1. Decorations that get you into the holiday spirit
Starting at the beginning of December, giant gingerbread men and wintery hanging decorations appeared throughout the Welcome Center. Even though temperatures outside were not seasonal, here at Conner Prairie, “elves” were busy making the season bright. My favorite decorations are the giant wrapped gifts near the gingerbread houses. I can only imagine what might be inside!
2. Snow-covered fields, trees, woods...and a balloon?
Few can argue that fields and trees frosted with snow pull you into the magic of winter, but a snow-topped balloon? Well, it may not be entirely holiday-related, but it is pretty amazing seeing a giant helium balloon covered with snow and with icicles hanging off its tethers. It took this sense of perspective for me to see how gigantic the 1859 Balloon Voyage really is, and the balloon's orange and yellow stripes look all the more vibrant next to the pure white covering.
3. The Conner Prairie Store
Who could beat shopping at work with a bit of an employee discount? I have been guilty of shopping at school or work for holiday gifts for many, many years. When I was a student at IU, everyone in the family got IU t-shirts and sweatshirts from the bookstore. When I lived in Chicago, it was city-themed gifts from the gift shop in the lobby of my building. Now that I work at Conner Prairie, it’s unique recipe books and vintage-looking ornaments for the tree. I'm excited about the gift giving possibilities for years to come as the store is always bringing in new and unique gifts.
4. The annual holiday staff lunch
About a week ago, we held our annual holiday staff luncheon hosted by our president, Ellen M. Rosenthal. All who work a Conner Prairie gathered for lunch, employee awards, employment milestone awards and a dessert competition. While the lunch was delicious and the dessert competition was filled with every yummy treat under the sun, it was the employment milestone awards that won my heart that day. Handmade candle holders, mugs, plates, jugs, a lamp and even a pie plate occupied a huge table—there must have been at least 25 items on that table. Each piece was handmade by one of our own Conner Prairie potters in celebration of a 5-, 10-,15-year or more anniversary with Conner Prairie, all the way up to one employee's 40-year anniversary. As I sat in the luncheon and saw how proud each recipient was to hear his or her name called and to receive the anniversary memento, it filled me with thanks to be part of such an organization. As I celebrate my six month “anniversary” here at Conner Prairie, I am eager to know what the next year will bring.
by Aili McGill
On Thursday, April 2nd, we opened the historic grounds for the 2009 season. I must admit that a part of me was happy that we didn’t open on April 1st, as we have in many years, because that just seems to be tempting fate. I mean, so many factors have to come together just perfectly for us to have a successful Opening Weekend, and there’s just no reason for us to allow ourselves to be compared to April Fools.
Anyway, for those of you who don’t get to see Conner Prairie’s outdoor experiences during the bleak midwinter, I have to tell you that it can be a very melancholy scene. The aged historic buildings stand empty, their windows dark and lifeless, and their exteriors, no matter how brightly painted, seemed muted and grayed amongst the lifeless tree trunks and frozen, barren ground. It’s just not the same around here without guests – it’s like the very spirit of the place is absent when we’re empty – our reason for being eludes us.
Now, that’s not to say that there’s no activity around here in the winter. Quite the contrary. Most of the management staff spend the winter busily scurrying around in our offices, trying as hard as we can to plan new programs, revitalize old ones, and raise the bar a little higher for guest experiences in the coming season. And, of course, our maintenance staff spends much of the winter repairing, painting, roofing, siding, and constructing. This past winter, the tradesman, along with several devoted and talented volunteers, fully furnished the inside of the new Carpenter’s Shop in Prairietown, while completely reconfiguring the site that now features the Gregory family, and both locations are now 3-dimensional works of art.
And, of course, our livestock are still around – on any given day you can walk outside and hear Grayson testily protesting his duties as chief security guard for our sheep and goats, or our roosters crowing proudly about their own existence.
And yet, it’s all just a little too quiet – a little too somber and empty.
But that silence ended last Thursday, when we flung open the gates and more than 800 guests came to ring in the New Year.
I, as an Assistant General Manager of Guest Experiences, couldn’t fully suppress my jitters about Opening Day. We spent the two weeks prior to Opening Day training new staff, updating veteran staff, cleaning and supplying all the buildings, primping our new experiences, and triple-checking our to-do lists. But what if we missed something?! What if our interpreters oversleep?! What if none of the baby lambs are born in time?! What if we don’t have enough firewood at each post?! What if no one remembered to sharpen the tomahawks?!!!
But then I took a deep breath, and remembered that we have over a hundred very talented front-line staff members who know just what to do when they encounter a little hiccup. And I walked outside into the beautiful, warm sunshine and saw the lush, green grass, the bright yellow daffodils, the light green haze starting to show on even the tallest tree branches, and I knew that it was going to be a perfect day. I saw the young red-headed Tunis lambs bounding through the pasture, with Grayson keeping a careful watch over them, and could already smell the wood smoke curling up above the cabins. And then I heard it – the inspiring, exciting sound that had been missing for months: the tinkling, bell-like peal of laughter of a little girl, and the corresponding rolling chuckle of her father. And I smiled, knowing that our reason for being had returned. Our guests are back – bring on the Spring!
A behind the scenes look at Opening Weekend.
To see more photographs of Opening Weekend, check out our Facebook Fan Page.
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!
We are starting a new staff blog with the launch of the new Connerprairie.org.
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.
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