STURBRIDGE — Spending the summer as an intern at Old Sturbridge Village, Dracut resident Caitlin Fischer has learned a lot.
She’s learned to cook using the same utensils that were used almost 200 years ago. She’s learned that one-room schoolhouses were quiet places, where reading, memorization and not a lot of teaching took place. But the most important lesson that Fischer comes away with is the realization that she doesn’t like children.
“I hope I do someday, but right now I can honestly say, I don’t like kids,” says Fischer, a 2007 graduate of Dracut High School who begins her junior year at UMass-Dartmouth in the fall. “I saw a lot of kids over the summer and I’ve discovered I don’t really like them.”
But Fischer loves history, so when the opportunity came up to work at Old Sturbridge Village, she jumped at it. Her boyfriend lives close by in Brookfield and Fischer has spent the summer living there with his family.
“It’s been a blast,” says Fischer, who worked in two exhibits and was dressed in clothes from that period. “Some days are hot and sticky and there’s no air-conditioning, but that’s just how it was. It gives you a great appreciation of what the people who lived back then had to contend with on a day-to-day basis.”
Fischer says the petticoat she wore under her long dress actually allowed her to be cooler than visitors coming to the village wearing jeans or slacks.
In the Freeman House, Fischer learned to work in an old-style kitchen. Admittedly, she is not a cook so she, as well as several other student interns, was at a slight disadvantage.
“I’m a college kid. My diet consists of pizza and pasta,” she says. “But I made my first pie crust. By hand. I made potato pudding for the first time. It was actually quite good.”
Food was cooked in old stoves or over an open coal fire.
“You look at some of the recipes and they’re a little intimidating, but I learned that people didn’t follow instructions too closely,” says Fischer, who stayed in costume and in character most of the time. “It’s funny because a couple of us had cell phones in our pockets, just so we would no what time it was. They were on vibrate.”
Ann Linblad, a spokesperson for Old Sturbridge Village, said the dozen or so interns who come from all over the country share a love of history.
“It’s a great opportunity for a young person to learn about customer service, dealing with the public and educating the public while in costume,” Linblad said. “Some of our people step out of character, maybe to explain a task and how it compares to modern-day situations. But most of the time, the people who work here are part of a living museum.”
Fischer spent some of her time working as a schoolmarm in the one-room school house.
“That was really interesting and it was a lot of fun. Not at all like what you see on television,” she says. “First of all, the seats were situated in what we’d call today, ‘stadium seating.’ There were benches on a slanted floor, if I can explain it that way. And the teacher did not ‘teach a lesson’ per se. The kids knew what they had to learn and spent most of the time reading or memorizing the material.”
Fischer says the internship was unpaid, so she sacrificed the money she could have made working a summer job elsewhere.
“But this was entirely worth it,” says Fischer, a history major. “I had so much fun and I learned so much. I’d recommend it to anyone who is interested in history.”