“What is the best living history program you have ever seen?”

“What was the best living history program you ever saw?”

It is a question that is regularly asked of me and one that has many answers as there are many “ best” living history programs I have witnessed that meet different criteria, however, the most memorable and influencing occurred 45 years ago this June.

Father had been sent by the NPS to Europe for a year of research and contact initiation in preparation for the American Revolution bicentennial. Recognizing that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity for the family he paid for my mother, brother and myself to accompany him. Additionally he hired me to be his official runner and set up person, making contacts and appointments as well as hotel arrangements for the family. Part of this ‘job’ included the use of a bicycle or motorbike (depending on the country and availability), a modest travel account, and camera.

In other words, Father was insane enough to set his eldest son lose on Europe.

In my travels I was able to visit numerous cultural and historic sites and museums sans the accompaniment of my younger sibling and my mother. Through the months I  established a pattern where I could accomplish my assigned tasks and then visit these wonders with my own tastes being met. Early on I decided I would explore and research the sites where many of our relatives lived, and died. This involved visiting numerous concentration camps and  way stations.

The list began to increase; Dachau, Essen, Salza-Thuringe, Dora-Mittelbau, Ravenssbruch, Natzweiler-Struthof, Berga, Belsen, Westerbork, Amersfort, Vaght, Budenwald, Ellrich,  …  At each my anger mounted, my frustrations grew, and my thoughts turned dark in wondering how anyone, any government, any peoples could initiate and conduct the inexcusable actions that occurred during the Holocaust. Augmenting this were trips to war torn towns, battlefields, Anne Frank’s home, and numerous villages were the local museums and historic sites regularly displayed the debris and remains of the Second World War. It was still a recent bit of history, but 25 years before in 1970, and many locales were still rebuilding and repairing. While many historic sites and museums had been rehabilitated and refurbished, some cities and town, such as Nuremberg still showed scars and ruined streets. My reaction was upsetting. While I enjoyed many of the museums, art galleries and other classic tourist areas, each time I endeavored to find the towns of my kin, their life records, and their places of death I was angered by what had happened to them. The story was too often the same; removed between 1936 through 1944 to various relocation centers throughout Europe, better known now as concentration camps. There the records grew dim or disappeared entirely.  Fifty three names haunted me at nearly every stop in my quest. Dachau had struck me especially hard as many of the names led me there. I wondered if any had been part of the early occupants when the camp was filmed and displayed by the Nazis as a “model” reeducation and relocation camp”? Had any known Jean Voste, the only black person in the camp, a citizen of Belgium? Had any survived and made the death march from Dachau to Wolfratshausen passing through,m and being photographed through a window at Gruenwald? The tensions increased with every stop at these sites.

Finally the families travels moved into Poland and we approached the area near Oswiecim-Brzezinka: Auschwitz.

Few of my kin were listed as being sent there; less than ten, all from Ansbach.  I took the tour.

The aspects that are common now to so many were included, the gate, the stark buildings, barbed wire, the stories of the crematoriums, the stories of the crowed barracks, the selections, the static displays, all explained by an excellent guide. The chip on my shoulder grew larger as the tour progressed. My anger grew. How could anyone does these things? How could they do these things to MY family?

The guide, an impressive dark haired man in his 40’s continued with the group until we reached a field on the far end of the camp and there he stopped.

The place where we stood was a flattened area covered on flowers. Nothing spectacular was noted, just a flat field.

Slowly the guide bent down and scooped up a handful of nondescript soil.

“ Do you know what this is?” he inquired. No one spoke.

“It is Utopia. It is the bone remains of over 180,000 people.” There was a distinct intake of breath from the tour group.

Slowly he let the handful of material sift through his hand and fall to the ground.  “It is the bone remains of thousands of people and as I watch it fall I can not tell you if it is the bones of a German, a Austrian, a Pole, a Hungarian, a Romani, a Protestant, a Catholic, an agnostic, or a Jew. I can not tell you if it is a male, female, old man, mother, or a young child. I can not tell you if it is a political  prisoner, or an undesirable, or just someone who was caught up in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are all as one, blended together as one people, one entity, one soul. It is Utopia. As a boy when I was between the ages of fifteen and sixteen it was my job to grind up the bone remains from the crematorium and bring them here.” At this point he raised his sleeve and displayed the tattooed number on his arm.

“Here is where I realized that God existed because he made us all one people. It is my favorite spot in the camps. It is Utopia.”

Smiling, he left. There was not a dry eye or face in our group. Many knelt and touched the ground and the flowers. Some had their arms around each other. Oddly, I do not remember anyone taking any soil, or a flower, or a photograph; it just seemed out of place.

As I walked away I realized that the chip, the dark heavy angry chip on my shoulder was gone. I realized I had been searching  for my kin with the wrong purpose: anger and hatred. I recognized that I needed to celebrate their lives, their bravery, their foibles, and even their suffering and deaths. They were all one with the world, held together with so many others on many fields and death camps mixed with the people, all the peoples of Europe. It changed how I searched for them from that moment on.

That, is the most moving and influential “living history” moment I have ever had; having a tour and hearing the accounts, and emotions of someone who was part of and witnessed the Holocaust.


What Does An Interpretive Program Cost?

What does an interpretive program cost?

