Naper Settlement blacksmith finds new calling

Greg Merriam admits that in his former career working in loss control for an insurance agency, he never would have insured anyone doing what he’s doing now.

That’s because Merriam spends his days playing with fire. And sledgehammers. And iron.

As a volunteer blacksmith at Naper Settlement in Naperville, Merriam keeps creating nail hooks or railroad spikes, all the while explaining to visitors the history of the profession. Recently, Chicago Parent spent some time watching and talking to Merriam about his work.

How did you learn to be a blacksmith?

We have veteran blacksmiths on the premises … who are good, excellent support to learn the history and trade. You watch for a while and then you pick up a sledgehammer and pound some iron, just like how blacksmiths learned 100 or 150 years ago.

What do you make?

We make things that we can typically make in a short amount of time so kids can see the whole process. So we’ll make a nail hook with a little hook to hang a hat on. In a one-room log cabin, that’s your closet. We’re talking about tools this year, so we’ll make a screwdriver for them. We give them the history of blacksmithing and tie it into the Settlement and the history of Naperville and Illinois.

What kind of reactions do you get from kids?

There are all kinds of questions. Why do all horses have horseshoes? Do you make swords? Where does the iron come from? Where does coal come from? So I’m learning all the time. I come home almost every session and Google things.

What’s the best part of the job?

I enjoy all of it. The interaction with the children and to make a child smile. The light goes on and he or she relates and has a better appreciation for history. And the adults come in during the summer and they have deeper thoughts and questions and share their experiences with you.

It’s been a hoot and I’m continually learning.

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