Old-Fashioned Fun on Labor Day Weekend at Homestead National Monument

A "teacher" and students in the restored Freeman School. NPS photo.

What did Americans do for entertainment before IPods, ear buds and flat screen TV? Homestead National Monument of America will let you sample some pioneer-style fun during the Labor Day weekend. Monday's events will include an old-fashioned spelling bee, and spellers of all ages are invited to participate.

Homestead National Monument of America is located in southeastern Nebraska, and the park features one of the major events in our nation's history: the Homestead Act of 1862 and its pivotal impact on American expansion and settlement. The big lure for settlers was free land, but those hardy pioneers also had to rely on their imagination for free entertainment.

This coming weekend, the park will offer a 3-day Living History Extravaganza, and visitors will have a chance to enjoy some hands-on activities, pioneer-style—and to exercise their brains a bit at Monday's Old Fashioned Spelling Bee.

“Labor Day weekend was meant as a time to rest. No one would disagree that the life of a pioneer was often difficult, and at Homestead visitors can see how they worked and how they played,” said Superintendent Mark Engler.

The event will run from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day, September 4 - 6, 2010. Park Rangers and volunteers in period clothing will be demonstrating fun living history activities at the Education Center, Heritage Center and Freeman School. All activities are free, so you can't be the price.

You can make your very own cornhusk doll at the Heritage Center and visit the newly restored Palmer-Epard Cabin, built in 1872. At the Education Center you can experience how clothes were washed with a washboard and basin, authentic stompers and a clothes wringer, and then try your hand at candle-dipping.

Schools are getting underway for another year all across the country, but today's students live in a much different world than their counterparts on the frontier. Visitors can travel back in time on a visit to the Freeman School, a historic one-room schoolhouse, and learn a few lessons from the park’s school teachers.

A highlight of the weekend will be the spelling bee, scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday, September 6 at the Freeman School. (If weather conditions require, the event will be moved to the park's Education Center.) Spelling Bees were not only a chance for good spellers to be recognized but were also social events for homesteaders. “We hope people of all ages come and enjoy the fun of an old-fashioned spelling bee,” said superintendent Engler.

Words for the contest will be taken from the Eclectic Spelling Book published by McGuffey’s in 1879. Contestants will be divided into four categories; under 7, 7 to 11, 12 to 15, and over 16 to adult. Winners will receive trophies, and the youngest and oldest speller will also receive a copy of the Eclectic Spelling Book.

The event is a partnership between Homestead National Monument of America and the Beatrice Daily Sun. The park staff points out that, "Newspapers have a long history of sponsoring Spelling Bees. While spelling competitions in one-room schools were common, the first Spelling Bee in United States history was held in 1925 and was sponsored by a Kentucky newspaper for nine contestants. This Bee has since expanded and is now the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C."

Finally, if you'd like to sample a bit of the homesteader's natural world, you can enjoy the park's 100 acres of restored tallgrass prairie. This restoration has been managed by the National Park Service for over 60 years, making it the second oldest restoration of tallgrass prairie in the nation, and the oldest in the National Park System.

The park is located about 40 miles south of Lincoln, Nebraska. You'll find driving directions and other information to help plan a visit on the park website.

Comments

I had the privilege of visiting Homestead in summer 2009. I had planned to spend maybe half a day there at most. But it was such a fascinating place with a friendly staff and visitor center filled with such intriguing displays that I was simply hooked and wound up spending an entire day. If the great air show at Oshkosh hadn't been beckoning, I'd have spent even more time there.

The little town of Beatrice (be sure you learn to pronounce it correctly . . . . ) was also a delightful place to visit. Camped in their town park in the middle of a pleasant neighborhood and found the natives there to be as friendly and helpful as the staff at HOME.