A Hagerstown jewel: Fun historical events taking place at the Jonathan Hager House and Museum

A Hagerstown jewel
Fun historical events taking place at the Jonathan Hager House and Museum
by Jennifer LB Leese

The Jonathan Hager House and Museum is a great place to learn about the city you live in. When's the last time you stopped by? Maybe you've already toured the house...but have you checked out all the events that are going on? There's always something going on at the house and in the lecture area.
On Thursday, August 19 at 7pm, visit the Jonathan Hager House & Museum in Hagerstown's City Park for the first-ever Recreation Frontier-Style event. This lecture and slideshow event is free and the public is welcome to come and learn of how the original residents of Hagerstown, during the 18th & 19th centuries, had fun.
"We researched this program about 6 years ago. We were interested in finding more about what people would have done for fun here on the frontier and that time period," said John Bryan, historic sites facilitator for the City of Hagerstown and curator/director at the Hager House. "The perception really is that you didn't have a lot to do - it was thought that you'd work all day from sun up to sun down then you'd go to bed and there wasn't much else, but actually during the mid to late colonial period and into the early part of the 19th century (1800s), Hagerstown really had a lot of amusement for folks living here on the frontier much like they would have had in the larger cities - Baltimore and Philadelphia," Bryan said.
"There was pretty much a tavern on every corner. Most of these taverns had large rooms, like a banquet room or ball room where they would do things like dancing. There were also people who made silhouettes, an early form of photography." Horse racing was also a huge thing going on in Hagerstown during this time period. "They used to race up and down Franklin Street - anywhere basically they could run, they would," Bryan said. "There were some unusual things as well - some people used to bring their side shows to town where they'd have a guy who'd have talking figures or statues and things of that nature. So as you can see there was a lot to do during the frontier." The program highlights those types of things and is a lecture set to a slideshow and should be approximately 45 minutes in length. This event will take place in the lecture area, which is the office building adjacent of the Hager House. Tours of the house will not be available during this time.
On Saturday, August 21 from 1-4pm join fellow Hagerstownians at the Jonathan Hager House and Museums for their third Colonial Family Fun Day. The public is invited to come out and learn about the pastimes of families on the frontier and compete against other families in a fun-filled field day.
As with all activities and events at the Hager House, visitors "can get a little historical background of some of the pastimes that our ancestors on the frontier would have enjoyed and played.
"We were looking for a program that was hands-on where we could get all members of the family involved," said Bryan. "We're trying to develop programs where children can participate, but we would also like everybody in the family to have an opportunity to join in."
The day is to consist of tours of the house and several games of the time period. Colonial families did not have computer games, a television, and rarely had books to read, so they often created their own games.
Rounders is one of those games. It is a hitting and fielding game where the objective is to hit the ball and run round 4 bases to get a "rounder". Children or adults of any age can play. The only equipment needed is a small (17" long) wooden bat and a 2 3/4 " diameter ball that looks like a small baseball. Players do not wear gloves since the ball is small. Rounders can be traced back to the 16th century where it was very popular in England. Colonial America had Rounders as a pastime.
"We're also going to be playing "Blind Man's Bluff", which a lot of folks know, that also dates back in early Colonial times almost 2000 years, probably back into Greece. It may have even been named after a French king who was wounded in battle and he couldn't see, so he tried to slash around to fight his enemy."
Research tells me that the game was played as far back as the Middle Ages (before 1350) and there are references of it being played during the Tudor period (between 1485 and 1603), however the game was known as "Hoodsman's Blind" because the usual blindfold was simply a liripipe hat or a hood put on backwards with the face opening to the back of the head.
Blind Man's Bluff is a children's game in which one player, designated as "It," is blindfolded and fumbles around attempting to touch the other players without being able to see them, while the other players scatter and try to avoid the person who is "it", hiding in plain sight and sometimes teasing them to make them change direction. The game is a variant of tag and Marco Polo.
"Another game that we have that's more historical is called "Quoits" (pronounced: "k-waits"), which is basically a combination of horseshoes and ring toss. Originally they would have used steel rings. [The object of the game is to] throw the ring over the pole. Depending on how far away you are from the pole, that's how you score your points." There is evidence of a similar game, which was played by Ancient Greeks and Romans before being spread to Britain. There are mentions of the game in England from 1388, although Edward III who believed it to be a foolish pastime banned the game in the 1360s.
Ninepins began during the third century in church where the Germans developed an idea of placing a pin, or "kegel", representing the center, so that parishioners could roll a rock, aiming for the pin. If the pin was knocked over then the sinner was considered to be without sin. This game is also known as Bowl on the Green. Ninepin bowling was introduced to America from Europe during the colonial era and is similar to the game of skittles.
The fifth game to be played is called "Rolling the Hoop", which is either played as a race or sometimes participants throw the hoops with the sticks and your partner tries to catch it. Research shows that the game is known to have been played since early ancient times, as seen on Greek vase paintings (500 BC).
"I believe our last game will be the traditional "Sack Race". So I think we'll have a lot for everyone to participate in," said Bryan.
The games are played on the lower grounds near the Hager House.
John Bryan feels that many play these types of games, but they never really think about where they came from. "Now given the historical background will be an educational experience," he said.
"We want folks to understand that there's a place where we focus on the colonial and the history behind Hager and his house, but also we try to be more expansive on the life on the frontier in general. It's a place for history but it's also where families can come and have fun at the park."
John Bryan also works with the Hagerstown Railroad Museum and would like to announce that on Saturday, August 21 from 9am to 4pm they will be having their first-ever Summer Train show. This event will take place in the hall at the Zion Lutheran Church located at 35 West Potomac Street, Williamsport, Maryland.
"You can think of this event as a swap meet or flea market for railroad enthusiasts." There will be approximately twenty tables full of model railroad accessories. This is a cooperative event in which the museum partners with the Roundhouse Museum, located on Burhans Blvd. "We're trying to do something different," said Bryan.
Admission is $3 at the door and children 12 and under are free. Food will be available to purchase on site for the benefit of the Zion Lutheran Church. All remaining proceeds will benefit restoration projects at the Hagerstown Railroad Museum in City Park and the Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum.
If you'd like to rent a table, for only $10, for this event or for more information about the show call 301-739-8393, e-mail jbryan@hagerstownmd.org or visit the Hagerstown Railroad Museum at City Park located at 525 Highland Way adjacent to the Mansion House Art Gallery or The Hagerstown Roundhouse Museum located at 300 S. Burhans Blvd. Hagerstown.
History isn't what happened, but a story of what happened and the lessons these stories include. So take interest in your history!
The Jonathan Hager House & Museum is located in the Hagerstown City Park (110 Key Street). For more information on the events visit www.hagerhouse.org or call 301-739-8393. Registration is required for most of the events, so call today.

The Jonathan Hager House and Museum is looking for volunteers. Pull weeds, water and plant foliage, or learn how to give tours. Call 301-739-8393 to find out how to volunteer!