There's part of me that so loves old buildings that I can divorce myself from their history enough to notice the trim work, carved pillars, and tin ceilings marred by fluorescent lights. I would gladly offer my labour to restore it, but it smelled like they might have a mould problem from the water damage that would require a professional to clean.
There was too much to see and discuss in one short visit. I suggested to my class that maybe the institute could make it an overnight trip once they have beds and desks. Then tour groups could experience sleeping in an open room with nothing but mush for breakfast (overcooked oatmeal). But I had no takers keen to spend a night in there. They had a better idea though: an audio headset for self-guided tours using the voices of a variety of survivors discussing their lives as visitors walked through different rooms:
- the front hall where children were dropped off, some with parental expectations of better days, three meals and an education, but others as virtual orphans, not to see their moms again for a decade;
- the intake room where hair was cut and a number tattooed on their little hands, their only ID for their time there; stories of older children telling the younger ones not to forget their real names;
- the dining hall and kitchen with long tables on either side, one for girls and one for boys, all with numbered chairs with siblings separated to keep them from talking their language;
- the makeshift stage area where a bizarre man in a stuffed red costume showed up one day each year with a small present for everyone, a ruse to indoctrinate them into the Christian church;
- the cupboard under the stairs where children were locked for days with only bread, water, and some salt, in close proximity to the sleeping quarters, all the better for the children to hear the wails of the punished (without any prospect of a Hagrid coming to save the day);
- the clothes washing room where boys would peek through the windows at the girls;
- the clothes folding room table with numbers carved beneath to show who liked whom (46 + 27) and many romances attempting to blossom without the benefit of enough contact to say hello;
- the boiler room full of unspeakable tales;
- the window where children would wait for their parents, day-by-day, every June, with a few still waiting as September rolled around again;
- the grounds where the youngest collected eggs that they rarely got to eat;
- all liberally peppered with some laughs to ease the tension - stories of digging through the local landfill for boxes of candy with the cellophane broken rendering them unsellable, or the rare treat of being chosen to go mow a lawn or rake some leaves for someone in the city.