WAYLAND — The idea of Pioneer Days is to have children imagine what life was like hundreds of years ago in their sleepy town.
Wayland Area Historical Society held this event on Oct. 19 for Cohocton Elementary and Wayland-Cohocton Central students.
Gretchen Murray Sepik “Erie Canal Sal” gave the students a powerful insight into what life was like on the Erie Canal in 1840.
Sepik entertains them with a live performance in Irish dialect, which allows them to interact with the story.
Sepik also portrays Mary Jemison, Beatrix Potter, and Naomi Brown (a fictional character in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1800s. She tells the stories of the Brer Rabbit Gang.) Sepik performs these historical characters at schools, colleges, museums, historical societies, libraries, festivals, conferences, and corporations.
WAHS member Marian Crawford spearheads this event to help educate the young people in the community.
“We covered the last 500 years in Wayland,” Crawford said. “I told the students that 500 years ago this area was covered in ice, and we had Iroquois on this land 400 years ago. A hundred years after that Springwater, Cohocton and Wayland were all one big area.”
The Wayland Area History Book made in the 1970s talks about the history in great detail of this area. Crawford read some of that to the students before the program.
“That book is a tremendous resource for our local people,” she said. “We had great historical people, industries, services, and fire companies.”
Crawford was very proud of all the volunteers at the historical society, and said the students were well behaved.
This year marks the 200-year-anniversary of the Erie Canal. It was extra special for the historical society to have “Erie Canal Sal” present.
Sepik mentioned how her mother, Jinny, got her interested in storytelling when she was little. Having been born and raised in Grove City, Pa., Sepik spent most of her life in the country. Her father, Michael, would tell stories about the Pennsylvania coal mines, horses, and railroads. Sepik began her profession as a storyteller, actress, and playwright about 30 years ago.
“The children all learn from my stories,” she said. “They learn how to be an audience, and be in the story.”
Sepik is known for making the experience special for the children by using their names.
“Naomi Brown is the the first character I did,” she said. “I really loved the Brer Rabbit stories, but I was too shy to be myself. I made her up, so I could talk about these stories I loved.”
Sepik said when she does these stories for adults they are not an animated. She focuses more on the history of the character.
WAHS member Judy Babcock said the purpose of these events is to bring the community to the historical society.
“We are a rural community, so it is important for the children to learn about it,” she said. “We always try to get their parents interested in bringing them back to the museum.”