New children's book describes history of Old First Congregational Church
OLD BENNINGTON — Driving into town from the west, one passes by a few historic markers: the Battle Monument, Battlefield, Robert Frost grave site, the Old First Congregational Church, and more.
Now, the history of the church can be told to ages eight to 12 in a new chapter book authored by Kathy Wagenknecht. "The 33rd Bennie Town Crow" describes the building of the Old First Church as told by a crow with the memory of its first generation ancestor. Readers will be taken back over 250 years to when the building was constructed and the village was founded.
Wagenknecht hails from Kansas City, Mo., and Little Rock, Ark. She moved to Vermont in 2014 for family and lives down the road from the church in a historic house. She has education in math and English, worked in information technology and retired in 2007.
This is Wagenknecht's first children's book, but she has published three other books after committing to a NaNoWriMo challenge (National Novel Writing Month).
"I think it's important to know the heritage we have," she said. "There's so much to be proud of in our town. We need to teach children there are more things to be proud of, but also let them know that protest is okay too. That's how the Protestants founded their own church peacefully and created something beautiful."
The church was completed in 1805 after the first Protestant congregation gathered in 1762 due to the Great Awakening from Connecticut and western Massachusetts influences.
Wagenknecht thoroughly researched the church's history and edited the book with help of clarifications from her architect friend.
The author is active with the church, but not a member, and became a tour guide shortly after attending worship. In the book, she elaborates on the most common questions asked during tours.
"Those posts are trees that were cut down and dragged here and shaped in place," she said. "There's four of them, 60 feet tall and they support the balcony and roof and start in the cellar. There's a chapter on those."
Another chapter explains the purpose for the dome in the center of the ceiling. Without speakers or microphones at the start of worship, the minister would stand high up and speak out and the shallow dome would allow sound to reach all corners of the room.
Instead of traditional pews, the church has boxes, and in the 1800s, families would travel by wagon to day-long worship activities and put a tin can lit with fire on the floor of the box and close the door to stay warm. There was also a tavern across the street that sold coal.
The purpose of using a crow's perspective for the children's book is due to a few reasons. One day, Wagenknecht's oldest border collie, out of three, ran into the road and was hit and killed by a car. Directly before, a crow had hit the ground and died. Crows' death-related symbolism resonates with consuming the remains after a war on a battlefield. There's also many crows around the church.
"There's so many of them here. There's always a couple buzzing around," she said. "I thought who would make a good guide and you can actually train crows to talk."
A chapter book was created because Wagenknecht isn't an illustrator, but also because she wished to go into further detail about the church's history. Her partner and artist Pat White generated "The 33rd Bennie Town Crow" front cover as well as the previous books.
Wagenknecht has no definite plans for future books, but is working on a slightly autobiographical piece.
"The 33rd Bennie Town Crow" is available for $7.99 at the church, the Bennington Bookshop and the Bennington Museum. All proceeds benefit the church.
— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.
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