Venellope Headly acts the role of Clara Diaz of Diaz Cafe during a special "wax museum" exhibit at Tongass Historical Museum

Venellope Headly acts the role of Clara Diaz of Diaz Cafe for Darby Mainardi and her daughter Emiline Mainardi during a special "wax museum" exhibit at Tongass Historical Museum on April 28. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

History came to life on April 27 at the Tongass Historical Museum, with a little help from a group of second-graders from Point Higgins Elementary School.
Tucked away in almost every corner of the museum was a pint-sized logger or a miniature fisherman, standing still like wax figures as visitors took in their homemade historical outfits — until it was time to bring them to "life."
With one tap on the shoulder, each student came out of their "wax figure" pose and gave a small speech about the historical Ketchikan figure they were representing. Friends and family watched as students dressed as pilot Bob Ellis or grocery store owner Jimmy Tatsuda shared their stories and then, as quickly as they started, resumed their pose until the next visitor tapped them on the shoulder, once more bringing them to life. 
Speaking to the Daily News from the lobby as she directed visiting friends and family to their student's "statue" area, Point Higgins Elementary School teacher Katie Sivertsen said she was inspired by a project she remembered from her time studentteaching at Auke Bay Elementary in Juneau. 
"And they did a very similar project to this with a large group of children, but it was based on biography," Sivertsen explained. "So kids picked somebody famous, they researched, and they did this wax museum. So I totally stole the idea from them and just applied it to our history standards." 
Every student was portraying someone from Ketchikan's history.
City of Ketchikan Mayor Dave Kiffer made an appearance at the museum to see the students, and also contributed articles and information about Ketchikan's history for the students to use in their research. 
"My students did a long-term study on jobs as part of our economy standards," Sivertsen said. "So when I brought up that we needed (to) start looking at the history of Ketchikan, the first thing they went to were jobs. So I was like, 'OK, I know what we need to do.'"
In response to the students' interest in local jobs and industries, Sivertsen contacted the Tongass Historical Museum and arranged for the students to visit. But then the museum took it a step further and offered the space as a stage for the student's final presentation. 
"And I was like, 'Yes, let's find a way to do this,'" Sivertsen said. "So really getting to do a performance like this on location is what I think makes it the most magical."  
The students assembled their own costumes and researched their roles in advance of the "wax museum."
"What I've learned as a teacher throughout my career is that when we're doing something, especially writing for an authentic audience who's not just their teacher, their mom, their dad, their peers, that's when the real magic happens," Sivertsen said. "So that's really what I try to do as much as possible is give them authenticity, a real audience. So it gives ... what they do more meaning." 
Clad in head-to-toe Grundens, second-grader Emery Mitchel sat still with a fishing pole in the back of the "Ketchikan Is" exhibit. He was a fisherman. 
Mitchel said fishing, which he learned has been an important industry in Ketchikan "since before time," is important because it creates jobs.
Hunter Rodgers was standing nearby, ready to tell visitors about the U.S. Coast Guard in Ketchikan as he posed as a USCG member. His report stated that Base Ketchikan was established in 1918, and is now one of Ketchikan's biggest employers. 
"I wanted to be the Coast Guard (for the project)," he said. "It's one of my dream jobs." 
Sporting a drawn-on beard and a pair of suspenders, Cora Elliot posed as Ott Inman, a boat-builder and the owner of the Ketchikan Shingle Mill for whom Inman Street is named. 
"I've been telling everybody about boat builders," Elliot said in between interacting with visitors. Elliot estimated that she had given her speech about 11 times that morning, just about halfway through her class' schedule hour at the museum.
A few steps away from his classmate portraying Ott Inman, Jerome was reading his report as George Shimizu, the first owner of the New York Hotel.
In his report, Jerome stated that Shimizu purchased the hotel from the Ohashi family, and that the hotel was looked after by other people when Shimizu's family — who were Japanese — had to leave Ketchikan during World War II. Anders Brinkerhoff was acting as a statue of Ketchikan pilot Bob Ellis.
"That he was Ketchikan's first flying Santa Claus," was the most interesting thing Brinkerhoff learned about Ellis during his research. 
"I don't think he literally dropped presents down," Brinkerhoff added.
Forrest Benson, dressed in a red-plaid button-up shirt and posing next to the bent-wire bear statue in the museum, was acting as Bruce Johnstone, a man who moved to Ketchikan in 1920 and was well-known for killing "Old Groaner," a famous Unuk River bear, in 1935.
Benson wanted to be Johnstone for the event "Because I thought killing Old Groaner was pretty cool." 
Johnstone also worked as a miner, hunting guide, trapper, logger, fisherman and mill worker, according to Benson's report.
Lene Mickel stood next to an antique children's desk in the museum as she posed as Edna Borigo, a Clover Pass School teacher.
"In the 1940s, lots of families moved out north to Clover Pass, and soon there were enough kids out there to have their own school," Mickel read out loud after "coming to life." "That way, they didn't have to take a long bus ride to town. The families worked together to build the school, get a teacher, and the supplies for the students." 
Jackson Mainardi held a prop gold pan while acting as a miner who came to Ketchikan in the 1880s. Mainardi said in his speech that miners came through Ketchikan while traveling to the Yukon, or back to the Lower 48.
 "I wanted to learn more about gold miners," Mainardi said about how he chose his role.
"There wasn't much silver and gold" in Ketchikan for the miners, he said. 
Nearby, Judah Connolly was frozen as a statue of a logger, dressed in work pants and a ragged button-up shirt. 
In his speech, Connolly shared that Ketchikan opened a pulp mill in 1954, providing "around 2,000 jobs and $100 million each year" before it closed in 1997.
Across the room, Jacob Miller wore a one-piece wet suit as he acted as Greg Updike, a commercial diver and owner of the Alaskan Salvor vessel, which was constructed in 1953, according to Miller's report.
Miller committed his report to memory, and added that it wasn't difficult to do. 
Hunter Hink wore a pair of cat-eyed glasses while posing as Haida master weaver Delores Churchill.
Hink read from his report that Delores is "important to Ketchikan because I taught adults and kids about Alaska Native and Haida culture." 
Hink said he also had wanted to be a fisherman or a fish pirate.
Positioned in the new "Sustaining Community" exhibit, Vanellope Headley held a prop mixing bowl as she acted as Clara Diaz, the owner of the Diaz Cafe.
Headley decided to portray Diaz "because I thought she was a really cool person."
She said that the most interesting thing she learned from the project was that the Diaz Cafe has been open since 1964.
In a corner of the "Sustaining Community" exhibit home to Tatsuda's IGA memorabilia, Grace Miller wore an apron with a "Tatsuda's" support sticker as she pretended to be Jimmy Tatsuda.
In her speech, Miller informed visitors that Tatsuda opened Jimmy's Grocery Store in 1916 on Stedman Street.
She said that she chose to be Tatsuda at the museum, "because I like that store and I loved the grocery store, and ... I usually play grocery store at my house and I really love it." 
"They do stuff kind of differently," Miller said about past Ketchikan residents.