“I personally think it is a blast,” said Cameron Walker, a firefighter with the Dumas Fire Department Friday evening. He had just finished playing an historical Moore County firefighter at the annual “Night at the Museum” program put on by the staff and volunteers of the Window on the Plains Museum and The Art Center in Dumas designed to entertain local 4th graders and teach them Moore County history at the same time. Walker’s colleague, Marshall Kelley, also got to play a firefighter from the past, and he echoed Walker: “I enjoy it … watching the kids’ reactions is great.”
It was 4th graders from Sunset Elementary School on Friday night, and they were excited. First, they sat in the classroom of The Art Center while Joan Criswell and Merna Pierce, volunteers with the museum, led them in singing historical songs and telling them stories of the early days of Moore County. Then, teachers with flashlights led the children, one small group at a time, into the almost completely darkened museum. As they walked through the museum, lighted figures would emerge out of the darkness to tell a variety of historical stories. There was a woman in a ranch house cooking dinner, a blacksmith, cowboys around a campfire, World War II soldiers, a doctor, a man repairing a windmill, women singing in a tent church, people playing games in a parlor, a man sitting beside a camper, a woman running a general store, and many others. The children, an incredibly diverse group, expressed surprise and delight as each tableaux was lit up, and they listened intently to the stories.
One station that always generated gasps and laughter was the bank robber who emerged from the museum’s First State Bank display carrying a sack of money. Later, as the children sat in the classroom singing more songs and listening to more stories, the bank robber made another appearance to the joy of the children.
Terri George, the director of the museum, said the program is a “fun take on the movie ‘Night at the Museum.’” “The kids love it. I think the teachers love it as much as the kids,” she added. This was the eighth year for the program, which began at the suggestion of a teacher who was looking for a way to reward her 4th graders who had achieved their reading goals in school.
The stations are designed around the museum’s many artifacts and displays. George said this year 42 volunteers stepped up to play roles. With the program taking place over five nights, including a night of rehearsals, it is a significant commitment of time, but she said she never has a problem finding enough willing people. “It is wonderful. Everybody wants to help.”
“They jump at the opportunity,” said Marti Christman, director of The Art Center. “They love it.” Many have been taking part since the beginning.
Local artist Cherine Marie was on her third year Friday. She is one of the people playing games in the old-time parlor. “The kids love it,” she said.
At the end of the evening the volunteer actors line up in the gallery part of The Art Center and the children get a chance to meet and greet them. It is a part of the evening both the volunteers and the children seem to love. (The bank robber doesn’t look as scary in the bright lights.)
Caynan Strickland, principal of Sunset, said he saw value in the event. “Our Night at the Museum was great. The kids get to go through and learn about the history of Dumas.” Friday was not his first time to bring children to the event, and he said he hopes it continues into the future.
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