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By David Knopf/News Editor
There’s nothing sleepy about history, at least the way Hal Middleton and Karen Joiner tell it. Middleton, a former eighth-grade history teacher, and Joiner, a volunteer with deep roots in Ray County, led groups of Richmond fifth-graders through Ray County Museum Tuesday on a field trip.
“We’re just going to give you a little taste of what history’s about,” Middleton said, greeting the first of five classes to come through the museum. “Maybe you’ll come back.”
With the life their guides injected into the subject matter, odds are it could happen.
The students visited a number of the museum’s theme rooms, covering such topics as the Civil War, World Wars, Native Americans, African Americans, Grandma’s Kitchen and Richmond High School.
Five or six of the first 19 students to come through the museum said they’d been there before. Middleton told them about the building’s history, how it was built in 1910 as a rest home for the county’s poor and indigent. He pointed out how it was laid out a bit like an airplane, with each floor divided into two halls coming off a center section, much like the wings of a jetliner.
There was no air-conditioning back then, Middleton said, and “when the door was opened and the windows kept open a breeze would come through.”
The building closed as a county home in the early 1970s, was reopened as a museum and then placed on the National Register of Historic Places, Middleton said.
As the guides led the students through exhibits of Native American arrow tips, Civil War minie balls and cannon shot, a kitchen and a replica of a one-room school house, they did their best to bring long-gone eras alive.
“Remember, there was no running water or electricity in the house,” said Joiner, who, in leading students through an old-time kitchen, pointed out what some of the unfamiliar utensils were used for. “Even in the 1950s, people in Richmond didn’t have pipes running into their homes from the water plant.”
She drew the students’ attention to things like a butter churn, a coffee grinder and a ice box that used ice, not electricity, to cool perishable food.
In the Native American room on the museum’s second floor, Middleton explained that the bigger arrowheads, many dating to the Osage Indians in Ray County, were used to hunt larger animals such as bear, mountain lions, buffalo and deer. The smaller arrow tips were attached for rabbits and squirrels, he said.
The Civil War room has an extensive exhibit of minie balls, cannon shot and bullets, many of them furnished by Bruce Bartlett and Walter “Bussie” Patterson. Middleton used the occasion to explain how a popular phrase came to be.
“You heard the expression, ‘Bite the bullet’ ”? he asked. “That’s when a man had part of his arm or leg blown off and had to have it amputated. If they didn’t have anything to deaden it, they put a bullet in your mouth and you’d bite down to kill the pain.”
On the first floor, Joiner led half the class through a room devoted to African Americans and their contributions to Ray County.
She pointed to a framed, yellowed copy of the Camden Journal newspaper, which in 1925 was purchased by Caleb King, a former slave.
“This is the first newspaper, I believe, in Missouri that was owned by a black man,” said Joiner.
She told the students about Lincoln School, which until the early 1960s housed segregated black students from first through eighth grade.
“I remember being upset because we couldn’t go to the same school,” said Joiner, who played after school with a friend who happened to be black.
The “Discover Richmond History Tour” was developed by Museum Manager Linda Emley and Sunrise’s fifth-grade teachers.
Carol Williams, one of the teachers, is Middleton’s sister. He once taught fifth grade as well, Emley said, and led similar history tours.
Donna Miller, another teacher, worked with Emley to display a timeline of Ray County history. To prepare for the trip to the museum (and earlier the same day to Ray County Courthouse), the fifth-graders recreated the timeline on a wall at the school.