For a historical writer, first-hand accounts of the time period and well-researched history books are wonderful resources, but sometimes the answer to a pesky question can only be found by going back in time. I would have loved to hitch a ride with the Doctor or hop into Mr. Verne's time machine, but for my current work in progress, set in Washington Territory in 1866, I opted for something a little more easily obtained: a trip to Pioneer Farm Museum near Eatonville, Washington.
Pioneer Farm is one of those wonderful museums geared toward children, so everything is very hands on. That’s an incredible bonus to a writer. In a more traditional museum, many things are behind glass, so you can describe what your eyes see but only guess at the other senses. At a museum like Pioneer Farm, you get to touch and smell and taste and hear what life was like in the late nineteenth century on the frontier. I gleefully followed our tour guides around from the general store to the school house to the three cabins, barn, and blacksmith’s shop, peppering them with questions and poking my nose into everything.
So, what did I learn on my visit?
Planked wooden floors creak. With every step.
Forges fired with coal really stink.
Oil lamps aren't really bright enough to read by, but they do warm up a curling iron nicely.
It takes a lot of time and work to grate enough cinnamon for one pie.
A lady could lay in the bottom of a wagon bed and not be noticeable from the street (key plot point, there!).
Pioneer Farm Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing living history, environmental, and cultural education through hands-on activities. If you happen to be in the area, I highly recommend a visit.
I know some of you have been to great museums in your area. Any recommendations to share?