Needless to say, we are confronted by this question whenever any of us sits down to assess the needs of a new program and event. Often we find ourselves looking at grants, sponsors, benefactors, and budgets as our first step in planning and evaluating the first steps in programming. Even as individuals we have to analyze what we need for props, support media, and programming whether it is for a power point program, campfire talk, or costumed historic interpretation. These still might run into the thousands of dollars for media support, computers, materials, or historic costuming. So, it is exciting when you can find something inexpensive, and yet, exciting for for a program.

I work part time for and antique store in Loveland, Colorado. We regularly discover items that provide the tangible existence to stories often long lost or fading in memories. Some of these artifacts include a series of 1901 and 1902 photos of opera stars. These initiated a search that allowed us to find on line recordings of the listed performers which delighted the purchaser when we played them from the internet. Sitting in one booth are a series of photo albums recording the Hawaiian service of a woman who was in the Women Air Rad Defense corps during WWII, a group of women whose service was kept secret until the 1960’s. Images, coins, artifacts, tools, furniture, all with stories that explain their wear and tear as well as their individual importance to their prior owners. Each of these have prices varying from a few dollars to the thousands.

Most recently one of our vendors came upon a photo that caught her attention. Joyce loves to purchase photos of young soldiers from various time periods. She refers to them as her , “ young heroes”. The image she recently came upon was of a good looking young man in WWII flying clothes. On the front corner of the image was written, “Our “HP” togged out in all his gear”. On the reverse was a name, George Weisfeld. As a military historian I was intrigued by the subject matter and the unfamiliar term, “Our “HP”…. It is a term I do not know. So the search began.

The name produced a wealth of information. George N. Weisfeld was a co- pilot of a C 47 (DC-3 as a civilian air craft) that delivered and dropped supplies to troops from 1943 through late 1944. He also towed gliders of troops and supplies. On Decemeber 27, 1944,during the Battle of the Bulge he was severely wounded when flying with the 9th. Air Corps, 91st. Squadron, 439 Troop Carrier towing supply gliders to troops of the 101st. Airborne at Bastogne.

The plane that Weisfeld and his pilot, Joe Fry, were flying was seen by Curtis Smith, a medic with the 101st. Airborne.

“The whole back of the plane was engulfed by flames and trailing behind it a cloud of thick black smoke. I saw one man jump out through the flames of the open door of the plane. Another man, I presumed the pilot, climbed out over the hatch above the cockpit. As the pilot crawled on his hands and knees toward the rear of the plane, he slid off its side and hit the rear horizontal stabilizer. The pilot’s parachute immediately deployed over the stabilizer as he fell underneath it. Then, with the shroud lines wrapped around the stabilizer, the pilot frantically pulled and jerked at his shroud lines as he tried desperately to free himself as he dangled behind the burning C-47. Watching, I thought to myself, ‘My god, he’s going down with his plane!’ Just at that same moment the plane exploded and the pilot was blown free to safely land on the snow nearby. I quickly ran to his aid as he sat dazed on the frozen snow, and I could clearly see the small burns on his face and his smoldering flight jacket caused by the melted aluminum burning off the plane. The pilot’s first comment was, ‘Did my buddy make it out OK?’ “

Nearly six decades later, Smith would discover the pilot’s and co-pilot’s names: Joe Fry and George Weisfeld.

When the plane was hit by anti-aircraft fire from the German lines, Fry continued to pull the supply laden glider for miles in an attempt to get it to the Allied positions at Bastogne. Ordering his crew to bail out, Fry and Weisfeld stayed with the burning plane until they could cut the glider loose over the Allied lines. 1

George Weisfeld recuperated from the burns and wound, though the scars would damage his good looks and the pain from the wounds would be with him the rest of his life. He later married and it is reported his bride made her wedding dress from the very parachute he used when he bailed out of his plane in December, 1944. the marriage would last for 59 years until George’s death in 2004. His wife, Belle, would pass in 2014.

In 2011 his daughters donated the dress to the National Museum of Jewish History.2

Here was a Jewish American serving his country, severely wounded and who risked his life in order to supply troops surrounded in one of WWII’s most famous campaigns,

Quite an amazing story and one that I am going to add to my training sessions and interpretive programming.

The cost: One hour of research $75.00

The photo of George N. Weisfelt .50

A small investment for a great return.

As to the “HP” on the front of the photo; I still have not found a definite answer to its meaning. Does it stand for “Hebrew Pilot”, “ Hot Pilot”, or…who knows.

1Potter, Thomas. Brave Men of World War II, http://www.old506thinfantry.org, 2003.

2Barsky, Ivy http://www.docstoc.com, 2013


When I started my interpretive experiences back in 1961 it all revolved around he centennial of the American Civil War. I ‘enlisted’ in a group that recreated a company of soldiers from a Virginia infantry unit. I was the drummer boy and was excited beyond words looking forward to the events and battle recreations I would become involved in. The standard uniform was available through either the Sears or Wards catalogs. These stores provided a selection of either Union or Confederate uniforms with the option of having the rank chevrons or shoulder boards sewn on the uniform at time of ordering or shipped separately. The material for most of these uniforms; nylon and rayon coats and trousers and a selection of shirts that included the same dress white shirt that could be bought for ‘civilian’ purposes (going to church, school functions, and dressing for holidays) as well as the same gray shirt that could be ordered for the NPS and Corps of Engineers. Hats could be ordered through the same companies and came in the kepi style and a flop hat intended for ‘Rebs”. Groups allowed any boots or dark shoes. The buttons on said uniforms were interesting; most were original U.S buttons and a small number of reproductions. The same could be found with belt buckles and most of the firearms used by the groups. This was a time when we could buy an original Civil War musket in Sharpsburg, Maryland for about $25. I remember that we the older guys were using shot gun shell primers and original Civil War musket caps for shooting their firearms. Other equipment was as could be manufactured, found at surplus stores, or through a very few period recreation businesses. My first canteen was made of a tin coffee can that had loops soldered on it and was painted NPS green. Needless to state, authenticity was not the primary goal and, due to all too few resources, was rarely available.

