Jiving jazz music emanated from behind closed doors of “The Hawk's Nest" Speakeasy at Hamburg Area High School’s Library on March 5. A secret password allowed entrance to step back in time to the Roaring 20s.
History students created a 1920s speakeasy as part of the Advanced Placement U.S. History Class. The 31 AP students, as well as 15 regular American History class students, portrayed historical people of the 20s including Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, Lou Gehrig, Bonnie and Clyde, Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Clara Bow, Alice Paul, Calvin Coolidge, Henry Ford.
“This is our third year of doing the Speakeasy and we have continued to make it larger and improve on it every year,” said Hamburg teacher David Kline. “The Library definitely provided more space and gave a more realistic and hidden feel to the speakeasy.”
Kline explained that "The Hawk's Nest" Speakeasy is an annual activity for the AP U.S. History Class. Each student selected a famous historical figure from the Roaring 20s to research. Students then constructed a speakeasy. For about two hours they had a 1920s party with appropriate food, drinks, and live jazz band. Each student was responsible for dressing like their historical figure, bringing one conversation piece related to their figure, and staying in character for the duration of the event.
“The activity helps students to understand and interact with the most prominent and important figures in United States history from the time period. It is one of the highlights of the APUSH course at Hamburg Area and a great way for the students to experience the 1920s Prohibition Era culture,” said Kline. “There was so much social, cultural and political change. I always tell the kids that it’s a definitive time period where you can see modern America developing and I think the kids love seeing that and participating in that.”
Signs posted warned “No Snitches Allowed.” Bartenders made Prohibition Era drinks such as Mint Juleps and Shirley Temples (all non-alcoholic). Attendees enjoyed 20s inspired food, sipped pink or green drinks and talked with famous people. Some really got into the spirit, dancing the Charleston to live jazz played by the High School Jazz Band.
Junior Abigail Behm portrayed Amelia Earhart, “I actually just got off one of the best flights of my life, but then again I say that about every flight. I broke 14,000 feet which is, that’s a lot of fun. It’s beautiful up there. I’m actually at a speakeasy party right now, but don’t tell anybody it’s here. This is one of the most hopping joints around.”
Wearing a 1920s baseball uniform with “Gehrig” on his back, junior Owen Zimmerman, who plays baseball for Hamburg, portrayed his favorite player, Lou Gehrig.
“It’s a neat experience to relive the 1920s. You come around and meet all these new people, just have fun,” said Zimmerman.
Junior Jacob Phillips portrayed Warren G. Harding, the 29th U.S. President from 1921 until his death in 1923.
“I wanted a return to normalcy, get out of foreign affairs,” said Harding.
Phillips likes the speakeasy assignment because it’s more relaxed than sitting in a classroom.
“It’s a more fun way to learn,” said Phillips.
Junior Paiton Albrecht paired up with junior Kyle Reppert to portray Bonnie and Clyde.
“We were able to pick something that interests us,” she said. “Kyle and I are huge history buffs and we’re best friends so Bonnie and Clyde was a perfect duo for us to do for this activity. It was awesome. We’re having a blast!”
“I think it’s great to get to know the other characters,” said Reppert. “They tell you the back stories to their people. That really shows that they put a lot of effort into the activity to make it fun.”
“It’s the Roaring 20s; it’s the best time period that we’ve learned about so far,” said Albrecht. “It was carefree. We’re getting right before the Depression. It’s just a happy period between two sad things, a war and a Depression so we’re enjoying it.”
“You’ve got mobsters and speakeasies like this and all of the secret stuff that’s going on…. It’s just cool to learn about,” added Reppert.
“We’re really happy we have a teacher like Mr. Kline to set something up like this,” said Albrecht.
“He put so much time and effort into it. He just makes it fun for all of us,” said Reppert. “He’s not like the ordinary history teacher.”
Clare Kilpatrick Benz, Hamburg School District Career Education Specialist, checked out the fun at the speakeasy.
“I think it gives a chance for the students to see history in a different way. They’re actually embodying it. They get to portray characters and try to see what that environment was really like: the music, the costumes and the rest of the culture of that time,” said Benz.
Superintendent Dr. Richard J. Mextorf also visited the speakeasy.
“What’s unique about this event is kids actually studied the characters that they’re playing, so they do an in-depth character analysis and then they’re actually playing those roles. You can’t get them to break character,” said Mextorf. “It gives them a more authentic experience and they understand the context of the period of time that they’re studying… It’s about engaging students in learning in as many ways as possible.”
Mextorf added, “As we talk about our vision pillars of creating a boundary-less environment, this really brings the world to our kids. It also engages them in other interests in how they best learn. It teaches them there’s a larger world out there.”