Picnic shows Shakers at play

June 27, 2004|LIZ MAPLES

PLEASANT HILL - Sure the Shakers worked hard, sunup to sundown, but occasionally they took a picnic day.

Such a day of releasement was recreated at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill Saturday.

Costumed historical interpreters and singers ate a lunch of ham and roast beef prepared like it would have been at the height of Mercer County Shaker life in the 1850s. The picnic was spread on white cotton blankets that made a patchwork on the green field.

After the hearty meal, visitors joined in Shaker games. There was tug of war and rope toss. Singing and dancing. Kids scampered after each other.

"They really knew how to let their hair down," said Georgie Riddell, program coordinator at the village.

A poem by Shaker Richard Barnett Rupe described a day of releasement on Sept. 23, 1852:

"We jumped and we swung and all the woods rung,

With songs and with shouts of gladness,


Together we stayed and froliced (sic) and played

For there was no sorrow or sadness."

The poem tells about how the rain drove the picnic indoors. The interpreters had greater luck with their 2004 picnic. Saturday was cool and sunny, a change from recent soggy weather.

Even with the all the commotion, the wide open field and country hilltop preserved the quiet, unhurried feel that usually marks a visit to the village.

The Shakers were members of a celibate Christian religion that practiced communal living. A large settlement was established near Harrodsburg and thrived in the 19th century.

The picnic's meats, bread loaves and fried pies were prepared by a local bakery and Mennonite grocer, so it would be similar to what the Shakers would have prepared for themselves. The staff gathered onions, radishes and cucumbers from the garden at the village, and churned butter at the Centre Family Dwelling house that morning.

Visitors joined the village's interpreters for dessert of watermelon and hand-cranked strawberry and peach ice cream. They did cheat a bit - there were two electric ice-cream makers.

After they ate, they played.

In the hoop toss, wooden circles wrapped in ribbon were tossed between people using sticks. The boys challenged the girls to a tug of war. Women embroidered under the trees.

James Whitlock, who was visiting from the United Arab Emirates, played with his kids in the field.

He said the Shaker's low-tech games prompted his younger children to use their imagination more.

"As opposed to turning on a game and watching it," he said.

As Whitlock spoke, a pair of interpreters started a duet, accompanied by a violin.

Music and song punctuated the picnic. The Shakers were known for their music ability. Together the communities wrote more than 20,000 hymns, including the tune "Simple Gifts."

Lydia Pope, 13, has been singing at the village for five years. She said the day of releasement was more free than the group's usual performances.

"You can play with the guests," Pope said.

The Danville resident said she learns more and more about the spiritual community every time she visits the village.

She already knew that the children had an appointed play time, but said when she learned about the picnic it surprised her.

"It's good because even adults need to play."

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