Taking the show on the Road, Fall 2017.


Stumbling Through History will be on the road this fall. Come check us out at one of these events!

September 9: Civil War in the Mountains program, Price Park, Blue Ridge Parkway, 7:00 pm.

September 16: 18th Century Medical Plants of Southern Appalachia, Overmountain Victory Celebration, Mineral Museum, Blue Ridge Parkway (We’ll be there all day and most of the evening).

September 23-24: Overmountin Men Muster – Ft. Watauga/Sycamore Shoals State Historic Site, Elizabethton, TN.

September 30: Olde Timey Days, Burnsville, NC (on the Square)

October 8: Boone Heritage Festival, Hickory Ridge Living History Museum, Boone, NC

October 14: Big Ivy Heritage Festival, Barnardsville, NC

October 21: Historic Richmond Hill Law School, Yadkin County, NC

October 28: Folk Festival, Zebulon B. Vance Birthplace State Historic Site, Weaverville, NC

November 4-5: A Walk in their Boots, Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site, Johnson City, TN

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New exhibit at Mars Hill University

It today’s anti-Civil War craze, it is nice to see a good quality exhibit on local aspects of the troubles of the 1860s. Mars Hill University has done just that, putting together exhibits and material on the War in the mountains.

Madison County is a prime place to explore the topic. From early war violence, when the sheriff took a shot at a local Unionist, and was then killed, to the numerous raids into and out of the Shelton Laurel, the area had more than its fair share of conflict. Except in places like Bentonville or Fort Fisher, where large-scale battles took place, Madison County just might be the bloodiest ground in the state.

Much of the exhibit focuses on the life of James Keith, lieutenant colonel of the 64th North Carolina Troops. Some of his regiment were the men sent into the Laurel area to deal with the dissidents after the January 1863 salt raid into Madison. In the course of the exhibit and the accompanying video, a different theory is advanced that just maybe, Keith was not responsible for the thirteen killed that cold January morning.

There are plenty of texts and documents to peruse, along with several artifacts from the area.

I do wish the documentary and exhibit had gone a little further in their explanations. There are many period letters and newspaper pieces stating that gangs of men and boys were coming out of the Laurel area of Madison County and robbing people in the surrounding environs blind. A mention or two of those accounts would have carried the conversation even further.

“The Civil War in the Southern Highlands: A Human Perspective,” at the Rural Heritage Museum is well worth your time, and admission is free. It is always great to be on the campus of Mars Hill University. The exhibit runs through March 4, 2018.Rural Heritage.jpg

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Stumbling through the Historic Carson House

We apologize for not having any new posts the past couple of weeks. Michael just finished his twenty-third manuscript, and those last couple of weeks before he turns in something are filled full of reading and editing and re-reading. It is just a crazy time.



Being interpreters always has its opportunities for something a little different. A few weeks ago, the fine folks at the Historic Carson House in McDowell County, North Carolina, put out a call for help. They needed interpreters to come and help with the filming of a PR video. We spent a Thursday and Friday at the site, helping out. On Thursday, we were well dressed. I was portraying Colonel Carson, and Elizabeth and Isabella were fashionable ladies of the 1860s. In addition to providing some of the narration, Elizabeth depicted some typical activities, including needlework and supervising children. Isabella also took part in depicting a school scene, playing, and letter-writing. They also joined a local traditional musician for a scene of singing along with one of Elizabeth’s favorite murder ballads, “The Dreadful Wind and Rain,” also known as “The Cruel Sister” and “The Twa Corbies,” among other  titles.


On Friday, we showed up in our 18th century kits in the morning, and changed into our mid-19th century common folks clothes for the afternoon. We do believe that was a first for us – three different sets of historical clothing in two days (plus, it took a day to hang everything back up!).  Nate made a fine long-hunter stalking along the riverbank, and Isabella and Elizabeth did some of their plant gathering and preserving as part of the film. Though we have volunteered at the site before, this was certainly a different experience! There were many super volunteers who helped out, including re-enactors, demonstrators, and junior historians. The staff and volunteers took good care of us  all, and the film crew was great.



