"You as a Professor should stop bringing into the 21st century all this negativism"

What is the responsibility of a historian when visiting historic sites? Particularly if the historic interpretation at the site is found wanting?

Back in June I toured a historic house museum in the south. The interpretation there was so problematic that I wrote a letter to the director. I posted a modified version of it here, in which I removed any identifying information so as not embarrass the volunteers: Open Letter to the Curators of the Baron Von Munchausen Historic Home. You should read that post if you have not already before you proceed.

Last month I received a reply--pretty blistering in parts, but with a lot of value in the way it illustrates the world view of at least some of the people who run historic sites, and the difficulty of getting them to improve the interpretation. I have removed specific references to the home and city, otherwise the letter is exactly as it was received.

Dear Mr. Cebula:
First of all, thank you for your historical
critic regarding the tour of the Munchausen
House...As you probably have learned that
many times history is abused and many times
told by so-called experts that reveal their
interpretations of what really took place 200 plus
years ago...It reminds me of the game many
years ago taught to me in the name of "gossip"..
By the time 10 people received a message told
to the first person, it changed and was
altered quite a bit by the time it hit the last 10th person...
Only the first person knows the truth.

The Declaration of Independence was written by
men of great strength and jeopardizing their
own families to sign was a signal of the type of
men that existed "then"....Can you deny that the
King would not have wanted to stop this document
if he could? The Crown for many centuries has
been guilty of intimidation, warnings and many
times murders that are masked as accidents..
If Benjamin Franklin said himself "'We must all
hang together, gentlemen, or else we shall most
assuredly hang separately." do these words sound
like a man who is not afraid of the consequences
in signing that beautiful document?  How can you say some of the signers
didn't suffer! We have a wonderful book in the
office "Signing Their Lives Away" put out by
Quirk books that would answer all your questions
in regards to their lives after signing...

The question about women being engaged and married at an early age is true in the South...
Because of a short life-span back then, it would
certainly have sped up the marriage process...
Both the wives of Baron Munchausen died in their
twenties..one with tuberculosis and the other during child birth....Of course not everyone died or
married young but the times were possibly more harsh on women than men and because
Ignorance and information
not given to that century made them more
vulnerable to fevers, infections and unsanitary
conditions for child bearing....

Yes, Baron Munchausen had slaves to manage his
2,500 acres in nearby town...
That, unfortunately was the law of the land with
Southerners and Northerners taking advantage...
Grant and Lee both had slaves.....
The House you visited had cooks and maids and a
carriage driver that were slaves to maintain the
property...If you go back to Africa and realize
that the black slaves that were rounded up , were rounded up by
their own kind...so blame should be shared by
everyone involved....my background is Greek and
I am proud that Greeks never allowed Greeks to
be given as slaves by their own....Now, I'm getting off the
subject at hand....The visitors that come to this
House want to be entertained by "sayings" from
the 18th century or "ghost stories"...You have to
understand the younger visitors know very little
about the Revolutionary War period, due to the
fact that the schools have gone downhill and do
not give this generation a good education ..The
younger students can barely start a sentence
without the word "like, like" and continue to
ramble with the worst English imaginable..

..We have a little difference of opinion in
regards to "Education" in the 1700s...We are
referring to our area, where it was
much more difficult to become educated as
apposed to a child in New England, where they
of course were established much earlier....Munchausen's
daughter "Princess Peach"
was sent to England boarding schools and came
back to our town where she decided in
to open a School for Girls in the
late 1780s... Her husband was stationed there
as a Doctor....

The Museum has for over 20 years given school
tours to 4th graders, gratis....Many times we
started telling the children about the slaves that
cooked and planted...The public schools that we
would give the history tour had a large percentage
of Black students, they seemed embarrassed to hear
that their forefathers were the slaves....many times
we would hear other students tease them about
being a slave...It was very disturbing to us that these children would feel less of a person if we
continued to banter about slavery....our "Mission
Statement" for this house is to preserve our
history, patriotic service and educational projects...Not to bring into the mix about a most
heinous practice that existed over two centuries ago...I feel that bringing up a hateful subject would
be cruel to the student, who would start hating
the messenger ..details of cruelty is a subject
most people with sensitivity do not want to hear about....So there you have it.
You as a Professor should stop bringing into the
21st century all this negativism...instead bring
the students out of the "Hate" mode so they
can live their lives with a more positive attitude...
and teach them about good things that people
do...the outreach of people that are in peril reach
out to America...not Russia or Greece or any
other country...make them proud that this
young land has given you and me a chance to
live a good life...that's all...Sorry for the delay in writing
back, but I was on vacation...

Patricia Pangloss
Manager-BVM Museum