Saturday, May 22, 2010

Like the wallpaper? Let me tell you about the servants' wing.

Another day at Edison National Historic Park, another day at Glenmont.

If I didn't know better, I'd think I was being pigeonholed, even just a little. When I arrived at the Park to volunteer yesterday, the head of interpretation told me they'd like me to hang out at the house for the day. Fine, cool. No problem.

When I was up there a couple of weeks ago, I dipped my toe in the water and gave the patter for part of the tour. A large group was booked, and the rangers decided we'd all take one portion of the house, stay there and explain as the group filed through, then shuttle them to the next ranger. It worked out pretty well: I took the servants' wing, which is really the easiest part of the whole thing (not a lot of tchotchkes to explain). Basically, you just stand there and talk a bit about the kitchen, laundry room and servants' dayroom. The weirdest thing is the interlocking dreadnought linoleum tile, which always catches the attention of at least one person in the group.

This time around, the more senior-level ranger I'd be with asked how much of the tour I'd be comfortable doing on my own. Given that it's hard to come in cold, not having been there in two weeks, I asked to get grounded by backing up the first one, and then I'd take parts of the next few. And that's the way it went. On the first tour, I explained the servants' wing, and listened carefully to the ranger as she did the rest. On the next two, I took the welcome, ground rules and entry parlor to the house, plus the servants wing, and answered random questions as they came along.

I anticipated that the first few minutes would be a little awkward, as the Ellis Island patter always is, but once I covered the ground rules, everything was fine. Once you get into the house, there are so many visual cues that it's not hard to keep the dialog running pretty well.

While I'd give myself a solid B for output, the rangers were very complimentary, told me I sounded really professional and didn't make too many errors. Even the conservator, who knows the house better than I know my own, said she was impressed. So... it looks as if I may be ready for prime time.

The great part, too, was that one of the rangers took me aside to point out a few more things and give me some guidance on how to address some of the more unusual situations that might come up during the tours. This is leading me to believe they're getting confident enough in me to put me into the rotation. They do need people up there -- most of the volunteers prefer to be at the labs -- so it's a good opportunity to get experience and get known. The park is significantly smaller than Ellis Island, and getting known by the right people could be a heck of a lot easier.

And maybe I'll get to do some crawling around the upper floors...

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