WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - I knew I'd find "time-traveling" to pre-Revolutionary War America fascinating. But could Colonial Williamsburg hold the attention of my 3-year-old grandson?
Without a problem, as it turns out.
True, I was more drawn to printing presses with 18th century typesetting, while my grandson was quicker to point out road apples freshly left by a horse pulling a trades cart. But he's also free to do things such as take off his shoes and stomp water into clay to help the village brickmakers get another round of blocks ready for baking.
Colonial Williamsburg visitors take a rest on Duke of Gloucester Street while hosts wait on the porch of King’s Arms Tavern to welcome diners for a menu that includes game pie and chop of shoat. Jane Vobe opened King’s Arms in 1772 and once described it as a place “where the best people resorted.”
Four generations of us lost ourselves in "the largest living museum in the United States" - my parents in their 70s, my wife and I in our 50s, my daughter in her mid-20s, and the aforementioned 3-year-old grandson. My daughter lives in Virginia Beach, not very far from Williamsburg, and it's a frequent and favorite stop of theirs to make.
I was the lone first-timer in our group. I couldn't help but think about it as Walt Disney World for adults - or at least for people with a curiosity about American history.
Like at Disney, one is transported to other worlds. And like at Disney, costumed characters wander the park. But in this case, the costumed interpreters serve as interactive history books in a way that classes cannot.
Colonial Williamsburg really functions as an 18th century community. The buildings and businesses packed into the 301-acre town are authentically reproduced. Citizens go about their daily lives, allowing visitors to watch and learn.
While taking lunch of Welsh rarebit and Virginia pulled pork in Chowning's Tavern - Josiah Chowning opened his restaurant in 1766 with the intent to appeal to the "ordinary sort" - I watched out the window as several middling merchants in cocked hats, wool coats and walking sticks kept a farmer woman on a delivery cart engaged in a lively discussion about issues of the day.
The citizens also engage visitors, drawing you into their world.
For a while, I stood at the edge of a field watching a group of 18th century citizens playing a game that looked like a cross between baseball and horseshoes - or perhaps cornhole. Had I been brave enough, I could have stepped across the centuries and they would have taught me and added me to the game. I'm not that brave.
But my grandson marched us both over to the stocks, where we both were locked up by wrists and neck for crimes I wasn't sure I'd committed. I also thought it unfair that he was small enough to slip out of the bonds while I remained at the mercy of my family, who decided to take plenty of pictures and video before freeing me.
Touring the Capitol building, interpreters didn't break character as they explained the government of the day, and took us from courtrooms to conference rooms.
I spent time with my dad at Anderson's Blacksmith Shop and Public Armoury as craftsmen stoked fires and pounded heated metal into rifles and tools. I eavesdropped as a veteran craftsman explained the art of planing wood for a gun barrel stock to an apprentice.
Mom, my wife and I stood in the tailor's shop as the tailor held up individual tape measures, each strand notched at various points to denote the lengths, widths and circumference of specific customers. Whole suits or individual pieces could be built simply by pulling a person's tape.
My wife wandered with me as I peered about the printing office, down below the book binder's shop along Duke of Gloucester Street.
And yes, some of the well-to-do citizens kept slaves in their households. The stark contrasts of slave and freeman are on display.
Continuously, citizens greeted and engaged us. "That's a stout young lad you have there. Well done, madam, well done," a finely dressed gentleman in a long, brown ponytail remarked, tipping his three-cornered hat to my daughter.
As for the stout lad, he tried to twirl a wooden cutout of a musket larger than himself in the manner he'd seen parades of soldiers do with theirs. He also was quick to work with the horses and farm animals.
My official Citizen Passport has expired, but I definitely wish to return. I left far too many museums, displays and businesses unvisited.
Admission tickets and tavern fares are more than I'm used to paying, but then, I'm a cheapskate. For cheapskates, Colonial Williamsburg is a town, and joggers, bicyclists and walkers from next door College of William and Mary and surrounding Williamsburg wander through at will. Much of history can be taken in by watching costumed interpreters debate revolutionary ideas in the marketplace, or just go about their business in the streets and fields.
But one needs the Citizen Passport to enter the halls, such as the Governor's Palace, finished in 1722 after 16 years of interrupted building and mounting expenses, and Courthouse, where lawyer Benjamin Waller read Declaration of Independence on the outdoor steps in 1776; the museums jammed with documents, coins, toys, clothes, tools and household items from about 250 years ago; and other government buildings, such as the Magazine, an arsenal built in 1715 by Gov. Alexander Spotswood for protection against Indians, slave revolts, riots and pirate raids.
The Passport also gets you inside the shops such as the Apothecary, the Weaver, the Shoemaker and the Silversmith to witness business and trade as conducted in the mid-1700s. Or rest a while in the Mary Stith House, where Mary Stith herself or one of her friends will chat with you about the goings-on as she rocks and sews.
This cheapskate recommends the two-day pass, which costs almost the same as a single day. It's going to take more than a single day to take it all in. Plus, the curators of the living museum keep changing the programs.
And yes, it held the attention of all four generations.