August 22nd is Eliza’s fourth birthday so I’d like to share (brag) about my youngest granddaughter in this month’s blog.
On a recent visit, Eliza and her cousin Beau, got to be pretend soldiers in the Prairietown
Militia. Oh my goodness, I have never seen this little redhead so serious about what she was doing - marching with her wooden musket and parading down the street with the big people. In the newly revitalized Prairietown there is so much more for these young ones to do and learn. They spun the wheel at the Outfitter’s Cart and each picked a “profession” for that day. In the blacksmith shop they matched up correct sized horseshoes with the appropriate shape followed by loading and unloading supplies at Whitaker’s Store. They even got to be on Channel 8 news!
Next we headed to Civil War Journey
. Eliza is learning to spell her name so she always checks the commemorative brick in the sidewalk for all the grandkids names as we approach the Depot. At the outdoor River Crossing Play area
, we float cargo through the locks that we design on the water table and also climb up inside the Alice Dean steamboat. She loves to play store and sell vegetables in the store area. Inside we dress-up and have fun playing with the toy soldiers.
After a while we are on the move again toward the Animal Encounters Barn
, as a visit to Conner Prairie would not be complete without stopping to cuddle all the baby animals. My favorite is our new English Longhorn calf, Bess.
A lot of “isn’t he adorable Mamaw!” and “Mamaw, take my picture with this baby animal” can be heard throughout the barn. I’ll admit it, I’m a sucker. You should see how many pictures I have of these grandkids during their visits to Conner Prairie!
We will all be coming to Headless Horseman
in October – all 12 of us-moms, dads, grandkids and we older folk! It’s a family tradition, we never miss the hayride and all the fun. Please continue to follow the adventures of this lively group of grandkids this fall. We promise to have lots of fun and hope to have you join us at Conner Prairie – Happy #4 Birthday Eliza – Mamaw loves you!
Posted: 8/29/2012 9:03:56 AM
Emma St. Dennis
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Colleen Setchell: Guest Blogger - Travel Writer and Photographer
I held the tomahawk with my right hand and extended it over my right shoulder. With my feet together, I fixed my gaze on my target and then, stepping forward with my right foot, threw it over my shoulder straight towards the target. HIT!
Did I hit a deer? A squirrel, or some other edible creature? No, it was a lump of wood and American Indian Michael Pace was teaching me how to throw a traditional Lenape Indian tomahawk in the Lenape Indian Camp at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.
How wonderful to be here at Conner Prairie on the outskirts of Indianapolis, Indiana. I am from South Africa, and I grew up learning about fierce Zulu warriors who fought against the British and the Boers. Sadly, the only knowledge I had about American Indians and the original settlers in America, was all learned from movies, and let’s face it, we all know how biased they can be.
So, I’ve come here to learn about America in the period from 1823 to 1863. This huge park is split into different sections that enable you to see how life was tackled back in that time period.
I headed straight for the Lenape (also known as Delaware) Indian Camp, where you can learn about the culture of these fascinating people when they lived in this area from 1795 to 1820. In this imitation village, volunteers showed me how to make beaded jewelry, grind corn, build wigwams from Tulip Poplar bark and animal skins (and later sails from sailors), identify animal skins (deer, beaver, raccoons and otters) and my favorite part of all, throw Tomahawks. This was extra special because Michael Pace, who I mentioned earlier, was descended directly from the Delaware Tribe. In traditional dress and with Delaware markings on his face (two bold red lines under each eye drawn up towards the hairline), he spent a while trying to help me perfect my tomahawk throw and telling me about his people.
Tomahawks were used as a tool for building. The skills were learned when the children played games by attempting to throw spears through moving hoops that got smaller as they got older. This helped them develop their hand and eye coordination and helped a great deal when hunting later in life. Boys and girls learned both tomahawk or spear throwing and beading or silverware, and this meant there was never a shortage of skills in a tribe. The Delaware Indians are the 25th largest tribe in America and they still have regular tribal meetings, even though they are now spread over a large area. Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Ontario, Canada, house the main groups. I thanked Michael (my newly learned Lenape meant I could say “Wanishi”) for his time and wealth of information and headed out to explore more of Conner Prairie.
