Saturday, April 11th was Conner Prairie’s first Science Saturday! The theme was Blown Away: Indiana Storms and Tornadoes. By all accounts, it was a smashing success.
I thought I’d share just a few observations and quotes that summed up the guest experience:
(From General Manager Dave Allison)
At about 2:30pm I walked up to the porch at the Zimmerman farmhouse. I noticed a young boy holding the make-n-take anemometer from the History Science Theater presentation. With his hand high in the air, he turned to his mother and said, “Now I have to test the wind here as well. See?! It is different than it was earlier!”
I (Adam) walked into the Welcome Center around 4:00 and saw a twelve year old boy poised in front the video camera we had set up. The camera was fixed on a weather map with magnetic fronts, clouds, and tornados. He was preparing his forecast as his mother was filming: “Alright mom, I’m ready.” He silently counted to three. “Hello, and live from the studio, I have today’s forecast…” He went through an entire weather report for the nation before concluding, “So, check back in at 11:00…back to you.”
And there were more than a few dads who were completely geeked-out over the new Wimshurst machine! It’s a 19th-century electrostatic generator and it had a similar effect as the neighbor working on his car: men came from everywhere just to stand and look, to ponder, to fiddle, to appreciate a fine piece of machinery. This one just happens to shoot eight-inch sparks. And you can see it everyday in the History Science Theater.
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!