JOHNSTOWN - Jake Wesley is a renaissance kid.
The Glebe Street Elementary School fourth-grader is a little too young to be called a renaissance man, but give him time.
His interests are varied, including antiques, old gadgets and the military, but they all revolve around history. He is a member of the Johnstown Historical Society and has volunteered for more than a year as a guide at the Fulton County Historical Society & Museum in Gloversville. He loves antique shows and wants to get into Civil War re-enactments. He says he has an official, authentic uniform for re-enacting. He also knows all about Thomas Edison and says he would like to invent something, someday.
Jake Wesley demonstrates how to use an old telephone while holding a replica in the bedroom of his home in Johnstown.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
Jake Wesley of Johnstown reads an old opera Playbill publication in his bedroom, surrounded by other historical items.
The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan
"I want to share with people," the inquisitive boy said.
At his East Main Street home, his evolving interest in history is encouraged by his proud parents, Gregory and Stacy Wesley. Stacy says her son absorbs and assimilates history as such a common occurrence, it seems to be a "24-hour-per-day" affection.
"It's actually quite amazing. Whoever thinks of a 9-year-old doing all these things?" Gregory Wesley said.
These things not only include his involvement as a museum guide and a historical society member, but Jake likes to collect things. He first noticed his interest when he was in first grade. One of the old things he acquired is
a replica of a 1923-era telephone.
"It was something I found online," Jake explains. "I was looking on Amazon and I found this really cool, old-looking phone."
Through his family, Jake said he met a senior citizen in the area and the man gave him something he used many years ago.
"He showed me a typewriter and I thought it was interesting," Jake said. One of his other prized possessions is an old Cutty Sark clipper ship model he was able to acquire through his grandfather, Bart Cerasuolo, who had it when he was little.
He also owns an old film projector in which users had to feed in 8-millimeter and Super 8 film by hand. The family says he also owns a few modern-day video games that he plays, but a tight reign is kept on video content.
Jake says his favorite period in history is during World War I - the "Great War" from July 1914 to November 1918 that involved all the world's great powers. He said he's especially fascinated to read about the soldiers who fought on the war's "No Man's Land" battlefield in France, one of the bloodiest military operations.
Jake said he accompanied city historian Noel Levee on a tour of the old Colonial Cemetery on East Green Street. The cemetery is the final resting place for many Revolutionary War soldiers.
"He's so interested in history," Levee said. "He's picked up on so many things."
Levee said the Johnstown Historical Society has a World War I helmet with a spike in its collection. He said Jake approached him and explained to the historian more about the helmet.
"He told me how the Germans eventually got rid of that style of helmet, for safety reasons," Levee said.
Fulton County Historical Society board member Richard Ottalagano said Jake Wesley was honored by the board last year for his museum guide work.
"He's a delightful little gentleman," he said.
His mother says he's not officially a Civil War re-enactor yet, but her son has marched in the Gloversville Veterans Day Parade and Broadalbin Christmas Parade in his outfit.
Like many children, Jake learns through the Internet, books and TV. But those close to him say he has an unusually strong interest in all things from the past. His favorite TV channel? No surprise: The History Channel. His favorite subject in school? Social studies and history.
"When I want to know things, I just ask Jake," Stacy Wesley said.
The Wesleys also have a daughter, 11-year-old Kayla, who Stacy Wesley says is very different from her younger brother. She's into horses.
Stacy Wesley said she is a librarian and has found her son's knowledge of old devices helpful to her. For instance, she has worked at the Johnstown Public Library, and Jake has been there to lend his expertise in microfilm operation.
He also has shown a "safe" recreational interest in BB guns, but history is his true passion.
"We don't want to hold it back," Stacy Wesley said. "We absolutely want it to flourish and foster him ... we're no different than other parents."
Jake's current fascination is trying to find a hard-to-find phonograph from another era. He keeps his eye out for old records at auctions.
"He's not ultra-modern," Stacy Wesley said. "He reminds me of someone from another generation."
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.