Participants in the MAH’s third annual Race Through Time explore local history
Two women and three children stood in the middle of El Palomar’s crowded dining room, taking a headcount of the Aztecs who barter leisurely inside a large painting on the restaurant’s wall.
Normally, such behavior might seem strange—especially considering all five were made up to look like butterflies. Last Friday, Sept. 20, however, one diner had seen enough other groups doing the same to guess exactly what was going on. She turned to the group and asked, “Are you on a scavenger hunt?”
This scene was followed by many more like it as the Midtown Monarchs navigated the Race Through Time, an event put on by the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (MAH). The race had several teams of up to five (mostly costumed) Santa Cruzans zipping around town on bike or foot, guided by cryptic clues to areas of historical interest.
The building that now houses El Palomar, for example, was a historic hotel constructed in the 1920s, and the first building in the area to rise over three stories high. Once they figured out locations based on the clues, each team was required to bring back proof that they’d actually been there—hence the head counting in the El Palomar painting. The teams received points for each clue successfully solved, with the winners taking home prizes ranging from free MAH memberships to bizarre, grandmotherly hats.
Nora Grant, the MAH’s community programs coordinator and a co-organizer of the event, says it was conceived as a tactile and active way for participants to engage with Santa Cruz’s colorful past.
“A lot of people tend to think of history as something you read in a stuffy book somewhere,” Grant says. “But we want to remind people that it’s a living presence, that it’s part of our everyday landscape. This was a way to bring history to life, a way to bring it to bikes, to feet.”
For the Midtown Monarchs, the event was indeed a chance to learn a bit more about the place they call home, but also a chance to enjoy some quality time with friends and family.
“I thought it would be a fun way to get to know our town,” said Jennifer Cosby, one of the two women who led the Monarchs through the race. “And hopefully the kids learn something by accident along the way.”
Filling out the Monarch’s lineup was Cosby’s son Hayden, along with friend Nicolle Schmidt and her two children, Silvee and Jude. With the girls decked out in butterfly wings and hairpins and the boys wearing matching orange wigs, the team made quite an impression as they walked the downtown streets, frantically trying to make sense of the clues.
“Make record speed by spinning into this hip hangout … ” muttered Cosby, looking back as she read a clue to make sure the kids hadn’t fallen too far behind. “Oh! Streetlight! Kids, quick, this way!”
At 7:05 p.m., 25 minutes before the end of the race, Cosby puzzled aloud over one of the last clues. Hayden and Jude perfected a secret handshake ending in an explosion of jazz hands and an impassioned cry of “Afro-Powah!”
After a few more mad dashes to spots such as the former house of a famous silver screen actress and the old Santa Cruz Sentinel headquarters, the Monarchs were forced to cut their losses and sprint back to the MAH. The kids drank soda and the adults sipped wine as the winners were announced. With a score of 170 points out of 200, the Monarchs took home the bronze.