While boats are a typical sight out on Gig Harbor, a rowboat carrying passengers dressed in turn-of-the-century clothing is a bit unusual.
Another unusual sight was the assembled children and school marm, also dressed in clothing reminiscent of the early 1900s, who waited for the rowboat on the shores of Austin Estuary Park last week.
The event was a historical reenactment inspired by settlers of Blake Island and the lives of women, timber workers and smugglers who populated the area at the turn of the century.
The reenactment was produced by three students from the University of Puget Sound as part of a partnership with the Harbor History Museum and Oars Northwest.
I love living history in general. It was kind of a really happy, happy coincidence that the museum allowed us to participate in their program.
Bennet Roper, UPS junior
The reenactment is part of a experimental education class the UPS students are taking, according to Bennet Roper, 21, and is part of the outreach required by the class to engage with local schools about Blake Island.
“I love living history in general,” Roper, a junior and history major at UPS, said. “It was kind of a really happy, happy coincidence that the museum allowed us to participate in their program.”
Along with Roper, the reenactment included UPS students Samuel Friedman and Ryder Marsden, along with Leann O’Neill, a volunteer with the museum, and students from both Gig Harbor Academy and Voyager Elementary.
Roper first contacted the museum looking for some help with research and forming their historical reenactment characters and storyline. The museum connected the students with O’Neill, a UPS graduate and longtime volunteer who has been running the museum’s Pioneer School Experience for the past six years.
It was real special to me because I’m a UPS alumn. It was real fun to work with students from my alma mater. It was a really neat opportunity to mentor the students from UPS.
Leann O’Neill, Harbor History Museum volunteer
“It was real special to me because I’m a UPS alum. It was real fun to work with students from my alma mater,” O’Neill said. “It was a really neat opportunity to mentor the students from UPS.”
With O’Neill’s guidance, the three UPS students invented historically accurate — but fictional — characters and a storyline revolving around a timber worker brother (Marsden) and suffragette sister (Roper) who captured the Blake Island bandit (Friedman).
The reenactment began with the UPS students waiting in their rowboat out on the water while O’Neill lead students on a field trip down to wait by the water. The trio then rowed in and presented their story, with help from O’Neill, to engage the students with stories, jokes, singing and ending on a question and answer session.
Students from Gig Harbor Academy participated in the reenactment on April 13 and students from Voyager Elementary on April 15.
At the end of the reenactment, Friedman explained to the students that the class would be participating on a 100-day trip down the Mississippi River in the rowboat as part of Oars Northwest, a nonprofit educational organization.
I think (living history) is a really engaging way to provide a broad scope of history in a really accessible way. Living history is a way to breathe life into some of the stories that someone reads or sees in the museum and be able to interact with someone who knows and interacts with that history and opens up a really direct and accessible link with that history.
During their Mississippi trip, the UPS students will be engaging with schools along the way about local history and the importance of the river in their communities.
The rowboat used by UPS students in Gig Harbor’s reenactment and for the Mississippi River reenactment this summer was built by Gig Harbor Boatworks, and business owner Dave Robertson and his wife, Janet, watched the rowboat in action on April 15.
For Roper, who plans for a career in education, living history is another tool to engage students and pass on information.
“I think (living history) is a really engaging way to provide a broad scope of history in a really accessible way,” she said. “Living history is a way to breathe life into some of the stories that someone reads or sees in the museum and be able to interact with someone who knows and interacts with that history and opens up a really direct and accessible link with that history.”