People like to refer to the “good old days.”

Of course there’s no going back, unless Grandpa’s got a time machine tucked in with the old-timey portraits and gramophone in the garage.

But folks can still get a taste of yesteryear, thanks to the Summer Heritage Festival taking place next weekend in Bethel.

The annual festival, happening in and around the Dr. Moses Mason House on Bethel Hill Common, is a celebration of local history and an education in early Maine life.

It’s also a chance to see almost-forgotten arts and artifacts in action.

“It’s in our mission to do demonstrations, lectures, programs to preserve and promote the history of this region,” said Randall Bennett, executive director of the Bethel Historical Society.

The event offers the chance to explore intriguing — sometimes perplexing — relics from the society’s collection. They also can learn more about some of their own treasures, thanks to Saturday’s antiques appraisal.

Before the peculiar tools and antiques are hauled out to Bethel Hill Common, the Summer Heritage Festival kicks off with the 19th annual Hall Memorial Lecture at the Mason House exhibit hall on Friday night. This year’s lecture, “Unbuttoning New England: Peyton Place and the Undocumented Past,” will be presented by Ardis Cameron, Ph.D., director and professor of American and New England studies at the University of Southern Maine. As always, the event is free and open to the public.

From 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, there will be plenty of activity under the tent between the Robinson and Mason houses, most of which is free. Visitors can browse displays and watch traditional craft demonstrations such as spinning, quilting and chair caning.

Author Norma Salway will sign copies of her new book, “Songo Pond,” and retired forester Richard Hale will give a short talk about Bethel’s place in the history of the Maine forest and the wood products industry.

Attendees won’t want to forget to bring along their own historic treasures, as local Jay Boschetti will be on hand for antiques appraisals. There is a $5 fee to have two items appraised.

Kids and adults should also bring their imaginations for the What’s It Contest under the tent.

“Back in the days when we had monthly meetings, we had ‘what’s it’ night,” said Bennett. “People would bring unusual or odd things, pass them around, and sometimes they knew what the items were, many times they didn’t.” And it was always fun to take guesses at the item’s intended use.

Bennett said Saturday’s What’s It Contest will feature similarly interesting relics, including farm equipment and odd implements. They’re authentic artifacts, according to Bennett, and most are from the society’s collection.

To enter the contest, visitors can ponder the items and even try out some of the farm equipment, then write down their guesses. Winners will be announced around 4 p.m., and the smart guessers will walk away with prizes.

Throughout the afternoon there will be games and activities for children, guided walking tours of Bethel’s Historic District, an art show and guided tours of the Dr. Moses Mason House. There is a small fee for the Mason House Tour: $3 for adults/$1.50 for children, but the other activities are free.

Saturday night’s Antiquarian Supper offers a meal fit for folks who long for those good old days. A bountiful spread will include some traditional dishes, such as hulled corn and election cake, as well as modern options. Bennett said he encourages people to sample something they’ve never tried before.

Dinner guests are also encouraged to dress up in old-fashioned clothing.

“old-fashioned, we mean anything not current,” said Bennett. Items from the ’50s or ’60s will do just as well as older attire. “People like to dress up,” Bennett said.

There will also be music, story-telling and with luck, a magic lantern show, “if the machinery holds up!” said Bennett. The dinner costs $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors. It’s a small price to pay for a walk back in time — and one that doesn’t come often.

While the Summer Heritage Festival returns every year, the Antiquarian Supper is held only every five, meaning history buffs should take advantage. The dinner runs from 5 to 8 p.m. After that, it’s history, at least for a while.

 

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

[email protected]