Dave Bakke: 6-year-old tour guide knows her history

Dave Bakke

Sunday’s first visitor of the season to Rochester’s Stone House was impressed with its story. But he was also impressed by the guide who took him upstairs and showed him the rooms where the family who once lived in the house slept.

The guide, Victoria Speller, who goes by “Tory,” knew her stuff, that was certain. She was knowledgeable. She was interesting.

She was also only 6 years old. If there is a younger docent working at a historic site or museum anywhere, that would be equally impressive.

Tory was 4 when she first visited the Stone House with her grandmother, Cheryl Sorenson.

“She thought that was the grandest thing she had ever seen,” says Cheryl.

Last spring, Tory helped clean the historic house to prepare it for a class of fifth-graders who were coming for a tour. One of the volunteers, Reba Robertson, asked Tory if she was interested in helping give tours. Robertson told Tory that if she could come dressed in a prairie pioneer costume, she could help.

Tory came back in costume, then went on the tour with the regular guides just to help out.

“When she went upstairs with Reba,” Cheryl says. “Tory tugged on her skirt and said, ‘You forgot about this, and don’t forget about that.’”

They eventually let Tory, who was 5 at the time, lead the upstairs tour on her own. She had heard the others tell the story so many times that she had it memorized.

“We stood at the bottom of the stairs and listened,” says Cheryl. “We were prepared to tell visitors whatever she forgot, but we didn’t have to. From then on, she had to be upstairs and tell people about the items up there.”

Her only miscue in the early going was to refer to the bedroom chamber pot as the “Port-A-Potty.”

But on Sunday, she was flawless. Her mother, Stephanie, who brought Tory to the Stone House, said Tory couldn’t wait to get there for opening day.

After hearing the legend of how a prospective husband built the house of stone to fulfill a requirement of his intended bride’s father, how it was eventually dismantled and moved from its original location to its current spot adjacent to Rochester’s Community Park and how it was carefully put back together stone by stone, it was time to go upstairs with Tory.

“This is the rope bed where the children slept,” Tory said, pulling up the mattress to show off the old-time bed’s underlying rope system. “Like a hammock,” she said.

She showed her visitor a trundle bed where one of the other children slept, their toys and the trunk in which they kept their blankets. She explained what a trundle bed is. She pointed out the tree bark still on the wooden planks that make up the roof. She said the layer of bark probably kept the bedroom warmer.

“This is a footwarmer,” she said, showing a ceramic jug at the foot of the parents’ bed. “They filled it with hot water and then put it in the bed to keep their feet warm so they could go to sleep.”

She was able to answer her visitor’s questions. She even added an editorial comment: “Would it be weird,” she asked, “if your dad was wearing a nightgown?” She went on to explain that in pioneer days, that is what men wore at bedtime.

Tory was asked how she came to know so much about the Stone House.

“I did a lot of practicing up here,” she answered, “when I was a child.”

When she is at home, Tory said, she sometimes uses her imagination to think about what it would have been like if she had lived in the house as a pioneer child.

“Sometimes when I go to bed,” she explained, “I think of it and I dream about it. It would be cool.”

After the first tour ended, another car with visitors pulled into the field surrounding the Stone House. A troop of Cub Scouts was scheduled to take the tour later Sunday. At 4, the house was closed for the day, and Tory went home to rest.

It’s a good thing, too. The next morning she had to go back to her other job — kindergartner.

Dave Bakke can be reached atdave.bakke@sj-r.com.