Travel back in time this weekend at Columbia Diggins

naustin@modbee.comMay 30, 2014 

  • IF YOU GO

    WHAT:

    Columbia State Historic Park’s Diggins Tent Town 1852

    WHEN:

    10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and Sunday, with re-enactments every 30 minutes.

    INFO:

    About 200 volunteers dressed in period costume re-create the Gold Rush era with hands-on activities for kids. Cost is $5 per adult, $1 per child 12 and under. Parking and park admission are free. For more, call visitor services at (209) 588-9128.

For those tired of the hard luck and tough characters of this century, there’s another option this weekend.

About 200 volunteers in period costumes and characters take visitors back to Gold Rush days, welcome to watch or join in mining, washing, snacking and gambling away their hard-won booty today and Sunday in Columbia State Historic Park’s Diggins Tent Town 1852.

Two brothers, ages 4 and 5, crawled under and over long strands of twine being twisted, first separately, then into a tough, homemade rope. “They love it and it’s a great way to experience history,” said mom Angela Glasser as she balanced wood shavings that served as early matches and tiny bags of “gold eagles” coins.

Glasser lived in the Columbia area for years, but never went to the Diggins. Now living in Santa Rosa, she came to bring sons Ari and Eli. “They’re fascinated,” she said.

“It’s good for them to know how things were done back in the day,” said Jodi Ramirez, watching son Logan, 10, pump cool water over his head to cool off. Logan, on a field trip from Oakhurst Elementary, was among hundreds of schoolkids who came to the park Thursday and Friday.

At the Diggins admissions table, the count was 515 adults by midday Friday, with about 700 kids having passed through the tent to the time warp beyond. An estimated 1,500 visitors came Thursday, most with school groups, said park interpreter Danielle Gerhart.

Last year, the four-day event brought 4,500 visitors to the park, “but I think there’s more this year,” she said. Weekend visitors will get re-enactments, theater performances and extra attractions in the tent city. That’s on top of better parking, with the main lot no longer devoted to school buses. Visitors came from as far away as Virginia and Oregon this year, Gerhart said.

Brian Barnes of San Diego said he lucked into the event while traveling with his three kids. “We were on our way to Yosemite and stopped to see the Gold Rush towns,” Barnes said between coaching pointers for daughter Bethany, 10, who was turning the rope twister.

Behind them, youngsters dipped white shirts in soapy water and scrubbed them on corrugated metal boards. “It’s hard,” said Lillie Smith, 10, after a few minutes. But 5-year-old Shelly Storm, scrubbing next to her, piped up, “This is awesome!”

Docent Lisa Pohl, sitting in the shade watching them work, said overseeing the washing station is easy duty. “They’re doing the work, and they’re learning so much. You would be surprised at the kids who’ve never seen a clothespin,” she said.

Earlier, Pohl took several school groups around the tent town. “I think the thing that most amazed them was the fire,” she said. “They saw a gentleman with flint and steel lighting it. It’s real fire and it comes out of nothing. They jumped back.

“Kids also really loved the mining. They love to get their hands dirty, and they always hope they’ll find gold.”

Switching back into character, Pohl noted she made more money doing laundry than her husband did at the mines.

Baker Sandy Tannhauser said the same. “Bakers make good money. And if the miners come in bragging about getting so much gold, my prices go up!” Tannhauser said with a wink.

Over in the gambling “saloon” tent, 10-year-olds Joey Star, Emmanuel Solis and Ashton Sollaris were getting a lesson from gambler David Kelley. Kelley usually works the mines, but was talked into a wearing a tie for gaming duty and was busy trying to relieve the boys of their chips with a Gold Rush-era game appropriately called Hazard.

“Right now they’re learning about the law of averages,” Joey’s mom, Nicole Star, said dryly. The classmates from Oakhurst also got a lesson in mining. “They saw how much work it was to pan for gold and it took patience. They were shaking their pans, saying ‘Oh, come on gold!’ ” she chuckled.

Watching Dale Shinn of Sacramento playing an old hurdy-gurdy with her children, Amber Karpus of Sonora said the Diggins are a tradition. “I remember doing this when I was a kid,” she said.

One tent over, Arthur Goulart played a guitar while John Grafton sat in companionable silence beside a table of salsa makings.

“We’re all history nuts anyway,” Goulart said, never slowing his strumming. “Over the years, with all the things we do, we’ve gotten to be a community of like souls.”

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at naustin@modbee.com or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.

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