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May House Educational Programs: 1998 Goals, by Dr. Robert Perry

When the Samuel May House Living History Museum becomes a reality, it will provide the entire Eastern Kentucky region with a superb classroom for the teaching of local and regional history. In the Kentucky Public Schools, history is emphasized at the 4th grade level. Consequently, the May House Board of Directors is developing a plan whereby liasons will be established with all the elementary schools in the five-county region, and teachers will be invited to bring their fourth-graders to the house on an annual basis. When school children visit the house, they will be met by a guide in a period costume who will assume the identity of Samuel May, Catherine May, or another historical figure associated with the house. The guide will inform the students about the history of the house, speaking always within the time frame of 1835. The experience of visiting the house will not be a passive one. On the contrary, it will involve hands-on activities. Students will be invited to sit down at a desk and write with a quill pen. Other activities will include sleeping on a straw tick, tasting native herbs, and playing with traditional toys.

If funding permits, the May House curator and his staff will offer programs designed to appeal to the region's middle school, high school, and college students. Floyd County's four high schools can be expected to send at least 600 students to the house every year. For students in these grades, the curator will develop programs which are appropriate to their respective levels of maturity. High school students, for example, may enjoy programs about traditional dances, courtship rituals, and fashions, while college students may prefer programs about the role of the house in the Civil War. Activities could include woodworking and firearms demonstrations, preparation of traditional foods, butter-making, soap-making, and candle-making, and archeological digs.

The House will provide the perfect setting for a wide variety of special events. During the summer, for example, it can be used for traditional Fourth of July celebrations, ice cream socials, barbecues, and craft fairs. During the winter it can provide the setting for traditional Halloween parties, Christmas Eve celebrations, and musicales, not to mention balls, theatricals, and candlelight dinners. For those willing to pay a fee, it will serve as a place for weddings, receptions, seminars, and conferences. A use which may grow in importance is as a backdrop for the filming and videotaping of movies, documentaries, and television shows. Indeed, the possibilities for making imaginative use of the house are endless.

Of course, the day-to-day operations of the house will be geared to the education of the tourists and sightseers who visit the house. When tourists come to the house, they will park their cars in a lot located at the bottom of the knoll on which the house sits. At that location, if funding permits, they will find a visitor's center, where they will purchase their tickets and view a video about the history of the house. Then they will walk up the hill through a meadow of native grasses and wildflowers. When they reach the house, they will be greeted by a guide in a period costume and invited inside. The guide will operate on the assumption that the year is 1835 and that the visitors are travelers on the Pound Gap Road who have decided to partake of Samuel May's hospitality. The tour of the house will include the food preparation room, the dining room, Catherine's parlor, the foyer, Samuel's parlor, the upstairs public sleeping room, the children's nursery, and the balcony, from which the guests will view the May Farm as it existed in 1835. The guide will attempt to answer all of the questions that the guests may have.

Most visitors will arrive during normal operating hours, but this will not always be the case. Tourists visiting the house during off hours will be able to view a wayside exhibit. This exhibit, known in the trade as a kiosk, will be erected somewhere along the path leading from the parking lot to the house. It will provide visitors with the basics of the May House story, including who built it, who lived in it, and how it was restored. It will also invite them to walk up the path and inspect the house from the outside.

Other educational initiatives are also on the drawing board. For example, the Friends are planning to sponsor a line of publications dealing with the May House and the people who have lived under its roof. One book in this series, Robert Perry's "Oldest House in the Valley," has already been published and two more are on the way. As soon as funding permits, the Friends will publish Fred T. May's detailed history of the May Family and Robert Perry's full-length biography of Colonel Andrew Jackson May.

Paintsville author John B. Wells III has called attention to the fact that many Americans view Eastern Kentucky through the distorting lens of the hillbilly stereotype. This problem has developed because the region lacks museums and other cultural institutions which purvey an accurate picture of the region's past. There is no better instrument for addressing this problem than the May House itself. Who from Massachusetts, Iowa, California or any other state can visit the house without finding it a strong contradiction to the prevailing notion that early-day Appalachians were too dumb to build anything but log houses and rustic shanties? Indeed, the May House could have fit quite easily into any upperclass 19th Century American neighborhood. Perhaps the dissemination of the May House story will help eradicate this harmful stereotype from the public mind, and, at the same time, provide Eastern Kentuckians with a history they can be proud of.