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JUNIOR HISTORIAN: McCaffrey’s grandson dives in to history at BCHS
Gratian McCaffery
Eight-year-old Gratian McCaffery of Ellinwood explains the stories behind items in the Barton County Historical Society Musem’s B-29 exhibit. Gratian’s grandmother, Linda McCaffery, a retired BCC history and anthropology teacher, works at the musuem, and Gratian helps her at work while he’s out of school during the summer. - photo by Daniel Kiewel

For eight-year-old Gratian McCaffery, a passion for history runs in the family. Now he’s putting that passion to work helping his grandmother at the Barton County Historical Society.

Gratian’s grandmother is longtime Barton Community College history and anthropology teacher Linda McCaffery. Linda has been working with the BCHS for about the last eight months, helping the museum sort through and organize its backlog of collections and improving inventory and storage procedures.

Gracian’s parents are Linda’s son, Aaron McCaffery, and his wife Renee. They live just down the street from Linda in Ellinwood. Gratian enjoys helping his grandmother with her work at the historical society. He is headed into third grade at St. Joseph Catholic School in Ellinwood. He started helping after attending a Christmas party at the museum with Linda last year. Over the summer he has regularly spent two to three afternoons a week traveling with Linda to the museum.

Linda said she enjoys having Gratian work with her. “It’s just so fun to be around his enthusiasm and all of the questions (he asks).”

Of her six grandchildren, Gratian is the only one that has truly shown an interest in history, Linda said. She frequently watches historical documentaries with him.

Donning white cloth gloves, just like his grandmother, Gratian proudly helped show off many of the museum’s historical artifacts, paying particular attention to early 20th Century military uniforms, canteens, helmets and sabers.

Linda said he has helped clean many of the World War I and II era helmets that still reside in museum’s collection storage era. He loves to recount many of the stories that accompany the museum’s artifacts.

“Every time I come here, I like to check on these suits (military uniforms),” Gratian said. 

Gracian said his favorite historical subject is World War II. As he showed off his favorite exhibits at the museum from that era, he was able to recount the story of Medal of Honor winner Desmond Doss, the subject of the movie “Hacksaw Ridge.” Doss was a pacifist who became a combat medic and gained notoriety by saving many of his comrades without use of a firearm.

The young historian especially enjoys dressing up in period military attire, including uniforms and helmets. He is passionate about the U.S.’s wartime history.

He also eagerly discussed local artifacts such as a B-29 training bomb from the Great Bend Army Airfield, as well as uniforms worn by local veterans, and a makeup powder case in the shape of a uniform helmet. He is clear that he is not, however, a fan of the “creepy” mannequins that reside in the museum’s attic.

In this, Gratian is much like Linda. Both eagerly and passionately recount stories attached to the museum’s displays. For each of them, history is not just about artifacts or words in a book. It’s about getting to know the people that lived those stories, and what their daily lives were like.

Gratian’s name even speaks to the family’s passion for history. His namesake was Emperor of the Western Roman Empire in the late 4th Century C.E., ruling over the empire for 16 years until his passing in 383 C.E.

Gratian McCaffery - 2
Eight-year-old Gratian McCaffery of Ellinwood shows off one of the Barton County Historical Society Museum’s stored collections, an early 20th Century toy dirigible. - photo by Daniel Kiewel