An entertaining way to learn your American history

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 5, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Dozens of local children of all ages took a magical journey up and down the 13 original American colonies on Sunday afternoon. But they never left the garden level of Obici Hospital.

Harold Wood, who has spent the past 18 years entertaining thousands of local children, performed the educational magic act &uot;Colonial Daze&uot; at Obici. Wood is a representative of Young Audiences of Virginia, which provides elementary school children with educational programs filled with fun and learning.

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&uot;History is the study of people, places and things,&uot; said Wood, decked out in true colonist regalia. &uot;History started a long time ago, but when did it stop? Did it stop now? How about now? Oh wait, I think it just stopped, just then.

&uot;The truth is that we’re making history right now. How many of you remember the trip to school you took on Friday?&uot;

Nearly every hand went up. &uot;Well, your trip to school is history!&uot; Wood said. &uot;Of course, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to go back tomorrow! The past is history, but the future is a mystery.&uot;

After juggling a set of clubs, Wood pointed to his map of the first American colonies. &uot;These 13 colonies were banding together to form a country, a country that was about to go to war with England. They had guns. They had ammo. They even had these cute little tripod hats! But there was one little problem.

&uot;Someone said, ‘Hey, suppose we’re sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the sun fade away, sitting on the dock of the bay, wasting time. But then, far away, we see a tiny little ship. How do we know if it’s a ‘good guy’ ship or a ‘bad guy’ ship?

&uot;They needed a way of identification, a mark on the ship that showed the country it was from. So they said, ‘Yo, Betsy Ross, can you sew our flag?’&uot;

Now it was time for a trick. Wood brought Isle of Wight resident Heather Watson, 13, up front and fitted her with some 1700-style headwear.

&uot;You’re going to be Betsy Ross,&uot; he told her. &uot;I want you to sew us the American flag.&uot;

He took out a felt pouch, and drew out three cloths; red, white, and blue. Wood put the red and white fabrics into the pouch, but inadvertently dropped the blue one to the floor.

He held the bag up to Heather. &uot;Now pretend you have a needle in your hand, and sew, sew, sew the flag!&uot;

She did. But when Wood brought out the finished project, the flag was missing its blue!

&uot;What did you do?!&uot; he asked. &uot;This isn’t the American flag! Let’s try again.&uot; This time. he left out the red cloth. Needless to say, the same result occurred, with red being left off.

Now it was time for drastic measures. Wood and Heather made sure that all three cloths were in the pouch. &uot;Now sew as hard as you can,&uot; Wood said, and Heather put some effort into it. After a few tension-filled moments, Wood decided to explore their latest creation.

Heather reached into the bag one last time, and her jaw dropped. When her hand came back up, it clenched the real-life American flag.

After the applause died down, Wood took his audience north to Boston to talk about Paul Revere.

&uot;The Britons occupied Boston, and everyone knew that they’d attack. But they didn’t know whether it would be from the land or from the sea. They couldn’t exactly pull out their cell phones and say, ‘Yo, they’re coming now.’&uot;

&uot;If you can guess which way they came, I’ll let you watch me ride my horse,&uot; he offered. Then Wood quoted Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.

&uot;On the 18th of April, in seventy-five, hardly a man is now alive who remembers that famous day and year. He said to his friend, &uot;If the British march by land or sea from the town tonight, hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch of the North Church tower, as a signal light, one if by land and two if by sea.

And then as he looked on the belfry’s height, a glimmer, and then a gleam of light! He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns, but lingers and gazes, till full on his sight a second lamp in the belfry burns!&uot;

From the words of the poem, the crowd could guess the answer. Wood went in the back to mount his faithful steed, Champ. He strolled behind the map, and prepared his ride.

Then he emerged from the other side, and the crowd roared. Champ was around Wood’s neck, and he was riding a large unicycle!

Now back home in Virginia, Wood decided to play a match game. He brought out a total of 10 cards, with his personal top 10 figures in historical education listed on each. Familiar monikers included John Smith, Patrick Henry, Robert E. Lee, George Washington, and, of course, Wood himself.

Near the end of the pile, Wood came to the name of tennis great Arthur Ashe. &uot;On Monument Avenue in Washington, D.C., they have a statue of Arthur Ashe. In one hand, he’s holding a tennis racket. In the other, there’s a book, because he believed in education. He once said, &uot;Start where you are, use what you have, and do what you can.&uot;

Wood brought Mack Benn Elementary School student Kahlil Daughtry to the head of the class. Wood handed Kahlil his list of cards, and told him to turn his back for a moment.

With the student’s attention averted, Wood brought out a picture of his favorite educational mentor: himself! After showing it to the crowd, he laid it face down on the floor.

&uot;Now let’s see if you can pick the person I have a picture of!&uot; he told Kahlil. The youngster rummaged through the pile, and made his selection: Washington.

&uot;Don’t feel bad, but that’s not the person in the picture,&uot; said a downcast Wood. &uot;But you tried really hard.&uot;

Then he picked up the picture, and a sudden gasp swept the room; somehow, Washington’s photo had appeared!

Wood’s final trick was the most interactive of all; the &uot;complete the story&uot; trick. He told the first part of a tale, and let his young listeners finish it.

Wood used the story of Jack and Jill to start the trick. &uot;This story involves a bucket,&uot; he said, showing off a large, empty wooden bucket. &uot;They carried the bucket up the hill, and Jack fell down and broke his crown, and Jill came tumbling after. But then what happened?&uot;

As the story made its way through the crowd, a giant cat flew from the sky, and landed in the bucket. Jill picked up the green feline, put it in her pocket, and walked away. Then a clown picked up the bucket, and dropped it into a stream.

&uot;A big, ferocious animal came up to the bucket, and got trapped inside,&uot; Wood said. &uot;But he managed to hop the bucket over to the Obici emergency room just as I was coming in.&uot;

Because every clown has a heart of gold, Wood picked up the ferocious animal and brought it to his show. Then he opened the previously empty bucket, and out jumped the monster: a white rabbit!

After the show, children met Wood, munched on cookies and punch, and talked about their favorite parts of the performance.

&uot;I liked the rabbit trick, because I like animals,&uot; said Elephant’s Fork Elementary School student Jasmie Shanika, 9. &uot;I plan to work with them when I grow up. But I liked the whole program. We were learning about history in class, and I thought it was cool to have this program about it.&uot;