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Colonial America Comes to Life

September 16, 2000|TRACI ISAACS

Shade fell across the courtyard as James Pritchard, dressed as a British soldier, quietly folded a red, wool jacket under a tree at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

As part of a group called the Brigade of the American Revolution, Pritchard spent Friday dishing out history lessons about colonial America to about 250 students from six Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks grade schools.

The demonstrations and discussions of the period were in preparation for this weekend's library presentation of Colonial America experiences, including battle reenactments, lectures, museum tours and weaving lessons.

At the women's home demonstration, 10-year-old Kristen DiPippo discovered that had she lived in 1776, she would have made her own clothes.

The Meadows Elementary School student said she preferred living in the current century, mostly because women have more comfortable clothing--not to mention washing machines.

Behind a roped-off section of the library, Elizabeth McClure spun flax and wool. The Simi Valley woman fed a knot into what she called a "gossip wheel." The name, she said, came about because women gathered in spinning groups and shared information.

McClure pumped the wheel's foot pedal and began to sweat. "This is the reason women were always tired," she said.

Lessons like these seldom happen inside a classroom, said Jennifer Fry, a teacher at Meadows Elementary in Thousand Oaks.

"The kids learn firsthand from the artists," she said. "They're in the moment."

Duke Blackwood, director of the Reagan library, said the history tours give students a better perspective.

Children have the Internet, books and television, but those don't provide the same experience as hearing a cannon fire in person or smelling the smoke, Blackwood said.

John Olson, dressed for the day in the costume of a minuteman, first got the American Revolution bug while in grade school. He didn't know about the Brigade until he saw them July 4 at the Nixon library. Olson said he quickly joined the group and ordered his militia outfit.

"It's a dream come true," Olson said. "I can't think of anything more fulfilling."

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