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Tour highlights servants’ roles at Ellwood House

Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Piper, 6, sets the Ellwood's dining room table Wednesday with the help of docent Damon Geiger during a staff and servants tour of the Ellwood House in DeKalb. Visitors watched a short film on the staff and servants of the house, then picked a member to role play during the tour of the house.
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Amanda Gorlewski, 4, pins a cloth diaper on a baby doll Wednesday with the help of docent Damon Geiger. Visitors watched a short film on the staff and servants of the house, then picked a member to role play during the tour of the house.
Caption
(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Visitors walk down the spiral staircase Wednesday during a staff and servants tour of the Ellwood House in DeKalb. Participants watched a short film on the staff and servants of the house, then picked a member to role play during the tour of the house.

DeKALB – If Piper Schiola-Williams were a servant in the Ellwood House, she would want to be the cook.

And not because she has a knack for making food.

“So I can boss people around,” said the 6-year-old, referring to the status of the cook in the Ellwood House.

Piper was joined by her brother Brick Schiola-Williams, 9, and her mother Angela Schiola-Niemeyer for a tour of the servants’ quarters at DeKalb’s prominent mansion Wednesday.

Ellwood House Museum tour guide Damon Geiger led a group of adults and children through the house, stopping at different rooms where the servants worked and lived. Without a tour like this, children do not know what life was like in the early 1900s, Geiger said.

“A lot of children think you go to the store and you get your food,” Geiger said. “It was a different time. Unless you had grandparents and parents who canned or grew food, a lot of those skills are being lost. A lot of children don’t know how to do jobs the way they were done in earlier centuries.”

During the tour, Geiger had the children act out the duties of the Ellwood House servants. When the group entered a particular room, Geiger would quiz one of the children about what kind of duties they might perform there.

When the group entered the Ellwood family garage, Brick was asked how he would drive one of the early electric cars. Between the chauffeur role and the gardener role he was given, Brick said he would have picked the chauffeur.

“Probably because I get to drive people around, and that’s pretty cool,” he said.

Even though she previously worked at the museum as a tour guide, Schiola-Niemeyer said she was surprised to learn that the cook was expected to be quiet in her room.

“I just never realized that she had to be quiet because the kids are down the hall,” Schiola-Niemeyer said. “I mean, I guess that’s safe to assume. But I never realized that they would be expected to stay calm and quiet.”

Brian Reis, the museum’s executive director, said the servant tours were some of the pilot programs the museum leaders were trying out this summer. He said people should check local media or ellwoodhouse.org for more information.

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