The Historic Carson House is a wonderful site! It is located between Marion and Old Fort on US 70. Construction started on the house in 1793. The house is three stories tall and has many rooms, most of which are open and feature great exhibits.  For many years, the house was a stagecoach stop and inn. Among the guests were Davy Crockett, Sam Houston, and Andrew Jackson. Locals gathered at the home in 1843 and organized Mitchell County at the Carson House. It is a valuable piece of local history and is nicely preserved.


In 1964, the Historic Carson House opened as a museum and library and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The 200+ year old home is full of antiques, mostly depicting life in the mid-19th century. They do several events every year, such as an annual Civil War reenactment (coming up in July), and a Overmountain Men event in September. There are concerts at the house and in the nice pavilion on site. The Historic Carson House is well worth a visit.



Michael really likes the variety and quantity of the collection – especially the military items, and the dandy top hat on the second floor. Elizabeth enjoys the beautiful collection of domestic items, including clothing from various eras of the house’s long life. In addition to enjoying playing “ghost” any chance she gets at this site, Isabella loves the antique dolls, including the one she got to rock for part of the filming. Nathaniel was interested in the great outdoor buildings, particularly the large barn with excellent antique blacksmith equipment that was used doing the filming.

We hope you’ll get the chance to stumble along to the Carson House soon!

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Stumbling through the Mariners Museum

Sometimes, in our travels, we are fortunate enough to revisit places where we have been before. It’s always interesting to come back to a place we remember. It’s even more interesting to visit a place we visited but don’t remember. Elizabeth, who was born at the Portsmouth Naval Base in Virginia, doesn’t recall her first visit to the Mariners’ Museum at Newport News, but our family visit  in 2015 was a memorable and educational trip that we all enjoyed, and we highly recommend the site to anyone who  gets the chance to visit.

It is a good idea to plan plenty of time to visit the Museum, as it encompasses several different areas that are in-depth and educational for the whole family. The Monitor Center is certainly a highlight. This section is dedicated to the USS Monitor, the famous ironclad ship whose Civil War exploits are featured in this amazing center that is an entire museum in itself, including numerous artifacts and both the actual turret of the ironclad, in the process of being conserved, and a full-scale replica of the piece as it appeared when it was found. There is also an exciting  multi-sensory experience depicting the famous ironclad battle against the CSS Virginia.

In addition to this section, though, the museum also features an incredible array of model ships, nautical artifacts, and actual vessels that tell the story of seafaring from its earliest days to the present. The museum is beautifully organized, so that one can visit the heydey of the British Navy with Lord Nelson in one area, travel back to the earliest days of exploration and discovery in another gallery, and then learn about the incredible history of the U.S. Navy in yet another gallery. And those are just a few of the museum’s beautifully presented subject areas.

At the time of our visit, there was a great traveling exhibit on the coffee trade (Elizabeth still has the coffee sachet that we made as part of the hands-on program), as well as a wonderful section dedicated to the experience of being shipwrecked. In this area, Elizabeth particularly enjoyed getting in the Titanic replica lifeboat, though she was also very taken with the personal items, artifacts that once belonged to sailors, that were collected from the Monitor (and yes, the coffee section. Yay, coffee!). Isabella enjoyed the deep-sea exploration activities and beautiful ships’ figureheads, and Nate liked the model ships and the ancient navigational tools. Michael was, of course, very impressed with the Monitor exhibit, though he was disappointed to learn that only a week after our visit, the conservation tank was briefly drained, so that lucky visitors who were there that day were able to see the actual turret out of its watery cocoon. We could only squint at it through the water instead of seeing it “up close.”

There is something at the Mariners’ Museum for everyone, and it’s a full day’s worth of museum, so pack a picnic (there is a park if weather permits enjoying it). The cafe is currently not open, so bring your provisions with you, Matey! To learn more about the Mariners’ Museum, including hours and current exhibits, visit http://www.marinersmuseum.org/

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Stumbling Through Rocket City U.S.A.

The Hardys have very diverse interests when it comes to history. Elizabeth really enjoys the late 18th century; Michael’s been hung out in the mid-19th century for over thirty years. Nathaniel really enjoys the last half of the 20th century. Everyone really likes anything to do with the space race. Last June, we took our first family trip to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.StumblingSpace1

Many times, when we think of the space race, we think of Kennedy Space Center. That’s where the action happens. In a blaze, those big rockets blast off for the stars and beyond. But much of the real work takes place at other locations, like the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.  It is still the nerve center for the International Space Station.