After a short visit to the Conner Homestead, where William Conner, an American trader, interpreter, scout, community leader, entrepreneur and politician, lived, I did a quick detour to the nearby Animal Encounters Barn and petted most of the adorable animals. Then, I arrived in 1836 Prairietown
. I passed signs before the entrance reminding me that I was entering a period where no cell phones, Internet or TV existed. I shuddered at the thought and held my iPhone closer to me.
I had a fascinating talk with the blacksmith about weird and wonderful foods, and he told me all about otters being too fatty to eat, how squirrel tasted like chicken, and how tasty turtle is when it is cut into strips and fried. His apprentice listened in the background while learning how to bend metal in the fire.
I visited Whitaker’s store and watched some children trying to earn money by helping Mr. Whitaker, the store owner. I walked past Dr. Campbell’s office and home and watched the residents teaching visitors old yard games while others played fiddle music in the background.
The sun beat down and the dust covered my feet and flip-flops, and I wondered how the female residents with their long dresses and bonnets managed in the heat. How I loved my shorts and flip-flops now! Pavement wasn’t invented until the 1900s, so I sipped what seemed now to be luxurious bottled water and walked on through the dust.
Around the corner and past McClure’s Carpenter Shop and home, I discovered my chance to live in Prairietown – a cabin for sale – a single story, one-roomed cottage with a bed in one corner and a table and fireplace in the other. I was able to walk inside the cottage, see how the bed was made with rope crisscrossed across a wooden frame and the mattress with a layer of straw covered with a sheet. I thought lovingly of my queen-sized memory foam mattress back home. As cute as the cottage was, I decided that I wouldn’t buy it on this occasion.
A short walk away and over the covered bridge, I entered 1863
and an imitation village attacked during the Civil War. I was greeted by a soldier who called me “Ma’am,” and with his wonderful drawl and accent, I was tempted to ask him to repeat it because it sounded delightful. He directed me to the village store and after more visitors joined us, we were shown a video that was cleverly projected onto the windows and the area behind the counter. That coupled with a real soldier coming in and out, it really felt like we were part of the experience.
“Watch out, they’re coming with guns and trashing the store!” said the soldier.
As if on cue, real shelves fell next to where I was standing and I squealed with fright. I clutched the telegram I was given by the soldier fearfully behind my back as a projection of General John Hunt Morgan confronted us about hiding a telegram. I was thankful and excited when he walked away because I had a small taste of what it must have been like during the Civil War raid on Dupont, Indiana.
My visit was almost over, and I had just enough time to enjoy an ice-cold soda in the Café on the Common and watch the 1859 Balloon Voyage.
This was a memorable visit with loads of interactive things for both adults and kids to take part in. Conner Prairie was a massive learning experience for a foreigner such as myself and a place which I would return to again and again.
Thank you, Conner Prairie, for making American history come alive for me.
Colleen Setchell is a writer, photographer and enthusiastic explorer who's jumped off cliffs in South Africa, dived with sharks in Egypt, been lost in the spice market in Istanbul, and eaten unpronounceable things in Gambia. She calls England home but is an explorer at heart and is at her happiest when she's living out of a suitcase and always excited to see where she'll end up next. Colleen writes about her travel adventures on her blog www.writearoundtheworld.me and currently freelances for various magazines and websites.
Posted: 8/20/2012 10:08:59 AM
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In a record-breaking hot summer, my youth volunteers have had to adapt their activities so they can entertain the guests but not overheat in their period costumes.
Why do they subject themselves to extra sweat and hard work when they could be spending their summer vacations relaxing on the couch in the AC? I asked my youth this as they gathered together in a lively Youth Lounge during their lunch break.
“Because I didn’t know it was going to be so hot when I signed up!” joked Claire, age 12.
