By Michael Tessler
Textbooks are dense things. Heavy, expensive and filled to the brim with names, dates and locations most people don’t care to commit to memory. For some though, those pages are more than just ink on paper. They are our gateway to the stories of the untold billions that came before us. Each textbook holds a glimpse into their lives, a testament to their struggles, sacrifices, triumphs, dreams and defeats.
About three months ago I was given the extraordinary privilege of bringing to life a unique chapter in our local and national history: first through research, followed by writing and now through a labor-intensive yet nonetheless fun film production. This project will create something that helps history escape the binds of textbooks, transcending into an unforgettable experience.
Though I am not quite ready to share all the details, I am excited to announce that beginning this summer families can enjoy an interactive digital attraction known as the Culper Spy Adventure. This educational and entertaining experience will bring to life General Washington’s secret Setauket spy ring and will recruit you and your family into the starring roles of your very own Culper spy mission — and let me say, the only thing more fun than experiencing it, is producing it.
So how do you go about filming something that takes place in the 18th century? How does one even start that process? Before you can move forward, you must always look to the past. Where was that moment that captured my imagination? When did I know I was hooked on history?
My time-traveling journey began long before I became the unlikely producer of this wonderful and unique project. From a young age I remember others describing my family as “Disney people.” Mickey Mouse had an almost oppressive presence in our household. He was on our plates, silverware, cups and would annually adorn a Santa costume while plopped down beside our menorah and Disney-themed Christmas tree (complete with a Tinkerbell tree topper and Lion King ornaments). It was somewhere around that time that my dad was first diagnosed with a rare but operable brain tumor.
My parents were understandably uncertain of how to explain such a serious subject to an emotionally fragile kindergartner. So naturally, my parents broke the news to my brother and I in a place that would ensure distraction and comfort, our home away from home — Disney World. You didn’t have to be very old to understand that something was wrong. You could feel the sadness in their tone as they explained to me what may happen and the risks of the surgery ahead. We tried to make the best of it, and made a genuine effort to have fun. During that trip we made our regular stop in Epcot, my favorite of the four parks.
Inside the giant white sphere that oversees that park is Spaceship Earth. This slow-moving tram ride transports you through the ages, complete with animatronics playing out vital scenes from throughout human civilization.
You see the Phoenicians inventing the alphabet, the Greeks experimenting with theater, the sacking of Rome (which smells oddly like bacon), the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, all the way to the modern era and beyond.
From the eyes of a kindergartner it was so much more than a slow-moving tram ride, it was my very own DeLorean time machine. Suddenly this six- or seven-year-old had become a master of time and space. What an extraordinary gift to be given, a chance to see history come to life. So here we are many years later. My dad has since recovered and my boyhood days are long over. Yet I’m given the awesome responsibility of building something that will give other children that same bewildering sense of excitement and magic.
Keep an eye out for Part Two as I discuss bringing to life local heroes like Abraham Woodhull, Caleb Brewster and Alexander Hamilton. Working alongside the incredible folks in the 3rd NY Regiment living history group, the Huntington Militia, as well our some of our great local historians and organizations.
We are true time travelers and are beyond excited to share our adventures with you. Until next time, happy time travels! Looking forward to writing more. Share your thoughts with me at [email protected]
Michael Tessler is the special projects manager for TBR News Media, a founder and former political consultant for the Continuum Group and the former president of the International Youth Congress.