Olthoff: What the museum doesn’t show, Part 1

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Katie OlthoffKatie Olthoff Contributor Katie Olthoff always loved Living History Farms in Des Moines, Iowa, when she was a youngster and now she’s able to pass along the tradition to her children. In Part 1, Katie talks about some of the realities of life in the early 1900s.

As a young girl growing up in central Iowa, I really wanted to be Laura Ingalls Wilder. So it only made sense that Living History Farms in Des Moines was by far my FAVORITE field trip.

As a 3rd grader, we visited the Farms after learning about how our small, Midwestern town was settled.

As a 5th grader, we took it a bit further. We dressed in traditional pioneer attire, spent half the day in the one-room schoolhouse, ate the lunch we packed in a pail, and then toured the rest of the farm. (That’s me, with the navy bonnet, blonde braids and red apron.)

click image to zoomKatie OlthoffKatie Olthoff

When my brother was in 5th grade (and I was a college student) I eagerly volunteered to chaperone his trip, dressed in my pioneer clothes again. I probably had more fun than any of the kids there.

When I a nanny in college, I took those kiddos for a little field trip, too.

Finally, my own son is big enough to appreciate the Living History Farms, and when we visited a couple of weeks ago, he loved it!

Here’s what the attraction’s website has to say:

“Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa, tells the amazing story of how Iowans transformed the fertile prairies of the Midwest into the most productive farmland in the world. While at the 500-acre, open-air museum, visitors travel at their own pace through historical time periods spanning 300 years. On-site interpreters provide a unique learning environment of seasonal activities and demonstrations.”

The 1900 farm is my favorite part. In many ways, it doesn’t seem so different from our own farm or those farms around us. The house is actually quite similar to mine, as mine was built in 1907, and the barn is like those that dot the countryside where I live.

click image to zoomKatie OlthoffKatie Olthoff

But there’s no way I’d want to live (or farm) in 1900.  Besides the obvious amenities we enjoy now, like electricity, indoor plumbing and central heat, there are many other things that keep me from really wanting to turn back the clock.

For example, in 1900, one in 10 infants died before age one. Epidemics threatened the lives of early Iowa settlers. Highly contagious diseases like cholera, smallpox, diphtheria and typhoid fever spread quickly from person to person. The average life expectancy of a pioneer man, woman or child ranged from 30 to 40 years, if they were fortunate enough to survive childhood.

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