The years and decades since have provided new resources that supply a much larger inventory of quality and authentic materials for not only that period representation but also nearly every historic period in European and American history. In speaking with a young man that I have done programming with his entire life (32 years) the other day we put together a list of 37 resources for American military materials covering from the 1830’s through the American Civil War, and that’s just for uniforms and equipment.

Things changed, and professionally, I say for the better.

Yeah, I know, pretty boring stuff to many.

NAI is changing. As a member for over twenty years I have seen a great many changes in the organization: member dues, three strategic plans, logo, mission statement, markets, sections, board makeup and duties, various task force needs, partners, administration, three major by law changes, &c., &c., and what I can state is that none of these have been change just for change’s sake. Each has been initiated by need and by the desire for improvement of the organization. More changes are coming and are being addressed now. As examples; our annual meeting and workshop will now be a conference. This offers a more professional setting and new options. It is something that will occur gradually and will offer new opportunities for presentations and for recruitment. That is a very quick synopsis of what is changing in our main organizational activity.

Training and certifications are regularly going through reassessments and improvements each year. The certification processes we had in the past are changing and improving. The system is improving for he better.

Our Awards system is changing, now allowing more members to be recognized for their important and dedicated work to NAI and many fields of professional interpretation.

The sections and regions are all now part of our collective Organizational Units promoting better use of our members skills and providing sub-organizational units that meet our members needs.

And the list goes on, as it should.

Change is difficult. It takes time and sometimes a great deal of personal effort to take all of it in and find a place where these changes meet our personal needs and to find how we each can find a place where we can best serve or fields of interpretation, our employment and NAI.

Personally, and ironically for someone who specializes in recreating the past, I , on the whole, welcome change. It challenges me, it keeps me learning, and hopefully fresh in my field, and it excites me to be a part of a growing and vibrant organization. In truth, like my field, if each had staid static and immobile representing only what each had been when I joined each, I would have left a long time ago. Growth change is vital to keep an organization healthy, our fields healthy, and myself mentally healthy.

Maybe it is all from being influenced by a song whose composition included the words, “Cha-cha-changes…”

The Best Laid Plans…

I am finally home after a long two and half weeks of travel, training in Indianapolis, a two day preworkshop at Bent’s Old Fort NHS in La Junta, Colorado for NAI , the NAI annual workshop, a few days traveling with close friends and time in Denver for my wife’s cancer treatment and Thanksgiving. Needless to say, I am a bit worn down and tired.

That is all personal matters, not expressed to get sympathy but to to illustrate how busy the lives of all interpreters seem to be in this age.

The NAI National Workshop provided exceptional experiences, presentations, networking, reestablishment of old friendships, and opportunities for new. That was to be expected. But, the workshop also presented to me a very needed learning experience as well.

After spending some many hours in preparing two Powerpoint presentations I found myself in positions where the following took place:

  1. One of the key presenters for the preworkshop was unable to attend as was one of the other support persons. Complicating this was the fact that the vans for the trip were an hour and half late from the car rental facility, thus placing us in the traffic jam the earlier assigned time would have had us avoid. The vans were also not filled with gasoline forcing us to make an unscheduled stop and for the drivers to dip into their own pockets for payment ( this will be worked out by the NAI office, but was an unexpected expenditure for the drivers) and thus we arrived nearly two hours late for the workshop start. The return trip, carefully planned, was interrupted by unexpected traffic at one of the highway construction sites getting everyone back too late for the opening event at the History Colorado Museum.
  2. I gave the worst session I have done in over twenty years. After arriving to the room I was to utilize for my presentation, with two laptops in my back pack and twenty five minutes early, I found the projector did not communicate with my laptops nor the one I borrowed from a participant and that the Powerpoint program I first loaded was the wrong one.. Assistance was sent for and soon Mr. Caputo arrived with a replacement projector. By this time we were into the presentation time by fifteen minutes. In inserting my thumb drive I found all of the graphics of the powerpoint were gone. I understand this may have been due to the computer and the program having been generated on two different systems or programs. Abandoning all hope I went back to ‘old school’ and gave a terrible presentation utilizing dry erase markers on a flip chart. Between my befuddled brain and my atrocious hand writing I struggled on for the next hour and a half hoping and praying that I was somehow conveying my theme and message.
    To all who suffered through this disaster, I thank you for your support and apologize for the poor quality of the presentation.
  3. The second issue was when I was presenting with a panel on Saturday. Watching the first part of the presentation I realized that my 45 minute Powerpoint section would not fit into the 30 minute time slot that I now had for my session segment. Once again I abandoned the electronic format and went to the flip chart and markers.

In the beginning of all our careers we are taught to be aware of our audiences’ needs and reactions and I could tell by mine that I was boring the socks off of them and that I had not met their professional needs..

Now I could go on and on in placing blame on the situations, the time crunches, poor material support, &c., &c., &c., however, the blame is solely mine.

