We asked area students to take us back in time via the written word and they did just that.
We had a good response to the Now Media Group student writing contest, which asked students to pen a story based on the following theme: "Imagine you are a person from times past. Tell us a story about your life." Submitted stories ranged from wars to baseball games to maiden voyages.
The contest was open to third- through eighth-grade students within the area covered by the Elmbrook and Wauwatosa school districts. Stories were limited to 400 words; entries were divided into two age categories, grades three through five, and grades six through eight. The first-place student in each category wins $50.
We received dozens of entries in the younger category; not quite as many for the older students. The following entries were judged to be the best.
Autumn Lee, 13, Grade 7, Wisconsin Hills Middle School
I had rushed into the battle, screaming curses and firing blindly into the smoke. My heart stopped each time I shot, and each time I could hear screams erupt from the enemy. I didn't know which were louder, the bullets or the yelling. I had hidden behind a tree, listening to the gentle whistle of bullets whizzing by. They went as fast as the lives they had killed. Those metal shells had more death inside of them than death himself. It was a dangerous way to live, but I believed in what I was doing.
I stepped out of my shield behind the tree. I looked at the chipped bark and felt a pang in my heart. People weren't the only ones dying in this gruesome war. I went on one knee, trying to see through the mist of the gunshots. A man screamed, falling to the ground on his knees as he was shot … in the heart. I let out a rattling breath, trying hard not to focus on the body next to me. The blood seeped into the ground, turning the ground into a scarlet. The mist rolled over the little plants, not even letting the animals and creatures have a look at the bright sky above the bloody war.
I raised my gun, aiming at generally nothing. As my finger began to itch from its position, I wanted to slam the trigger. Just as I felt like setting my gun aside, the mist cleared and I found myself staring straight at a young man's gun. We faced each other, our hearts beating. He suddenly tensed, preparing to fire. I copied his movements, staring into his tender blue eyes. His blonde hair was plastered to his face.
And then I saw his tears.
And then I saw him fire.
The last thing I could remember was the sound of metal hitting flesh. And then the flash of pain, and then darkness. Thoughts raced through my mind as the seconds flitted away, taking my life down along with them. The feeling of the rifle slipped from my grasp, as did the final breath that indicated I was alive.
I was a slave in the Civil War, fighting for my freedom.
Was death the only way I could become free?
Erica Chen, 12, Grade 7, Pilgrim Park Middle School
One Day of My Life
(June 15, 1869)
I am shaken awake by the ear-splitting noise of guns in the distance. A battle has been on the far hill for 2 days now.
"Karina, Maria, let's go! You don't have all day." mum clamors, as if we couldn't hear her from 30 ft. away at the end up the stairs.
"COMING MUM!" we yell in unison. Slowly, we get up and get dressed. Maria and I traipse down the stairs and take a seat on our chairs and munch down the ham sandwich and milk mom has quickly whipped together for us. Once we finish our breakfast, we go to the bathroom to get ready to do some chores, which is what my life revolves around.
Once we're out the door, Maria and I follow the path down to our little farm. Today we have to milk the cows, get the eggs from the chickens, and pull weeds from the ground.
"Maria, you milk the cows, I get the eggs, ok?" I command my little sister who is just 2 years younger than me. Maria nods and we head to our separate ways. I skip down the trail, into the chicken coop. I reach in and grab a chicken and she flaps her wings like her life depends on it. Feathers fly everywhere and I cough and sputter, trying to get them out of my face. Quickly, I grab all the eggs still laying in the nest and run out. By the time I get back to the farm, I see in the distance that Maria is finishing up milking the cows. And now we have to get rid of the weeds. The milk is splattered on her blue overalls in a pretty pattern. She wipes the sweat off her forehead and comes running over to help me.
I bend down and grab hold of the plant in the ground. Gritting my teeth, I wrap my fingers around the roots. Suddenly, I heave backwards and out of the ground it comes. The dirt where it used to be is all loose, so I pat it down to make it look nice.
Once Maria and I are both done we sit on the granite steps and watch dad fight on the hill. He's fighting for our freedom.
"Dear God, thank you for all you have brought us through. We would really appreciate it if you were able to bring our father safely through this battle and have it end soon. Thank you. Amen," Maria and I pray.
Simon Johnstone, 14, Grade 8, Pilgrim Park Middle School
The Best Day
October 1st, 1903
I glanced out of my bedroom window and looked at the dreary sky. I slid out of bed like a slug and moved lazily toward my closet. Only then did I realize that today was the day I had been waiting for my whole life - the first game of the baseball Championship of the United States! I felt a surge of excitement as I raced from my room to the kitchen where my mom and dad were having breakfast. After breakfast, I put on my best knickers and my dad put on a suit and his bowler hat and we set out.
Dad and I took an electric trolley car to the game at the Huntington Avenue American League Base Ball Grounds. As we got closer, the buzz was electric and everyone was talking about who they thought would win the game. We waited in line, paid $1 each for tickets, and then walked through the big wooden gates into the stadium. We found our seats in the grandstand. As we shared a bottle of sarsaparilla and waited for the game to start, my dad told me he read in the newspaper that the players would be brought to the game in horse-drawn carriages. I watched for them, but didn't see them. What I did see were so many people. More people than I'd ever seen in one place before!
The Pittsburgh Pirates started out fast, scoring 6 runs in the first 4 innings. And then, in the 4th inning, Pittsburgh Pirate, Jimmy Sebring, hit the first home run! Even though it was hit by a player on the other team, the crowd was ecstatic because it was an amazing first. And even though I was rooting for my hometown heroes, the Boston Americans, I still stood up and cheered. We ended up scoring 3 runs in the last three innings but it wasn't enough to stop the Pirates.
