Sunday, May 4, 2014

1993...Is It Really Over 20 Years?...

Yes, it is over 20 years ago that I started at Old World Wisconsin, the largest living history museum in the Midwest.  …and today I start another one.

It was spring of 1993. I had called Old World Wisconsin regarding openings for historic interpreters from the payphone outside of my apartment in France.  A couple weeks later and still jet-lagged from just returning from my stint at EuroDisney (now Disneyland Paris), I believe I was late…or nearly late to my interview as I could not find the hidden driveway before the railroad tracks.  After spending months in Paris and being the ripe old age of 24, I was certain there was not any way my interview for museum work could be down this winding driveway amid the forest edge and wild marshy growth…  I parked the car in front of this old cottage-like looking house. “This can’t be right”, I thought.  As I walked towards the door, I must have looked bewildered. A kind gentleman greeted me at the door and I started a down a path I could not have envisioned…

Oh…the things I have learned over 20 years…far too many to list all of them here. I will however share 20 of them with you…

20.   Do not be afraid to try something out of ordinary. You might be surprised that it is really a good fit.

19.   Being a lady is hard work. There are often many layers and one may never slouch.

18.   Wearing 19th century clothes REALLY is fun…even if it is muddy.

17.   Washing muddy 19th century clothing is not fun.

16.   Old houses WILL tell you stories, but you have to know how to listen to them.

15.   Wisconsin is a beautiful place… Don’t take for granted where you grew up. It IS a special place with an important story.

14.   When learning to cook on a wood burning cook stove, the first important lesson is learned when you burn something you are baking beyond recognition.

13.   Cleaning the pan after you have burned said food with 19th century style tools is the second important lesson learned.

12.   To truly understand national history, one needs to study local history.

11.   When working at a living history sight, ALWAYS expect the unexpected. You never know when you may find oxen in your garden.

10.   There is something very magical when you witness someone “seeing” history in a different light for the first time.  Suddenly, the past is not merely something one reads in a book…it is all around us to be experienced with all of our senses.

9.       Coffee made on a wood burning cook stove is one of the best things in the whole world.

8.       Some of the tastiest meals are prepared on a wood burning cook stove, and it does not take 20 years of practice to get the hang of it.

7.       Ladies, never believe that women did not influence history. Studying our roles in society, the tools we used, the clothing we wore, the food we prepared, the relationships we maintained, and the activities we chose as a pastimes help define human history. Without our story, only ½ the story can be told.

6.       Children can be engaged and entertained by history. Let them experience it.

5.       Working in Living History is a gift. The opportunity to teach and to learn is equal and incomparable.

4.       Material culture is not a novel subcomponent of history. It is essential to understanding the past. With that understanding, we are able to understand the present and ourselves.

3.       The modern world is a good place to be.  Ultimately, modern plumbing makes drinking coffee made on a cook stove much more pleasurable.

2.       When speaking with the public, always remember, you never know with whom you are speaking. Influential people come in all shapes in sizes. They may not always be celebrities, authors, politicians, professors, or someone dressed in fancy clothes…they may be person standing right next to you. Listen and observe. You may have the opportunity to see the world through different eyes.

1.       You will not become wealthy working in Living History. You will become rich beyond imagination with experience… In these 20 years, I have forged some of the most important and long lasting friendships and relationships in my life.  The museum and my experiences there have forever influenced and shaped my life.  ….for that, I am DEEPLY and FOREVER grateful.

Yes, as soon as I shook the hand of Marty Perkins, that kind gentleman who greeted me at the door, I knew I was at the right place. I knew I belonged at Old World Wisconsin; I did not necessarily know that I would still be saying that after 20 years.


  1. Long time, my friend! My fifteen years will always be in my heart. I still dream about being out there!

  2. Ilona, it is amazing how it stays with us, and may it always be there!