Staff members at the Ben Lomond Historic Site say they want visitors to use all of their senses to get a feeling for what a Civil War hospital was like. And with the inclusion this year of a soundtrack that includes booming cannons, moaning patients and clinking tools, they’ve added hearing to what was already a multisensory experience.
Those entering the stone house on the property outside Manassas can see what a field medical center looked like, down to the uniforms, cots and bandages. Those things are reproductions — visitors can touch them. Tourists can taste hardtack, the dry bread soldiers ate during the war. And they are greeted by the common odors of a hospital of the time. The new soundtrack brings another layer to the tours.
Ben Lomond, operated by the Prince William County government’s historic preservation division, opened in its current incarnation in 2011, in time for the 150th anniversary of the Battle of First Manassas.
The main house and outbuildings were constructed in 1832, said Paige Gibbons Backus, who manages the site, which was one of about 20 properties in the Manassas area that were being used as hospitals in 1861, when the battle took place.
That medical function is the one preservationists showcase today. Visitors can see where Confederate soldiers were treated and where Union troops later signed their names on walls after they took over Ben Lomond.
The smells of the hospital were added in 2015 to heighten the experience. The stench is meant to evoke filth, gangrene and the barnyard, Gibbons Backus said.
There are some pleasant aromas, as well, she said last week, including coffee.
In adding sound this year, historic preservation staff also wrote scripts for some exhibits. Those include dialogue on the Pringle family, who lived at Ben Lomond when it was turned into a hospital, and a step-by-step description of an amputation.
The latter narrates John Rose of the 2nd Mississippi Regiment losing a leg, as well as the difficulty the medical staff has in treating him. At one point in the recorded scene, having run out of bandages, a doctor tells his assistant to tear up curtains and use them to cover the wound.
“The sun has not even set on this terrible day, and already we are out of critical supplies,” the doctor says.
Rose spent time at Ben Lomond, Gibbons Backus said, although historians don’t know the number of soldiers who were brought there or the casualty rates associated with the hospital.
Creating the sound effects cost less than $5,000, the site manager said, and a production company helped the historic preservation division put the audio together. Voice actors included county staff members and volunteers.
“People really enjoy things like this where they can come and take a step back and really see and hear and smell what it might have been like,” Gibbons Backus said. “It really allows your imagination to soar with it.”
In a previous life, Ben Lomond was set up as a simpler museum, which wasn’t that enticing to visitors, said Brendon Hanafin, chief of the historic preservation division.
“It just didn’t seem like it had any cachet,” he said.
However, adding the immersive touches has boosted its popularity among historic properties in Prince William.
“Ben Lomond is probably one of our busiest daily sites now,” Hanafin said.
Source: The Washington Post
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