Living history lesson at Fort Johnson

Lori Rulison demonstrates how colonial baking was done for students from Ichabod Crane Middle School in Valatie at Old Fort Johnson during a seventh-grade local history program on Thursday. (The Leader-Herald/Eric Retzlaff)

FORT JOHNSON — It’s one thing to read about history. It’s another to live it.

The Montgomery County Historical Society offered seventh-graders from Ichabod Crane Middle School in Valatie a hands-on experience of the colonial period at Old Fort Johnson on Thursday.

While the youths had fun, they also were shown that “everything you had to make, you had to make to survive and function” in 18th-century America, said Gerry Schedlbauer, who taught the students how to make beeswax candles and what colonials did to make soap.

“I liked making our own candles and writing with a quill,” said student Jeanne Stappleben.

Rey Cruz played the bat and trap game that used a foot-pedaled wooden mechanism to launch a rubber ball. The player then tried to hit the ball with what resembled a cricket paddle, and “fielders” tried to catch it.

“I liked the games,” he said. The bat and trap game “is similar [to baseball] but different.”

Elijah Burni tried walking with stilts—difficult enough on ground, even more than the grass around the fort.

Ichabod Crane was the first of four schools scheduled for the event that supplements its local history class. Barkley and Marie Curie schools in Amsterdam will be there on Wednesday and June 6 respectively, and Fonda-Fultonville on May 30.

The program “is a part of the curriculum about local history in New York state,” said site manager Scott Haefner, who noted that the fort weathered attacks in 1757 and 1760 during the French and Indian wars.

Gerry Schedlbauer showed students how to make beeswax candles, Lori Rulison demonstrated colonial baking, and Dave Brownell gave them a chance to write with a quill pen.

Keith Schedlbauer’s demonstration was the loudest. He taught the students how a flintlock rifle works with flint, steel and gunpowder, and then he fired a blank. He said sparks from flint customarily had many functions in lighting fires, including candles.

Haefner said the rifles had an effective range of only about 50 yards, which is why soldiers also carried tomahawks,

The program “gives the students an opportunity to engage in local history,” said Jennifer Gecewicz, an Ichabod Crane science teacher. They learned some aspects of living in the 18th century, she added.

Rachel Bliven, director of the sponsoring historical society, said if people are to “love history,” it’s important to “hook them now.”

By Josh Bovee

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