In each I should have been better prepared and ready to offer the most professional presentation my audience deserved. Whether in time management, being able to step up and fill slots left open by emergency situations, poor electronic communications between program mediums, or just odd circumstances dancing into our lives, our primary obligation is to the audience. They should not be made t suffer for any errors that occur.

When I teach and train staffs I always attempt to point out that that moment may be the only opportunity that a member, or members, of an audience might have at that site, event, program, or training and that it is important to remember that we must give them the most professional, accurate, and honest program we can each and every time. The audience should never be left needing an apology or an explanation. To me, it is one of the most important aspects of our jobs ( along with safety, comfort, and the ability to have professional feed back).

So, though the annual workshop was in my own ‘backyard’, I truly feel I did some of my worst programs in the past twenty years.

Not looking for sympathy, what did do was to reassess each of the situations and examine how I might improve my presentations and part in each of the programs I conducted and participated within.

It is that self critique and self examination that I think is critical to each and everyone of us and is the best tool to aid us in improving and providing better and more professional events and programs. WE need to be our worse critics and not rely only on the words and surveys of others. As my father regularly states, “If it ain’t broke…improve it!” Resting on our laurels and believing we have excuses, or reasons, for disappointing performances without deep examination does not improve our fields or ourselves. We have others to whom we are responsible and who trust us to be our best.

As to the issues I faced at the recent workshop, well, there are some immediate aspects I am going to change for my audiences:

  1. Be ready for emergency needs when a key instructor can not make an event.
  2. Plan for any travel to start a half an hour before you think is adequate and get the most recent reports on road work and construction as well as having an alternate route in mind.
  3. Be on site in any session room a half an hour ahead of time to work out any issues, insuring that I have my presentations laid out for powerpoint and dry erase/flip chart presentations with the appropriate markers in place.
  4. When on a panel, I will have a full powerpoint and an abbreviated powerpoint presentation ready for whatever time constraints might occur
  5. And lastly, I am going to acquire anti-gremlin charms to keep the little buggers from disrupting my life.

Jto all, I shall do better in the future.

John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Programs

Love, your sister Alice

“Love, your sister Alice”

Inspirations for programs come from numerous sources; a friend’s suggestion, heavy research, a site’s themes and missions, the imagination, periods of desperation, and far too many time, the need to fill an organization’s need to fill an interpretive calendar.

However, there are many occasions when something just falls into one’s lap at the most unexpected moment.

I have had the unique experience of being hospitalized twice since September for heart issues. My body decided on September 10th to gift me with a severe heart attach requiring the installation of two stints in my arteries. Through the entire episode I was witness, and participant, to umpteen new experiences that offered me themes for programs, talks, and writings. Some have already been put to paper and social media. The second ‘cardiac event’ this past week again placed me as the receiver of new materials for my personal journals and possible future programs, mostly about myself, my new life, and the great person’ who worked so diligently on a stranger to save my life.

But, and added gift was given me by the Head Nurse on my floor.

It seems that when I am asked my profession it draws a great deal of interest from the person interviewing me and those who happen to hear my response. I suppose few hospitals have a specialist in costumed historic interpretation answer the inquiry, “ What do you do for a living?”. The response is often the same, “ What is that?”, “Do you mean like Williamsburg?”, “Oh I love those programs!”, “ I love history, can I tell you about…”, and further interesting remarks that divert the stress of the moment and allow the gathered a moment to better know each other.

This past week, after I had been ensconced in my hospital room, attached to the requisite battery of monitoring equipment, safely tucked in, the Head Nurse came in and sat by my bed and asked if we could talk about something she found. I was very pleased to have the diversion.

She and her husband had purchased a home in Fort Collins, Colorado that was built in 1901 and that they were rehabbing and restoring. In the process they had found an old letter in the wall behind the mantle as they had revamped the fireplace. She said it was not very interesting but would I look at it and give some suggestions on how they might display it?

I told her I was very interested.

The next morning she brought in a small envelope, opened and covered in a spot or two of mold and discoloration. Inside were three lined sheets of text from a lady to her sister.

Dated January 10th, 1914 the contents were a wealth of information and excitement to an old bed ridden historian.

The author described how the snows in Fort Collins had stopped and topped over three feet, but the streets were finally cleared and people were able to go about. She expressed how she was concerned that she might have to move to Oklahoma to be with her husband if he found regular work as there was nothing in Colorado for him. She also told how she was losing boarders as “they have gone off with the militia to deal with the miners’ unions in the South of the state.” She was having to decide whether she would hold their rooms or let them out to others. She then continued with the hope that here sister’s family would have a good new year with the closing, “Love, your sister, Alice.”

A number of aspects of the missive excited me; the weather report, the financial situation of her family, the action of taking in borders, the coincidence that I have a sister named Alice, and the mention of the “militia” going to deal with the miners’ unions.

The last is especially important to Colorado and American labor history.

Beginning in September of 1913 and continuing beyond December 1914 the strike, organized by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) targeted the coal mining companies of Colorado including the Rockerfeller owned Colorado Fuel and Iron Company and the Rocky Mountain Fuel Company.

The strike had nearly crippled parts of the U.S. Economy, especially in the West. This strike, the one which the lady’s borders had gone as “militia” (Colorado National Guard) to deal with would culminate in the Ludlow Massacre in April of 1914. There the Colorado National Guard and the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company’s camp guards attacked the striking miners and their families in a tent city the miners had established. The reported casualties exceeded over two dozen people, including women and children, two women and eleven children found asphyxiated and burned to death in a ‘cellar’ under one tent. The repercussions of this attack was a retaliatory action by armed miners who for the ten days following the massacre attacked numerous mines and skirmishing with the Colorado National Guard that resulted in a reported 199 lives.

