For about a month, Megan Brewer said, her first grade students at William Southern Elementary have been talking about going to jail.
Specifically, their visit to the 1859 Jail and Marshal's Home Museum on the Independence Square.
For several years now, first graders in the Independence School District have taken a field trip there. It has to be in small groups, so the excursions get spread out over several weeks.
Tuesday marked the turn for Brewer's students. The teacher said it's the fifth time she's brought students to the historic site.
“The kids' reactions are different every time,” Brewer said. “It's so different (for them); they don't really get the opportunity to see artifacts like this.
“They keep asking about it – 'When do we see the jail?!'”
While some areas of the marshal's home are going through some repair work, the students are able to get a feel for what some of the rooms were like, including the children's bedroom.
“They were shocked about the children's bedroom, how small it was and having to share a bed. 'No way I could share a bed.' 'Why is the jail next to the kids' bedroom.'”
Savannah Lore led students through the house. From Larry Penrose and Kevin Ploth, the students learned about some of the basic tools and utensils of the time, like the scooped-out gourd used as a ladle, and toys like the Jacob's ladder or cup-and-ball. Using some modern-day household items, they're instructed in making their own ball-in-cup toy.
Showing the bedstone of what had been a millstone, Penrose explained how that mechanism worked.
“You couldn't go to Hy-Vee or Price Chopper for food; they had to grind their grains to make flour for food,” he said. “The children's fingers were small enough they could pull the grains down after they were ground.”
Shirley Wurth took the students into the one-room schoolhouse that was relocated to the grounds outside the jail and through a short lesson mid-1800s style, with McGuffey's First Eclectic Reader and slates. She explained how a teacher instructed several grade levels in the same room and that they used slates then because paper was not plentiful.
First grader Jon Zimmerman said he'd always wondered what exactly the building had been when his family drove past.
The highlight for many children then is the walk through the jail cells. For a few seconds while they're in one cell – not the recreation of Frank James' relatively plush cell – the light goes out to best illustrate what it was like for most prisoners at the time.
Zimmerman and classmate Allyanna Sousley both said they couldn't pick out a favorite thing they learned.
“A whole bunch of things,” she said.
“Everything is new,” he said.
Do they think they could have been a kid in the mid-1850s? Sousley hesitated, then shook her head no. Zimmerman was a bit more assured.
“Nooo,” he said with a smile. “Too different.”