Monday, June 23, 2014

Come to the History Day Festival

This coming Saturday, June 28, from 11 am to 6 pm, Selma Mansion (1301 W. Airy) and grounds will be opened for the Norristown Preservation Society's History Day Fest. Here's why you should come.

Each year, the NPS has been hosting a History Day to show off Selma Mansion, present historic and educational programs to the public, and raise funds for the restoration of the mansion and the ongoing mission of the society to preserve the history and historic architecture of Norristown. This year, though, they've turned the event into a larger community festival.

As you drive up Airy that day, look up on the hill as you come to Selma St. You'll see tents and tables on the mansion's lawn, and Main Street Water Ice's big truck. They'll be there all day selling all kinds of food, including chicken, ribs, barbecue, hot dogs, drinks and, of course, water ice.

You'll see a 13-foot maypole topped with flowers and streaming colored ribbons. Around it will be the Midsummer Revelers of Historical Harmonies, dressed in traditional costumes, performing the songs and dances that have welcomed spring and summer for centuries. They'll even teach you the dances if you want to join in. Accompanying them will be Ken Laskey, who many of you know either as music director at Stewart Middle School or as director of the Verdi Band. What a lot of people don't know is that the man is crazy and plays a mean fiddle. The Revelers will present half hour programs at 11:30 and 1, and impromptu entertaining between other programs.

Other vendors include Strategic Wear, who'll be there with their N-town t-shirts and more, Tastefully Simple will have an assortment of their foods and some baked goods, too. Mystical Rodeo will be on hand with really cool (and reasonably priced) handmade jewelry. Among others. (Vendor spaces are still open--if you're interested, email

Around back, in the shade, you'll find Norristown's own Urban Cowboy, Buck Jones and his horse, helping to give you an idea what Norristown must have been like when the streets were filled with 4-legged, instead of 4-wheeled, vehicles. Also represented with be some of our community's great non-profits, like The Norristown Project, the Norristown Business Association, and the Opportunities Industrialization Center.

Inside the mansion will be the main attractions: Living history interpreter Maryann Buser will be on hand all day to chat about the history of Selma's famous residents. Artisan Cindy Pierson of Angel's Wool Farm will do ongoing demonstrations of wool spinning. There will be all kinds of displays of historic interest.

At 2 pm, historian Mary Reynolds will present a program on Civil War Battlefield Medicine (we may possibly see an amputation--volunteers from the audience?). At 3 pm, historical architect Doug Seiler will show the tricks to how an old house can be restored and brought back to life. At 5 pm, Lisa Terio of the Pennsylvania Underground Paranormal Society, will discuss Selma's resident historic ghosts and how paranormal investigations of the mansions are done.

Special guest Rosalyn Bown, of the SyFy Channel's Ghost Hunters Academy, will be on hand all day doing psychic readings. Yes, that's right, you can get a psychic reading.

If you're brave enough, you can even come back to the mansion from 8 pm to 1 am, when Rosalyn Bown and PUPS will conduct a History Day paranormal investigation. Reservation necessary for this program--call 610-597-3619.

Admission for the daytime festival will be $5 for adults, $3 for veterans, seniors and kids ages 6-12, and FREE for active-duty military and kids 5 or under. (Additional fee for psychic readings.) The evening program is $20.

Why the fees, when some other Norristown festivals are free? The proceeds will go toward the restoration of Selma Mansion and toward things like buying that parking lot next to the mansion to make life easier on guests (right now the apartment complex owns the lot and residents park there--for next Saturday, park on Selma or Main or Forrest Avenue and walk). You can drop off handicapped visitors at the parking lot.

You'll also be able to view the restoration progress at Selma. Since last fall the exterior woodwork on the 2nd and 3rd floors has been repaired and painted. As I write this, painters and carpenters are working on the 1st floor exterior woodwork. Plans for this year (pending grants) include installing a heating system before winter, improving the electrical system, repairing windows, removing loose stucco and pointing the stonework beneath.

Restoration will be a long process, but the end result will be worth it. Norristown will have a working public historic site to attract visitors, and a crown jewel of architecture overlooking the town, instead of simply a large, derelict old house. Not to mention having a permanent organization that will keep Norristown's history from being forgotten and who'll go to bat for other endangered buildings in our beautiful community.

You can help support the effort by coming to the History Day Fest and other events at Selma. Besides, Saturday will be fun (I'll be there with flowers in my hair. Say hi.)

Want to do more? Give a $10 or more donation to the NPS now and they'll give you a half-year membership (through December 2014). You'll get a monthly email newsletter keeping you informed, plus invitations to meetings and to the summer picnic at the mansion. Make checks payable to the "Norristown Preservation Society" and send to Norristown Preservation Society, P.O. Box 2097, Norristown, PA 19404.

NPS also has a great Facebook page. Check it out. (They have 297 LIKES. Help them get to 300 before Saturday.)

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