Mrs. Willard yelled roll call to her fifth grade class in the parked school bus. They had just arrived at their class trip. Laura rolled her eyes at her least favorite classmate, Bridget, who was sharing photos from her Little Women book with her seatmate. “This is going to be just like the book. See here?” Bridget pointed while the neighboring group of girls awed.
Laura scoffed. She’d only begged her mom to sign her permission slip so she can get a break from the boring school. She had no interest in learning about the one room schoolhouse in Springfield, Illinois. The only thing somewhat cool about it was that Abraham Lincoln had lived nearby.
“Listen up, students. Other schools are visiting today as well so we must be on our best behavior. That means representing Ivy Oaks Middle School as role models. First, we are going to tour the grounds, then we’re going to tour inside the museum, and then right before lunch, we will tour the schoolhouse. Any questions?”
“Are you done talking?” Marcus asked from the back of the bus. His rebellious friends snickered.
“That’s enough, Marcus. Don’t make another mistake again. His seatmate, Jared gave him a high five.
Out on the open prairie, Laura could feel the crisp spring weather with every breeze from the wind. The one room schoolhouse was in the near distance chiming its bell, hundreds of students were traveling in groups, and the gravel lot nearby was jammed with rows of yellow busses. There were woodlands in the far distance hiding any other form of modern society. Besides the school busses it really did feel a bit like the year 1865.
“Laura, Jared, pay attention to Mrs. Morris.” Mrs. Willard said trying to focus their attention back on the historical reenactment of grinding corn. Their other schoolmates were entranced by the production. Laura was disgusted by the stench of corn and the sweat dripping off Mrs. Morris’s costume. Marcus leaned onto Jared with his eyes closed.
“And then kids, we would use this ground corn for many foods like corn cakes and bread.” Marcus let out a giant snore. Laura and Jared snickered. Mrs. Willard snapped at them to stop.
“I need a volunteer. How about you young lady?” Bridget was brought to the front. “I need you to sit on here and pedal while I make sure the grounds are coming out. Go ahead pedal.” Bridget pedaled. “Fantastic. You’re a natural. You’d be excellent in 1865.” The classmates applauded her except Laura, Marcus, and Jared.
After walking for ages and seeing how bonnets were sowed, book binds were stitched, and how to ax wood, the classmates took a turn in the air conditioning inside the museum.
“You may all take your time to look at the artifacts but absolutely no touching.” Said Mrs. Willard counting their heads again to keep track. Inside rows of glass cases contained shoes and belts from 1865. There were hundreds of hunting knives and iron muskets. A group of students were shoving one another to view a tall top hat that looked familiar.
“Can I have a turn?” Laura asked politely trying to maneuver around her classmates. They ignored her. She tried stepping on the tip of her tiptoes but couldn’t see enough.
“Blake, can you let me see?” Bridget and her two friends asked joining the circle. The tall kids in the front graciously let Bridget and her friends see.
“Hey, that’s not fair I asked already.” They all ignored her. Bridget marveled at the mysterious hat. “I can’t believe this was really his hat. I just can’t believe it.” Laura tried pushing through again but it was no use.
Marcus and Jared were sitting towards the back of the museum on two ceramic pots they’d dragged out from beneath a bed. “Did either of you get to see the hat?” Laura asked in frustration. “Nope,” Jared replied. “Who cares? I’d rather be at school than this.”
Marcus was non-responsive to either of them pretending to fall asleep. Laura scanned the room. Mrs. Willard was with the students pointing at the hat. Laura noticed nearby a door marked “Do not enter.”
“Let’s check it out.” Laura snuck through the metal door to a cold stairwell. The boys curiously followed. “I don’t know, Laura. I don’t really want to get lost. This building is pretty big.” Jared said timidly. “Come on. I’d rather explore than stick around with those losers out there. If we get caught we’ll just say we thought it was part of the museum.” Marcus nodded in agreement and followed Laura who was already racing up the staircase with echoing footsteps.
