BY JENNIFFER WARDELL
Clipper Staff Writer
CENTERVILLE — History is a lot more interesting than some people think.
Take a tour at the newly remodeled Whitaker Museum, which is now open for free tours every Tuesday, and you’re liable to hear any number of surprising stories. Informative tour guides are happy to bring the more unusual parts of the past to life, from stories of Thomas Whitaker’s colorful life to the secret terrors of silkworms,
“Raising silkworms was hard and stinky work,” said Judy Gunn, who spins wool on the museum’s upper floor every first, third and fourth Tuesday. “They poop as much as they eat. When pioneer families were raising silkworms, the husband and sons usually slept and ate in the barn to get away from the smell.”
Thomas’ wife, Elizabeth, raised silkworms for several years, and is happy to go into detail about the process. Though information cards include some of the same information, the tour guides offer so much more humor and detail.
This is especially true when they’re talking about Thomas Whitaker, the pioneer who initially built the house. He started as an English gentleman, then went to sea and lived in both Tahiti and French Polynesia. He was also involved in the gold rush and several interesting marriages.
“After his mother died, he wanted some high adventure,” said Paul Thomas Smith, who wrote and directed the movie about Whitaker that plays regularly at the museum.
The movie is just one of the museum’s many additional features. The house was remodeled to reflect what it looked like in the early 1900s, when Thomas’s son owned the house. The surprisingly rich colors are appropriate to the era, and the few pieces of furniture that aren’t are slowly being replaced. Donations of historic artifacts continue to fill the house.
The kitchen has been completely redone with period-appropriate appliances. Museum supervisors hope to raise the money for a functioning replica stove, so they can fill the house with the smell of baking bread or cookies.
The shelves are full of real food and items that Thomas or his children might have had on their shelves. A recent addition is a teapot originally owned by Elizabeth’s parents. It was carried intact across the plains, and now sits as the centerpiece of an elegant table.
In the living room, a restored self-portrait of Thomas welcomes you into the house. Smith said that Mia Struteanu, the artist who restored it, was tempted to keep the painting because it seemed so alive.
The newly opened Whitaker Museum feels equally alive.