Living History

Armed only with seven poems, a one-day subway card costing $7, and the cell phone number of their faculty chaperone (just in case), some 21 Moravian students went uptown, downtown, and midtown in Manhattan on October 2, looking for bits of history in odd places.

They had been told that all the answers were to be found below 90th Street, but some of them, never having been to New York before, didn’t even know what “below 90th Street” meant. It was an adventure!

The first History Scavenger Hunt, sponsored by the History Club and coordinated by Sandy Bardsley, assistant professor of history, went so well that students and faculty are thinking already about the next one.

In a tavern*, near the toe,
He thanked his men and let them go.
Six years later, on he went
To serve as our first president.

This was the first poem. No question who: George Washington, of course. But the asterisk told the students that their goal was to find the tavern where he spoke. They combined their acumen by clumping together in teams of two to four people. And to prove they’d figured out each clue, they had to take a photo at the site in which every member of the team (except the photographer) appeared.

As the day went on, they became more and more creative with the ways they fulfilled this requirement. At Fraunces Tavern, in the Bowery, where Washington said farewell to his troops, it was early and the students were fresh. Their photos show smiling students, portraitstyle, in front of the building. By the afternoon, as they crawled toward the light at the end of the tunnel, their photos show hands or feet or tops of heads sticking into the picture, thus adhering to the letter of the law.

Bardsley, who admits she is no Ogden Nash, wrote the poems, which range from historical background (“He met his end at the Council of Constance/Fire and brimstone and great remonstrance”) to any old thing that rhymed (“Ashes to ashes, Asch to Brown/Labor turns to town and gown”). One well-known site begins with a grocery list:

Kosher pickles and pastrami,
Bagels, blintzes, and salami.
They claim it’s New York’s oldest deli*.
Herein Harry once met Sally.
(Or should that be Selly?)

The important thing is that the scavenger hunt showed the students that everything around them is history, and it gave them some fun as they practiced actual research skills. The poems were enough to get them started; they could find the answers on the Internet. Once the puzzles were identified, the addresses had to be arranged into some kind of logical order, or it would have taken three days to find all the treasures. Then they went a-hunting.

The poems took them to the site of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire in the East Village to the apartment house on the Upper West Side where John Lennon was shot. The last seven items, grouped into a sonnet, took them all over the Metropolitan Museum of Art. There they had to find a kouros (a classical Greek male sculpture), a reliquary, a Buddha, and other artifacts. As they scattered throughout the museum, they found that some of the curators and guides were willing to help with their detective work.

Those who found all 13 items and brought back the photos to prove it were eligible to win a $200 prize, offered by the History Club with funds provided by United Student Government. Five of the seven teams succeeded in solving all the riddles, so the money was divided among them all. Each team got about $40. And a wonderful day, even for the footsore.

Bardsley said it best:

Hope you’ve enjoyed all the fuss—
Hurry so you catch the bus.

Tiffany Jamann '08, James Maurath '06, and Rebecca Brandt '05 pose at George Segal's Gay Liberation Monument in Christopher Park, New York City.

Photo: Ryan Shelley '07

Meryl Kopy and Laura Bill photographed their feet at the John Lennon memorial in Central Park.