LOWER TOWNSHIP — Most thought it was a hula hoop, but then what was the stick for?
One little boy used the stick to bang the wooden circle, before a history interpreter explained a game from 19th century rural America.
The stick, it turned out, was used to roll the wooden circle around. This was a boy’s game, explained Historic Cold Spring Village interpreter Dona Kemling, but a more refined game with sticks and hoops, called the game of graces, was played by the girls in farming villages more than a century ago.
A local girl, Mariah Klinger, 7, and her friend Iliana Navarro, 11, of Williamstown, Gloucester County, took a turn at it. The girls each used two sticks to try and send a wooden hoop flying. In the 1800s, girls would have a game of catch with a wooden hoop, becoming experts at maneuvering the sticks just right to send the wooden hoop flying. The other girl would catch the hoop with her two sticks.
“This is hard. You have to move the sticks,” said Navarro.
Klinger said she wanted to practice the game some more “so I can do better.”
“Graces is one of the favorite games, because they play catch. We sell them in the store,” said interpreter Martha Cella referring to the Cold Spring Country Store.
Playing such decidedly low-tech children’s games was part of Family FunFest Weekend at the village. The FunFest took place all day Saturday and will continue today from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Children played quoits, nine pins, skittles, hoops and sticks, and game of graces They also made corn-husk dolls, ropes and hand fans that were a useful tool in the days before air conditioning.
“They forget about all their iPods,” said Cella.
The children also learned about chores from the period. Interpreter Tammy Patterson showed them the wooden yoke that would wrap around their neck as they carried water buckets.
“Eight-year-olds would carry these buckets of water. They were strong. There were coyotes and bears out there, but you couldn’t tell your parents you were scared,” Patterson said.
Parents enjoyed the lessons their children learned.
“I think its neat. It gives them a chance to see what the kids lived like in the 1800s and how good they have it now,” said local resident Marlene Leonard.
Isabelle Dupont, of Montreal, who was here on vacation, brought her children Elizabeth, 4, and Genieve, 2, to see the village. Dupont said she came here as a child when her family was camping nearby and thinks its an important lesson for children.
“They love it. There’s no water and electricity. My God, how did they do it,” said Dupont.
The Family FunFest also includes a Mother Goose nursery rhyme theme. The village has 26 restored historic buildings and each one featured a nursery rhyme, an explanation of its history, and in some cases costumed characters to help tell the story. The “Muffin Man” rhyme was at the bakery, “This Little Pig” was where real-life pigs Digger and Dozer (the village has farm animals) live, “The Farmer in the Dell” was the featured rhyme where newborn calf Nugget lives, and “A Tisket A Tasket (a green and yellow basket)“ was at the basketmaker’s station. These are just a few examples of how the theme in the rhyme matched a village operation.
The rhymes seemed to be as big a hit with the adults as the children, as they grew up with them. They learned even more about them at FunFest, such as the history behind each one.
“‘Mary Mary Quite Contrary’ is about Queen Mary,” said Joan Thomas of the group Friends of HIstoric Cold Spring Village. “A lot of rhymes were political satire because common folk couldn’t speak against the king. Secret messages were sent.”
Visitors will learn that Mary did have a little lamb. The rhyme comes from a true story about a girl taking her lamb to school in Massachusetts.
Visitors can also learn that Little Miss Muffet may have been the step-daughter of 16th century English entomologist Dr. Thomas Muffet. He was an expert on spiders, but his step-daughter Patience was not fond of them. They can also find out when This Little Pig morphed in This Little Piggy and became a game to play with a baby’s toes.
Some rhymes were used in children’s games or evolved from them. “A Tisket A Tasket” was used in a children’s games when the kids all got in a circle. One ran on the outside and dropped a handkerchief. The nearest child picked it up and chased the dropper. If caught, the dropper was kissed, joined the circle or had to tell the name of his sweetheart. Thomas said the rhyme was even used by adults.
“It was used by sawyers to saw wood. There are colleges that teach nursery rhyme courses,” Thomas said.
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