Saturday, January 16, 2016

Junior Ranger Field Trip: Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site

One of the interesting things about the drive to my hometown is that there are two completely different routes that you can take to get there (south, then west, or west, then south), and yet both routes take approximately the same time.

When we visited the Pink Palace Museum and the Little Rock Central High National Historic Site, we drove south, then west. When we visited the Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site in St. Louis, we drove west, then south.

Here, then, at the junction of west and south, is where Grant lived for a time with his in-laws. 

But one of the interesting things about the in-laws?

They owned slaves.

That was actually the most interesting thing about the national historic site, as well, since the museum seems to have taken great care to document what they can about the lives of the enslaved African American workforce who lived and labored here. Unfortunately, a lot of it is speculation, as there of course wouldn't be much textual evidence of the personal lives of the enslaved people--

--but there were a few instances where the family made revelations that seem shocking to us, but must have been commonplace to them. The following letter, for instance, is both powerful and disturbing, as in it, a member of the family is recording the sale of teenagers and children; the one-year-old is, at least, being sold with her seventeen-year-old mother, but the six-year-old little girl who is also being sold is certainly not her daughter, nor the daughter of the eighteen-year-old being sold. As well, the seventeen-year-old is described as a "mulatress," which I explained to Will meant that her mother had been sexually abused by a white slave owner, probably one of the men in the family.

The kids weren't as interested in the museum portion of the historic site--
Syd is buying things for this room using 1850s currency values.

--although Will, of course, found the barn--

--and the horse stuff!

Matt was all, "Why are you taking my picture, Woman?"

He clearly needs a Ulysses S Grant coat of his own.
Just between you and me, it's because he's so pretty.

 Oh, and check this out--Ulysses S Grant's hair!

The Junior Ranger activities were pretty challenging here, which is awesome--I'm a little disappointed every time I see a word search or a maze in a Junior Ranger book, because really? You've got an entire national park full of information to encourage a child to explore, and instead you're going to have her sit here and do a maze?

Anyway, the activities here were great ones that required a lot of research and the use of environmental clues, although some of the information was presented during our tour, and therefore although we knew we'd heard it, the kids had a lot of trouble remembering the specific details. Such was the case with the last name of the enslaved man that Ulysses S Grant had freed. I knew that our tour guide had said it, but we couldn't remember it, and in the site's film, which we watched at the end of our visit, they only said his first name.

Will eventually had to leave that one answer blank when she presented her book to the Park Ranger. I was surprised that the Park Ranger gently chastised her for not having this answer, and told her that the man's last name could be found in the film. I chimed in with, "Hmmm... have you seen the film recently?" 

This same Park Ranger, as we were chatting a few minutes later, also informed me that homeschooled children are "less curious" than children in schools, because when she leads field trips, she claims that the children in homeschool groups ask fewer questions than the children in school groups.

I, of course, told her that homeschooled children are accustomed to using all kinds of research to get their questions answered, and are just as likely to browse the museum and read the informational signs as they are to simply blurt a question out to the nearest authority figure. I may have imparted this information a tad tartly, because the Park Ranger next shared with us the location of a nearby ice cream shop that's somewhat of a local secret, and by the time we'd driven there and bought ourselves some ice cream (they turn each cup upside-down when they pass it to you, to show off how thick their ice cream is!), I had mostly forgiven her.

Still... my children, less curious than other children. The very idea! 

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