After World War II, many of the German scientists who worked on the V-1 and V-2 projects came to the United States (for more information, read Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobsen). The leader of this group was Dr. Wernher Von Braun. The German scientist eventually settled in Huntsville and led the team there that developed the rocket that launched our first satellite, Explorer 1, along with the Saturn V, which took Americans to the moon. The Marshall Space Flight Center was founded in July 1960. A decade later, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center opened to the public. (We didn’t know that Von Braun persuaded Alabama Coach Bear Bryant and Auburn coach Shug Jordan to appear in a television commercial together, supporting the $1.9 million statewide bond to finance the museum’s construction).  Redstone Arsenal donated the property.

StumblingSpace3There are scores of exhibits. The main exhibition building is full of pieces of Von Braun’s life, models, plans and sketches, along with tons of STEM-related activities for the younger visitors (Isabella loves these pieces). There is an IMAX theater (we skipped this part. That day’s showing was a movie we had seen before at Kennedy). Next door is the Saturn V Hall at the Davidson Center for Space Exploration. They’ve got a Saturn V rocket on display (made up of various test components). And, there is the outdoor Rocket Park, with a full-size Saturn V, and twenty-six other rockets and missiles, along with a full-size space shuttle model, the only one in its launch configuration.

Also on display is the Apollo 16 command Module, which orbited the moon in 1972. We also signed up for the bus tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center, which includes four National Landmarks. We got to see the Propulsion and Structural Test Facility and the Redstone Test Stand. And, we got to visit the operations  center for the International Space Center (this was really cool).


Outside of it being blazing hot (hey, it was Alabama in June), we spent a great day at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center. Michael’s favorite part was the Apollo 16 command module. He’s seen the command modules for Apollo 11, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, and Apollo 16 to date. Elizabeth enjoyed visiting the memorial to Miss Baker, a squirrel monkey who became one of the first animals launched into space by the United States and recovered alive.  Elizabeth and her family visited the Center over 30 years ago, and on that trip, she was able to meet Miss Baker, who lived to the ripe old age of 27 before her death in 1984. Seeing Miss Baker the first time was one of the things she most remembered about her own childhood history stumbles. Nathaniel enjoyed all of the items related to Dr. Von Braun. (He did not care much for the space shot ride, which he only rode because his mother didn’t want to go by herself), and he loved seeing the International Space Station Operations Center. Isabella really enjoyed all of the hands on STEM-related activities, as well as the Mars rock-climbing area.


If you get a chance, check out the educational and exciting U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. It has something for everyone. In fact, it is out of this world!

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Stumbling Through Tipton-Haynes State Historic Site

For years, the Hardy family has volunteered at various historic sites, lending our knowledge to help these sites with special events. This past weekend, we were at the Tipton-Haynes State Historic site near Johnson City, Tennessee.

History runs deep through the East Tennessee site. Native Americans, buffalo trace, a post-Revolutionary war skirmish, and the home of a Confederate senator can all be found at Tipton-Haynes. The property was acquired by John Tipton in 1784. After the end of the American Revolution, there was considerable confusion in present-day East Tennessee. Some favored the establishment of a new state, the State of Franklin, while others, like Tipton, preferred to remain loyal to North Carolina. In February 1788, the sides came to blows at the Tipton home in a skirmish known as the Battle of the State of Franklin.  Of course, we know that there was never a state of Franklin recognized by the United States, and the area became the state of Tennessee in 1793. The property was sold to the Haynes family, and was given to Landon Carter Tipton and his bride Eleanor as a wedding present in 1839.

Landon Carter Haynes was a lawyer, newspaper editor, and Methodist minister. He also served in the Tennessee House and Senate, serving a number of years as the speaker of the house. When the Civil War came, Haynes was elected one of the two
Confederate senators from Tennessee. He lived in Knoxville when not in Richmond, until East Tennessee fell, and then moved his family to Wytheville, Virginia. At the end of the war, he was in Statesville, North Carolina. Haynes lost the house after the war. It was auctioned off by the Federal government. Haynes made his way to Memphis where he died in 1875.StumblingHaynes3

The Tipton-Haynes site encompasses 45 acres and eleven historic buildings (not all original to the site). The centerpiece is the Tipton-Haynes House, which started life as a log cabin in the 1780s, and was continually improved upon to its current structure. There are also several other log and frame structures, including barns and smokehouses. Possibly the greatest asset is Haynes’s law office, sitting beside the main home, and like the main house, fronting the old road. There are just not many nineteenth-century law offices around. (The Todd Law office in Jefferson is another stand-alone building. Maybe we’ll look at these in another post).

