Monika Rued
Ficklin-Imboden House at Powhatan Historic State Park

Powhatan Historic State Park Interpreter Geoffrey shows you just as we still do today, the people of historic Powhatan made their own toys, games, and entertainment to pass the time and help families grow stronger together.


Hello everyone! My name is park interpreter Geoffrey and welcome to Powhatan Historic State Park where our buildings and people and artifacts help connect the past to the present. Now, we understand that some folks might be at home right now, maybe a rainy day, someone might be under the weather or you might just not be able to travel right now.

So we wanted to talk to you about a few of the things people during Powhatan’s heyday, 1850s to 1880s, did to entertain themselves when they couldn’t leave home either. So come inside with me and let’s talk a little more.

Welcome to the Ficklin-Imboden House. Now let's say you're a kid and you need something to do because mom and dad aren't letting you go outside. Maybe it's raining outside. So maybe they hand you a toy that looks something like this. This is a traditional ball and cup toy and it's a very simple game, looks easy to do but is quite hard in practice.

The goal of the game is to get this little ball to drop into the cup but you can only use one hand. So it looks something like this. You go around and around until by skill or by luck, the ball lands in the cup. And this is a game which has been around for over 400 years. In fact, it was made popular by a French king back in the 1600s of all times and places, and over these centuries it traveled across the ocean to the Americas and to Arkansas where balls and cups would have been made out of whatever scrap wood and extra materials lying around in the house. So, these would have been homemade, not bought in the store because most toys that were store-bought would have been too expensive for early Arkansas settlers. And it’s a game that you can play for hours and hours. And if you get too good at getting the ball in the cup, the only thing you need to do to make it more challenging is to lengthen the string. The longer the string, the harder the game. That’s toy number one.

Toy number two is a magical illusion. This is called a Jacob’s ladder. And it is a series of blocks lashed together with ribbon or string. And I’ll show you what it does. Looks like magic as these blocks tumble down one over the other, over the other. And you can go as slow or as fast as you want to.

But there is a trick here because this is all a physical illusion. Watch this green piece of paper and see if it switches places as I move the blocks. Even though it looks like the blocks are switching places one after the other, after the other, all that’s happening is that they’re tumbling end over end. And this was another type of toy that could be handed to kids or adults and they could spend hours trying to figure out exactly the motion of the string of these ribbons and how they made this work. The name Jacob’s Ladder comes from the first one of these toys which is thought to have come from Egypt way back in the 6th century B.C.

So we’re done with games, it's getting late, and it's almost bedtime and there's nothing quite like spending time with your family around the fireplace making experiences with each other. And one of the most common family experiences that happened here in Arkansas and cabins like this was that of music-making. Now there were no CD players or iTunes or Google music or any of that in this time period. Music was passed down from generation to generation from grandma, to mom, to daughter, to granddaughter, and so on. You learned music from your family. This could be anything. This could be silly little songs. This could be stories of family. This could be just songs to kill the time, romance songs, songs about fun and friends. And one of the songs that lasted throughout history to today is actually now our Arkansas state historical song, known as the Arkansas Traveler. And I’ll sing the first verse for you and see if you know what I’m talking about.

Once upon a time down in Arkansas, there lived an old man with a stubborn jaw. His nose was ruby red and his cheeks were gray. And he would sit and fiddle all the night and day. You may not have heard those words before but I’m almost certain you’ve probably heard the melody, the music somewhere and if you have, you’ve heard a folk song.

And no matter what type of music you’re making with your friends and family today or listening to, we hope you’ll spend a few minutes of time later today or next time you’re with your family members, and maybe practice that folk music tradition of singing and spending time together around a common area.

Graphic: Just as we still do today, the people of historic Powhatan made their own toys, games, and entertainment to pass the time and help families grow stronger together.