Natalie, age 16, said, “Yeah, it’s hot, but I know people are counting on me here. And it’s fun to work with my friends even in hot weather.”
Sabrina, age 16, added, “And there’s always that one guest who asks great questions and makes it all worth it.” For instance, Sabrina spent one day last week rolling muddies (clay marbles) with guests in the shade of the Prairietown
crossroads. “One young girl stayed with me an hour making muddies. Every 20 minutes or so, she’d say to her grandma, ‘just a couple more.’”
Graces, a toss-and-catch game with a beribboned hoop, is also a low-perspiration choice.
But the most popular hot weather pastimes are water games.
, with its water cannons, is a standard part of any summer 1863 Civil War Journey
visit. My Prairietown youth have their own water games. One of these is a period guessing game in which incorrect answers earn you a thimble of water in the face. Some young ladies improve their posture by walking with cups of water balanced on their heads. This often turns into a team race, where the wet losers are actually the winners.
On 100-degree days, my youth lurk around corners with water buckets, waiting to ambush each other. Guests are often enlisted to join in the fray. During Glorious Fourth, the ultimate water battle broke out between Prairietown and Civil War Journey. Guests joined costumed facilitators on both sides of the timeline as they drilled, armed themselves with water guns and an arsenal of water balloons, and went on the attack.
“We used some period-correct military maneuvers,” said Sabrina. “The White River Guard taught us militia drills and marched us to the covered bridge. Then we lined up in military formation with the front row kneeling. The back row aimed water guns between our shoulders.”
The new recruits also followed commands like, “Fire, hold fire, forward march,” and the most important one at the end of the battle, when everyone was soaked, “Surrender your weapon, solider.” Other period military tactics included the use of a barricade.
“We played until my shoes squelched,” said Sabrina.
Strict historians may point out that there is no way 1836 militia men could fight 1863 Union soldiers. Despite my own worries such an event would rip the time-space continuum, just one look at the guests’ reanimated faces told me the fun and relief from the heat outweighed any historic stretching. And I don’t think there’s any doubt that mischievous children through the centuries have enjoyed having water fights.
As the drought has worsened, the water fights have simply moved to our parched gardens.
“They may trample a flower or two,” said our Prairietown garden specialist, “but the water fights save more plants than they lose.”
Such are the necessary casualties of war.
Posted: 8/6/2012 11:58:16 AM
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Pam Jackson - Guest Services
This is turning out to be one of the hottest and driest summers Indiana has experienced in decades. Trees are drooping, grass is brown and crunchy, and our local farmers are doing their best to salvage their crops. I have lived in Indiana over twenty years and I’ve never been this hot, and considering I moved here from Texas, that’s saying a lot!
Guest Services is dedicated to ensuring the safety and comfort of Conner Prairie’s visitors. On days when the temperature nears or exceeds 100 degrees, we are offering complimentary bottles of water. We encourage our guests to take frequent breaks from the heat, not over-exert themselves, and to take advantage of opportunities on the historic grounds to cool off. Café on the Common offers shaded, covered seating and ceiling fans to move the air. 1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana
has a few air-conditioned buildings, plus the water table and water cannons in River Crossing are also there to help cool you and your family. Recently 1836 Prairietown residents have sponsored water gun fights and encouraged guests to get wet when they assist with “chores.”
Here are some common-sense suggestions for visiting an outdoor museum on a disagreeably hot day:
• Arrive early. The grounds open at 10 a.m., and it’s best to take advantage of what Conner Prairie has to offer before the excessive heat arrives in early afternoon.
• Drink lots of water. We hope you will refill your complimentary water bottle frequently from the various locations and water fountains on the grounds.