Their exit off the stairs was to a dimly lit hallway with several locked doors. When that idea flopped they raced to another floor. Still, there were more and more locked doors. “This isn’t fun anymore, let’s just go back.” Said Jared waiting by the door to the stairwell. After
Marcus and Laura tried a few more doors in the hallway they gave up as well. But the door to the stairwell was locked. “What did you do?” Laura yelled trying the knob. “Nothing!” Jared said frantically. “We’re lost. I knew this was a stupid idea.” Marcus also tried the knob ignoring Jared’s panic. “There has to be a way out of here,” Marcus said.
“I don’t feel so well.” Jared backed against the wall accidentally bringing the window curtain with him. “Really, Jared?” Laura helped him up but noticed behind the curtain was a door they had never tried before. It was wooden, unlike the other ones. The knob easily turned for them as they piled into the room. Inside were piles of cardboard boxes. Some held artifacts of coffee grinders and rusted plates. Another box was labeled “Children’s Clothes”.
“Woah, check it out!” Laura opened the clothes box and tried on a blue bonnet. “Let me see.” Jared tried on a pair of trousers and a long button down shirt. Marcus joined in on the fun too even matching his ensemble with a pair of children’s boots. They started pulling out more clothes and throwing them at one another. Suddenly Mrs. Morris, the sweaty corn grinding lady entered the room startled beyond belief.
“What are you children doing in here?” “Trying to have fun in this boring museum.” Marcus retorted. “That’s it. I recognize all of you. You’ve done nothing but misbehave. You don’t appreciate history. Now you’re about to become it.” She pulled out a ring of keys from her apron and jingled one in particular. It was a brass skeleton key. With a giant glare, she shut the door with them in it and locked it from the outside.
“Now what do we do?” Jared panicked. “I guess she will let us nap in peace now.” Marcus joked but there was fear in his voice. Laura started pounding on the door. “Let us out!” Jared joined her shortly after. “Let us out!” they screamed wildly. Marcus casually came up to them and tried the knob. It wasn’t locked. “That old lady was trying to scare us it all.” But when they turned the knob they realized the air conditioned museum was no longer there. Instead, they opened it up to a one room schoolhouse.
“How did we get here? Was there another exit to the closet?” Jared pondered. “That’s impossible, Jared. We came in through the museum. How could we exit from the same door and now be in the schoolhouse?” But Laura’s questions didn’t stop there. Outside the wood framed windows, the school buses had abandoned the gravel parking lot and there were no school kids walking the grounds.
“This place looks just like our history textbook.” Marcus eyed the room. There were 16 wooden desks each with their own chalkboard and piece of chalk. Where they stood at the front of the room had a giant American flag, rows of bookshelves with all kinds of antique books, and a chalkboard with the date April 6th, 1865. There was even a wood burner to place firewood inside. It gave the room a bit of a sweet and smokey scent.
“Check this out.” In the corner of the room underneath the pledge of allegiance nailed to the wall was a footstool with a paper dunce hat. Marcus tried it on. But as soon as he placed it on his head a giant slam startled them all from the back of the schoolhouse. A frail old woman in a long skirt and wool shawl eyed them over her spectacles.
“You children. Do not misbehave in my class. Get into your seats now!” Her tone was so direct, none of the children bothered to tell her they were on a class trip. She slammed her books onto her teacher's desk. A rotten apple rolled off it onto the floor near their feet. They didn’t even watch it roll. They were sitting in terror that she would yell at them again.
“I expect no speaking until the rest of your classmates arrive.” She peered out the window. “Ah excellent, right on time.” Laura turned around to study the students filing in. But it wasn’t her regular classmates. Not even the teacher’s pet, Bridget.
“Ma’am?” “You will call me Mrs. Adams, young lady.” “Mrs. Adams? I think you are mistaken. Or we are mistaken. We’re only here on a class trip from Ivy Oaks. We aren’t part of this school.” The teacher scoffed. “Of course, you are part of this school. This is the only schoolhouse in this county in Springfield, Illinois. You are indeed class of 1865.” Laura’s eyes bulged. She peered out the window again. The air conditioned museum was gone. How was that possible?
Just then a horse trotted past the window. Mrs. Adams rolled her eyes. “Jefferson Conwell. Your horse got out again. I think your mother needs to keep that horse steady on the farm.” “I just forgot to give her her sugar cubes is all.” “Very well be quick because we have arithmetic in four minutes.” The girls around were whispering and wearing exactly the kind of outfit Laura had on.
