TERRE HAUTE —
“This is awesome!”
A third-grader from Sugar Grove Elementary gave high praise to the museum of the Vigo County Historical Society as he stepped through the front doors — before a tour had even begun.
The same “awesome” proclamation came from all of the third-graders after their tour, as they filed out of the museum to take the bus back to school.
Their step back in time through the history of Vigo County impressed many of the youngsters who had been preparing with their teachers for the annual school trip. And in areas such as the Coca-Cola bottle room, they put tangible items together with classroom learning to give more meaning to local history.
“You’ve got to learn about your past to know where you’re going,” teacher Coral Pickens said of the tour taken by her class Tuesday morning.
The Sugar Grove students have studied about local artifacts, cities along rivers and the Coca-Cola bottle, which received its shapely design in Terre Haute.
Some were quick to give responses to volunteer school guide Bill Brett as he led the inquisitive youths through three levels of the museum.
“Never move!” said one boy after Brett told how barbers in the past used a straight razor to give a male customer a close shave. One bad twitch could result in a nasty cut to the face.
The class had its first stop outside the recreated tomb of local florist John Heinl — most hearing for the first time about the loyalty of the tiny bulldog known as “Stiffy Green.”
As the students took turns peering through the front of the mausoleum to see the mossy mutt, one boy shouted, “It’s a dog with some kind of broken eye!”
Brett then launched in to the popular local legend of how Heinl had loved the little dog, and how the dog had mourned himself to death after Heinl died and was placed in the mausoleum.
Upon the dog’s death, Brett said, the beloved pet was sent to a taxidermist and then placed inside the tomb with his master. But public curiosity and thoughtless acts such as shooting the dog’s eye with a pellet gun, resulted in the dog being relocated to the museum.
But still, Brett quietly informed the youngsters, if they ever go out to Highland Lawn Cemetery on a moonless night, and wait for a few hours by the mausoleum, they might hear a dog crying for its dearly departed owner. When he asked them how many were willing to do that, all hands shot up.
The students then learned about the early days of telephone communication and how secrets were seldom kept on a party line when there were extra ears listening. The long-ago tools fascinated many students, who had never seen old washing machines, or shelled corn from a cob, or bartered with fresh eggs to get something from the general store.
When asked about their favorite parts of the museum after their tour, the students eager shared.
“I liked the dog,” Tristan said of Stiffy Green.
“The dolls,” said Jazmine. The military or “Army” display was the favorite of Matthew, Cameron, Rand and Bradley. Classmate Connor liked the Coca-Cola history, while Dylan liked the schoolroom, and Kaden preferred the toy shop.
Museum executive director Marylee Hagan said school trips are a pleasure for the museum staff and volunteers.
“They have never been in this environment before,” Hagan said of the youngsters, who walk into the Victorian Italianate structure with wide eyes and open mouths. “The enthusiasm is so wonderful.”
Because the hour-long tours are not enough to take in all of the museum exhibits, she encouraged the students to come back with their families at another time to take a more thorough tour of the museum.
“A lot of them do come back with their families,” she said. “And the students are the tour guides. And they do a good job.”
By sharing an interest in local history, she said the museum board hopes to cultivate future patrons from today’s students.
An afternoon tour for more Sugar Grove students included many of the same comments, with students enthusiastically showing their knowledge of what a “legend” is before they heard the legend of Stiffy Green and got a glimpse of the celebrity pooch in his exhibit.
“That’s kinda creepy,” one youngster said. He meant it in a good way.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.
Vigo County Historical Museum
• The Vigo County Historical Society Museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m. It is closed Monday.
• For more information about the museum, go online to www.vchs