Last Updated: Jan 8th, 2015 - 07:42:25

History exhibits brought to life
By James Peacemaker, Jr., Managing Editor
Mar 18, 2013, 13:30

JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Mike White portrays President Teddy Roosevelt during the Night at the Quartermaster Museum on Saturday.

FORT LEE -- Using actors is a great way to draw kids into a museum exhibit on history -- and apparently it works for adults as well.

“It sure has changed over the years,” said James Smith, who lived on Fort Lee back in the 1960s. “When I was here as a kid, you push a button on a box and it would start talking.”

The Army Quartermaster Museum brought in actors from the Theater Company at Fort Lee on Saturday night to bring the exhibits to life for its fourth annual Night at the Quartermaster Museum, drawing inspiration from the Ben Stiller movies with a similar title.

More than 100 kids and many adults came out to learn about how quartermasters supply the Army with everything it needs for battle.
JAMES PEACEMAKER JR./HOPEWELL NEWS/NEWS-PATRIOT Fictional security guards led people on tours through the Quartermaster Museum for the annual event Saturday night.

Each tour is led by a security guard who faces getting in big trouble if they can’t put 10 artifacts back in their proper places. Groups of 10 kids went through the museum at a time with each given the responsibility of figuring out where one artifact belongs -- with the help of corresponding historical figures brought to life by the actors.

“It is so awesome being able to interact and have the exhibits actually come to life,” said Katie Farley, a museum educator who played one of the security guards. “It’s neat to have people here that really do want to learn history.”

Amanda Sims and Mellen Heggie, with the Fort Lee theater company, played a pair of Southern belles from City Point who told how Gen. Ulysses S. Grant turned the town into one of the busiest supply ports in the world during the Civil War.

“The kids at first are kind of timid. By the time they get back there, they are talking about it and they remember and they are learning. I think they get more out of it than if they were coming through with their school,” Sims said.

Other figures included Gen. Thomas Jesup, father of the Quartermaster Corps, a uniform maker, a meat packer, President Theodore Roosevelt, a woman who explained how Jefferson Davis used camels to haul materials, a mortuary affairs officer looking for remains from a plane crash, a parachute rigger and his sweetheart who was using a military shower, and a black railroad builder who was one of the first federal employees to get the same pay as white workers doing the same job.

Joshua Garrison, one of the kids who took the tour, said he enjoyed all of the actors, especially Henry Ford due to his interest in cars.

Gardner Graham, who played Ford, said he researched the role and wanted to focus on the auto industry and the importance of the Model T in Army transportation. He said there are other lesser-known parts of Ford’s life he hoped wouldn’t come up, hinting at Ford’s antisemitic behavior.

“I am waiting for one of the parents to ask me about that.”

Colonial Heights High School students Alexandra Hsain and Oliveia Popp portrayed water dogs, who make sure soldiers have clean drinking water. They needed a pH tester from the kids to complete their job. They are active in the school’s history club and theater program.

“I think interactive theater is amazing when you get to correspond with your audience and see their reactions,” Hsain said.

“I am a history person. I just got accepted into the history program at Longwood, so to me I am in my element,” Popp said.

Trish White, a member of the theater company who spoke in a British accent to play a driver for Gen. Dwight D.Eisenhower in World War II England, said there was a lot of work to get the role just right, but it was still nerve-racking despite the young audience.

“It’s good for your blood pressure. It makes you know you are alive and awake,” she said.


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