Antiques Road Show was here this summer. I don’t know what took them so long. They’d already been to Bismarck – a town half the size of Rapid City – and there are many families here whose ancestors homesteaded in the area or came to strike it rich in what we call “the gulch” (Deadwood). Nobody ever throws anything away out here, so I knew they’d get enough material for two or three shows, and they did.
I’m a big fan of Antiques Road Show myself, but I am a relative late-comer to this popular PBS series. In fact, I actually resisted it for years because I thought it was about antiques! But as the host, Mark Wohlberg, stated in a recent broadcast, “Collectors like the story. That’s what they buy.”
As a historian, I have always been attracted to the story – what was quaintly called “social history” when I was a college history major struggling to memorize dates and battle strategies – the standard curriculum at the time. I couldn’t have cared less if the Vikings came over the hill that-a-way and the Druids came over the hill this-a-way (substitute “cavalry and Indians”, or “Huns and Mongols” and you’ve pretty much got how history has been taught for hundreds of years. No wonder it was the least liked subject in high school).
I need only cite the hundreds of avid Civil War re-enactors to assure you that there are still plenty of people out there who love the minutia of battlefield maneuvers. But there are many more who want to know the human stories behind the mechanics. And these are the people who travel with us.
In fact 79% of all U.S. leisure travelers participate in cultural and/or heritage activities while traveling, according to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The trust defines such activities as experiencing the places, artifacts and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.
Notice the choice of words here: “activities”, “experiencing” – not studying, or looking at, but actively seeking knowledge and understanding through doing. Now you’re talking my language. Our tours have always provided learning opportunities within the travel experience. These stories are what give meaning to the places we visit, the people we meet, and yes, even objects in museums and historic sites especially if we can try our hand at actually using these items. And these experiences are enhanced even more by the lively discussions we encourage among participants, where we all share and learn from each other.
Our goal is to give meaning to a place or an event beyond what you can read in a book, or see driving by. Take over the tiller of an exact replica of the Lewis & Clark keelboat, learn what the various dances at a traditional pow wow represent and step out on the grass yourself, try a cradleboard on for size to appreciate what it must of have been like trudging all the way to the western sea with a growing infant on your back, walk in actual wagon ruts which have survived more than a century of sun, wind and weather.
If this type of experiential excursion appeals to you I invite you to join one of Shebby Lee Tours’ journeys of exploration and discovery. Learn wonderful stories about the people and events, places and landscapes that give meaning to our nation’s development and to our own lives.
As they say on Antiques Road Show: it’s not the objects of our lives which are important, it’s what memories they provide. Just substitute “experience” for “object” and you’ve got the essence of what great travel opportunities await.
See you on the trail!
Shebby Lee is a historian, writer and tour operator specializing in the historic and cultural heritage of the Great American West. Her early training was in the theatre and she served a tour of duty as an entertainer with the USO. She is also an Admiral in the Nebraska Navy.