UNION COUNTY — What country was the first to develop the cannon?
That was the question posed by Peter Triggiani, Assistant to the Museum Director, to the fifth grade students from Foster Park Elementary School who visited the Union County Museum Thursday morning. Triggiani asked the question while showing the students the 1823 artillery cannon made by Union County blacksmith Clyde Birchfield and the ammunition — regular iron cannon ball, canister shot, grapeshot, a cannon ball that had a time-delayed fuse on it — it would have fired that is on display at the museum.
Among the answers he got was “Europe,” “America,” and “Italy,” none of which were right.
To help them answer his question, Triggiani gave the students clues including references to the Fourth of July and the item most associated with it, fireworks. He told the students that the country that invented the cannon first was also the first to invent fireworks.
Many of the students still didn’t know the answer, but for some the clues were all they needed to realize that China was the country where the cannon was invented.
Triggiani then asked the students why the Chinese were the first to develop the cannon. He told them it was because the Chinese were the first to develop black powder, the material that made fireworks explode and enabled cannons to do their deadly business.
In another part of the museum, volunteer James Lancaster was showing another group of FPES students the early 20th century switchboards from the Fair Forest Hotel and the West Springs Telephone Company. Lancaster explained to the students that originally telephones had no dial tone and so when someone wanted to make a phone call they asked for the operator to put their call through. He also showed the students other items on display in the room including an antique phonograph and items from the heyday of the textile industry in Union County.
Meanwhile, museum employee Amy Garner showed another group of students toys such as “Jacob’s Ladder” that children in the 19th century played with.
Keeping everything moving was Museum Director Ola Jean Kelly who every 15 minutes would ring a hand bell from the old Union High School so the groups of students at the museum would know to go from one presentation to the next.
The ringing of the school bell was appropriate as the students were at the museum on a field trip that is part of their Social Studies class.
“In the fifth grade we study history from Reconstruction through World War II and beyond,” Renee Russel, a fifth grade teacher at FPES, said during the museum visit. “We’ve completed up through World War II and this is an opportunity for students to see the things associated with our studies. Most of the students have never been here and a lot of this goes along with our Social Studies standards.”
Russell said the visit also helps make students more aware of the history of Union County.
In addition to visiting the museum, the students, who along with their teachers walked from their school, read the markers placed at historic sites such as the Wallace House which was visited by Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1865. They also visited the Union County Courthouse and went into the Main Courtroom where Union County Clerk of Court Freddie Gault spoke them about court proceedings.
Russell said that it is hoped that the field trip to the museum and the other historic areas of downtown Union will be an annual event.
The students made the tour in groups which, when they arrived at the museum, were then divided into three groups with each group going to a separate station on the tour where they heard presentations on the items on display there until Kelly rang the bell to signal them to move to another station.
“We had three stations with Amy Garner doing the toys and recreations of the period; James Lancaster, a volunteer, doing textiles; and Peter Triggiani doing the cannon and cannon balls,” Kelly said. “Then we did a general tour and answered questions they might have.”
Kelly said the museum’s staff was delighted to have the students visit the museum.
“They were very enthusiastic,” Kelly said of the students. “We love having them here.”