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Friday, November 23, 2012

Volunteers help make park the perfect place to re-live history

An Old Virginia Christmas will be held Dec 1.

Re-enactors (from left) Wilbert Head, Carla Whitfield, Lillie Head and John Whitfield were part of the 2011 Christmas event at Booker T. Washington National Monument.

Courtesy of Cameron Sumpter

Re-enactors (from left) Wilbert Head, Carla Whitfield, Lillie Head and John Whitfield were part of the 2011 Christmas event at Booker T. Washington National Monument.

The Booker T. Washington National Monument in Hardy holds events throughout the year. None of these special programs would be possible without the help of volunteers from the Living History Guild and the Friends of the Booker T. Washington National Monument.

One annual event at the park is An Old Virginia Christmas, which will be held Dec. 1 from 3 until 8 p.m. This year, the event focuses on the Christmas of 1862, which is being held in conjunction with the Civil War 150th commemoration. There will be lantern-guided tours and costumed re-enactments to provide visitors a glimpse into the winter of 1862.

“Volunteers are critical because we don’t have the number of people we would need to put on an event like this,” said Betsy Haynes, a park ranger.  “The owners of the plantation had 14 children, and there were at one time at least 10 slaves here. We don’t even have as many people who work here as they had children. We have two rangers and a supervisor on staff.” 

Volunteers, who are needed at the park throughout the year because the size of the park staff has decreased, help feed the animals, work the farm and maintain the buildings. For the Christmas event, volunteers will be acting, making costumes and providing refreshments.

Beatrice Iceman of Wirtz uses her theater background as a member of the Living History Guild to write the scripts for the re-enactments. Research is the foundation of her script.

“I portray Elizabeth Burroughs, the owner of the plantation,” said Iceman. “She was from Bedford originally, so I’ve spent a lot of time in Bedford at the historical society. I’ve gone to her grave. I’ve gotten as much information on her as I can. I’ve also read a lot about the period.”

Iceman and her husband, Larry, moved to the Lake in 2004 from Pennsylvania. She had never heard of Booker T. Washington until she volunteered at the park. Now, she said, he inspires her.

“Booker T. Washington was an amazing man. He didn’t read until he was a teenager; through hard work and desire ends up the president and founder of a university, but also had tea with the Queen of England at Windsor Palace,” said Iceman. “From Franklin County to Windsor, England, that is travel that not a whole lot of people could imagine. For a black man at that time, it was incredible.”

What Iceman said she tries to accomplish through volunteering with the Living History Guild is for people to learn their history.

“The tobacco farmers who were here in the 19th century were hard-working,” said Iceman. “They were very similar to us. It was only 150 years ago, but they were also very different. Life was hard during the Civil War, but the people were so resourceful. They weren’t afraid to roast acorns when they couldn’t get coffee. They didn’t say ‘woe is me.’ When they couldn’t get cloth, the women got their grandmother’s spinning wheels from the barn and taught themselves how to spin and weave.”

An Old Virginia Christmas will start with children’s activities from 3 until 4:30 p.m. From 4:30 until 5 p.m., visitors can feed the farm animals. The living-history re-enactment tours are from 5 until 8 that night. The event is free.

“Because the farmhouse burned in the 1950s, we recreate the parlor of the farmhouse in the auditorium of the Visitors’ Center,” said Iceman. “There will be a peddler who stops by selling things that people need for Christmas. People were isolated in Franklin County at the time, and when travelers came by, they let them know what was happening in the world.”

“1861 was the last good Christmas for the plantation owners, but [in 1862] they are into the war, and things are harder,” added Haynes.  “Mr. Burroughs died in July of that year, and Mrs. Burroughs is pretty much running the farm.”

Visitors are sure to learn more about the Burroughs and plantation life on Dec. 1. Haynes said she hopes they also find the park a welcoming place.

“The National Park here is not just a place to visit once,” said Haynes.  “We have many events here. And I just want them to care about their history and the park that they have here in their back yard.”

At Booker T.
Living History Guild meets at Booker T. Washington National Monument the first Wednesday of every month at 4 p.m.

If you are looking for a way to walk off your Thanksgiving meal, head to Booker T. Washington National Monument and walk the park’s two nature trails. The Plantation Trail is a ¼-mile loop through the historic area. The Jack-O-Lantern Branch Trail is a 1½-mile meandering walk through fields and forests. Trail guides are available at the visitor center.

Booker T. Washington National Monument, 12130 Booker T. Washington Highway, Hardy. 721-2094. www.nps.gov/bowa