Saturday, May 24, 2014 — A truly magical evening Wednesday. The café bulged with diners; extra tables were brought in. I was a guest at our town’s Duck Creek Historical Society Burger Night Fundraiser at The Odd Fellows Café on Main Street: all natural, farm-fresh half-pound burgers, homemade French fries or kettle chips; for dessert, The Odd Fellows Café superb bread pudding.
I sat among a party at a long table. I was pleased to find myself sitting opposite Rick and Tish Schuman, whom I have known for a decade but never have had the opportunity to converse with beyond saying hi. Rick did much of our historic Smyrna Opera House restoration, including the sprung hardwood floor. Rick and Tish are folk musicians, performing at the café and elsewhere. They are former members of Delaware Friends of Folk, where they were married at a performance some years ago, and are friends with my group of good friends centered around the historic Maggie S. Myers oyster schooner, oystering, horseshoe crab preservation, and Emmy-winning Michael Oates’s 302 Stories, “telling the stories of Delaware people and places.” I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know Rick and Tish better, such down to earth people. Too, I have been looking for a piano, a good one someone wants to give away, and Rick, playing in two bands, knows of a piano restoration/moving guy. He will put me in touch.
The Duck Creek Historical Society is a nonprofit local organization. The Society, all volunteers, operates The Smyrna Museum. The Museum is open every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission is free.
The building housing the Smyrna Museum has a fascinating history itself and served as the site where in 1863 men between the ages of 18 and 45, who had their front teeth, were conscripted, by lottery, into the Union Army during the American Civil War. If you were rich, you could buy your way out, by paying someone, such as an Irish immigrant, to fight in your place.
Presently, the Museum offers an extensive Civil War exhibit including a collection of letters from one soldier, Alexander White, to his uncle. In one letter, he writes to send his greetings to his various family members and that he hopes to see them again: his company has been ordered to a battlefield near a small Pennsylvania town called Gettysburg. His letters detail the Gettysburg battles and his intimate combat experiences and difficulties receiving packages from home. He survives the battles and the war and comes home. I plan to return to the Museum to sit and read these letters. We are fortunate to have this treasure at our Museum.
The Civil War exhibit occupies one room. There is much to see at the two-story Museum building, a feast for the eyes and sensibilities, such as the wreath made from human hair; and new this spring has been an exhibit featuring ladies fashions. The exhibits in two rooms change every two months. Presently, globally-esteemed, local sculptor Richard Bailey is on hand exhibiting his Italian marble, granite, and semi-precious stone sculptures, including beautiful translucent butterflies. Coming this fall – and I mustn’t miss this one – are the Haunted Ghost Tours. A group called Delmarva Historic Haunts (DHH) has detected paranormal entities in the Museum and, I’ve been told, has captured at least one on video.
Some of the videos are posted on the Duck Creek Historical Society Facebook page.
Also on the Historical Society Facebook page are videos of the Delmarva Historic Haunts investigations at the historic Odd Fellows Hall. Spellbinding.
I am intrigued with the energies DHH found in the Café kitchen where two employees, separately, felt a shadow brush behind them late at night – I have felt such in my own historic home – and the energies and grumbling in the Café basement: I have been in that Odd Fellows Hall basement, and I sensed something down there. The walls are brick, the floor is dirt and the ceiling is low. Despite my girlfriend and I, at age 20 (just last year, mind you), referring to the I.O.O.F. as the Idiotic Order of Odd Fellows, the Odd Fellows have always engaged in humanitarian activities. I feel uplifted whenever I enter the building, now The Odd Fellows Café, and a few years ago, when it housed my friend Jackie Vinyard’s The Gathering Place store. Jackie restored the building, almost single-handedly, with help from her dad and a friend.
Smyrna is a town of ghosts, and lore, and rich history. Most of the spirits are friendly, some of them are child pranksters. I had lived in this town not more than two months when I went out into my backyard one blustery day and I knew: This Town Has Ghosts. Yes, there are many and many of us in human form have witnessed them.
Behind the Smyrna Museum stands The Plank House. The Plank House has been moved twice from its original location, the second time in 1998-1999, when after diligently working to gain possession of this building, the Historical Society disassembled the planks, carefully numbering them, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle, and moved the building to the rear yard of the Smyrna Museum, where the building was reassembled. Now completely restored, the Plank House is considered one of the finest examples of a local structure from the early 1700s, said to be one of three plank houses in Delaware. The Swedes were the early colonists who knew how to build plank houses and log cabins, dating back to medieval Scandinavia, at least. Other European colonists (the Germans knew, but arrived later) didn’t know how and followed the Swedish example – except for the French, who knew how to build log cabins, but set the logs vertically, rather than horizontally, as in a stockade fence. But, of course. They were French, after all. How small in stature those early American settlers were; even I, at five-two, would stand stooped in the Smyrna Museum Plank House, had not they added another plank to the wall upon reassembling, thus elevating the ceiling a foot.
I find visiting the Smyrna Museum, enjoying conversations with Duck Creek Historical Society members and visitors, fellow history lovers, a pleasant and edifying way to spend a Saturday morning. I was there this morning again. I enjoyed a wonderful discussion about sculpture and art with Richard Bailey and revisited the Civil War exhibit. If you are interested, you can find pictures and learn more of our Smyrna, Delaware, history when you visit the Smyrna Museum website and the Duck Creek Historical Society Facebook page. You can find The Odd Fellows Cafe on Facebook and Café photos at The Trip Advisor.
Back at the Café for Burger Night, as the evening mellowed, a well-liked couple arrived, and everyone cheered, “The Neighbors [as I shall call them for this story] are here! The Neighbors are here!” and applauded. That’s the magical charm of this small town, augmented when my friend and I stepped out into a light rain on Main Street, brightly lit by period lamps, to walk home.