Molding Iron

When you step into Naper Settlement you step back in time. The sights, smells, and sounds bring you back to the 19th Century. But the ding, ding, ding from the Blacksmith Shop is a sound that sticks out a little more than others.

Long before hardware stores, people had to get anything made with metal from a Blacksmith. Visitors at Naper Settlement can see firsthand how to mold hard iron into things like hooks and candle holders.

“Anything you can think of, if it’s made of iron, the blacksmith had to make it,” said Ernie Klapmeier, a Museum Educator and Blacksmith at the Settlement. “You can come in and say ‘Mr. Blacksmith, I need hinges for a door,’ and he’d say, ‘how many, what size?’ You need a plow, he makes it for you. Anything you can think of that’s made of iron, he can make for you. Even if he’s never made it before.”

Klapmeier came to Naper Settlement in 2006 because he loved history and said learning how to become a blacksmith was just an added bonus.

“This is a guy’s place. We’re playing with fire and we’re pounding on stuff all day. It doesn’t get any better than that,” said Klapmeier.

Back in the 1800’s blacksmithing may have been only a man’s job, but today women can do it too.

“We had a wonderful blacksmith woman who used to volunteer here and she taught me a few things. Anybody who enjoys working with their hands and doesn’t mind getting dirty and smelly can do this job,” said Klapmeier.

Klapmeier shows both kids and adults how to make anything and everything from the iron. He even offers classes to residents and trains up and coming museum educators like Building Interpreter Jason Kruski.

“It is a lot harder than it looks. I pick up the hammer and I try and it’s like, ’wow this is a lot harder than it looks.’ It takes a lot to make the metal smooth and look nice and sell,” said Kruski.

Even though Klapmeier doesn’t plan on leaving the Settlement any time soon, he does say he has plans to continue blacksmithing until the day he dies. But he may need to find a place to do it.

“I brought home an educational DVD and I’m sitting there and taking notes and my wife comes down and she’s reading and she throws the newspaper down and she goes ‘how can you stand that?’ I said ‘what?’ She says, ‘how can you stand that?’ I said ‘what?’ ‘The pounding.’ All she heard was the ding, ding, ding, ding, while I see all the stuff they’re doing. So I guess that means I won’t be blacksmithing in my garage.”

Klapmeier’s next class isn’t until April, but you can find him at Naper Settlement Tuesdays through Sundays until October.


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