Lester Bardwell sat on a short wooden beam at the LSU Rural Life Museum on Saturday, peeling pieces of sugar cane stalk any child brought him that afternoon.
Bardwell, 50, took his knife and cut off the outer layer of the cane, then instructed children how to chew on the center to savor its sweet juices.
“I’ve just been peeling and cutting for others,” Bardwell said when asked if he had chewed on any cane himself that day.
Bardwell’s sugar cane sharings were part of a multitude of antique activities on display Saturday at the 15th annual Harvest Days festival at the LSU Rural Life Museum, located at the LSU AgCenter’s Burden Center off Essen Lane.
The festival continues Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Bardwell said he has worked with sugar cane for more than 40 years after helping his grandfather harvest the crop as a child.
Bardwell, who repairs appliances for a living, said he enjoys seeing children’s faces light up when they get to the sweet part of the stalk.
“I’m in it for others,” he said.
Bardwell was one of dozens of artisans on display showing their historical skills.
Weavers weaved, spinners spun wool and blacksmiths forged. There were candles, soaps and bricks prepared all while horses roamed around.
Keith Felder and Jules Lambert, both of Denham Springs, showed off their old-fashioned wooden boats, including one that was featured on Louisiana chef John Folse’s TV show.
Most modern pirogues are made of aluminum or fiberglass, so carving wooden boats has become a lost art, Felder said.
Felder and Lambert’s display mostly featured two types of vessels: swamp pirogues and marsh pirogues.
Felder said the pair usually makes boats from either marine plywood or old cypress wood.
Felder said they work on boats “six days a week.”
“I just enjoy doing it,” he said.
Saturday also marked Harvest Days’ inaugural scarecrow competition.
Anyone can enter the contest, in which people build their own scarecrows using wooden beams, straw and whatever decorations they please. For instance, one scarecrow built Saturday sported an LSU hat.
The scarecrows will be judged Oct. 2, said Elizabeth McInnis, the Rural Life Museum’s marketing director.
Only four scarecrows were created by Saturday, but McInnis said more than 30 parties have entered the competition.
McInnis said the scarecrow contest was introduced after the museum’s leaders heard of similar contests across the country.
“We thought, ‘Why can’t we do it here?’ ” McInnis said.
McInnis also said Harvest Days is an educational tool as well as an entertainment environment.
“We’re teaching these kids what it was like,” she said.
In addition to the artisans, a group of modern-day Civil War enthusiasts re-enacted the Aug. 5, 1862, Battle of Baton Rouge on a field next to the Rural Life Museum.
The crackle and boom of 19th century military ordnance filled the air as the crowd watched Confederate infantry once again marching against Union soldiers.
Spectators stood behind a rope, the noise of their camera shutters fluttering underneath the boom of firearms.
Confederate troops were trying to push back Union soldiers at Magnolia Cemetery in the real battle, said Keith Bauer, a re-enactor who helped organize the event.
Bauer, who posed as a first sergeant in the Union’s 156th New York Infantry, said he enjoys Civil War re-enactments because of the history lessons they teach.
“Our generations, they don’t know what the Civil War was about,” he said.
Close by the Rural Life Museum, the Burden Horticulture Society hosted a “Pumpkin Patch/Corn Maze Fun Family Weekend” in the corn maze at the Burden Center.
Children and parents went on hayrides and painted pumpkins before wandering through the corn maze and finding even more entertainment at the other end of the maze.
On that side, people launched water balloons at Halloween-themed wooden cutouts, such as a witch and an owl.
The society’s event, like the Harvest Days, continues Sunday from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“The more people come out here, the easier it’ll be to keep it going for generations to come,” said Penny Miller, the Burden Horticulture Society’s chairwoman.