Fort Union has a new summer program, and it's taking kids back in time to learn some old tricks.
Kidz Kraft Saturdays is a new endeavor designed to bring families out to the historic site and give children the opportunity to learn a skill that a tradesman at Fort Union would have practiced. Saturday was Clerk Day, the first event of the program, and focused on using a quill and ink to write in Spencerian cursive, a script used during the 1800s.
Park rangers, dressed in period clothing, sat with visitors and carefully taught them to write each delicate letter, using nothing more than the sharpened tip of a feather and a dab of ink. Sawyer Flynn, park ranger and re-enactor, explained the different types of ink that would have been available during the time, with some made from berries, ash or metal shavings.
Flynn, who was very proficient in writing Spencerian cursive, also showed off his collection of quills that he had used during his time learning the craft. Tattered and stained, he explained how it took months of practice with a quill to perfect the art.
Kristin Norgaard, another ranger at Fort Union, sat with Leia Melberg, 9, and went letter by letter teaching her to spell her name, her sister's name and her pet cat's name in the stylized script.
Those gathered seemed surprised at the difficulty of the craft, laughing as ink dripped and splattered on the paper, table and their hands. The day was sunny and hot, with an abundance of light streaming in through the open door and windows.
Flynn and Norgaard explained how at the time, it was important to get any necessary correspondence done during daylight hours, as writing by candlelight made the job significantly more difficult. In the winter, the task became even more urgent as unattended inkwells could freeze and would have to be thawed by candlelight.
At the end of the class, visitors were given a quill of their very own, as well as a guide to Spencerian cursive so they could continue practicing on their own. Afterwards, many visitors retreated to the air conditioned refuge of the museum, taking in the exhibits and short videos showcasing the structures of the Fort and highlighting the history and practices of the area.
Clerk Day was the first of the summer's Kidz Kraft Saturdays at Fort Union. The event will take place weekly until Labor Day. The events are free to the public, and a full schedule of classes can be found on Fort Union's website at www.nps.gov/fous.