Geocache me if you can

Somerset Historical Center, the PHMC site where I spend most of my time, is home to two geocaches. For those of you unfamiliar with this, a geocache can take various forms but is usually a sturdy container with small items to trade and a logbook to sign when you find the box. Geocaches are hidden by their owners for searchers to find, using GPS coordinates and other helpful hints. (For more basics on geocaching, go here.)

Intrigued by the whole idea, I did some research to see how many other sites on the Pennsylvania Trails of History have attracted the interest of geocachers. I started with the official website of geocaching and learned that as of late October, there were more than 930,000 active geocaches around the world. I also learned that a similar activity, called letterboxing, has been around since the 19th century (popular in the U.S. since the late 1990s). Letterboxing uses narrative clues and (sometimes) compass headings, rather than GPS. Letterboxers create and use personalized rubber stamps to record their finds. These are greatly simplified explanations (as those of you already involved in these activities will have noted)—if you’re interested, check out the websites for loads more info on getting started. The websites also include logs where searchers can report on caches and boxes they’ve located (or not located).

As best as I can tell (the websites don’t always spell out the location precisely, since that would spoil the fun) many of our sites have either a geocache or letterbox hidden on the property. Daniel Boone Homestead, Pennsylvania Military Museum, Bushy Run Battlefield, and Graeme Park are just a few of the sites where you can search (please visit during open hours). In some cases, the cache is close to the site and relates to the history (and entries on the tracking websites make reference to our museum)—Erie Maritime Museum, Joseph Priestley House, and Drake Well Museum fall into this category. Cornwall Iron Furnace is an Earthcache—a place for folks to learn about geoscience and the earth’s geological processes. The Pennsylvania Lumber Museum’s Sustainable Forestry trail is part of the Allegheny Geo Trail, a project organized by the Oil Region Alliance. You can find info on caches and letterboxes at or near PHMC sites (or any other location for that matter) by entering the street address or zip code into the search engine on the relevant website.

Geocaching and letterboxing are great ways to explore Pennsylvania, its heritage, and its natural beauty. Perfect matches with the Trails of History.

Thanksgiving already?

Not quite, but we’ve survived Halloween and exhausted our supplies of “fun-size” candy bars (except for the emergency stash). Thanks to all of you who supported the Pennsylvania Trails of History by attending a harvest or Halloween program at one of our sites.

So, what’s coming up (besides more excuses to overeat, or is that just me)? As autumn slides into winter, we all begin to think about our own holiday traditions, and historic sites are no different. PHMC sites host a number of time-honored programs, some of which have been presented for over 20 years. Other offerings are newer, on their way to becoming somebody’s favorite. As always, please check ahead to make sure that an event you want to attend is happening as scheduled.

If you’re in the Harrisburg area, check out one of the newer programs, The Holiday Marketplace, which features the museum stores of about half a dozen sites plus the State Museum. Organized by the Pennsylvania Heritage Society and sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Employees Credit Union (PSECU), the marketplace is a great way to get a jump on your shopping AND support our programs. Marketplace activities will take place from 10:00 AM to 3:00 PM, November 19-20 in the atrium of the Commonwealth Keystone Building, 400 North Street, Harrisburg.

PHMC/Washington Crossing Historic Park

Elsewhere, late November and December are filled with programs and events. Some are designed specifically for children while others are of more general interest. I think the best thing to do is to list them and let you see for yourself.

Coal is Why they Came

Note: I missed a Facebook page in last week's post--the Preservation Trades Technology Program, of which PHMC is a partner, is also on Facebook.

Thanks to museum educator Bill Strassner for the photos.

School field trips are becoming scarcer. Teachers are looking for more resources to teach history in the classroom. So it’s no surprise that the museum traveling trunk is as popular as ever. Not a new invention, the traveling trunk is a time-tested way to take the museum (a little of it, anyway) to the classroom. Eckley Miners’ Village is the latest site on the Trails of History to embark on such a venture, with the development of “Coal is Why they Came.”

With a grant from The 1772 Foundation, Eckley has created a traveling trunk curriculum for students in third and fourth grades that explores life in a 19th-century coal patch town. The program also helps students learn about the role of anthracite (hard) coal in the development of industrial America.

The trunk contains a wealth of materials that teachers can use to bring history to life—toys and games, reproduction period clothing for boys and girls, mining tools, books, and DVDs. There’s even a CD of period music so students can learn some of the songs their 19th-century counterparts would have sung.

Eckley’s museum educator, Bill Strassner, has been working with area teachers and administrators to make sure the traveling trunk meets Pennsylvania’s academic standards as well as local curriculum needs. In addition to the objects the students work with, teachers also will find a variety of support materials to help them make the most of the trunk.

Strassner is currently testing the program by taking it into classrooms himself. But once the program officially kicks off at the beginning of 2010, teachers will be able to borrow the trunk (at no charge) for anywhere from two to four weeks.

If you’re a teacher in the anthracite region (public, private, parochial, or homeschool), you can contact Strassner by way of Eckley’s website for more information.