Tipton-Haynes does several events throughout the year. This past weekend was the annual Civil War reenactment. Members of the blue and gray squared off in the fields beside the house, giving visitors a chance to catch a glimpse of the carnage of the days gone by. The site is worth a visit for several reasons, like the Battle of the Lost State of Franklin, and honestly, there are just not that many Confederate senator’s houses open to the public. There is a visitoStumblingHaynes2r center with artifacts that have been excavated from the site, and some other Tipton-Haynes family pieces. Both Michael and Nathaniel’s favorite pieces are the Haynes Law office. Elizabeth and Isabella both enjoy the house, as it does have two parlors and three kitchens thanks to its growth over time. The cave is also a big favorite with kids and adults alike.

By the way, the Hardys are always looking for historic sites with which to work. They bring years of interpretive experience to wherever they go, and they always are eager to learn more about specific sites or topics. If you are interested, please drop them a line.

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Stumbling through the Trenches in Raleigh

The United States entered World War I one hundred years ago. There are new documentaries, lectures, and museum displays happening all across this fair nation. This past weekend, we happened to be in Raleigh, North Carolina,  for the state level of National History Day competition, and we had a chance to visit one of those new displays. The North Carolina Museum of History recently opened its new North Carolina and World War I exhibit. The Hardy family took the opportunity to visit this special experience.StumblingWWI1

Though the new exhibit includes a few of the artifacts from the WWI section in the permanent North Carolina Goes to War Hall, it also includes a vast array of artifacts, features excellent displays and interpretive models, and literally takes the visitor into the trenches. Starting with
projected images of children from a variety of countries expressing their outlook on the situation at the beginning of the war, the exhibit takes the visitor through the experiences a North Carolina soldier would have had in training (complete with a yelling drill sergeant), all the way to the front lines in Europe. As visitors wend their way through the massive, barbed-wire-topped entrenchments, they can take part in interactive experiences and view a variety of artifacts and replicas that lend a greater understanding of this terrible war and those who fought it. At the end of the twisting path, adults from many lands share their feelings about the end of the war, particularly their anxiety over the German response to the war’s outcome.

It is a wonderful exhibit, and each of the Hardys had favorites among its features. Michael was particularly taken with a battle-damaged German officer’s pistol, as it shows actual combat experience. Elizabeth liked the cases that were positioned in the “earth works” and filled with actual dug artifacts from the fields of Europe, un-restored and still looking much as they do when they are pulled out of the ground, something that still happens today. Nate liked the German and French original machine guns (replicas fire over visitors’ heads from time to time). Isabella’s favorite part was the beginning and end, with the very realistic people speaking in their own languages, and telling about their very real concerns before and after the war. Everyone was very impressed with the exhibit’s “hidden Mickey”: a lifelike rat that burrows under the wall of one of the trenches.StumblingWWI2

Michael does wish that there had been a map of North Carolina’s military bases as part of the exhibit. Places like Camp Greene in Charlotte and Camp Bragg (now Fort Bragg). Also, at the end of the exhibit, there was talk of commemorating World War I. How about something more on the monuments to World War I scattered throughout North Carolina? There are dedicated World War I monuments in High Point, Wilmington, Charlotte, Salisbury, Winton, and many others. Though the powerful display with “Flanders Field” at the end reminds us of the sacrifices of all soldiers, it would be nice to have more on the way North Carolina in particular remembered her lost doughboys.

Visitors can commemorate their experience with books, magnets, and other items in the gift shop, and they can also donate to the VFW and take a poppy for their own remembrance.

This amazing exhibit, like the rest of the museum, is free to the public. It is best to come early in morning, especially on Saturday, when school groups are not rampaging through with energy levels that might take them straight through no-man’s land.  Though some of the effects may be startling or even scary for younger children, it is a great opportunity for everyone to learn more about this important chapter in the life of our state, nation, and world. North Carolina and World War I will be in the museum until January 2019.

