Today is a day students at Catoctin Elementary School look forward to all year. It’s the day that the school building is transformed into a museum of American history and, on exhibit, are students acting as some of the nation’s most influential people.
For 11 years, the school’s fourth-grade students have put on a history wax museum. On Friday, more than 100 students took part in the day-long event.
They stood like little statues inside the gymnasium and, with a tap on the shoulder from a visitor, came to life. Fully in character, the students rattled off a memorized, 60-second synopsis of the historical figure’s life.
“Why hello, my name is James Monroe…” said 10-year-old Hunter White. He went on to tell the visitors a little-known fact that the capital of Liberia—Monrovia—is named after the former president.
Hunter later said that it’s pretty fun to be the expert on a subject and present it to adults. “It’s cool to dress up like the old times too,” he said, pointing out that his Nike shoes were the one item that didn’t fit his character. “But hopefully people won’t notice.”
Fourth-grader Sam Fry said he’s looked forward to taking part in the wax museum since his older sister did it years ago. “It’s really fun and it’s kind of nerve wracking,” he added. He took on the role of John Rolfe, who, as he explained, “saved Jamestown by planting tobacco. If he didn’t do that, that area would be Indian territory today.”
Fourth-grade teacher Linda Knapp, the brainchild behind the wax museum, said the students take each assignment they receive as part of the museum very seriously. They spend weeks researching their historical figures, memorizing lines and finding just the right costume to bring the character to life.
The student tour guides memorize their own sets of lines so they can politely but firmly inform visitors that talking, running and clapping is prohibited. “And definitely do not touch the wax figures,” one pint-sized tour guide stressed.
“We practice and practice,” Knapp said. “By the time the day is here, they basically run the whole show.”
They get a bit of guidance from their teachers, Knapp, Webber, Moser, Hand and Dodson, as well as longtime parent volunteer Kelli Titus.