The Guthrie household is a museum.
At least, that’s how Evelyn Guthrie, wife of Dr. William Guthrie, describes their home. The pair has traveled with their family to all seven continents, bringing back multitudes of traditional masks and other souvenirs from as far away as Saudi Arabia.
But perhaps the most striking of all the collectibles are the things from right in their own back yard. Guthrie has an extensive Lenape artifact collection that is the result of his lifelong passion for the local native people.
While Guthrie is not of Lenape descent himself, he has still found a deep connection with the culture. It all began when he was was only 14 and working on staff at Camp Pahaquarra, formerly located by the Delaware Water Gap. His director approached him regarding an interesting visitor who was coming to the camp. This visitor, a Native American man from out west, taught Guthrie native songs and dances that Guthrie in turn taught to his campers. From there a love of the Lenape was born.
Guthrie took his interest to the books, studying and learning as much as he could. He then traveled to Oklahoma, where he studied with a Lenape woman named Nora Dean Thompson. Thompson’s Lenape name was Wenjipahkeehlehkwe, meaning “Touching Leaves Woman.” At the time, she was one of the last remaining speakers of the Lenape language as well as a healer and an herbalist.
Now, decades later, Guthrie has taken his knowledge on the road.
“I worked a long time, but I still feel healthy and energetic so I still speak at schools and libraries on the Lenape,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie was a college professor, now professor emerutis, at Rider University, where he taught Teaching Science and Math from 1965 until 2011. He was also the associate dean in the undergraduate and graduate studies in the School of Education. Before becoming a professor, Guthrie taught physics and math at Hopewell Valley Regional High School. He was also the state supervisor of science and math at the state department of education for six years. In total, he spent 54 years in education.
His teaching skills come in handy when he speaks to local school children. At these talks, Guthrie dresses in a traditional bearskin costume and mask of M’sing Hawlikin. This person, according to Lenape culture, would dress up and run into town to chase after children. Well-behaved children would give M’sing Hawlikin a gift.
“It was like Santa Claus in reverse,” Guthrie said.
Unfortunately, the bad children would have excrement rubbed in their hair. Luckily, Guthrie does not demonstrate this aspect of the story.
M’sing Hawlikin initiated the biggest celebration of the year, the Gamwing, which is similar to our Thanksgiving. A sculpture of the bearskin-wearing man’s face would be in the center of the Lenape’s “big house”, similar to a present day church.
The Guthries say the children love to see and touch the rattles and instruments, as well as see the bearskin outfit, while they hear stories of the Lenape.
“As educators, we know the more senses you can involve, the better,” said Evelyn, a former physical education teacher in Hopewell.
“Kids handle them and get an idea of what it was like here a long time ago,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie’s impressive collection of Lenape artifacts ranges from arrowheads to spearpoints, turtle shell rattles, masks and moccasins.
“Over the years things have come to me one way or another. People have given them to me, or I purchase them from farmers,” Guthrie said.
He has learned to make these tools himself. Guthrie can set an original Lenape stone in a wooden hickory handle to make a hammer, much like what would have been done 300 years ago. He has also made deer skin satchels, complete with woven porcupine quill decorations. He has even carved M’sing Hawlikin’s likeness into an old wooden barn beam and whittled a working flute out of red cedar.
“I try things out myself,” Guthrie said. “I do a lot of research on how things were used.”
Evelyn said their three grandchildren find their grandfather’s passion very interesting, especially when he comes to speak at one of their schools in Hopewell.
“They feel very special about that,” Evelyn said.
And they should, because not everyone’s grandfather can do everything that Guthrie does.