I’d Rather Be A Hammer Than A Nail


So here then is the latest entry in my chronicles of playing dress up.

I’ve already written about being a Civil War general, a MASH surgeon and an astronaut for the museums I work at. My latest “pretend” adventure — blacksmithing.

And this time, “pretend” is in quotes. After my work acting as Buzz Aldrin as Huntsville’s EarlyWorks children’s museum, I was asked to come do some work at the third museum in the group — Alabama Constitution Hall Village.  The Village is a living history museum, where visitors can learn more about what life was like in the city 200 years ago. But here, the workers don’t just talk about their subjects, they demonstrate them. I didn’t just pretend to be a blacksmith, I actually forged some nails for visiting students.

That said, I have a long way to go before I could say that I was a blacksmith, in quotes or not. I gained a real understanding of why it would take years to go through the apprentice to journeyman process. Nails are probably the simplest things you could make, and while mine were functional, they weren’t what you would call “good.”

Still, it was a crazy lot of fun to get to play with the toys. It was a very unique experience, and I was blessed to have the opportunity to do it.

And, it resulted in possibly one of the manliest moments of my life. Curious to learn more, I decided I wanted to step beyond just making nails and experiment with the process. There was an example of a knife on display in the shop, and one of the students asked about how it was made. I explained the process as I understood it, but, then, when I had the shop to myself, I decided to try the technique myself, focused mainly on beating the metal flat into a blade-like shape.

I succeeded in making a knife-like thing that you could use, although you probably wouldn’t want to. But at one point in the process, I actually had a decently sharp blade on it, which unfortunately was dulled in the process of finishing it.

But while it was still sharp, I stupidly decided to use my thumb to see how sharp it was. Stupidly not only because it was a sharp knife, but also because, even though it wasn’t glowing anymore, it was still pretty hot. I discussed with people a couple of times later during the day whether the wound looked more like I had cut myself or burned myself.

The best answer we came up with was that I had cut myself and at the same time cauterized the cut, using a burning hot knife I was in the process of forging myself.

Pretty cool, huh?

As much as I look forward to finding a better-paying, career-driving job again (hint, hint, world), I despair that I will never again have a job where I’ll be able to say that. Museum work can be fun.

Have You Heard The Buzz?


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I’ve written before about how much I enjoy playing dress up at the Depot. Last week, however, I found out it could be even more fun than I’d realized.

A bit part of what we do at the Huntsville Historic Depot museum is putting on programs for students on field trips. We have several different programs, and I get to perform different stations for each one. For example, I’ve been the emergency management director of Whoville, a Union general and a train conductor for various activities. I’ve scared kids with ghost stories so badly they had to take a break from the program, and taught them to march around the grounds.

Last week, though — Last week I got to branch out a bit.

The Depot museum is owned and operated by the City of Huntsville, as part of an organization that also includes the Alabama Constitute Hall Village museum and the Earlyworks children’s museum. Last week, while the Depot was closed to prepare for the annual Whistestop Festival, they had me come work at Earlyworks as part of an “American Heroes” program. They gave me the option of who I wanted to be, and asked what I’d need for a costume.

“Well,” I thought, “I do have a flightsuit …”

“Can I be an astronaut?” I asked. Yes, it turned out, I could be an astronaut.

So for two days last week, I went and pretended to be Buzz Aldrin for school kids. And, no offense to Clara Barton and Harriet Tubman, but my Buzz was about as cool an American hero as they come.

I had fun. Like, a lot of fun.

I like talking to kids about space, and I love seeing them get excited about it, and that was definitely the case those days. I had my story that I wanted to cover, and was barely able to get through it each time for them wanting to ask me questions about what it was like for “me” to be in space. I was proud that I was able to answer everything they threw at me, which helped maintain the feeling that it was “real” for the kids. Frankly, I’ve seen actual astronauts do actual Q&A’s with kids, and this really wasn’t that different.

And that part of it made me really happy. I’ve been blessed to meet and talk with astronauts from the early days of spaceflight, and the reality is, there’s a limit to how much longer we’ll be able to hear their stories first-hand. Since I began working on “Homesteading Space,” I’ve always felt a responsibility that, when it’s no longer possible to talk to them directly, the best thing people will be able to do is talk to the people who talked to them, and that I have a duty to carry those stories. These kids will likely never get to talk to Buzz directly, but it made me happy that they could talk to Buzz by proxy. (And I felt like, in places, I was a pretty decent Buzz — when a kid asked if I was the second man to walk on the moon, I responded that “Neil and I were the first men to land on the moon,” a fairly accurate Buzz response, in my opinion.)

I’ve enjoyed all the different programs I’ve done, but this one very well may have been my favorite. Enough that I’m currently trying to convince my boss that, when we do the Civil War program, the Depot should have been captured, not by Union General O.M. Mitchell, but by Buzz Aldrin. THAT would be a great presentation, let me tell you!