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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (AP) — Soon after arriving at the Living History Park on Sunday, Andrew and Maggie Collins and their son, Drew, met Bill Smith, who was portraying a ratcatcher named Silas Moore.

Smith told the family some stories about his job, and then he gave 2-year-old Drew a big rubber rodent to play with.

Andrew joked that the experience might end up being the highlight of their visit to Colonial Times: A Day to Remember.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” he said. “It’s going to be all downhill from here.”

The family was returning to Colonial Times for the second year in a row after enjoying their inaugural experience.

“We had a good time and everybody was so nice,” Andrew said. “But Drew wasn’t old enough to remember anything, so we came back. And the first two minutes he was here, he got to hold a rat. We used to go to Renaissance fairs around Charlotte (North Carolina) all the time. This is the closest thing we have to them in North Augusta.”

A resident of Ohio, Smith is a retired teacher. When he’s performing as Silas, he wears scruffy clothes and carries a cage with live rats in it.

“I do about 15 events a year, from South Carolina all the way up to New Hampshire and Pennsylvania,” Smith said. “Next week, I’m going to Kentucky.”

When Smith got his start as a re-enactor, he played a much different role.

“I was an 18th century gentleman, and I had the finest suit,” he said. “I would nod to the ladies and say, ‘Good day, ma’am.’ But that just wasn’t my personality. It wasn’t a lot of fun. My wife had rats because she was biology teacher, so I did some research on ratcatchers, who were very prevalent in the 18th century in this country and overseas.”

Smith introduced Colonial Times attendees to the dirtier side of life in the 1700s.

“It was a nasty time to live,” he said. “They threw their food and their trash right outside, and the upstairs maids would throw the night water out into the streets. The villages weren’t very sanitary.”

There was a rodent problem in the basement of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s plantation home in Virginia.

“(Washington) had terriers, and he would turn the dogs loose once or twice a week to go down and catch the rats,” Smith said.

Another re-enactor at Colonial Times was Tim Nealeigh, who portrayed Timothy the Weaver, an Irishman with gift for gab.

He demonstrated the steps involved in making linen from the fibers of flax plants.

While explaining how to use a spinning wheel and a loom, Nealeigh attracted a small crowd.

“If I were to sit and weave without stopping to talk – which never happens because I’m Irish and I do like to talk — I could weave a yard of cloth, which would reach from my nose to my fingers, in about an hour’s time,” Nealeigh said.

He urged the children in his audience to gather around where he was seated and get a closer look at the loom.

“Squeeze in close here and watch while I dress the loom,” Nealeigh said. “It’s not difficult, but it’s very exacting.”

Colonial Times was open to the general public on Saturday and Sunday. An education day for CSRA students was held Friday.


Information from: Aiken Standard,