- The Washington Times - Friday, October 27, 2006

PLYMOUTH, Mass. — Men in knickers shout directions in archaic English as they work together building a house. Women in long skirts and bonnets sit in the shade, taking breaks from sewing to gossip.

At the Pilgrim Village at Plimoth Plantation, it is always 1627.

Students across America grow up learning about the Pilgrims, who arrived here from England on the Mayflower and endured the hard New England winters with the help of the native Wampanoag.

At this museum, the stories are brought to life.

Though the Thanksgiving season is a busy one at the museum in terms of visitors, there is no re-enactment of the meal Americans have been taught to think of as “the first Thanksgiving.”

Guests can learn about the history of the holiday at an exhibit called “Thanksgiving: Memory, Myth and Meaning,” and a variety of meals are offered to Thanksgiving Day visitors. However, role-players in the village simply go about their regular routines.

One day earlier this year, Beth Gillett and Sara Mahoney sat on a bench, staying strictly in character as they spoke in archaic English and Dutch dialects, playing the roles of settlers Patience Prince and Jayne Cook. They described their four failed attempts to reach New England, and their final journey.

They rattled off the names of single men in the village — in case female tourists were interested — and lamented the deaths of family members who didn’t survive the voyage.

The Cook character said she hadn’t thought twice about attempting the voyage five times. “It was God’s will that we were to come here.”

Along the banks of the nearby Eel River Pond, a smaller site re-creates an American Indian settlement. There, Phillip Wynne, an 18-year-old Wampanoag, wearing a loincloth, sat on a felled tree, polishing a slate pendant for a necklace while he waited for visitors. His head was shaved in a mohawk.

“As a historical interpreter, we talk to people, answer their questions,” he said as a group of tourists took his picture. The Wampanoag Homesite at Plimoth Plantation is staffed by members of the contemporary Wampanoag tribe; they dress in 17th-century native clothing, but they speak from a modern perspective about their cultural history and the Wampanoag of today.

Although the Mayflower arrived in 1620, the museum’s depictions are set seven years later, using a 1627 inventory that Colonists prepared at the request of the British government as a source of information, along with diaries and other records.

Workers have re-created houses, crops, even weddings and funerals as they were nearly 400 years ago.

A replica ship, the Mayflower II, can be toured at the Plymouth waterfront. The Pilgrim Village, Wampanoag Homesite and ship remain open until the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

“We like to say that people make the ‘pilgrimage’ to Plimoth Plantation this time of year to learn about the true history of Thanksgiving,” says Jennifer Monac, museum spokeswoman. “We do a little myth-busting because what Americans think of as Thanksgiving is really a Victorian holiday.”

The “Thanksgiving: Memory, Myth & Meaning” exhibit traces the history of the holiday from contemporary customs back to 1863, when Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday, and from there back to 1621, when the Pilgrims and Wampanoags shared a three-day harvest celebration. An actual day of “giving thanks” would have been celebrated in the 17th century by fasting, not feasting, Miss Monac says.

Even so, there are plenty of dining options for visitors stopping by the museum on Thanksgiving Day or the Friday after, from a formal Victorian dinner to an Eat Like a Pilgrim lunch in which fingers replace forks. Some events require reservations; more formal dinners sell out early.

Just 30 percent of the more than half-million annual visitors come from Massachusetts. The rest make their pilgrimage from all over the country — and the world.

Nathan Wang and his son, Derek, from Los Angeles, were among those who visited the village in summer.

The Wangs were in the crafts center, where modern artisans re-create crafts from the 17th century, and had just come from talking with settlers in the Pilgrim Village.

“We met Colonial Pilgrims and talked to Miles, … ” Derek said, looking at his father, who mouthed “Standish.”

“Miles Standish,” his father repeated. They went on to see interactive exhibits that trace the lineage of some of the earliest Colonists to the present day.

To attract more visitors like the Wangs, the museum is working to emphasize its cultural offerings, pumping more money into the Wampanoag Homesite and emphasizing the experience of the Indians as well as the settlers.

“The intention has always been a commitment toward a bicultural telling of the story,” says Lisa Whalen, who manages the Pilgrim Village program.

• • •

Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, Mass.; visit www.plimoth.org or phone 508/746-1622. Open 5 to 9 p.m. daily until it closes for the season Nov. 26. The season begins in late March.

Plimoth Plantation is about 40 miles southeast of Boston. Take Interstate 93 south to Route 3 south. Take Plimoth Plantation Highway to the Plimoth Plantation exit.

Thanksgiving dinner — turkey, dressing, etc. — is served from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thanksgiving Day in the visitors center courtyard on a first-come, first-served basis. No reservations required; $16.99 per person.

Thanksgiving Day buffet requires a reservation, and the event sells out early. Adults, $57.95; children 12 and younger, $37.95 (includes museum admission). Call 800/262-9356, Ext. 8364, 8365 or 8366; MasterCard and Visa only.

Eat Like a Pilgrim, noon, Nov. 24. No forks allowed, in keeping with 17th-century traditions of eating with hands. Reservation required. Adults, $37.95; children, $27.75. Call 800/262-9356 Ext. 8364, 8365 or 8366.

Victorian Thanksgiving dinner, 1 p.m. Nov. 24. Reservation required. Adults, $74.95; children, $55.95 (includes museum admission). Call 800/262-9356 Ext. 8364, 8365 or 8366.

A la carte breakfast, chowder, sandwiches, desserts, cider, cocktails and snacks available throughout the museum, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

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