It was described as the “deadliest strike in the history of the United States.” (Thomas G. Andrews).

The resultant congressional investigation was influential in establishing the child labor laws and the eight hour work day.

Ironically, the Ludlow site, today a ghost town and granite monument, is owned by the UMWA.

And so, to me, the little letter with its three pristine pages of clean crisp script, is an insight to one of the famous labor conflicts in U.S. History.

It certainly offers a number of interpretive moments for the future.

When she returned, I explained to the owner how to best preserve the letter and the envelope. I also speculated it had never been mailed as it had no stamp or post mark, and more than likely fallen through a crack on top of the mantle and is was awaiting a stamp and the postman.

We spoke as to whether either of us thought it might have been rewritten once the loss was discovered, or whether a later letter covered more or different news. Dis the wife join her husband in Oklahoma, did she let the rooms to others, or did she find that some of her “militia” borders not return?

Inspiration, it comes from so many sources, some as simple as a letter signed,

“Love, your sister Alice”.

John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Program

It’s All a Matter of Understanding the Terms

This year marks my twentieth year in NAI. It is not really a remarkable achievement but came about in a round-about-manner. I had been associated with the organization since 1991, having been invited to a couple of regional activities and the Vail national workshop. In working at Colorado State University, then the site of the national NAI office, I became acquainted with the then president of the organization, Cem Basman, who regularly asked me to join NAI. I had met with the then director and found that neither was the organization something that was meeting my needs and, to be blunt, the director was less than welcoming to my field of interpretation, (the director, not Cem). I mentioned these aspects to Cem, and also stated my frustrations on how the organization could call itself “the National Association of Interpretation ( the old name, since changed to the National Association for Interpretation). Cem then challenged to me join and , to quote, “change things.”

Loving a challenge, I joined. My reception by most of the folks I met in NAI was rather tepid, not that I expected a band and a parade, with very few others in the membership specializing in my field; costumed and historic interpretation. I also found some who were, well, were less than welcoming. A few expressed their opinions very openly to me when I attended the Cleveland workshop by stating that they could not understand why I would join NAI since “my people” (yep, that’s a quote) had their own organizations. I stated my opinion again about the organization’s name representation and usually met with a number of discussions about “living history” just being a hobby and not a real field of interpretation and that “we” could not understand the basics of interpretation. I would usually point out that I had studied under Freeman Tilden in the late 60’s, the 1960’s that is and wasn’t his ‘bible’ called Interpreting Our Heritage? That statement regularly created a puzzlement that I would know anything about Tilden, or Sharpe, or any of the standards that were the foundations of interpretation at the time. In truth, many of us who were in the field of historic interpretation were, and are, very familiar with the foundations of interpretive principles and practices.

Needless to state, the first few years of being a member of NAI were frustrating. I did meet others who shared my field of study and who were members of NAI. Our combined frustrations came to a head in 1996 in Billings, Montana when about twenty of us walked out of one of the keynotes, which, to be blunt, in our collective opinion, was not only poor historical interpretation, but was just plain poor interpretation. The group was approached by Deb Tewell, then an officer of NAI and now a member of the staff, who asked us to voice our concerns and encouraged us to approach the issue by starting a section to address our field. We accomplished the required number of petition signatures in a day, submitted our request for a new section to the board , and were approved before the workshop was completed. Thus, in a brief summation, the Cultural Interpretation and Living History section of NAI (CILH) was formed. Some may not appreciate, or approve of the thoughts and frustrations that initiated this action, but, as they saying goes, “the rest is history”.

Since that time I have had numerous conversations within the membership, and with many in the historic interpretive field and museums outside NAI, as to why I am a member of NAI and why I think others should join.

The reason is simple, we are all interpreters, with the same foundations, desires, and hopes and dreams of growth and improvement in our respective fields. We are a family with varied interests, experiences and expertise, but, we are of one family.

About fifteen years ago the term “Heritage Interpretation” began to circulate within the organization. For many of us, in all fields, we were a bit taken aback that the term needed explanation to some of the leadership and the members of NAI, as many of us who had worked in Europe and Canada had heard the term for years and understood its application. I wrote about the term then in one of the NAI publications and within the past eight years the term was being used regularly and was incorporated in our strategic plan and in a rewrite of our mission.

And yet, the term is still misunderstood, not only within our organization but also by so many others. Too often the word “heritage” is the “underminer”, if you will, of understanding the application to interpretation. The word’s old traditional utilization referring to historic and cultural materials only creates a belief that only historic and cultural themes and sites are “Heritage Interpretation”.

However, if one looks for the explanation of the term on the web and through heritage interpretive site materials you will see numerous definitions offered that give a better understanding to the universal term. One, developed by Interpretation Canada in the 1970’s, regularly comes to the forefront and offers a concise and definition,

“Heritage interpretation is a communication process, designed to reveal meanings and relationships of our cultural and natural heritage, through involvement with objects, artifacts, landscapes and sites.”

Further materials in the web sites, literature, and writings of Heritage sites fill in the definition with examples, themes of such locales, and missions of various organizations that are devoted to heritage interpretation, all maintaining the primary theme of the definition.

The interesting aspect of the term is that it does not apply only to historic or cultural interpretation, but reiterates the principles and tenets of Freeman Tilden about the field of interpretation,

“An educational activity which aims to reveal meaning and relationships through the use of original objects, by first-hand experience, and by illustrative media, rather than simply to communicate factual information”.

