We are firmly situated at Middleport on the western section of the Erie Canal. We had 240 school children aboard yesterday and it was a particularly gratifying experience. It was only their second day of school but their principal felt it was such an important opportunity for the students and so they walked to the boat in their historic harbor in groups of 60 and our crew engaged them in groups of 10 at 3 stations on deck and 3 stations below deck. In the above deck midships area each student heard about research, primary documents, journals, letters, photographs and nautical archaeology; up forward, the anchor and the windlass introduced the concept of simple and complex machines; in the stern, the students got to handle the steering mechanism, see the rudder move and hear stories about the General Butler’s sinking and nautical archaeology. Down below, the fo’c’sle area showed the construction of the boat, the midships area led to a discussion about the many types of cargos carried and in the stern cabin stories of the family-operators were brought to life.
This was our first school program of the season and it was with some modest concern that the crew gathered to review the learning goals of each station and to coach each other with particular past storylines that seemed to work. We wondered out loud whether the students, with just one day of school behind them, would be unruly and wild. To Middleport’s, parents and schools great credit the students came prepared to learn. They were cooperative, attentive, raised their hands to ask questions and generally showed a great enthusiasm for the opportunity to experience the boat. When the last group finally left several hours later, we all felt worn out, hoarse of voice but very satisfied with the result. What happened next surprised us even more.
We were scheduled for public open hours from 3 until 7 but with the wind blowing and a cloudy, cool fall weekday we expected a very modest turnout in the afternoon. Then, shortly after school was out, we began to see kids from the morning program return and bring their parents, siblings and friends. They enthusiastically played the role of the tour guide and showed their friends and family through the boat demonstrating a great deal of knowledge about the history and archaeology of the boat and the period. By the end of the afternoon session we had hosted 300 more people aboard in this small community on a mid-week school day and all of us in the crew felt gratified by the experience.