• Take frequent breaks. Get out of the direct sunlight and visit a cooler area while on the historic grounds. Some suggestions include the Conner Homestead; 1863 Civil War Journey’s Dry Goods Store, River Crossing
, a children’s play area with water tables and water cannons and the historic covered bridge; Café On the Common
; Animal Encounters Barn
Of course, you can always bring the family back inside the air-conditioned comfort of the Welcome Center and enjoy Discovery Station
, Craft Corner
, Science Lab
, and the Conner Prairie Store
One more reminder about this scorching weather. We all know it becomes dangerously hot inside a closed vehicle, and unfortunately our parking lots affords little shade. Service animals are always welcome at Conner Prairie, but please think twice before leaving any animal companions in your vehicle while you visit us. These are the “dog days of summer,” and we want everyone to leave our grounds as happy and exhilarated as when they arrived.
Posted: 7/24/2012 4:00:06 PM
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I have always enjoyed visiting museums and other cultural attractions. When entering a new museum you never know what will be experienced through touch, smell, taste, feel, or what emotional impact will be felt. I have some very fond childhood memories of various museums my family visited. A few experiences in particular stick out.
One of the first museum experiences that I remember was of the Newton County History Museum in Neosho, Missouri, where I grew up. The museum is in the old jail. I always felt the building was kind of creepy. It’s an 1870s Second Empire style building (picture the house in “The Addam’s Family” TV show). Inside was a complete hodgepodge of relics and artifacts from the area. As you got to the top of the stairs to the second story, there was something that has remained with me since that first-grade visit: a Victorian-era child’s coffin. I think that was the first time that I realized that children could actually die, and also that child mortality was something people in the 1800s had to face. Let me tell you, coming face to face with that coffin made an impact.
Thankfully, most of my other museum experiences have not been that traumatic. In fact, my family spent a good deal of the summer of 1980 in Denver, Colorado, while my Grandma was in the hospital undergoing cancer treatments.
My dad and I would visit with her part of the day and then take some diversionary side trips to various museums or the zoo. These trips were a good break from the reality of the hospital and also a wonderful bonding time. The natural history museum to me was particularly fascinating. Seeing dioramas of ice-age animals, fossils of dinosaurs, and other natural curiosities on display brought into perspective in a way nothing else can, the dimension and depth of my childhood imagination.
The Ralph Foster Museum at the School of the Ozarks was perhaps my favorite childhood museum. It really is an eclectic collection of stuff. Everything from a preserved two-headed calf and antique Colt and Winchester firearms from the cowboy era to, best of all, the old jalopy truck from “The Beverly Hillbillies” TV show. That’s right, even down to Granny’s rocking chair. Now how cool is that!
Museums provide not only a connection to the past through artifacts, such as the child’s coffin, but more tangible connections. At the Henry Ford Museum, I actually became the operator of a 1917 turret lathe and I was able to make a brass candlestick to take home (and still have it, by the way)! It was wonderful to get to operate this machine and have the experience in being able to make something with my own hands.
The memory of being able to operate the turret lathe and make something with it to take home has inspired me to want to create experiences where our guests at Conner Prairie can not only get a more in-depth glimpse of a craft or trade but also to create a memento of their visit. In addition to our very popular candle making and basket making activities, we have been experimenting with other “drop-in” type classes and activities.
So far this year, we have made pinch pots and coil pottery at the Barker Brothers shop, made footstools at the McClure Carpenter shop, knitted, taught folks about flint and steel firestarting, and allowed guests to participate in casting pewter to make an early 19th-century trade pendant. These activities are designed to allow a little deeper participation and exploration of these crafts and trades. It is also rewarding to see how well these work as bonding time between parent and child as they work together to craft a memento as well as a memory. Watch for more of these types of activities throughout the season. If you have any feedback or ideas on this, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org
. I would love to hear from you.
I think one of the strong points of Conner Prairie as an interactive history park is the variety of ways that our guests can experience the past. From becoming emotionally immersed in Morgan’s Raid in 1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana
, being able to feel your muscles burn a bit as you pump water at the Gregory well in 1836 Prairietown
, or being able to experience what it is like to fire an 1863 Springfield rifle as part of our BANG! program. These and other activities immerse our guests into Indiana history. Come experience this for yourself, and hey, make a basket while you’re here!
Posted: 7/17/2012 3:38:40 PM
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