An overview of the living history museum north of Indianapolis, called Conner Prairie.
"Doc, I don't feel so well. What can you do for my headache?" I asked the distinguished, bearded gentlemen. "Well, madam, I would recommend puking, purging and bleeding to cure it. We can begin right now if you'd like." I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing, as he was quite serious. "No thanks, I'll stick to Tylenol, it's much simpler." The good doctor was in character, role-playing the part of a pioneer physician at Conner Prairie, a living history museum. The word Tylenol obviously wasn't in his vocabulary.
Living history museums, and there are quite a number of them, bring us closer to the human side of our collective history. By interacting with real people, we gain a better understanding of the lives lead by our ancestors. It's a relaxing and agreeable way to learn about times past.
Conner Prairie, located just north of Indianapolis, was founded in 1964 when pharmaceutical heir Eli Lilly gave the William Conner home and surrounding farmland to Earlham, a liberal arts college in Richmond, Indiana. Today, Conner Prairie features a modern museum center, special facilities, and three historical areas: the 1836 village of Prairietown, the 1823 William Conner Home and the Pioneer Adventure Area. The museum and historic areas are set on 210 wooded acres along the White River in central Indiana.
The villagers who reside in the fictional 19th century Prairietown talk, act and work as if they were actually living in early Indiana. The village itself is typical of small communities which developed during the 1830s in a growing Midwestern state. At that time, the entire population for the county was only 1,800 people. Called "interpreters" each has been carefully trained to depict his or her historical character. Detailed biographies have been written for each character and family, based on documents researched from the period.
Visitors tour the community at their own pace, talking with and observing the interpreters both at work and at play. The villagers are likely to share their opinions on such subjects as their social, economic, political, ethnic and religious beliefs. These mindsets are reinforced by their speech patterns, dress, food, mannerisms, physical surroundings and reactions to current events--1836 events.
At the Golden Eagle Inn, for example, the hard-working Martha Zimmerman is busy preparing the noonday meal, while one of her two sons, Martin or Richard, may be in the barn taking care of a boarder's horse. The other son might be working in the back field. By today's standards the Inn is small, just two private rooms and a common chamber upstairs. A payment of 12 and a half cents ensures a cozy spot in one of the beds, although wealthy travelers wanting a private room must pay extra. The going rates are posted, with meals going for a whopping 25 cents. Should you need to bed down a horse for the night and feed him, that will cost an additional 25 cents.
The William Conner estate is the museum's centerpiece. In the 1930s the building had fallen into disrepair, but after extensive restoration, it's practically good as new. Guides show visitors throughout the house, telling about the life and times of William Conner. Theme weekends focus on events such as weddings, Independence Day and other special events from the perspective of the first half of the 19th century.
In the Pioneer Adventure Area, guests can try spinning, weaving, soap making and other period activities. This area is especially popular with children. Special theme weekends are devoted to metal crafts, music, dance, puppetry, and folklore, among others. This area features four main buildings and an activity yard where you can try your hand at pioneer skills.
In addition to its numerous year round historical and educational programs, exhibits, and tours, Conner Prairie offers special events and programming to over 300,000 visitors every year. Symphony on the Prairie, featuring the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, is just one of their very popular programs. From June to late September, the rousing sounds of Gershwin, Mozart and Beethovan fill the "prairie" with music.
Conner Prairie has embarked on an aggressive five year plan to make it's nationally recognized educational and entertainment experiences even better. The plan calls for an initial investment of nearly $4 million in new and renovated facilities.