Centennial junior behind 'Your Past, It Matters' Saturday in Ellicott City

At 16 years old, Girl Scout Emily Abdow may be one of the youngest local history experts around.

The Centennial High School junior's passion for the past began about seven years ago, when she attended the Victorian Dreams camp — a week-long camp through Howard County's Department of Recreation and Parks that recreated Victorian life in the 1850s.

Abdow's interest grew through middle school when she researched the Patapsco Female Institute, a once nationally renowned girl's school in Ellicott City, and then presented her work during Howard County Public Schools' Middle School Achievement Expo.

So when it came time to pick a topic for her Gold Award, the highest award a Girl Scout between 14 and 18 years old can earn, Abdow said Ellicott City history was a logical fit.

"Local history tells a more personal story about how ordinary people like you and me were affected by major events," she said. "… I find it fascinating that significant events occurred right in my own backyard."

On Saturday, Oct. 5, Abdow and the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks will host "Your Past, It Matters," a three-hour event where participants tour five historic Ellicott City sites and participate in games and activities, including spinning, weaving and an artifact scavenger hunt.

The tour sites are the Patapsco Female Institute, the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin, the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Museum: Ellicott City Station, the Firehouse Museum and the Ellicott City Colored School, Restored. A shuttle bus will run every 15 to 30 minutes from the Heritage Orientation Center on Main Street, where participants will check in to start the tour. Participants may also walk to the sites, which are all located within a mile of each other.

Since August 2012, Abdow has dedicated more than 100 hours to the project, working with family members, friends, county leaders and groups like the Weavers Guild of Greater Baltimore. She coordinated shuttle schedules. She worked with the Department of Recreation and Parks to find docents. She created a passport for participants to take along their journey. For early registrants, she even ordered 100 T-shirts designed by fellow Centennial High School student Ta-Chung Morris Mou and featuring black and white graphics of each site.

She also organized historic activities all ages can enjoy, she said.

For example, during "Your Past, It Matters" children can play the Game of Graces — a popular two-player game from the 1800s where children throw and catch wooden hoops in the air using two rods. They can also try on pinafores, apron-like garments worn during the 1800s. Both of these activities will be at the Patapsco Female Institute.

In addition, children and adults can use makeshift spindles, devices that spin fibers into threads, at the Thomas Isaac Log Cabin. Lace-making and weaving demonstrations also will be held.

"My goal when I designed this event was to make it appeal to everyone and to promote what I feel is the underappreciated and underutilized historic sites of Ellicott City," Abdow said.

This event is a "mammoth undertaking," said Jacquelyn Galke, Abdow's adviser for the Gold Award, heritage program and facilities manager for the Department of Recreation and Parks and Abdow's former Victorian Dreams camp counselor. But it's one Abdow could easily handle, Galke said.

"She's incredibly organized and enthusiastic and so willing to go that extra mile," she said.

The department is so impressed with Abdow's work that it plans to keep the program running, even after Abdow moves on, Galke said.

For now, Abdow is just focused on Saturday. She's hoping for good weather and a good turnout.

"I would really like at least 100 people," she said. "But I will definitely take more."

"Your Past, It Matters" is on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 1 to 4 p.m. and is for ages five and up. Registration costs $10 per person and is open through Friday at 3 p.m. To register, visit http://www.howardcountymd.gov/rap or call 410-313-7275.

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