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

There is something primal about the art of storytelling. Just like the effect that the smell of fresh-baked bread or staring into a campfire can have on the human spirit, there’s something magical about the power of a story well told. I was lucky enough to witness this magic over and over again during Conner Prairie’s ‘Stories, Tales, and Yarns” event. I, myself, got to be a storyteller at that event, and while I like the buzz I get from successfully telling good stories, I love watching what my audience goes through during the story. I try my best to evoke as much emotion and action with my own face and body, and in return, the audience mirrors back to me their reactions. I have to admit that I take an undue amount of pleasure in tweaking my approach to get a specific reaction.

Let me give you an example. During the program, I told a story called “Jack and the Varmints.” It stars the same Jack as in “Jack and the Beanstalk,” only this time, Jack’s boastful nature gets him in trouble. The King hires Jack to get rid of some ferocious creatures who have been plaguing the kingdom. Jack lucks his way through getting rid of the first two, and then faces his biggest challenge of all. At this point, I usoften my voice as I verbally paint the picture of what Jack is in for. The families in my audience usually start to lean a little bit forward as I say:

“The king brought Jack to the mouth of a big dark cave where the horrible monster lived. There were bits and pieces of bones scattered around the cave, left over from the monster’s many meals.”

I see several youngsters reflexively cuddle deeper into their parents’ sides, instinctively pulling their hands in towards their chests, and their parents’ squeeze their shoulders in return. I break the tension by pausing for a moment to pose a question, putting the children’s imaginations to good use, rather than letting them run wild.

“Can you guess what kind of monster lived in that cave?” Pause. The audience blinks, as the spell is briefly broken. “What kind of big, scary, monster might live in a cave?”

I see a few supportive parents bend slightly to whisper ideas into their children’s ears.

“A bear?!” a little brunette girl shouts pensively from the fourth row.

“That’s exactly right!” I crow. In fact, anything would have been exactly right, but bears are particularly appropriate for this story. So, I start casting my spell again, embellishing the bear. “That’s right – a big, grumpy, hungry bear lived in that cave. It was the sort of bear that if it caught event the slightest whiff of you being near by would come running to gobble you up!”

Several sets of eyeballs, both youth and adult, widen in response to the imagery.

“The king was too scared to stay behind and watch what would happen, so he left poor little Jack there all alone, standing in front of that big, dark cave. Jack didn’t know what else to do, so he climbed up on top of the mouth of the cave.“

I climb up on the step in the Meeting House and act like Jack, leaning forward and straining to peer into the cave, while on top of it.

“Jack leaned over to look into the cave. He couldn’t see anything, but he could hear something waaaay back in the in back of the cave.”

I stomp one foot on the floor, then the other, like a very large, slow zombie.

“He could hear the bear’s great big paws pounding on the floor of the cave as he drew nearer. And he could hear – grrrrrrrr – the bear starting to growl. And he could hear – sniff, sniff – the bear sniffing the air to smell him.”

Stomp, stomp stomp. Members of my audience lean back just a little bit, as if trying to make Jack step back from the cave. I contort my face in an effort to look like an angry grizzly bear.

“That bear got closer and closer, and louder and louder, and Jack got more and more scared. Finally – grrrRRRRrrr – the bear was right at the mouth of the cave and Jack could see the bear’s nose just starting to stick out from the edge of the cave, and Jack is leaning so far out over the mouth of the cave that all of a sudden -“

I stumble off the edge of the step and pretend to fall down. A few of the kids in the audience jump a little bit. One or two parents chuckle, realizing where this is going.

“ – Jack falls off the mouth of the cave and lands – SMACK- right on the bear’s back!!! Now, Jack is riding that great big bear!”

Eyebrows on almost every face in my audience go up in surprise. A few sets of eyes begin to sparkle and the corners of mouths start to turn up in amused, if slightly worried, smiles. I begin to jump around, as if riding a bear.

“So now, Jack is RIDING this enormous, angry bear. And he doesn’t know what else to do, so he grabs the bear by the ears. And the bear rears up and tries to throw him off. The bear jumps and runs and claws at the air, like a big, furry bronco trying to get Jack off his back, but Jack holds on fast . . ."

The story continues on this way, until Jack finally saves the day and gets his just desserts. I can see all the tension that my audience members had been keeping in their faces and shoulders as they worried about Jack’s safety melt away as it becomes clear that this is one of those stories that ends with ‘happily ever after.” The faces of several children in the group begin to shine with big, bright smiles, and if I’ve done my job correctly, these children will leave the Meeting House pretending to ride a bear for themselves. I see several parents smiling warmly, very satisfied with the 15 minutes they spent with me, where, with only the power of my own voice, I was able to transport them to another place and time.

It’s no wonder that storytelling has continued to be such an important part of the human experience. Whether it’s movies, comic books, YouTube clips, or bedtime stories about when Daddy was a little boy, they allow us to live through adventures both amazing and terrifying, while remaining safely beside those we care about most. They let us use greatest assets – our limitless imaginations – to their fullest extent. And they’re just plain fun. So next time you’re here at Conner Prairie, be sure to stop by the Lenape Camp, or the Blacksmith’s shop, or History Science Theater to enjoy all that Storytelling here at Conner Prairie has to offer!

Posted: 7/30/2009 4:56:20 PM by | with 0 comments

A behind the scenes look at Opening Weekend.

To see more photographs of Opening Weekend, check out our Facebook Fan Page.

Posted: 4/6/2009 11:57:59 PM by | with 0 comments

This is a competitive blog team! First, you have Adam with his in-depth "Experience" experience. Then, there's Jenny, a writer, who has wizard-level video skills. Soon there will be others. I spend the majority of my time updating web pages, fixing code, working on our social media presence and heading up this blog. Sometimes you'll find me with my camera documenting what's going on around the Prairie...that's what I'm using for my today's blog.

Editors Note: The switch to the new website was moved to April 8th. After previewing the site, I can now guarantee its spectacularness!

Posted: 4/1/2009 11:55:39 PM by | with 0 comments

Construction at the 1859 Balloon Voyage site

We are starting a new staff blog with the launch of the new

Let me get this rolling with an introduction. This is Jamie Hastings-Smith, Marketing Technology Specialist and lackluster blogger extraordinaire. My background is in IT, higher ed, and standard geekery. I started here in November and its been a whirlwind ride.

I had never visited the museum as a guest. So, I feel like I get the 'behind the scenes' everyday and I want to share that with you.

You can also check out more on Facebook and Twitter

Posted: 3/20/2009 2:37:11 PM by | with 0 comments

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