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Stumbling Through Philadelphia

Alas, we were not at the grand opening of the new Museum of the American Revolution this past week. But we have been to Philadelphia, where we managed to stumble into some wonderful history.


Almost two years ago, right after the National History Day competition, we turned the old history wagon north for a little stumbling through history. Philadelphia was one of the towns upon which we set our sights. Philadelphia was the epicenter of the struggle for a new nation in the 1770s and 1780s, and it was a capital of the United States before Washington, D. C., became the permanent capital. In the two days we spent in Philadelphia, we just barely scratched the surface. Independence Hall, Christ Church Burial Ground, the Betsy Ross House, Congress Hall, the Benjamin Franklin Museum, Franklin’s print shop, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, and the American Philosophical Society Museum, were some of the places that we visited.

The AmericaPhilly4n Philosophical Society Museum was Michael’s favorite. Lewis and Clark’s herbarium specimen collection and other scientific specimens and apparatus were on display. Of course, visiting Christ Church Cemetery was also a highlight. There are 1,400 markers in a two-acre plot. Benjamin Franklin is buried there, along with four other signers of the Declaration of Independence.  For those folks back in North Carolina, Col. Edward Buncombe is buried here. He is the namesake of Buncombe County. The Hardys are quite fond of cemeteries in general (watch for an upcoming post on Philadelphia’s large and remarkable Laurel Hill Cemetery), so we loved the historic Christ Church Cemetery. It was especially meaningful for Elizabeth, who teaches the work of Franklin, America’s first rock star, each semester. So, she made sure to bring a cup of tea to toast him over his grave. Other visitors like to leave pennies all over the marker, which is probably a cheaper alternative to leaving the currency that bears his image.

The Franklin sites we visited were all excellent, particularly the print shop, which uses wonderful interpretive history by actually running the press. Elizabeth loved seeing works Franklin himself had printed. Nate and Isabella were both deeply impressed by the marker indicating the location of Franklin’s privy.

Independence Hall was also a favorite for our junior partnePhilly3rs. Though they were disappointed by the lack of Nicholas Cage racing through the halls with stolen National Treasures, Isabella was so taken with George Washington’s Rising Sun chair that, over a year later, visiting Fredericksburg, she stumped a tour guide by asking how that chair’s name was connected to the name of the Rising Sun Tavern which was owned by Washington’s brother.

Our time in Philadelphia was short, but like all of our Stumbling adventures, we packed in as much as we could. On some future date, we would like to go back and visit the Franklin Institute, the Eastern State Penitentiary, and the Mutter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Of course, the new Museum of the American Revolution is now high on that list as well

Philly1Michael’s piece of advice? Stay downtown. Parking is about $30 a day, so staying out-of-town and driving in will not really save any money, and will just create frustration and delay. We stayed at the Wyndham Philadelphia Historic District, and walked everywhere we went. We could see Franklin’s grave from our room, which delighted Elizabeth, and we all enjoyed both the views and the wonderful convenience of being close to everything. Elizabeth’s advice?  Talk to the Rangers and volunteers, especially if you have kids. Ours collected loads of fun trading cards and information from the Rangers we met. Isabella also recommends doing the Junior Ranger Program (as she does at most NPS sites), and she also strongly suggests refraining from stealing the Declaration of Independence.  Nate’s advice? Eat lots of Philly cheese steak!

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A couple of years ago, when I set up this blog, it was my idea to have a travel blog. I get to visit some incredible places, and I wanted to share some of those places with you. And while in the past, I have blogged about many different aspects of my historical life, I never quite got around to the travel part, at least not the way I have envisioned. Last fall, when it came time to renew, I let this slip. Recently, however, I’ve renewed my interest. As an interpreter, as an author, as a home schooling dad, and just as an interested citizen, I often travel to amazing places that connect to the past.

So, starting on Patriot’s Day 2017,  I’m going to revamp this page.  It will focus on history travel, on interpretation, on collecting, on books, on documentaries, on just about everything that relates to history and inspires an interest in exploring and understanding history.

I look forward to sharing this adventure with you!Stumbling11.jpg

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Something new coming soon!

There is something new coming soon! Stay tuned! Stumbling2.jpg

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