I am a Heritage Interpreter, not because I am an historian and a specialist in costumed historic interpretation, but because I belong to a great and large family of interpreters from many diverse fields of interpretation that collectively contribute to the whole of our world and its experiences. We are a integrative group who regularly offer to others a better understanding of our heritage, natural, biological, historical, cultural, and human experiences, and who continually gain better knowledge in the process.

It is all a matter of understanding the terms.

John C.F. Luzader
Heritage Interpreter
Vice President of Programs

Every Home is a Museum

Every Home is a Museum

In the past five years my wife and I have been evacuated from our home three times from either wildfires or flood. Yes, I know, maybe we should examine relocating to a different locale, but,in watching what is happening around the world I am not certain we would find a place that would not provide the same situations (floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other conflicts seem to be effecting nearly any locale at some time or another.)

With each of these evacuations we have been faced with what items of material history are most important to us to attempt to save. The inventory of pets, important documents (insurance forms, tax records, wills, &c), medications, and family photographs are standards to be removed from the house. In the early evacuations we tried to save ‘everything’, sometimes to an extreme. During the packing as a major fire moved in on our home I was endeavoring to pack my entire library of over 4700 books, periodicals, computer materials into a horse trailer that friends had brought to the estate. As the flames and smoke came closer and closer I was tossing books through a window into the trailer as my wife and friends continually told me, “it’s time to leave!” Finally, in desperation, one of my champions came into the house, lifted me up and carried me to my car, needless to state, this is a very large and powerful friend. This as the fire trucks were coming onto the homestead to set up a last stand defense against the flames.

In this case, the house was spared , but I spent months cleaning and restoring of smoke and ash from their pages and covers.

In our evacuation last September from flooding, I left the books behind. My wife and I chose other ‘valuables’ that seemed to have more worth to us. Again, the house was spared. The books staid behind and are requiring attention for the next few months to remove some mold from their pages and covers.

It amazed me what seemed important years ago had changed in priority.

In cleaning up after the flood and observing the debris and materials that were scattered about I recognized that so many things were now on site that were once valuable to their original owners and now had a new status; archaeological remains, and trash. Fishing line, leach field piping, roof remains, old signs, shingles, bits and pieces of buildings, old carpets and matting, a child’s ripped and torn swimming pool, broken fishing poles all have become trash to be removed. But what about the six pastel 36B cup bras that I found neatly stacked in the sand? Were they in a suitcase or drawer that washed upon my land? Were they part of an important inventory of a young lady upstream? The broken decal covered snowboard, now broken and silent that ended up against our pump-house valve, was it a special Christmas gift? The goose decoy; how many hunting trips did it travel? The pair of leather fringed “Indian” pants from a doll and the antique knife that more than likely came from the Indian Village shop up river (now gone), what story hides in their remains?

Recently, my business partner and dear friend had to go to her parents’ home in Nebraska to settle her parents’ estate and clean out their house, a house that once was the core of the family. Its contents were sorted by her, hers siblings, spouses and other family members. Each item had to be assessed as to its value, not as a financial gain, but as a memory asset. What photos would go where, what tools, books, memories were to be saved and which would find homes by donation, and which would be determined trash for some land fill and a future archaeological dig. It was, and is, a daunting task as it is not yet finished.

Some of the treasures she told me about are amazing! These are stories she needs to tell to others, but will also remain as a ‘museum’ for future generations of the family.

As an historian and anthropologist I have regularly dug sites that offered stories from material remains. Each was a personal item to someone at some time. Each offers stories to be told, not tall tales, but stories of people who lived breathed, worked, loved, hated, lost, and gained in their individual ways and worlds to exist as part of our heritage.

Each home is a museum whether a manse or hovel, apartment or loft, simple bungalow or large family home, tent or cabin with its scars, paint layers, hidden graffiti, growth marks on the door sills, worn floor boards, and dings in the walls telling their own tales.

And the loss of any of these reliquaries, whether by storm, fire, flood, neglect, conflict, or other disruption is a loss to the world.

When we recover these ‘museums’ and illustrate their pasts we often for get the human element and concentrate on the material things during tours. It is a pity that walls can not speak out loud as their perspectives might be much different than ours as to what was important in their life times; laughter and sorrow, the sound of voices, the smells from kitchens, the care of a fresh coat of paint or wall paper, the need for a leak repair, the odor from Christmas trees, the smell of smoke from lamps and fire boxes, the shutter of cold winter days, the scurry of toes of a rodent, the solemn traditions of Sabbath, singing, quiet footsteps on stairs slipping down to the kitchen for a midnight snack, the alarm of a early morning phone call…

If walls could talk.

Enjoy your personal museum and share their stories.

John C.F. Luzader

Vice President of Programs

Provocative Interpretive Signs?

July 2, 2014

Provocative Interpretive Signs?

A popular comedian states, “Here’s your sign.” when indicating that the obvious is staring one in the face. Often we are uncomfortable in stating we see the sign and other times we are so engrossed in so many other thoughts and distractions we are oblivious to the apparent sign staring us in the face.

In this troubled time of budgetary constraints and depletions I find myself working at an antique store owned by good friends. This is patently a distressful situation for an historian and professional interpreter to find himself; handling, talking about , educating, interpreting, and selling of the materials of bygones years. (I shall not state of bygone cultures as so many items within the store are items I am familiar through personal use or association).

