An interactive tablet kiosk from the Kiosk Group serves as the centerpiece of a young man’s Eagle Scout Service Project.
By Richard Slawsky contributor
Alex Harrison, a 16-year-old in his junior year at Fairfax High School in Fairfax, Va., has been involved with the Boy Scouts since he was in the first grade. He’s worked his way through the ranks over the past 10 years and is nearing the realization of a dream held by nearly everyone involved in Scouting, becoming an Eagle Scout.
Although the process is a long one, the final stop on the path towards becoming an Eagle Scout is the completion of the Eagle Scout Service Project, an opportunity for a Scout to demonstrate leadership of others while doing something that benefits the community. Under Scouting rules, the project can’t be of a commercial nature or be solely a fundraising effort. In addition, it needs to be something that extends beyond the Scouting organization.
The project Harrison chose would benefit and enhance “Historic Blenheim,” a brick house in the Fairfax area dating back to 1859 that played a prominent role in the area during the Civil War. His idea was to create a 360-degree visual tour of areas of the parts of the house that are inaccessible to visitors and place it, along with still photos and other information, on a tablet kiosk in the Civil War Interpretive Center located adjacent to the house, allowing visitors to the site to experience its entire history.
To help complete his project and clear the path towards becoming an Eagle Scout, Harrison enlisted the assistance of the kiosk industry.
At the time the Civil War broke out in 1861, Historic Blenheim was owned by Albert and Mary Willcoxon. Albert voted for Virginia’s secession from the Union and provided goods from his property to the Confederate Army. The area was known as Fairfax Court House and was held by the Confederates until early March 1862. At this time it came under Union control for the remainder of the war. The Willcoxon farm was occupied by Union soldiers for camping and drilling; it was also used as part of a large field hospital system for sick soldiers.
Soldiers living in the house at the time spent some of their free time drawing games, notes and signatures on its walls using charcoal, graphite and artist’s crayon. Scholars have identified the signatures of 122 Union soldiers from three different time periods in 1862 and 1863. The “diary on walls” provides insight into the life of a Civil War soldier life along with the effect of the war on local residents—such as the Willcoxon family—and free and enslaved people of African descent.
Historic Blenheim was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. Also on the 12-acre site is the Civil War Interpretive Center, opened in 2008. The Center further interprets the site’s history and the Civil War in the greater Fairfax area and includes an illustrated timeline of Civil War events, artifacts that interpret the everyday soldier, biographies of several of the wall signers and temporary displays.
The house is part of the “Northern Virginia Civil War Graffiti Trail,” six sites in Northern Virginia that offer a unique insight into the lives of Civil War soldiers.
Much of the graffiti left on the first-floor walls of Historic Blenheim was covered over by paint and wallpaper over the years, with that covering later removed to reveal the writings underneath. Despite restoration efforts, those inscriptions aren’t very clear and can be difficult to read.
“However, the best graffiti is in the attic and was never covered over,” said Andrea Loewenwarter, historic resource specialist with the Office of Historic Resources in the City of Fairfax.
“The stairwell construction does not allow for tours, so we created a ‘replica attic’ in the shape of the actual attic in our gallery in the Civil War Interpretive Center, with life-size photographs of the names on the walls,” Loewenwarter said. “Unfortunately, it does not include a third room, due to lack of space.”
Kiosk Group comes through
The rank of Eagle Scout is the pinnacle of the Boy Scout hierarchy, and is achieved by only about 4 percent of Scouts. Becoming an Eagle Scout will put Harrison in the company of people such as Neal Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the moon; Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States; and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.
Attaining that rank isn’t an easy process. There are strict requirements for becoming an Eagle Scout, including displaying leadership qualities, displaying the Scout Spirit and earning at least 21 merit badges. Harrison’s project represents the culmination of his Scouting experience.
There was just one missing piece to Harrison’s plan: the kiosk itself.
To raise money for the purchase of a tablet kiosk, Alex held fundraisers including a bake sale with his Boy Scout troop, raising about $580. In addition, the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution donated an additional $200. At that point, he began shopping around for the centerpiece of the project.
“We began looking for kiosks and our beneficiary Andrea (Loewenwarter) did some research and came across Kiosk Group,” Harrison said.
Kiosk Group, based in Frederick, Md., is a privately held company with more than 30 years’ experience in providing interactive kiosks for companies, organizations and government agencies.
“In order to get a kiosk that would fit our budget, we contacted (Kiosk Group CEO) Mike James, who gave us a pretty good price break,” Harrison said.
James provided Kiosk Group’s Standalone Kiosk for a Samsung Tab Pro S 12” tablet. The company also donated a large graphics panel to go with the kiosk and covered the shipping costs to get the components to Fairfax. Kiosk Group also had its in-house artist develop the graphic for the panel.
“This is such a unique way to provide access to parts of a historic building that aren’t otherwise open to visitors,” James said. “When we heard about Alex’s fundraising efforts, we wanted to help make his project a success.”
To round out the project, the IT staff at Fairfax’ Office of Historic Resources provided the tablet that would deliver the content for the project. In addition to providing image access to the portion of the attic that has not been replicated in the Civil War Interpretive Center, the kiosk has also served as a vehicle for long-term planning. Once it is up and running administrators plan to gradually add new material, including a PowerPoint where individual soldier’s signatures and other graffiti will be shown with descriptive information.
“We are so thrilled and grateful for the work that Alex has done to make this become a reality,” Loewenwarter said.
“I have been talking for a while about a virtual tour of the other part of the attic that is not represented in our gallery space,” she said. “This is so much more than we imagined.”
For Harrison, the project will serve as valuable experience and lay the groundwork for his goals of graduating high school and going on to college, possibly pursuing a degree in film production, design or animation.
First, though, he has another goal to complete.
“I just have to turn in my application and hopefully I will be an Eagle Scout by the end of the school year,” he said.
For more information and for assistance with your next Tablet project contact Mike James with Kiosk Group [[email protected]]