“I like your shoes. Did your father make those?” A girl asked Laura. “Um, I’m not sure. I, uh, found them in the closet.” The closet. Laura suddenly had a fantastic idea. She could close the door back into the closet and maybe that would transport her back. She had to try but she didn’t want that terrifying teacher to notice her.
“Marcus!” Marcus was chewing on his nails. “I don’t know what to do Laura. I’m freaking out.” “Distract the teacher and then all three of us will-” Mrs. Adams shushed the students. Laura quickly wrote down on her chalkboard and showed Marcus. He nodded.
“Oh, my heavens! Is that Abraham Lincoln outside?” “What?” The students all got up and charged for the windows including Mrs. Adams. All three of them ran to the closet and shut the door. Nothing happened. “What do we do now?” Jared asked in terror with a high pitched voice. Mrs. Adams swung open the door.
“Now you’ve done it. All three of you to the footstool.” In minutes Jared, Laura, and Marcus sat cross legged facing the wall collectively wearing dunce caps. “Our new students are fowl.” Pointed the girl who spoke to Laura earlier. They all listened as the students laughed at them.
“Nevermind that, students, we have a special guest coming in to assist with arithmetic today.” Said Mrs. Adams welcoming in their special guest. Laura peeked over her shoulder. It was Mrs. Morris! She elbowed the boys. “It’s the mean lady.” Mrs. Adams introduced her to the class.
“Good morning students. I am here to help with arithmetic today. She grinned as she made eye contact with Laura. “Tell me children with the dunce caps. Why are you sitting there? The day has just begun.” “We were bad.” Jared said with tears. “I want to go home.” The students laughed at them. Laura felt rotten.
“Let me give you three a wager then. I will give you a prize that can only be obtained in the broom closet if you each can answer a history question.” They all nodded in desperation. She was going to send them back. That is, if they won the wager.
“You there, you’re up first.” She pointed at Jared. “What year was the first gristmill produced.” Jared closed in eyes trying to concentrate on an answer. “1847.” He said adding a salute.
“At ease. Now you.” Marcus stood up and took a deep breath. “Tell me, what is the name of the pants you are wearing?” Marcus gasped. They were loose in material but he hadn’t known. He remembered the museum had a glass case displaying them with a goofy name. It was something about the New York Knicks and boxing. He tried with his best confidence.
“Knickerbockers.” Mrs. Morris took a moment and shook her head. “Indeed that is correct.” Mrs. Adams studied Laura as she stood up. Laura was trying to keep her blue jeans hidden under her dress but Mrs. Adams saw. She had to be quick. She had no idea what that woman would do to her and the boys.
“Young lady. What date did President Abraham Lincoln die?” The students whispered to one another loudly as if discussing the answer with one another. “Quiet!” Mrs. Adams demanded. She thrust her gaze back on Laura. Laura started sweating. Her bonnet was beginning to loosen. She couldn’t take it off since she was wearing a Hello Kitty headband underneath it. She had no clue what to say until her eyesight noticed the date on the chalkboard. April 6th, 1865. He hadn’t died yet.
“Trick question. He is still alive. For a few weeks that is.” Marcus covered her mouth. “Very well I suppose those answers will suffice. “For a few weeks?” Mrs. Adams asked inching towards the children. “There is something going on here.” The children scrambled inside the closet waiting for Mrs. Morris who lagged behind. “Very well. You seem to have listened more than I thought. Just remember to respect history from now on.” Mrs. Morris slammed the door shut with the chink of a lock.
“Are we free?” Laura asked the others turning the knob. On the other side of the door was a cloud where she could faintly hear her name. It grew louder and louder as she walked through. “Laura!” She jolted awake from the ground. Mrs. Willard was holding her head. They were outside the museum watching a historical reenactment of a Civil War amputee.
“What happened?” Asked Laura sitting up. “You fainted. I think that’s enough history for you today, young lady.” Mrs. Willard helped her up. Jared and Marcus were bringing her a bottle of Dasani water from the vending machine. “I’ll wait with you inside while the rest of the students tour the schoolhouse.”
“Wait,” Laura said watching the students make their way up the hill towards the school. “Can I go with them? I want to learn about history. I really do.”