History comes to life

Leslie Silverman

“I’m really excited to be here. I’ve never been to an old schoolhouse before,” said 10-year-old Matilda Bergstrom, one of many Piedmont Valley Elementary School students who participated in this year’s Living History program at the Keystone Historical Museum. “I’m fascinated by history so I think it’s gonna be fun.”

The program is an opportunity for fourth and fifth graders from around the region to experience what school was like in the late 1800s.

It’s also a chance to learn all about what the museum and Keystone have to offer.

The program is usually run by Rapid City retired teachers, but this year due to various factors, community volunteers banded together to help make the experience possible. Connie Prautsch taught 15 fifth and sixth graders in the old schoolhouse in 1973, said the former English teacher who was instructing the Piedmont Valley children on the ins and outs of pioneer classroom life.

Class would begin with the pledge of allegiance to the flag followed by an old-fashioned teacher class greeting.

“Good morning class,” Prautsch uttered, receiving a “good morning Mrs. Prautsch” response from the children.

The students then jumped head first into an arithmetic lesson using an old “textbook” entitled “Pages From Old fashioned American School Books.”

The Keystone Museum opened its doors to the public early this season. Visitors to the museum will notice the ever-popular Carrie Corner, the gem of the museum, has been expanded and relocated.

“We moved it for a couple of reasons,” said museum director Casey Sullivan. “The light for one. We had some sunlight that was glaring on some of the objects which is not good for preservation efforts. It’s easier for the natural light to come in and hit everything.”

The new corner is also a little bigger, allowing more stuff to fit in the space. Sullivan thinks about 50 percent of people come to the museum for Ingalls memorabilia and is astonished at how the books and television show have stood the test of time.

“Usually I’ll have six or seven year old girls giving me more information than I know,” he said.

Visitors can buy unique Laura Ingalls travel maps that were printed by Vector Printing in Hill City.

“It’s a nice little picture showing people just how far the Ingalls family traveled,” Sullivan said.

The map was donated to the museum by a patron.

The museum not only houses memorabilia from the Ingalls family but also has exhibits on famous Keystone characters, including Harry Hardin.

“He was kind of an old time prospector in Keystone,” Sullivan said. “He had a few claims that he worked on. He never struck it rich. He actually found it richer to mine the tourists if you will.”

Sullivan also plans to add an exhibit in July highlighting props and music from some of the famous movies filmed in the area.

Sullivan hopes to increase visitor numbers this year, since attendance was down last year due to COVID-19.

“Last year our numbers were down from 2019,” he said.” However our donations were up. That was a positive. So now we’re just focused again on getting more people in.”

While entry to the museum is free, donations are always accepted. The museum is a must see for tourists and locals alike who want to experience what life was like in Old Keystone and the late 1800s.

The Keystone Museum is open Monday - Saturday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

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