By AdriAnna Newberry
For the Redoubt Reporter
History comes alive on a tour of Washington, D.C., so a spring break excursion to the nation’s capital inspired many revelations for Kenai Middle School students about what life was like at various points in the past.
But that didn’t manage to totally scrub them of their more modern-day sense of humor and fascination with the horror-movie macabre.
Among their stops was a ghost tour of old-town D.C. Their guide was dressed in 18th-century clothes and told ghost stories throughout the tour. Some were scary, some were funny and some were an exact fit with middle-school humor — one such tale being of the “invention” of pink lemonade.
“This one person wanted lemonade but they wanted ice in it, which is kind of rare back then. They didn’t have any ice so they got it from the morgue. There was still some blood on it and it turned the lemonade pink,” said student Dustin Everitt.
In the American History Museum, students saw the bullet that killed Abraham Lincoln, his hat, as well as molds made from his hands. They also learned an interesting bit of trivia — the 6-foot, 4-inch Lincoln, after being shot, had to be laid diagonally in order to fit on a 5-foot bed to await treatment.
“I thought it was cool to go to Ford’s Theater and Mount Vernon because they were both places where former presidents actually lived and died. They had it back in its original state, like how it was when they were living there, so it was just cool to see exactly what they would see every morning and stuff like that,” said Caleb Caldwell.
Other visits of interest included re-creations of Colonial Williamsburg, the Jamestown settlement and Powhatan Indian Village. Each settlement had costumed actors to interact with the group and explain the way of life in the days of the settlements. The simplicity of life caught the interest of some group members.
“I really liked the little Indian village they re-created. I actually kind of wanted to live there. It was really cool. Everything was still simple and you had to get food and you stayed outside all day,” said Caitlin Steinbeck.
“I think it would be fun to live there for a while, but I’d start missing the everyday things that we have, all the electronics and stuff,” said Bill Ashwell.
Not that there was a lack of electronics when it came to learning on the trip. Another popular visit was to the Aerospace Museum.
“The Aerospace Museum was cool. They have these simulators you can go in where you go all the way upside down and everything and you get to fly around and shoot down other stuff,” Caldwell said.
Ariana Gabriel, who wants to be a pilot, seconds the museum’s cool factor.
“They had a Boeing 747 cockpit. I thought that was awesome,” she said.
Even when the electronics refused to cooperate the students found the bright side of the situation. When faulty elevators resulted in a 30-minute walk down the Washington Monument, the Kenai group had a rare opportunity to see the commemorative state stones, the most valuable of which is Alaska’s jade block.
“They were having problems with it (the elevator) before we went up, and then they were trying to get us down and the doors would close for about the same amount of time that it would take to go down, and then they would open up and we’d still be in the same place,” Ashwell said.
Since they all wanted to walk down anyway, and each got to pick out a gift under $20 by way of apology, a bit of elevator trouble was no trouble after all.
The trip was more than fun and games, however. The Holocaust Museum made real a part of history that can be hard to imagine.
“The Holocaust Museum was a big eye-opener, how horrible that was,” Steinbeck said.
“Like any experiment from your worst nightmare or some weird sci-fi book you ever read. It was there,” Gabriel added.
The visit that perhaps impacted the students the most was Arlington National Cemetery, where they participated in the laying of the wreath ceremony.
“I felt honored to be one of the ones who laid the wreath. That a whole maybe 4,000 people laid there and they gave up their one, only life to their country. And that’s the one life they get,” Gabriel said.
“It’s to honor all the soldiers that they don’t know who they were. People can go there and think that maybe they were their lost sons or father or something. As bystanders watching it, it showed how loyal people are to our soldiers. Like they walk back and forth day and night, no matter what, and it was really special to get to watch that,” Katy Knackstedt said.
“It was pretty cool that they guarded the tomb all through the year, like on Christmas and all through the night, when it’s snowing and all that,” Caldwell said.
The spring break D.C. trip is a regular tradition at Kenai Middle. Though many of the sights are the same, students’ perceptions differ and they take home slightly different experiences each year.
One thing that doesn’t change, though, is the students’ devotion to the school’s regular tour guide, J.D. Payne.
“Factually, I don’t think there was anything that stood out from the rest. It was all basically incredible, and our tour guide, J.D., was really good. It was informational and he made it a lot of fun for us,” Ashwell said.
“He got all the facts out but he wanted to have fun at the same time so it was a really happy atmosphere with a lot of learning,” Gabriel said.
AdriAnna Newberry is doing an internship with the Redoubt Reporter.