historical locations.