Converted from paper version of the Broad Ripple Gazette (v07n11)
Indiana Experience at IHC - by Heidi Huff
posted: May 28, 2010
According to the Indiana History Center, "history should not be viewed, it should be experienced." This is the mission statement of the IHC's recently developed program called the Indiana Experience. We met up with Amy Lamb, media relations manager, in the canal level Stardust Terrace Café to discuss the Experience we were about to undertake. The Café, serviced by Hoaglin To Go, is named for the song "Stardust" written by Indiana's own Hoagy Carmichael. Here you can snack alongside a historical streetscape and under the stars; or a twinkling representation of them at least. In warmer months visitors can dine on the patio, which also features the ever-popular Concerts on the Canal.
After being briefed on the upstairs, we began our own Indiana Experience. Our first stop was first floor Destination Indiana, an interactive video exploration featuring touch screens and hundreds of digitized historical photographs. Each Indiana County has a story to tell from railway transportation-to the Civil War-to mapping the state and so much more. I started off by exploring Marshall County, where I'm from, not really expecting to find much on little 'ole Marshall. But sure enough, every county (including Marshall) had an interactive photo display. Marshall's featured an old train depot - which recently became a train museum. I, of course, also explored Marion County and the additional feature on the history of Monument Circle. Get in the loop and outside of it too!
Our next adventure led us to the Cole Porter Room, designed to evoke nostalgia from the famed Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York where composer Cole Porter, an Indiana native, used to live. Visitors to the Cole Porter Room are greeted by a cabaret-style songstress and a grand piano where they can choose a song to be performed from a list of Cole Porter classics. Trust me, I got a kick out of it, and you will too.
After leaving the Porter Room behind, we walked through a photograph in the You Are There exhibit. That's right, walked through a photograph. No smoke and mirrors here, well maybe just a smoke-like screen. In this exhibit, a historical photograph becomes a walk-though portal into another time and place. The time? 1945. The place? Ernest Zwerner's grocery store in Terre Haute. Visitors are prepped with a shopping list and a World War II Ration Book before they enter the store. Once inside, they're to interactively shop for items on the list and chat with interpreters portraying Mr. Zwerner, neighborhood customers, and even the postman. A little advice, ask Mr. Zwerner to give you some sugar and see what he has to say.
A family discusses their grocery list with Ernest Zwerner at the IHC.
The next portal, time: 1924 and place: George Greenlee's repair shop in Hartford City, puts visitors face to face with interpreters portraying real-life mechanics Hugh Scott and Harry Kirkwood, as well as the Greenlee twins Opal and Olive. Here exhibit goers can learn about small town life in the 1920's Jazz Age. In this workshop, also home to Liniger Brother's Plumbing, you can climb in and out of a 1917 Ford Model T, a Model T delivery truck circa 1923 (acquired from a Broad Ripple garage), and hop onto a 1924 Fordson Tractor. You can even pick up the authentic old-timey tools from the workbench.
The 1917 Ford Model T in George Greenlee's repair shop.
Don't miss the exhibits upstairs! Next stop: Conrath Violin Shop in Indianapolis, time: 1914. Here you can talk shop with interpreters portraying Joseph and Amelia Conrath. From them, visitors learn what it's like to be a German-American business owner in Indianapolis. Joseph's a violin maker and Amelia can teach you to play for a fair price; I on-looked as others received their lessons. Fittingly, this part of the Indiana Experience is upstairs as was the Conrath Violin Shop located at 39 Virginia Ave.
From the Conrath's Violin Shop you'll re-enter present-day reality into the Lilly Hall mezzanine level which features four smaller exhibits. "History Snapshot is a changing exhibit highlighting key points of Indiana's history. In Season changes every four months and feature a collage of topics associated with the time of year. A Peopling Indiana exhibit focuses on migration and immigration, yesterday and today, and highlights specific ethnic groups on a rotating basis. What is a Hoosier?, explores the origin and history of the loaded word, sharing facts and folklore and dispelling the myths that surround it."
On the far side of the mezzanine, those interested in preservation can try their hand at restoring damaged paper in the Fortune History Lab. You can work on actual historic envelopes that have been deaccessioned from the IHS collection. All across the mezzanine, with the help of railing-mounted brass spy glasses, visitors can spot panoramic photos from the Indiana Historical Society collection, reproductions of important Indiana documents, and a Time-ly watch sculpture. I spied with my little eye, a photo featuring people from my hometown.
Of course no visit to the Indiana History Center would be complete without stopping in to the IHS Library and the Basile History Market. The Library houses thousands of photographs and manuscripts as well as sheet music and other artifacts. The Basile History Market sells Indiana art, jewelry, literature, music and more. This Indiana inspired artwork makes a perfect gift for any Hoosier - whatever that is. From bottom to top and back again the Indiana History Center has something to offer on every floor for every Indiana enthusiast.
The Indiana Experience is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday and costs $7.