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A future in the past

OSV internships boost park, students

Intern Michael Baker said his art background has come in handy when learning the trade of tinsmithing. The Worcester State College history major had no prior experience in tinsmithing when assigned the duty this summer, but caught on quickly. Christopher Tanguay. (click for larger version)
August 09, 2009
STURBRIDGE — It's almost time to head back to school, but first, for some students, it's also time to come back to the future.

The Old Sturbridge Village (OSV) summer internship season came to a close this weekend as the 15 or so college interns hung up their petticoats and straw hats in exchange for shorts and T-shirts as they prepare to head back to their respective schools.

Ann Lindblad, director of marketing and communications, said the internship program has a dual benefit: giving professional experience to what she called "the next generation of historians," while helping the Village continue to prosper in a rough economy.

"What people want to see when they visit are people in costume," Lindblad said.

With the team of unpaid interns circulating through the Village, Lindblad said they help make OSV feel fuller as a supplement to the paid staff.

The interns, who came from all over New England as well as North Carolina, Michigan and from as far away as Palo Alto, Calif., all spent their summer in OSV's own boarding lodges, in the neighboring complex next to the Sturbridge municipal offices.

"Pretty much we were living and breathing the Village," said Worcester State College (WSC) junior and Southbridge native Michael Baker.

Baker, who spent last summer volunteering at the Village, said he was initially looking for summer employment when he came across the internship program. The history major immediately knew it was for him.

"It's definitely fun," Baker said of his summer post in the Village's tinsmith shop.

"Growing up, social studies and history were my favorite classes," he continued, recalling an early 1990s school trip to the Village that left a lasting impression on him.

"It's one of the only fieldtrips I can remember as an adult," Baker said.

Besides acquiring skills like fire building and period cooking, Baker said he was most surprised with, "just how much hard work a person in that time period would have done."

As a tinsmith, Baker, who had no formal training prior to spending time at the Village, really had to learn his craft on the fly.

"I never had any sheet metal experience before," Baker said. "It was a very new craft that I actually had to learn and hone."

Lead Interpreter Phil Eckert, who is in charge of tin production and firearms, was one of Baker's principal teachers.

"From the visitors' perspective, he was one of us," Eckert said, commending Baker on the progression of his work, which is currently available in the OSV gift shop.

"Working with the interns is great," Eckert continued. "In general, the college interns are exceptionally motivated; they are interested in what we're doing."

That enthusiasm, Eckert said, is evident in the interns' interactions with guests. Baker even agreed, saying his general knowledge of history and his public speaking skills are two of the greatest benefits he will take away from his time at the Village.

Besides working — and learning — in the Village proper, Baker explained that WSC requires a full written report from him by the start of the school year.

On Thursday, his day off, Baker was at OSV researching the history of mills along the Quinebaug River.

According to Kim Adam, internship coordinator for the Village, "An OSV internship is also a great resume-builder."

"During his job search, one of our former interns reported that of all the things on his resume, the one thing interviewers always asked about was his time at Old Sturbridge Village," Adams added.

Upon returning to the city for school, Baker said he will miss the Village's atmosphere.

"The sites, the smells," Baker said, "It's just nothing you can experience in the modern world."

News staff writer Christopher Tanguay may be reached at (508) 909-4132, or by e-mail at ctanguay@stonebridgepress.com.

See Monday's Southbridge Evening News for complete coverage of community news.

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