Time Traveling Authors at the Thurber House

Aug 7, 2013

Travel through time, just  around the corner in Columbus, Ohio.

The Thurber House and Center functions as a museum and literary education center honoring James Thurber, renowned writer and humorist who lived there with his family in the early 1900s. Tours, writers-in-residence, and camps all happen at the Thurber House. Dan Mushalko and Kathy Matthews have contributed an interactive mystery for campers for many years now. On Wednesdays, in the week long day camp for fourth through sixth graders, the campers come to camp in costume, experience a sci-fi/fantasy filled afternoon and try their hands at investigative journalism.  


On one particular Wednesday afternoon in July, the camp counselors disappeared, replaced by the passengers and crew of the Thurber Lane Raconteurs and Extraordinary Explorers’ Society Zeppelin, lost in time and space due to a mechanical malfunction.  Or is it really a malfunction? Could it be sabotage? The airship is capable of traveling great distances via portal technology, but the 1887 expedition from London to Cathay (China) was never expecting to be over 120 years in the future and so far off course. Former campers and interns joined Dan, Kathy and the counselors in Steampunk/ Victorian regalia, donning old clothing and older accents to participate in the mystery. Every additional member lends credibility to the situation, able to corroborate the story and provide hints and information to the inquisitive campers.


During the campers’ lunch time, physical clues were distributed throughout the Center and the cast was briefed about the on-ship relationships and motives of each character. Hiding in the cupboard-like kitchen as the campers thundered down the stairs and settled into the Great Room, the cast waited while H. G. Wells and Louisa May Alcott, aka Dan and Kathy, introduced the  circumstances to the campers. After ten minutes, crew and passengers head to their assigned locations. Shortly, notebooks and pencils in hand, the campers rushed from the Great Room to interrogate the oddly dressed people throughout the house. The Maid and Butler wandered around the house, dusting and delivering tea, respectively, while Captain Montgomery and MacGuyver, the engineer, remained upstairs, trying to spy a way back and tinkering with modern appliances. Three guests, Lady Spencer, an archeologist, Mr. Devlin, a scout for P.T. Barnum’s Circus, and Mr. Archangel, an adventurer, perused the halls, occasionally checking in on the Cook, Mrs. Epicure, in the kitchen as she fussed over her failed souffle, and answered questions from the campers on their exact purpose on the ship.


As the campers gathered hints, they recorded them in their notebooks and on poster boards in the Great Room. After an hour, the campers reconvened to parse through the clues and to assess the overall situation. Paper clues needed to be reassembled, notes in foreign languages required translation, and telegraphs detailing certain longitude and latitudes needed to be put into plain English. Then the crew was brought into the Great Room and cross examined by the campers. As the accusations flew, the saboteurs soon realized their gooses were cooked and attempted to flee the room. Campers quickly apprehended the guilty parties, the missing gear was rediscovered (in the souffle! No wonder it failed.) and the engineer was able to repair the airship, allowing our errant authors to return to 1887 and move forward in time at a better pace. As part of any classical mystery, the Butler did it. Well, so did the Lady’s Maid. Spies for the Prussian Empire, they were trying to steal the Zeppelin's secret portal technology in order to gain advantage over the French. This accidental adventure through time inspired H.G. Wells to write the novella The Time Machine. 

Though all the camps are full for this summer, next summer is always an option. If you’re too old for summer camp, the Thurber House offers many literary pursuits throughout the year. There are educational programs for those interested in honing their own writing skills and literary programs for those who want to meet the authors. Neither is exclusive; interest in both writing and reading is absolutely acceptable. So check out the Thurber House online at and in person at 77 Jefferson Avenue, Columbus, Ohio any day of the week from 1 until 4 in the afternoon.