History to entertain: adding a splash of color to grey literature

By Chris

My first HAZEx BLOG is about my two favorite jobs. I thought this would make it less scary to start off my little series. It has always needled at me and many of my old archaeology buddies in CRM that most of the great little stories of history we uncover are lost in the state archives. We put together our reports and after months and sometimes years of field work and research we often only get to tell the stories to the occasional passing farmer or pod of kids.

Our 2007 and 2008 archaeological surveys for public housing and transportation got me immersed in the cattle barons of the North Country. Before that I had never pictured the open fields along the Saint Lawrence populated by cowboys and horse-traders. But when we tested the remaining outbuilding at the former Gifford Farm and the Wild Rose Thoroughbred Stables I got a different view of the former landscape of the now built-over City of Watertown. I also delved into the early film history of Ithaca (see this blog next week for more on that)

…and so last Summer I started writing scripts for small vignettes performing bits of local history. HAZEx partnered with a couple Ithaca-based non-profit Historical Groups (Historic Ithaca and the History Center) and HAZEx produced (with $150 from the History Center) and directed the Haunted History Tour of Ithaca, New York over seven nights in the Fall to a sold-out audience totaling over 400 folks.

It took a whole lot of help from other historians, a great cast of docents and actors and many other colorful characters such as Ithaca’s own experts on silent film (Terry Harbin) and swashbuckling (Ron & Yalena Lis). The tour had flying ghosts, screaming murderers, fallen children, and celluloid come-to-life and made the local historical society a nice addition to their coffers in a year when so many county historical societies were suffering.

This spring HAZEx became so busy with new projects stemming from the new Federally funded infra-structure that I had to let the societies continue the tours without me. But the plan is to continue writing scripts and telling the stories lost in our reports through outdoor theatre.

I am now working on a nautical tour through time across Cayuga Lake. There will be ship-wrecks, lost fiancés, bootleggers, and tinsel-makers in abundance. We were part of the third phase of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail and found some exciting new clues about some of these stories. Whether this research will continue and become part of the stories remains to be seen. I just hope it won’t mean HAZEx digging through icy soil yet again.

Thanks for reading. For comments or questions email me at Chris@HAZExplorations.com

Categories : Public Archaeology

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