My interaction with the potential buyers begins at the door, a greeting is given, eye contact is made, inquiries are made if there are special needs or desires, (as with so many sites I have worked, better than 50% immediately ask for the restrooms), and the offering of further assistance is insured. The door locale is also the last aspect of the visitors experience, whether through sales, information of other like sites and places to eat, camp, sleep, or to visit.

And though this sounds like any other service industry, that locale by the door, allows me my first opportunity to observe and better interact with each person who enters Rocky Mountain Antiques.

It is here I become aware of many visitors’ backgrounds, interests, and personal lives.

Various T shirts with numerous logos provoke conversations; “You ride motorcycles?” , “ When did you visit Mount Rushmore?”, “Is this you first time to Estes Park?”, &c. All common openings we have been taught to utilize in better knowing who we are meeting and to make the visitor feel at ease.

Occasionally we are posed with ‘signs’ that many are reluctant to use; not me.

Recently a gentleman enter with his wife. Each sported a T shirt with the following statement plastered on the back of the shirts, “Get your Butt Rubbed in Milliken”. Now that’s provocative. It grabbed my attention and drew us into a quick conversation. The simple explanation, they own and operate Rubbin Buttz BBQ in Millikin, Colorado. I expressed I thought it was a grand slogan and we started talking about how the town of Milliken supported their use of the slogan and how they sponsored a great many activities in the town. As the gentleman walked away I spotted another ‘sign’ that really caught my attention. The gentleman had lost his left leg, not an unusual thing for me to see these days, but it was his remaining leg that transfixed me. There, on his calf was a large arrow pointing to his artificial limb with some writing above the arrow. I had to ask, “What does the tattoo say?”

“I’m with stumpy.” was the reply.


A full hour ensued with inquiries about the loss of the leg (Stumpy), when it occurred, and how he came up with the very interesting ‘sign’ he posted on his right calf. That is how I met and learned that the gentleman lost his leg in service to our country, his recovery aspects at the field hospital, Germany, Walter Reed, and here at home, his humor in dealing with a difficult physical issue, and how he was tired of seeing folks staring and not taking the time to ask about his injury. So, the resultant tattoo, “I’m with Stumpy”.

Not only did I get a good chuckle I gained a new friend and an invitation to the restaurant. Not bad for asking about the use of three words, “I’m with Stumpy”

We get trained, train others and retrain on how to use ‘signs’ , physical and intangible, to initiate conversations, relationships, and deep interactions with visitors, but too often we are too shy, too PC, too hesitant to utilize all that is offered us.

When we take to the field we need to better train ourselves to take chances, to better ourselves in recognizing the gifts that our visitors offer and to better ourselves through recognizing our mistakes and improving ourselves with our foibles and strengths. Even when overwhelmed with numbers of visitors, it is our obligation to not think of them as a horde, but to note each as an individual so that we might better serve them, our sites, and our fields.

So, “Here’s your sign…”

John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Programs

To Honor…

To Honor …

I wish to go off my normal tract this month.

June 6th Marks the 70th. anniversary of the Normandy landings. Seventy years since so many men went bravely onto the beaches and dropped into the back lands of Normandy to do battle. Seventy years since thousands stood and defended the Atlantic Wall that those Allied soldiers, sailors, and airman attacked.

There will be thousands going to the site to honor those that fought and hundreds that will be there as living history interpreters that wish to illustrate the conflict, its tools and combat techniques, as well as to lead tours and answer questions.

My father was an I & R (Intelligence and Reconnaissance) soldier attached to the 2nd Rangers (of “Finding Private Ryan” fame), that climbed the cliffs of Pont Du Hoc. I will allow you to take the time and effort to seek the history of these brave men. He had trained, lived with, partied, and knew so many of the young men that did not come back from that part of the battle. He has never fully recited his experiences on that section of the battle field. When consulting with the aforementioned film, he had a break down that caused him to seek mental and spiritual aid for many months. During that time my understanding of what one man experienced in such circumstances increased a thousand fold, both through sessions with him and research through speaking with others who served with him and official records.

Those patch work explorations provided a better understanding of the ‘whole’ that his one man lived through that day. Nearly all were moments of fear, distress, adrenalin rushed moments, sorrow, anger, fatigue, and relief. There were moments of humors as well; the moment father swallowed his plug of tobacco, which, ironically, he was chewing to relieve him of seasickness, his remembering the German soldier who was manning his machine gun in his underwear, (father has stated he kept wondering if the man was getting his legs burned by the expelled and hot shells as they fell around the soldiers feet, and the moment father and two others found a bottle of wine in a bunker that, in the middle of the battle they tiffed over in who now owned the prize.

There were far too many moments of battle strung horror that still haunt my father’s dreams.

He is but one of thousands, Allied troops and defenders who had stories to tell and memories to keep.

Most are now gone and those that remain soon will join their brethren in the place of peace reserved for all warriors who have already seen purgatory.

How do we interpret those stories? Do the complete narrations come through with a costumed interpreter? How does that person truly tell the whole story when the concentration only covers that specific moment in time and does not tell the aftermath, good and bad. Do static displays truly convey the personal emotions experienced at that moment in time. Do we need more interpretations of the families of both sides as they receive word that a loved one died on that day? Do parades, celebrations, expressions of gratitude express enough of the tale? Will the public who walk those shores and cliffs, truly better understand the lives of those involved?

