The Diorama

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School work always came easy to me, so I didn't spend a lot of time on homework.  I knew that my sloppiest work would still typically garner me an A.  But when a teacher assigned creative projects to our class, my imagination ignited and I could think of little else.  I couldn't wait to get home and write a story, glue together an art project, or press wax paper and leaves between the pages of heavy books.

When our class was asked to make dioramas of the Civil War, the one image that I kept coming back to was the hanging of Mary Surratt and three men accused of conspiring to murder President Lincoln. Very few women were given an entire page of text in our history books, and I didn't want to pass an opportunity to document one who held such a place of infamous honor as did Mary Surratt.

I ran home that afternoon and rummaged through our house searching for items to use in my little cardboard box.  A diorama was a window into another world.  I knew that mine would be unique and wonderful, and my teacher would likely use it as an exhibit for future classes.  I imagined her holding it up over her head and announcing, "This diorama captures the hanging of Mary Surratt and the three men who conspired with her to assassinate President Lincoln.  This is the best diorama I have ever seen.  Please try to do as well as this student did when she made this beautiful piece."

I glued and shaped and carefully constructed the hanging platform.  I formed little people out of rags and discarded fabric.  I sewed hoods on to the heads of four accused.  I rigged the platform so that the floor fell away when I pulled a pin holding it together, and the four little cloth bodies swayed from fishing line I stole from my father's work bench.  It was perfection.  To accompany the diorama, I wrote a bio about Mary Surratt, explaining why she was such an interesting character in American history. 

When my teacher pulled me aside the day our dioramas were due, I thought she wanted to congratulate me for exploring a morose and difficult subject.  Instead, she explained that my diorama was inappropriate, a little weird, and kind of creepy.  That probably wasn't the first or last time I received that message about one of my creations, but it didn't kill (pun intended) my interest in hearing the often untold stories of women.

The Conspirator opens tomorrow, and T and I are looking forward to seeing Robert Redford's version of my diorama, er... I mean... of this inappropriate, a little weird, and kind of creepy moment in history.


Anonymous said…
I couldn't help the little giggle that escaped me while reading your posting morbid topic, but great descriptive writing.
patrice said…
Thanks Anonymous!
frimp said…
Was your teacher somehow unaware that many people died in the Civil War?
patrice said…
well... to be fair it was a Catholic school and we sort of glossed over the violent chapters.

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