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Xavier Cuddy was hesitant to come to the Hands-on History Camp in Auburn at first, but later, he was glad he attended.

Xavier, 12, said at the Seward House Museum July 10 that he originally thought educational camps were for younger children, but his family convinced him to go. He said he enjoyed himself, though he wished there were more older children in attendance.

Sixteen children were in the camp, which took place July 8-12 across three historical landmarks in Auburn: The Seward House, the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park and the Cayuga Museum of History & Art. Camp events included interactive stations at the Seward House, the former home of U.S. senator, New York governor and Secretary of State William H. Seward; archaeological activities at the residence of Tubman, the iconic Underground Railroad conductor and Civil War spy; and writing scripts for films based on the children's time at camp at the Cayuga Museum, where children played a game of baseball with two Auburn Doubledays and team mascot Abner. On the last day of the camp, the films were screened.

Jeff Ludwig, the director of education for the Seward House, said the museum has hosted a history camp for the last few years and held an annual baseball game with at least one member of the Doubledays and Abner in the backyard of the Cayuga Museum. Kirsten Wise, the Cayuga Museum's executive director, then spoke to Ludwig about creating a bigger event. Kimberly Szewczyk, a ranger with the Tubman park, also got involved, and the three brainstormed ideas over the winter, Ludwig said. Wise said she supported all three organizations teaming up, and the Cayuga Museum planned to expand its programming toward children and family anyway.

"There's no reason that we shouldn't be all working together to give these kids the best experience ever," she said.

The July 10 activities kicked off with Ludwig giving the 15 students in attendance a tour of the Seward House grounds, including the garden that William H. Seward adored, Ludwig said. The students were attentive to Ludwig and their surroundings, often asking their guide questions as they trekked through the grounds. When Ludwig asked the group which part of the area was donated to the city of Auburn, Cole Young correctly said it was the nearby Seward Park.

Cole, 10, said he has attended the Seward museum's summer events for years.

"I just like doing it because it's fun and I make new friends every year," he said.

With a wide smile on his face, Cole said he wanted to be in the expanded camp this year so he could learn more about parts of local history like Tubman and the Case Research Lab behind the Cayuga Museum, where Theodore Case developed sound-on-film technology. Cole said he was looking forward to the movie-making activity that would happen later that week.

After the tour, students broke into different teams for games played in the 19th century, such as croquet and jacks. Children often retrieved the small balls used for jacks as they bounced off the steps of the house's south porch. While he was there, Cole mentioned that Seward often opened the porch doors during the summertime.

Ludwig said the campers were participating in the same activities as the Seward children in their time.

"We want this to be a visceral experience where they can deeply connect with the past," he said.

At one point, Xavier used his croquet mallet to hit the ball farther than he expected: "You don't know your own strength!" museum volunteer Corliss "Corley" Hunter said.

In between croquet turns, Lily Lippert, 11, said she has a keen interest in history and historical figures, so she jumped at the chance to take part in the camp. 

"With Harriet Tubman and Mr. Seward involved, I had to come," she said.

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Staff writer Kelly Rocheleau can be reached at (315) 282-2243 or kelly.rocheleau@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @KellyRocheleau.

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