Mahomet museum's Prairie Stories event brings 1800s living to life

Mahomet museum's Prairie Stories event brings 1800s living to life

MAHOMET — Rainfall couldn't keep Mahomet's Linda Eardley from checking out the Museum of the Grand Prairie's Prairie Stories event with her two grandchildren, Kaden Johnson, 8, and Libby Johnson, 6, on Saturday.

"We just love it out here," Eardley said. "It's kind of my thing with the grandkids."

The museum brought 19th-century East Central Illinois to life over the weekend with activities such as basket weaving, blacksmithing, butter churning, candle dipping, pottery making and much more.

"This is an annual event that we've done for over a decade at least and the whole idea of the event is to help bring the 19th century to life by bringing some engaging activities to visitors," said Patrick Cain, public program/visitor services coordinator for the museum.

Eardley's grandchildren enjoyed listening to the Civil War soldiers the most.

"They were just down there for about 20 minutes chatting with those guys," Eardley said. "They loved it."

Kaden and Libby Johnson also enjoyed molding clay with the help of pottery volunteer Connie Dodson of Champaign.

Dodson, who belongs to the Champaign-Urbana Potter's Club, taught visitors the uniqueness of molding pottery by hand over a potter's wheel.

"I like the sculptural aspect of doing things by hand," Dodson said. "If you make mistakes, those mistakes end up being something beautiful."

Matthew Dobsch of Champaign enjoyed English country dancing alongside his three children, Lily, 9, Jace, 7, and Hannah, 5, to the tunes and instructions from the Central Illinois English Country Dancers. Dance moves included square dance moves such as do-si-dos, two-hand turns, trading places with partners and partners running up the middle of the line formation.

"They do a great job and it's cool to interact with people who you didn't know coming into the event — you're face to face with your neighbor," Cain said. "And it's not too difficult for some of us for who have two left feet."

"It was fun," Matthew Dobsch added. "I'm just excited to see them (his children) doing something different and expanding their horizons. They're not sitting at home watching TV. They're getting out and doing some neat stuff."

Dobsch's children's favorite activities included the basket weaving, blacksmithing and pottery making.

"It was great," he added "It's a rainy day outside and it sounded like the perfect opportunity. I was really impressed with those ladies sitting in the rooms making yarn, doing their crafts — it's their hobby and they love it, and I just like seeing them engage with people. It's pretty cool."

Wendy Engelhardt, 9, of Champaign enjoyed the candle dipping.

"You have to dip the candle in really quick and then pull it right back out," she said of the process.

Wendy's father, James Engelhardt, said activities such as Prairie Stories allow his daughter to explore and experience history firsthand.

"Wendy was talking about Laura Ingals Wilder, and to get a sense of what goes into some of these tasks, like churning butter or candle making, it gives you a perspective that you just can't get from a book, TV show or movie," he said.

Cain said more than 180 people visited the museum for the 19th-century festivities. The event requires the efforts of approximately 30 volunteers. Coordination for next year's Sept. 14 Prairie Stories has already begun. More than anything, Cain hopes museum events such as Prairie Stories encourage people to engage in their history.

"That's the whole goal of these events," Cain said. "It's bringing history to light and letting people of all ages and from various backgrounds connect with their history, especially local history."