Staff Blog

The opinions, ideas and viewpoints expressed by the author of this post, on this web site, do not necessarily reflect the opinions, ideas, viewpoints or plans of Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.

Today, I’m going to share a few ideas I’ve had – or at least been a part of – in the last year or so. One of my favorite parts of my job is to come up with new, creative ideas. As part of the Experience Division at Conner Prairie, we want to design experiences that will have an emotional impact on guests. Whether it be an “aha!” moment, a “wow!” moment, or an “aw, that’s cute” moment, I want to be creative, clever, and effective. I personally look in a variety of places for inspiration – Google’s innovative use of technology, Pixar’s masterful storytelling, Disney’s brilliant Imagineering, and social performance-art groups like Improv Everywhere for out-of-the-box inspiration.

Here are a few ideas I’ve had for Conner Prairie.
Note: these are not necessarily plans that are moving forward, or even ideas that have been seriously considered by the powers-that-be. Just ideas and inspiration.

Water Gun Battle Reenactment

I borrowed this idea from a flash mob type group – this would be our premise: Instead of our staff doing the reenacting of history, the guests take the spotlight. On a hot summer day, guests would be divided into two camps. Each guest would be armed with water guns, water cannons, water balloons – all Nerf-ed out. A few “military commanders” would train the guests-turned-troops on 19th century infantry skills – marching, firing formations, etc. A few rousing “but they will never take our Freedom!” speeches would be given before the two camps, (maybe North v. South?) meet on the battle field. And then, water would fly.

Seriously, how much fun would it be to put guests, safely, in the center of the battle reenactment?

Colonial House: Conner Prairie

This idea was taken from the PBS show, “Colonial House,” an exercise in vicarious "experiential history" in which several people are put in the situation of surviving in the realistic setting of the original Plymouth Colony (circa 1628). Maybe we change the name to “Prairie House” to be more accurate – but imagine taking a random 15 folks from the Indy area to live in/around Prairietown and living by the standards of 1836, all-the-while being filmed, for a month.

Celebrating Jazz History

Conner Prairie recently became the first (and only) Affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. It means we can collaborate on projects, have objects on loan, etc. etc.

In April, the Smithsonian leads a national celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM). They encourage all of their Affiliates to join in on the celebration. So how would Conner Prairie celebrate this? By stepping into the early 20th century.

Imagine that a portion of the CP Welcome Center is turned into a 1920s or 1940s jazz club – local Indianapolis jazz acts could provide the music, we put some of our interpreters into the appropriate garb. How about guests get in for half-price by dressing the part themselves? Maybe we offer swing dance lessons in the week or two leading up. Maybe we make it into an entire jazz festival, full of high school groups, Indy jazz standouts, and appearances from actors representing Indiana jazz greats Wes Montgomery, Hoagy Carmichael, JJ Johnson, or Cole Porter?

I would have loved to experience the golden age of Jazz. This could be our chance to recreate it. Full of flappers, swingin’ notes, and simple sophistication.

So, those are just a few of my thoughts.

Our mission is to “inspire curiosity and foster learning about Indiana’s past by providing engaging, individualized, and unique experiences.”

What crazy ideas do you have for Conner Prairie? Send me your ideas -

Posted: 8/5/2009 10:18:14 AM by | with 0 comments

This coming Monday marks the 40th anniversary of what I consider to be one of mankind’s greatest achievements. On June 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong became the first human to ever set foot on the moon. And at this past Science Saturday, I asked the question: “Where were you when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon?” While each person told of a individual experience and a personal story, they all held the same tone -that is was a truly historic event that demanded attention and observation. Some of our guests who were children and teenagers then told me whose house they were at, what they had for lunch, and how their mother responded. An estimated 500 million people worldwide watched this event live on television. Consider just for a minute how many people had televisions in 1969. I’m sure millions more listened on the radio.

I loved hearing the stories of people who had lived through that event because I wasn’t there to experience it for myself – I have no idea what it is like to experience the first man flying to the moon. And then it struck me: every single person is an example of living history, a source of experience and knowledge. What my grandparents experienced in the Depression is something they know intimately, with stories and facts and emotions all twisted together and presented more authentically than Wikipedia ever will.

Ask the question “Where were you when…?”, but change the event:

Where were you when John F. Kennedy was assassinated?

Where were you when John Lennon or Ronald Reagan were shot?

Where were you on 9/11?

As an individual, think about what you have experienced in your lifetime. You are living history and the generations to come will look to you, to me, to us for an understanding and for a glimpse into the recent and not-so-recent past. Places like Conner Prairie are important because they help tell the stories and share the experience of times where no one living experienced them first hand. It’s an important role, to carry on the history that otherwise is seemingly foreign to the average person. Yet, still there is so much to learn from the individual:

Where were you when the Gulf War started?

Where did you first use the internet?

Where were you when the Indianapolis Colts won the Super Bowl?

Where were you when Barack Obama was elected President?

Where were you when you got your first text message?

Just yesterday, the Space Shuttle Endeavor lifted off into space for its 22nd mission (and with Hoosier David Wolf onboard). The United States has sent more than 150 manned missions into space and four unmanned beyond our Solar System. I doubt most of us gave it any thought at all yesterday – but just 40 short years ago, launching men into space was essentially beyond belief. It was the amazement of the entire planet and it was a moment that everyone wanted to remember because they knew they were in the midst of a truly historic moment. How many people will remember July 15, 2009 as anything other than a random date? Time moves quickly, and living history fades almost as quickly. So the question is, what history have you experienced? What history do you need to share with your kids, with your community? What questions do we need to ask the generations that have come before us before we lose their perspective and experience?