In the end, the Pittsburgh Pirates got the first win. But I'm not worried because it's a 9-game series and I think we can pull through. As we walked out of the stadium, I glanced back one last time and took it all in. The realization finally hit me that I was there for the very first baseball Championship of the United States game in history.
Ellana Brown, 10, Grade 4, St. Dominic Catholic School
My Life as Harriet Tubman
When you look up at the stars, what do you see? I see freedom. My Papa told me, when I was little, that those stars lead to freedom. I learned that I, Harriet Tubman, could lead all my people to freedom. I chose to be brave and use the stars as my guide to go north and be free. I didn't just use the stars to escape slavery. Papa also taught me to feel for moss, which grows on the north side of trees. Papa's voice was in my head as I moved silently through the woods at night and wisely took cover during the day. I spent many days covered in mud as I hid in ditches away from the slave hunters.
The stars and glowing lights in windows of brave folks, allowed me to find safe shelters and supplies on the Underground Railroad. As a young slave girl, working in fields and kitchens, I would sneak glances at birds in flight. I wanted to fly; I wanted to be free as a bird. I looked to the stars, to lead me to freedom. Once I escaped slavery, and was free like those birds, I would watch, and I knew my work wasn't finished. With Papa in my head, the stars in the sky, brave folks on the Underground Railroad, and my determined heart, I risked my own freedom so that other slaves could also race to freedom. I became a conductor on the Underground Railroad.
I was called "Moses" to my people. The stars helped to guide me North to freedom nineteen times. The stars also helped three hundred slaves escape North with me. The great and bright stars helped me be a spy in the Civil War. They gave me confidence, to fight through the pain and hurting. Later on, we won the Civil War. A few years later, I saw Mama and Papa again! I have not seen them in years! Those stars in the sky were smiling down at me. After forty years of a happy and exciting life; I was in a nursing home. Kind folks would read me newspapers. I was interested about what was going on in the world. Those stars were always in my dreams, every single night. When I see the stars, I see freedom. What do you see?
Sridhar Thiru, 10, Grade 5, Brookfield Academy
The Brave Spartan
It was hot and stuffy inside the wooden horse. My Spartan companions stood in silence waiting for the Trojans to accept the gift. The idea was brilliant and designed by the wise Ulysses. The massive gates creaked and groaned signaling entrance into Troy. Everybody tensed in silence. We knew that this would be the deciding factor of the war. In an excited tone, King Priam exclaimed, "Alas, the Greeks have departed, but have left us a gift." The Trojans started to celebrate. I sighed with relief from inside the horse and prepared to carry out our surprise attack. The Trojans drank heavily, ate merrily, and eventually fell asleep. Hours later, Ulysses gave the signal, and our ambush began.
We nimbly crept from the horse. Our footsteps were imperceptible, as we clutched our swords and scattered about the beautiful city. The guards were asleep on the walls and on the ground. A fellow soldier slew two sleeping watchmen to assure that we would not be seen. Someone tapped my shoulder, and I ventured onward only to come upon a soldier who seemed to be waking. I quickly silenced him with one deft motion of my sword. I signaled my comrades to finish off the city before the opportunity for swift victory escaped us. We set out envisioning certain victory.
Suddenly, one of the watchmen caught sight of us. Bells of alarm began ringing, and the Trojan army sprang to action. Clang! The first swords clashed. The war was vicious. Both sides fought valiantly and ferociously. I met up with my friend, Radris, and we went to work skewering from behind. Dust clouded the air and then, Bam! I fell and everything went black.
When I came to my senses, I snapped to my feet. The war was still raging on around me. I rejoined Radris, and we hunted for our next victim. A soldier jumped out and stabbed my friend. I sliced the menace in half. I attacked with no mercy. I saw Ulysses sprinting out with Helen from the kingdom. An arrow streaked past me whizzing straight at her. I jumped, let the arrow sink through my armor and into my heart, and landed at Ulysses's feet. "Ulysses," I cried, "Take her to Menelaus and give my death a noble purpose." With those words, I breathed my last.
Madeline Lund, 11, Grade 5, Brookfield Academy
The Glories and Tragedies of Ellis Island
Papa was right. Ellis Island was larger than any house I have known. Since Poland was not safe for us anymore, we scraped together what we had and sent Papa here. Letters from him told us of glories and tragedies on Ellis Island.
Mama, Eleanor, and I were on the third class deck. Eleanor asked Mama why the first and second class people did not have to go to Ellis Island, and Mama replied grimly that they were better than us. She then told us that we were lucky that we were not the colored slaves on the boat beside ours. I wondered why there were levels of people. Did not Papa say that the Creator made us all? If so, why were some people better?
We were led off the boat. Mama had a hunched back from worrying so much. I was worrying that the picky inspectors would take her to the doomed hospital wing. She would have a terrible chance of making it to the New World. Mama said I worry too much for an eleven-year-old. What was an eleven-year-old like me supposed to do? Sew? Cook? I dreamed of a life when women would be equal to men and colored would be equal to whites. Maybe the New World had that.
We walked up the dreaded staircase. Women fell next to us. The inspectors marked them with chalk letters, and I shuddered. If Eleanor or Mama left me, what would I do? Papa would never be able to console me. Mama took a reading test while Eleanor and I were taken to a place where people's eyelids were pulled up with a button hook. When Mama was returned to us, she had a chalky "E" on her tattered blouse. Mama was going to go back to Poland! She consoled us and told us she would not be returning to Poland but to the hospital wing.
Eleanor was only eight but she sensed the death sentence here. We kept moving towards the exit doors while Mama went into the hospital wing. One last long line. Inspectors were checking for lice! Eleanor knew what that meant. She started to cry knowing that she would be with Mama in the hospital wing. I passed the test! Papa and I cried once I reached his arms.