Living history museums (called “open-air museums” in Europe) are a wonderful experience for the whole family. Some are large, such as Henry Ford’s Greenfield Village in Michigan, Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, or Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. Smaller sites can be a lighthouse or a farm at a state park, the birthplace of a famous person, or an outdoor extension of a local museum during the summer. Each has its own charm.
Slow down and ask questions! Most of the workers love enthusiastic and inquisitive visitors. In the Middle Ages section of Archeon in Holland, I remember friendly conversations with a couple who volunteered each weekend to pass on their knowledge about bee keeping. A tinsmith poured hot metal into forms to make pilgrim badges that people wore on their hats to show which pilgrim sites they had visited.
My husband, Tom, always enjoys discussing metallurgy with blacksmiths while they heat a piece of metal using a bellows and then hammer it into various shapes. On a cold blustery spring day we enjoyed conversation over hot bowls of soup in one of the brick homes in the Enkhuizen Zuiderzee Museum in Holland. Often craft tables are set up for younger folk. Some of our memories include Renee making bracelets in Archeon and wearing dress-up clothes in Enkhuizen. We sat and talked with other parents while children carved pieces of wood.
Here are a few of my favorite places:
Ballenberg, Switzerland: Various homes and barns from the German speaking, French, and Italian cantons of Switzerland were moved to this park. The houses are so distinct to their regions, that it is fun to imagine and compare living in them. The traditional rural exhibitions include baking, making cheese, pottery, weaving, and making bricks. After wandering in and out homes, you can enjoy beautiful gardens, watch the farm animals, or sit in the shade and rest. Special days at Ballenberg in 2021 include a craft market, medicinal herb days, Tilemaker nights, and From Flax to Linen.
Pompeii, Italy: These buildings did not move! Ash from Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD fell and covered the city. Spend a day looking at corner snack shops, roaming in and out of homes with beautiful mosaics, different styles of frescoes on the walls and lovely gardens. Though many homes and villas can be visited, one-third of Pompeii is still covered with about fifteen feet of ash.
Mérida, Spain: After purchasing one ticket (15 euro in 2017), you are able to visit twenty-eight different sites. Most sites are in the midst of a modern city, including an amphitheater, theater, garden, municipal building, and a temple to Diana, the Roman goddess of the countryside and crossroads.
Outside the city is an aqueduct and a Roman bridge and the best preserved Circo Romano in Europe (Roman circus where chariot races were held). A portion of the circus was once covered over by the Madrid-Lisbon highway, but they moved the road and uncovered the site. The museum houses sculptures and large elegant mosaic floors.
Getting out and about is a goal of many this summer. What outdoor museums can you visit in the U.S.? Wikipedia’s list includes farms, forts, transportation, and mining: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_open-air_and_living_history_museums_in_the_United_States