Posted: 7/16/2009 3:48:51 PM by | with 0 comments

Country Fair
By Adam Bouse

This isn’t a commercial, I promise. But the food at the new Café on the Common is … delicious!

As a Hoosier, I know a thing or two about eating. Having been to my fair share of church luncheons, I know a thing or two about potlucks. But, honestly, I hadn’t truly eaten until I came to Conner Prairie. Working in 1886 Liberty Corner, I was introduced to this idea of “freshly picked food.” I don’t know if you’ve ever had any fresh food, but it doesn’t taste anything like fake food from the grocery store. And my food palette dramatically increased: pickled beats, rice pudding, blackberry mush – the list goes on and on. I even made bread pudding at home the other day, on my day off, using some of the tricks of the trade I’ve learned here. A touch of Olde Timey cooking, a dash of America’s Test Kitchen.

Of course, on major event days at Conner Prairie (like Glorious Fourth and Country Fair), we have giant turkey legs and corn on the cob and bratwurst with sauerkraut. Transylvanian Sweet Chimney Bread. Kettle Corn. Are you hungry yet?

The Café has apple dumplings with the best custard I’ve ever tasted. Great sandwiches, too. On special days, guests are able to “taste the past” by eating gingerbread or cornbread in the historic areas (secret touch from the past: add a bit of brown sugar to your cornbread. You can thank me later). Of course, it’s impossible to top the Hearthside Supper program during the winter.

Again, this isn’t a commercial – it’s just lunchtime and I’m a Hoosier. And it just turns out there are some great eats at Conner Prairie.
Posted: 6/12/2009 9:51:07 AM by | with 0 comments

After 18 solid hours of work…

With our 5 man international crew leading the way…

With our 6 person Conner Prairie balloon crew…

With 60+ amazing volunteers…

With 372 bags of sand (45 lbs. each)…

With 210,000 cubic feet of helium…

Conner Prairie has successfully inflated a giant, tethered balloon for our 1859 Balloon Voyage! In fact, tied with a few others, this is the biggest passenger gas balloon in the world - there are none bigger. And we get to have one right here our the backyard.

Inflation day was amazing. We started at 8 am and worked until a little past midnight. The weather was absolutely perfect – sunny with little wind and 70 degrees. Honestly, we couldn’t have asked for better weather. Everyone has definitely been sore from all of the lifting and pulling and pushing, but it was worth it. The sight of the balloon from the Allisonville Road, from the Welcome Center, from the prairie, it is so impressive and awesome.

Many of us have put in almost 40 hours in the last three days - after inflation, we completed the assembly of the system and began our on-site training. I want to specifically thank the international crew from Aerophile (the manufacturer) for their expertise, wisdom, and patience as they guided us through the process. Two Frenchmen, Erik and Jacques; two Germans, Michael and Johannes; and one Englishman, Gary. They have been fabulous and we certainly couldn't have accomplished any of it without them. They, too,  have been very pleased with Conner Prairie. Installation at other sites has taken up to 2 weeks, but we've been able to accomplish it in just three or four days. Gary will be with us for the next two weeks, training all of our staff to safely and flawlessly operate this absolutely unique operation.

If you haven't been out to see it, or at least drive by, please do! We'd love to show it off and talk about it until the cows come home. The next two weeks will be filled with training, as well as the installation of the interactive exhibit that will tell the story of John Wise's historic flight in 1859, the entire inspiration for our experience. We can't wait to share that story and cap it off with a breathtaking view of the the prairie from 350 ft.

I've learned a lot of unique skills since coming to Conner Prairie three years ago - milking cows, plowing fields, how to operate a 19th century electrostatic machine - but learning to fly a giant tethered balloon takes it to new heights.

June 6 is the Grand Opening. Hope to see you in the skies very soon!


Posted: 5/8/2009 9:03:12 AM by | with 0 comments

One of the most exciting things about spring, at Conner Prairie and elsewhere, is fresh food growing in the garden! Who doesn't love the first bowl of fresh strawberries or blueberries each year?!

Now, I'll admit that I've always hated peas, asparagus, and lima beans. But when I first tasted them fresh from the Liberty Corner garden, I quickly realized that what I was eating out of a can or from a frozen bag were not actually peas or limas - blech!. I was so naive - EVERYTHING tastes better fresh from the garden.

My favorite thing, the food I look forward to most in the early spring is a fresh-from-the-oven rhubarb pie! Mmmmm!

I was just recently reading that seed companies all over the country are reporting between 20 and 30% higher sales - people want to spend less on food these days, they want to eat fresh, and it feels so good to grow your own food! The Indy Star just had an article giving tips for starting your own garden. And now is the best time to start - from now until mid-May, you can get great results that you can take to the kitchen!

At Conner Prairie, we have SEVEN fully-functional gardens in the historic areas. Opening Day is Thursday, April 2. And over the next few weeks, anybody is more than welcome to come and help start the season by taking part in planting the gardens.

Here's the garden plan for 1886 Liberty Corner:

Liberty Corner garden plan


What are you growing in your garden? What are your favorite spring foods fresh from the garden?

Posted: 3/30/2009 11:54:09 PM by | with 0 comments

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