Fresh from a Civil War battlefield, a wounded soldier was draped over a table and a medic was ready to operate. It didn’t go well. The patient died, the spectators shouted and in the background a group played “Taps”.
The reconstructed scene was popular with attendees and visitors alike at the annual Cumberland Festival of Life presented on Tuesday by eighth grade students from Greencastle-Antrim Middle School in Tayamentasachta, the school district’s environmental center.
In the decades-old tradition, students started working in March, researched a 19th-century trade, hobby, or lifestyle, wrote a research paper, narrowed it down to files and brought them to life.
The festival did not take place in 2020 because schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2021 event featured some related changes, including no samples of homemade apple dumplings, pretzels or potato chips and square dance steps.
‘Rite of passage’
Regardless, Megan Long, a social studies teacher, said, “It’s quite remarkable to allow students to do this rite of passage in a year when most things were not normal.”
She ran the festival with her fellow social studies teacher Shane Marville, but all the other eighth grade teachers are involved in the festival, which is also supported by administrators, maintenance and Kerri Barnes, director of the environmental center.
“The kids are doing a fabulous job, it’s good to see them here,” Barnes said.
“We are very happy to be able to do this,” said Sheila Keller, language teacher.
Due to COVID-19, only middle school students visited the festival, which is normally open to elementary and primary schools as well.
Students who were able to attend listened intently to the 30 different stations ranging from Civil War and Underground Railroad spies to farm animals, trapping, candle making and calligraphy.
They crowded in front of the smithy door where Jayden Pine, Gavin Bowers and Austin Martin heated metal rods in the fire and used a hammer to shape them on the anvil under the direction of Karl Bacon.
Bacon, who graduated from Greencastle-Antrim High School in 2008, was introduced to blacksmithing at his Cumberland Life Festival, and pursued it as a hobby and volunteered to help on Tuesday.
“It’s funny!” he apologized.
Things were also a bit hot and smoky around the pot cooking demonstration.
“We love food,” Nick Reed said.
He, Hunter Shover, Joel Amstutz and Carmella Poper took turns using a long wooden spoon to stir the cast iron kettle on the fire. They were cooking a beef stew with potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, parsley and peppercorns.
“I can’t wait to taste it,” Carmella said.
Most of the boys at the festival wore plaid shirts and the girls wore old-fashioned dresses. The school has a stash of outfits, but many students like to have their own clothes, Long said.
Carmella wore a floral green dress and a matching mask. A friend of her mother’s made the mask from the beanie that came with the outfit, which Carmella ordered from Amazon.
Many of her peers have also turned to Amazon, and Carmella said she has seen other girls wearing the same dress in different colors.
Amazon wasn’t the only modern feature of 19th century presentations. Visitors to the photography station could put their faces in cutouts on a painting painted with old-fashioned clothing, but their photos were taken with an iPad. Photos will be made old-fashioned with a black and white filter.