Blending crafts, history

August 03, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

Hannah Izer is a relative newbie to this world, having been born just 13 years ago. Yet it is objects made hundreds of years ago that seize her attention.

During a tour of the Hager House in Hagerstown Saturday afternoon, Izer's eyes moved from one antique to the next with wonderment.

"I could live like this," said Izer, of Greencastle, Pa.

More than 80 people toured the house of Jonathan Hager, founder of Hagerstown, during the 31st Annual Jonathan Hager Frontier Craft Days.


About 50 craft vendors have tents set up at the festival, which continues today from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mountain music is played and food is available.

Dressed in period clothes, historical interpreter John Bryan, 25, stood outside Hager's house waiting for the next tour to begin. "The reason that we do it is to show a little bit of what 18th-century life would've been like," he said.

Offering a glimpse of how life was lived were hundreds of pieces of furniture, utensils, tools and decorations.

Located on top of two springs, Hager's house, built in 1739, may also have doubled as a fort. Because the springs start underneath the home and flow outward, they would have been safe from poison, Bryan said.

In the lower floor, kept significantly cooler by the 40-degree water, Bryan pointed out a meat grinder and sausage maker. In an adjacent room, he cranked the handle on a rectangular wooden device, which made a loud noise. Centuries ago, the device was used to scare crows from fields, Bryan said.

Two people joining the tour late rushed into the room and asked what the source of the noise was, saying it sounded as if a gun had been shot.

Pointing toward a wooden object that resembled a cage with spikes protruding from it, Bryan asked if anyone knew its purpose.

"A torture chamber?" asked Trudy Fessler, Izer's grandmother.

Although that's the most common answer, Bryan said the device was used to wean calves. Placed over a calf's head, the spikes would poke the mother when the calf approached its teats. Weaning happened quickly, he said.

Along with crockery, eating utensils, cupboards and measuring cups, a dog dish also was present in the kitchen. Roughly hewn from wood and mounted on legs, the dish looked like none found today.

"They had dogs back then?" one man on the tour asked.

Other items of interest in the house include "necessity chairs" used when running to the outhouse was not practical, a brass bed-warmer and, the oldest piece in the home, a German desk box made in 1654. Although it would mostly have been used as a safe, the box also could have been used to prop books up.

In one of the home's bedrooms, the only one with original wood flooring, a large gap was present between the floorboards and the wall.

"They need a sign: Bob Villa doesn't live here," Fessler said in a loud whisper.

Outside the house, blacksmith Garry Doub had his wares on display. Although he dabbed in forging iron as a high school student, Doub, 47, now relies on his shows for income, having lost his job recently.

"It comes natural. Usually when I'm my happiest is when I have the fire going and I'm pounding a piece of metal," he said. "I like working with old things and doing things the old-fashioned way."

Bryan, the historical interpreter, said understanding the past can help put the present into perspective.

"It's always important to know where you've been and how you've gotten where you are now," he said. "If you have the historical context, a lot of things fall into place."

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