These are questions I have examined through 50 years of living history costumed interpretation, whether I am presenting my field of study, the American Civil War, or daily life in a new Colorado town in the 1880’s. I have many opinions but not full concrete answers. I do know that it goes far beyond entertainment or, if you will, “interpretainment”. I know that , as interpreters, we are obligated not to forget those that went before us, or to make a mockery of their lives.

Above the beaches of Normandy sit numerous graves, graves of thousands from a multitude of nations who did not leave the battlefields of Europe. There are many such sites throughout the world honoring men and women who have given “ the last full measure and who are slumbering among their comrades.

At these sites are many who interpret, guide, and assist those who come to honor those who rest beneath the soil.

It is hear I have witnessed some of the most impressive interpretation of the conflict of war: complete contemplative silence.

These moments have been some of the most provoking and impressive moments I have seen in interpretation. And whether it is above Normandy, Sharpsburg, Grafton, West Virginia, Auschwitz, Dachau, the Arizona, Omdurman, or any of the conflictual sites and cemeteries I have visited, I have seen amazing moments that honor the past and the men and women who lived those moments.

So I offer you, the reader, a moment to reflect on what this single date offers us to remember; the moment that changed a world’s history.

To my father, thank you and to my eldest daughter, Heather, I can not express to you how much it meant to your grandfather that you were born on that date, when his years had been filled with dread in recalling what he had witnessed at Normandy, and how he could celebrate the 37th anniversary of D-Day with your birth and look forward to the day, June 6th, without fear.

In honor to all who sacrificed that day, on both sides. In honor to those who were there and survived, contributing so much. In honor of all their families.

John C.F. Luzader

Vice President of Programs

A Strong Foundation

A Strong Foundation

This missive needs a bit of a preface.

On the night of September 12/13 of last year we experienced a major flood throughout the front range of Colorado. The property that I live on lies along the Thompson River and we endured , like so many others, the affects of the flood on the Thompson. Though we keep our house the structure suffered roof damage from the accompanying storm and we fought the issue of black mold, loss of electricity, loss of acreage, trees, a well house, and since our return in January, water that comes from the rebuilt well house that is the color of strong tea.

There have been other issues that have kept us from our home these past few months as well, but that is another story for another time.

The reconstruction and rehabilitation that has taken place, and continues to take place, along the river changes the entire dynamics and ecology of area creating a new evolving ‘normal’ to the arena. Beyond the physical remains of debris, the damages from the flood, the sand and silt and rocks, and the continuous sounds of reconstruction from heavy machinery, there is the emotional rehabilitation that occurs in living in what is, in effect, a disaster zone.

I am far from being the only person that has suffered so and as the news continues to report new calamities of flooding, fires, tornadoes, war, earthquakes, et al, it is obvious that many will have similar experiences and tales to relate as I.

It is difficult to find one single aspect that I can address in relating any aspect of the past seven and a half months that might reflect the turmoil that any go through under these circumstances. However, this past weekend offered an example.

The property I live upon was bought and built upon by my wife’s grandfather. He built here when he was the minister to the woman’s facility across the river that was owned and operated by Cotner College, so many decades ago. He and his wife cleared the land, built the house, and established a family ‘homestead’ here. It is now owned as family property to be maintained for generation after generation. The facility across the river was purchased by one of his former employees and became Sylvan Dale Dude Ranch in 1946. It is still a dude ranch owned by that same family. Upon these properties a number of fruit trees were planted in the 1920’s. Most are now gone with the few remaining tress acting as sentinels to the past. One such tree is on our property.

One of the changes that took place with the flood and its aftermath was the loss of a number of trees along the river basin that protected properties from the very high winds that flow down the canyon. These winds regularly reach seventy to eighty miles an hour during periods in the Spring and Winter. One such wind storm came through the canyon this past week and struck our property and tore that sole surviving heritage apple tree that sits near our home. The two main branches that came up from the trunk were torn asunder from the trunk.

Five generations of my wife’s family have picked fruit from that tree. Squirrels, birds, and five generations of my wife’s family, including my wife, my children, and my grandchildren, have played among its branches, sat on its man frame, posed for pictures, swung from its branches and had it as part of heir lives.

Now all that remains is a single section of its trunk, a trunk that sits on a good foundation of soil and stone that resisted the gale force winds.

That sound so final and sad.

But, the story continues. Much like the foundation that my wife’s grandfather established for his family on this land, a foundation of a center, of faith, of ‘homestead’ and of continuance of family lives, the trunk of the tree still lives. It has gone through trauma, trauma that many would consider cause for its destruction, but it lives. Spouts and shoots already were started on the trunk and they are in flower promising renewal.

With care and attendance we are hoping that those indications of renewed life will thrive and grow allowing future generations to once again play among its branches and garner fruit from its limbs. It will be a different tree, maybe stronger, or weaker, but it will be from the same foundation of that planting from the 1920’s that has been a part of this family’s lives for nearly 100 years. More than likely my wife and I will never sit again on an outreaching limb from that trunk, nor will we set a swing on a branch to swing any child. However, my grandchildren might do so, and their children’s children and so forth. All because it sits on a strong foundation.

Here’s the lesson part; so much of what we do as interpreters and administrators and consultants is to build a strong foundation for the future. We should expect; no, we should desire evolution, change and growth from any program, event, site, and organization we create. It is not important that everything stays the same, but only that we establish a strong ethical foundation that future generations may look to and thank us for creating.

John C.F. Luzader

Vice President of ProgramsImage