Making history come alive for students

Rock Hall Museum in Lawrence offers a traveling historical production


For most youngsters, history is something that is taken off a dusty shelf and learned by rote about dates, names and wars they seem to have no connection with.

However, Rock Hall Museum, in partnership with Medford-Based St. George Productions, is seeking to change that as the traveling production “Nightmare in the Attic,” an approximately 60-minute performance recounting the British occupation of Rock Hall, will be offered to schools this fall.

Rock Hall was at one time a 600-acre working farm in Lawrence and is now a 3-acre museum at 199 Broadway in Lawrence that features tours, activities and an annual country fair. St. George Productions creates living history programs.

“Essentially this is a side of the revolution that was not portrayed before,” said Sal St. George, who along with wife Mary owns and operates St. George Productions. Sal is the writer/producer and Mary is the executive producer. “It’s about how Long Island became British territory and showing both sides of the story,” he added.

St. George, who was creating programs for theme parks such as Disneyworld and Sea World 20 years ago, was approached by the then Suffolk County historian to create a program for Deep Wells, a historical home in St. James. At the same time, he was offered a full-time job in Orlando.

“What is it Woody Allen said, ‘theme parks are like pastries, movies are a full course meal,’” said St. George, who wants his audience to be educated and engaged. “People want to learn, but they don’t want to be overwhelmed. In the end, I am a historic storyteller, my job is to enlighten and entertain.” He chose to create the program for Deep Wells.

Remembering that as a child he watched the movie “The Young Thomas Edison” there were words that St. George didn’t know, but through the context he could understand their definitions. “They called him addle-minded, I didn’t know what that meant, but you got the impression they thought something was wrong with him,” he said.

Using the extensive research material available at Rock Hall, he assembled a story that he called the “Cliff Notes version of history,” but it is not dumbed down.

“I think the students will understand everything going on with the material written for their age level,” said St. George, who noted that the secret of his productions successes is attention to detail such as ensuring the accuracy of period costumes and not having performers wear sneakers.

In 1992, the museum had an exhibition “Military Occupation of Rock Hall” and there was on article by Thomas Kuehhas, the guest curator of the exhibit, in The Nassau County Historical Society Journal on the topic in the same year.

“It’s a incident that’s not well known militia activities on Long Island in January 1776 – when patriots (or rebels) were rounding up and disarming loyalists (to the British),” said Natalie A. Naylor, a retired professor of American History at Hofstra, who is a director and immediate past president of Friends of Rock Hall, a group that supports the museum’s programs.

Naylor, who also taught Long Island history and was director of Hofstra’s Long Island Studies Institute, wants students who view the production to gain an appreciation of what life was like for Long Islanders during the early years of the Revolutionary War.

“[I want them] to understand the difficult position Long Islanders faced in a preview of the occupation of the entire island after the British victory at the Battle of Long Island in Brooklyn in late August 1776,” Naylor said.

A premiere of the show is set for Sunday, Nov. 6 at Lawrence Middle School (adjacent to Rock Hall Museum) at 6:30 p.m.. “We want kids to be inquisitive, curious and want to follow up,” St. George said. “They leave the story here, where does it go? We want them to be inspired and learn more.”