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New Hager House offering provides a touch of history

April 20, 2008|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

HAGERSTOWN -- Eleven-year-old Sarah Grubbs thought she was a little too warm in her Capri jeans and tank top in Saturday's bright morning sun.

Five minutes wearing a shift, petticoat, bodice, modesty cloth, apron and bonnet gave her a new perspective.

"It makes you appreciate your clothes that much more, huh?" said Jennifer Kram, recreation assistant for the City of Hagerstown.

Kram had dressed Sarah in colonial attire as part of "Behind the Scenes at the Hager House," a program designed to teach not only about life in colonial times, but also about museum work and living history interpretation. The program is set up in two parts -- the house tour and a session of hands-on activities related to daily colonial living.

"Everybody wonders what's in the attic, what's in the cabinets," said John Bryan, historic sites facilitator for the City of Hagerstown. "We wanted to give folks that chance to see off-tour areas of the house not normally open to the public."

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In addition to seeing more of the house built by Hagerstown founder Jonathan Hager than usual, the Behind the Scenes program offers visitors an opportunity to do something typically forbidden in traditional museum settings -- namely, to touch.

Bryan said most of the Hager House antiques are more than 200 years old and could be damaged by the oil that comes from people's hands. During the Behind the Scenes tour, visitors are given gloves and permitted to touch some of the items.

Melissa Phillips, 11, of State Line, Pa., played the museum's clavichord, a German piano-like instrument that was built in 1740.

"It sounded something like a harpsichord," Melissa said. "I was wearing plastic gloves, and the keys are very narrow, and there are not as many keys (as a piano), so I couldn't finish my song."

Melissa noted other contrasts with modern living.

"People had to work a lot!" she said. She turned to her friend, 14-year-old Hannah Grubbs of Waynesboro, Pa. "You would have to get married. You would have to start looking for a husband!"

Hannah Grubbs said she could not imagine not having a dishwasher and having to use an outhouse. Hannah and her sister, Sarah, said they had a particular interest in the Hager House because they had heard that their grandmother had lived there, apparently without plumbing and electricity, before the house became a museum in the 1950s.

While they partook of colonial pastimes including crafting corncob dolls and jumping rope, young visitors shared their thoughts about the tour. One decidedly fascinating part of the house was the cellar. Hager built the house over two springs to ensure his family always would have fresh water, especially in the event of an Indian attack.

"I would have snuck down there every day for a bath," Melissa said. "They only got to take a bath once a month!"

Dusti Perkins, 7, of Hancock, said if she had lived in Hager's time, she would have been afraid of "the Indians coming." Kram said Hager built the house with that in mind.

"He built the house as a fort," she said. "The walls are 22 inches thick. But there is no proof that the house was ever attacked."

Phillip Morris, 25, of Hancock said he took Dusti, his daughter, to the program because he "wanted her to learn the history of this place."

"I think it's good for kids to get involved in things that happened back in the old times and to see how things have changed over the ages," Morris said.

If you go

What: Behind the Scenes at the Hager House children's program

When: Today, 1 to 4 p.m.

Where: Jonathan Hager House and Museum, 110 Key Street, City Park, Hagerstown

Cost: $2 per child; $2 per adult with paying child

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