A reminder of who I should be

Life is about relationships. It’s about how we choose to make a mark on this earth, who we can impact and reach in a positive way before our number is called.

This is something I forget sometimes. I used to be better. I used to remember every single visitor’s name, even remember their dog’s names, their likes and dislikes. That was when work was easier. I was a seasonal interpreter and had time to invest in building relationships with visitors, and thus, enhancing their experience and making them feel as if they belonged and were a valued addition to the property. I was pretty good at that.

Then, I became a grown up. I got a full-time job. Oftentimes, moving up in the field of interpretation (whether at parks or museums) means moving from the front visitor lines to behind a desk in a back office. The desk world is tough. Staring at a computer screen, meeting deadlines, doing budgets (math isn’t my thing), and being a logistics coordinator means I spend less and less time with visitors. That’s how I excuse my “inability” to learn visitor’s names and backstories. I leave that job to our seasonal heritage interpreters, the role I once held so well.

I am wrong, though. I need to hold onto this role. I need to strike a balance between the desk duties and visitor interaction. I have been letting this desk job get the best of me. Luckily, last week’s History Camp brought me back to life. Hanging out with seven kids for the week, designing and leading programs like I did as a seasonal interpreter, detaching myself from the computer, and just taking time to enjoy their personalities has reinvigorated me.

Our History Camp ran Monday through Thursday of the past week. We had boys and girls ranging in age from six to 11 years. I’ve led many camps before, but none quite like this. This one seemed special. We had less kids than camps I’d led in the past, and that was really a blessing. It allowed us to absorb their personalities and really bond through the week. Each day started with an ice breaker, created by staff member Amanda. We learned many things about each other, from one camper’s ability to recite all the presidents to another’s musical talents. Though the week, we toured through the mansion and ventured into the “creepy and smelly” basement. We embarked on a scavenger hunt (which prompted one high-energy camper to repeatedly hide in closets) and even took a field trip to the Old Lighthouse Museum where we had a fantastic tour led by Karen. Our last day ended with a special lunch from Top Dog. Seeing the kids picnicking in the formal mansion gardens with ketchup and mustard smeared all over their faces was a great contrast.

The last few minutes of camp were a little crazy. We were cleaning up lunch, passing out t-shirts, and parents were coming to get their kids. As they were leaving, many campers expressed interest in coming back again next year; some wished it could be History Camp every day of the summer. They even offered to move into the mansion, live in the servant’s quarters and clean for me if they could stay a little longer.

Yes, we will be offering History Camp again next summer. I hope my feeling of having reconnected with an interpreter’s purpose doesn’t fade through the next year. If it does, I will count on these campers to reinvigorate me again in 2017.

Thanks to our staff and volunteers for their assistance. Thanks, especially, to our seven campers for reminding me that life is about relationships and the way we relate with each other as human beings on this earth. Thanks for reminding me that it’s important to step away from my desk and connect with visitors. I hope our camp has impacted and reached each one of you in a positive way. See you in 2017.

By Jessica Rosier, Director

jrosier@emichigancity.com

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New Discoveries at the Barker Mansion

Today the staff members did something that has been on our bucket list since the beginning of the summer- we opened up the attic spaces and took a peak inside. The staff have anxiously awaited this afternoon when we would all be free to take our flashlights out and see if the Purdue (or even the Barkers) left some treasures in the attic. There are two openings into the attic- one in the old 1857 part of the mansion and the other in the ballroom on the 3rd floor of the 1905 edition. Who knew what we would expect! Would there be enough room to physically inspect brickwork or would we be blocked at the door and only take a small look into the area where so many of our visitors ask questions about. I was not taking any risks when it came to climbing up into the attic. I came to work prepared with my jeans stuffed into long socks and boots. It looked like I was going into a bio-hazardous situation with my NASA sweatshirt pulled over my head and secured with a mask. But I wanted to be safe rather than sorry.

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Suited up for our attic adventure

 

When we opened the attic in the 1857 house,  fellow Heritage Interpreter T.J. and I were able to crawl around and examine where the old brick meets the new edition. We saw original piping and what looked like the makings of an old duct in the kitchen. Instructions for the laying of wool insulation littered the area beneath us as we carefully made our way to each rafter. The Ballroom was not as fruitful. I had hoped to find a bust of Katherine Barker which would complete our set of busts of John H. Barker, Anna Barker, and young Catherine Barker. I wanted to find missing pictures or perhaps small toys that were placed there for safe keeping and later forgotten. Unfortunately, all we saw was modern insulation.

Seeing the attic was just another way I could really visualize what sort of construction was happening in the mansion over 100 years ago. I can more accurately define where the 1857 house ends and the new edition begins after seeing that raw footprint. But like any good researcher, we were left with even more questions and more opportunities for some interpretation of the construction in our Behind the Scenes tours. The sites were truly remarkable and warrant further research to bring what we saw today into aspects of our tours and exhibits.

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Heritage Interpreter T.J. Kalin takes the first look into the 3rd floor attic

If you are looking to know more about the workings of the mansion or simply just want to peak into rooms that are not included on the 1pm guided tour, come to our Behind the Scenes tours on Wednesday nights at 7pm. Doors open 15 prior to the tour. Capacity is limited to the first 15 guests that arrive. Tickets are $15/adult, $10/youth.

See http://www.barkermansion.com for more details.


Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter

 

Exhibits at the Barker Mansion

One of the things I most enjoy about working at the Barker Mansion is that I am surrounded by real living history. It can also pose as a disadvantage in many cases- we don’t allow photography of the artifacts, we cannot touch the artifacts and most of the items on the tours, some rooms must be roped off at the door. It is honestly an oxymoron. We want people to enjoy the history that the house provides, but as staff we create barriers so items can be preserved and enjoyed for future generations. One of the ways we can show guests artifacts is by creating exhibits.

Yesterday the Barker Mansion staff moved many of the exhibit cases from the 3rd floor ballroom to several other rooms in the mansion. Previously, the 3rd floor was a self- guided floor where several exhibit cases were created with items collected from the mansion. Today our first tour experienced our new exhibit case locations. Cases were put in the Catherine’s sitting room, master bathroom, master bedroom, and exhibits are still waiting to be created in the drawing room and old master bedroom. The tour flowed seamlessly- guests were able to visualize what items Mrs. Barker used in the master bedroom or see what toys Catherine played with in her sitting room. As a heritage interpreter here at the mansion, I am always examining how my tours go and what snags I come across in the story I tell. When the staff came together, we noticed similar problems in how our tour was constructed. Exhibit cases enhanced the experience of the tour and allowed guests to participate in learning what Catherine’s childhood was like here at the Barker Mansion.

Come take a look at our new exhibits!

Tours are offered Tuesday- Saturday from 10am – 11:30am for a 1st floor self guided tour and Tuesday- Saturday promptly at 1pm for a guided tour of all 3 floors of the mansion.Our Behind the Scenes tours are Wednesday nights at 7pm. Entry is limited to the first 15 guests.

See http://www.barkermansion.com for more details.


Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter