Bellefontaine Cemetery

Mystery makes history fun

“I hate history!”

My daughter’s plaintive was a dagger to the heart to this history lover. She has a great teacher, but salt dough maps were not enough to make Missouri history exciting in any way. My daughter had refused to read my beloved Laura Ingalls Wilder books, so I was not surprised, just disappointed.

My favorite city to visit is New Orleans because of all the history, which gave me an idea. I told my mystery lover that the reason she hated history was the school couldn’t teach it “Allison style.” I bought Haunted St. Louis: History & Hauntings Along the Mississippi and started reading it with her by flashlight late at night. Success. When her teachers had a Meriwether Lewis expert come to speak to the students, she sneakily asked how he died. She wanted to see if he would discuss the mystery surrounding his death, which he did.

I’ve already bought every spy book set during the Revolutionary war times to read over the summer to prep her for next year. Knowing that George Washington wasn’t just our first president, he was our first spymaster may keep her going through the tedium of her history textbook. (George Washington, Spymaster: How the Americans Outspied the British and Won the Revolutionary War)

When she studied pioneers, we talked about her great, great great grandmother who came to Missouri. She knows I have the little pitcher of hers from her childhood, which is my only family heirloom. Making history personal helps make it real and more interesting.

One example of making history real to students is this 4th grade, which has adopted Eddie Cemetery, a local historic cemetery. Besides creating a memorial garden and researching the occupants, these student learned about preserving and repairing headstones. As a genealogist myself, I think this is an excellent history lesson (and it passes the Allison test).

I might not convince my daughter’s teacher to take the class to Bellefontaine Cemetery for a class field trip, but I am inspired to take her there to see some historic graves and to my family’s small ancestral cemetery in northern Missouri this summer. (By the way, Bellefontaine has suggested lesson plans for teachers based on this historic cemetery.)

Infusing a little bit of mystery and personal touch is possible and a good goal for all history teachers.