by Matt Mattingly, Manager of the National Colonial Farm and Historic Interpretation
There can be a tendency to romanticize our colonial past, to see life as simple and better, the people mythic, visionary and transcendent. And while there is some truth to that in specific moments and people, on the whole most historians agree that life was frequently ‘nasty, short and brutish,’ even for the wealthy. One of the comments we frequently hear from visitors after talks is, “Wow, I had no idea!” and in a way that comment alone gave rise to the idea that became Twilight Tales.
The first commandment of historic interpretation is “thou shall not lie” and to ensure that our interpretation is fresh, relevant and accurate we spend a tremendous amount of time pouring through the historic record. Spend enough time going through 18th century issues of the Maryland Gazette or perusing the judiciary and testamentary proceedings of the day and you find many examples of the dark side of colonial life. You discover not only the number of ways in which folks could die but the number of ways in which they did die! You discover the criminal element and the ways in which they were dealt with, the diseases, the ailments, and the tragedies. On their own, they paint a far darker picture of colonial life. As a whole, they paint a more complete picture of colonial life. Complete is good. Complete is what informs. At the end of the day, that is our goal.
Our Twilight Tales program allows us to tackle these darker aspects of colonial life and present them in the spirit of Halloween, but in a less creepy way! The night has been an enormous amount of fun and this year is shaping up to be a blast! “Twilight Tales: The Escape!” is the theme of this year’s event. This time we’ve upped the number of “spirits” and branched out further to include some of Maryland’s haunted legends and those outside county lines. For the past 2 years, visitor comments – which have all been very positive – have suggested the same thing…more stories and more spirits. So that is exactly what we’ve done! Every story true and every one illustrative of life along the colonial Potomac. We hope to see you all, walk with you and maybe scare you a wee bit! Come for the history, stay for the fear! Meet the legends, the villains and the just plain unfortunate. But remember… it’s called “The Escape” for a reason!