The Times West Virginian

September 22, 2013

‘Hands on History’ excites kids

By Colleen S. Good
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Kids had the opportunity to get hands-on experience with history at the Marion County Historical Society’s “Hands on History — Hands on Art” event Saturday, which took place at Veterans Square’ and the Marion County Historical Society Museum.

In the morning, children went to Veterans’ Square to do projects with artisans at the Artisan Market. Coal Country Mini Golf had an activity where children sorted through a box of rocks looking for coal. Children also could bring home pieces of coal to make their own “coal garden”— by adding ammonia, vinegar and salt, or blueing to the coal, colorful crystals grow.

The library was also on-site, helping kids dye T-shirts.

Gena Wagaman, the main organizer for the event, said that even with the rain, people came out.

“I even saw people out, walking around with umbrellas and rain jackets,” Wagaman said.

Wagaman estimated that around 100 people passed through the house, doing tours and activities, but she wasn’t sure how many additional people only went to activities at the artisan market.

Tonya Daft, a member of the West Virginia Re-enactors Association, was there all day, set up under a tent in front of the museum dressed in full Civil War era attire, as an “older-woman Southern Belle.”

Her display included 1850s laundry equipment, a dentistry display, a sewing display, clothing soldiers and civilians would have worn during the period, and historic artifacts from everyday life. Kids could also make their own clothespin soldiers and handkerchief dolls, toys children during the Civil War may have played with. The handkerchief dolls were simple to make: just a cotton ball tied with string inside a handkerchief.

“This isn’t a doll that talks or walks. It’s just a little hanky with a cotton ball in it,” Daft said, “but they got so excited. They got to draw a face on it, and boys painted their clothespin soldiers.”

Inside the museum, children could go on tours of the house, which was built in 1912, and served as the local sheriff’s home until 1980. In the parlor, a loom was set up where children could weave their own bookmarks.

Jeanne Marie Higinbotham led the activity. Children could make a six-inch bookmark in whatever colors they wanted, either multicolor or one solid color. Each bookmark took between 15 and 20 minutes to complete.

“I think weaving is more physically engaging than they even imagine it would be,” Higinbotham said. Children helped each other move the loom throughout creating their bookmarks.

Higinbotham says that if kids want to start weaving at home, they can make their own small loom with a piece of cardboard. Instructions are readily available online, Higinbotham said.

The historical society also sold hot dogs, chips and soda, with money going toward the historical society and the museum.

Wagaman said the event took two months to organize, and they hope the event will become an annual tradition.

Nancy Toothman, whose grandfather was a sherif in the 1930s and lived in the historic house, said that she hopes to work with Wagaman to organize a “Hands on History” event in Mannington next year.

“I think this was such a wonderful idea,” Toothman said. “With a craft project, they can really feel a connection to the past.”

The historical society tries to have about one event a month, Wagaman said. The November event will be a historic house tour, where people can buy tickets to take self-paced tours of between nine and 12 historic homes that have been restored. These homes are private residences, Wagaman said, and they will be decorated for Christmas, with some hosts dressing in period dress.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Saturday year-round.

Email Colleen S. Good at or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.