Join the Hunt! Ministers Island Scavenger Hunt

One of the first projects I decided to undertake this spring was to create a scavenger hunt of the island. For those unfamiliar, a scavenger hunt is an activity where the players have a list of items to find or questions to answer, in this case the players have to explore the property looking for answers to specific questions. From my previous museum programming experience, I have found that scavenger hunts are a great activity to engage children (and adults) of all ages while visiting a museum or historical attraction. As a new employee, exploring the island looking for little details and coming up with unique questions about the island was a great way to learn about all the great things the island has to offer! The Scavenger Hunt, is an activity that incorporates aspects of not only Covenhoven, but of other buildings found on the island too, like the Bathhouse, the Gardner’s Cottage, the Carriage House and the Barn. Ministers Island is 500 acres so there is a ton of property to explore.

Scavenger Hunts stem from ancient folk games, but they became popular by Elsa Maxwell in 1927, just past Van Horne’s time. Elsa Maxwell was a writer, who wrote for a Gossip Column in New York. Her first scavenger hunt she hosted in Paris where she asked her guests to find certain items during the evening of the event. During the 1930s the game took off becoming a popular party game. Van Horne himself loved to play games and tricks on people, so an activity like a scavenger hunt most likely would have been an activity that he would have loved to see take place at his estate during one of his parties.

One of the days I was working on inspiration for the Scavenger Hunt I brought my father with me. My dad is a mechanical engineer, and he notices every little detail. When my dad and I were exploring Covenhoven and the barn he noticed so many small things that I had not observed yet, from details on the lights to architectural details of the house, at one point we were even underneath the pool table trying to figure out what stone the table was made out of. As we were exploring we even found a pigeon nest with a couple of eggs in it, in the crack of the creamery building which is currently under construction.

I also looked through some old copies of scavenger hunts that were used for school groups and learned new facts myself. Here are a couple of the fun facts about Covenhoven I learned:

  1. How heavy is the pool table? The pool table weighs 3000 lbs, because of the weight of the table it has never been moved from the games room on the main floor of Covenhoven.
  2. Where did the farm workers stay? In the red boarding house. Behind the barn Van Horne had boarding houses built for his staff, which are no longer standing today. All of his staff were paid well, their lodging was taken care of and they ate the same meals that Van Horne ate at Covenhoven.
  3. How many elephants are above the fireplace in the gift shop? The number is always changing depending on how many have been sold. But why are there elephants? This was a question that confused me! Van Horne depicted himself as elephant in drawings and paintings that he sent his grandson Billie.

The scavenger hunt is now available on the island! If you wish to get a copy, let one of the tour guides know when you enter Covenhoven, they are wearing orange polos so they are hard to miss!

Happy Scavenger Hunting!

Published by Laura Oland

Laura Oland is an Art History PhD student at Concordia University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. In 2018, Oland completed a Master’s degree at The University of Glasgow in Art History: Dress and Textile Histories, following her undergraduate studies in History at Acadia University. Oland also completed a year of Viking archaeology at Lund University in Sweden. Professionally, Oland has worked for the New Brunswick Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum, Hunterian Museum, and the Randall House Museum.

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