Staff Blog

Liz Gold Photography
Liz Gold - Guest Blogger and Local Photographer
Let me start off by saying I’m a complete history nut. My father taught social studies faithfully at Indianapolis Public Schools for 26 years and if there’s anything we had in common, it’s that we were both obsessed with history.  My mother also shared a great appreciation for the past as she loved to read and play “American Girls” alongside me as a child. Both have since passed away but the obsession continues to live in me – anyone who knows me can attest to that.

I’ve also enjoyed a long history with Conner Prairie as a youth volunteer, employee of its Banquet and Catering Services and as a general guest. When my husband, Eric, and I have one of those rare days together on the weekends, our favorite thing to do is to spend the day among the characters and scenery of yesteryear at Conner Prairie. I grew up down the street from the park and it will always hold a special place in my heart for many reasons.

I almost always have my camera with me during my trips to Conner Prairie. And much to the enjoyment of the staff, I always post a multitude of pictures from my adventures. Recently, I was asked to come out on and take photographs and write this blog for Prairietown’s most anticipated event – the wedding of Ada Noreen McClure and James Cox.  And what an event it was.

As Eric and I weaved in and out of the masses of other guests, Prairietown was abuzz with anticipation. Our first stop was the Golden Eagle Inn, where we were greeted warmly by a young man.  He asked us if we were in town for the wedding and if we needed a place to stay.
“We offer drinks, too, if you got money.” he said.

We chatted for another minute and looked around the first floor. We were then met in the kitchen by a gaggle of young ladies who seemed very into their gossip about the bride and groom. Charity Whetstone proceeded to tell us how funny it was to watch Ada and James circle the town in different directions so as not to see each other before the wedding. However, she was also a bit upset.
“Wouldn’t you think a gentleman was interested in you if he walked you home through the woods twice and ate dinner with your family? Anyway, if you know any single men, send ’em my way,” she said.

We all had a friendly laugh and Eric and I proceeded to head through town. We made our way in and out of the houses, mostly observing and listening to the conversations between guests and townspeople.

“Are you in town for the wedding?” said one.

“I’ve heard James doesn’t have their house finished yet. I wonder where they’ll go tonight.” said another.

Liz Gold Photography
As we walked through town, I took pictures of all the decorations, residents speaking with guests and people helping with the preparations. Every so often, we’d run into the bride herself – curly blonde hair adorned with beautiful wildflowers. She always smiled from ear to ear. We ran into the groom a couple of times also. He looked very dapper in a handsome, white waist coat and straw hat. Tugging at his coat and twiddling his thumbs, we could tell he was nervous. Occasionally, we could hear him ask other guests for marriage advice.

Eric and I made our way to the grove between the schoolhouse and Dr. Campbell’s residence and took our seats about halfway back. I took pictures as people filed in and as the families of the bride and groom mingled with guests. Both sets of parents thanked people for coming and the groom continued to ask couples in the audience for advice. As I chatted with my husband, a hush fell over the crowd – the bride was being walked down the aisle by her father.

Because of where we were sitting and the number of people in attendance, it was a little hard to hear what the minister was saying. However, we did manage to hear him ask if anyone opposed the union and Whetstone from the Golden Eagle made a bit of a scene. A guest pulled her back down to her seat and the ceremony continued. James said, “I do.” way too fast as the minister asked him if he would take Ada to be his wife. It was hilarious, the whole crowd laughed and I managed to get a great photograph out of it.  

After the minister instructed the groom to kiss his new bride, James very modestly removed his hat and covered their faces. Everyone applauded and we all walked across the dirt path to continue the celebration.

Guests enjoyed cake, lemonade and dancing. Toasts were made by the bride and her father and the groom and his father. The elder Mrs. Cox served refreshments to guests, let everyone know how proud she was of her son and that Ada would make a wonderful and welcome addition to their family. She also very fervently expressed her desire for grandchildren within the next year.

Liz Gold Photography
Prairietown Wedding Dance
As the newlyweds gathered their things to take to their new home down the road, guests gathered at the doctor’s house to stake claim over their favorite loud and noisy instruments for the shivaree. As we walked with the couple toward the Golden Eagle for one last hurrah, Mr. McClure ran after his daughter to hand her a rolling pin.

“You’ll need this to keep him in line,” he said with a spark of dark humor.

At the front of the inn, Mrs. Cox gave a short goodbye speech to her son and new daughter-in-law. And just like that, the newlyweds were off to start their new life.

The characters at Conner Prairie always make everything seem so lifelike and real. They are so knowledgeable and convincing. They make it seem like visitors really can go back in time.
For a mock wedding, things sure seemed real.

There are many things I love about Conner Prairie. But I think this fact is the cornerstone of it all: Everyone who works there is incredibly educated about the time periods they portray. They would have to be for Conner Prairie to have survived and thrived as long as it has and as long as it will.

Thank you, Conner Prairie characters for providing such a memorable day for everyone in attendance.  And thanks for inviting me. You definitely know how to make a girl feel special. As I’ve always said and will continue to say, Conner Prairie is an invaluable asset to this community.

Liz Gold is local photographer based in Carmel, Ind. For more information and to see additional images, visit Liz Gold Photography.
Posted: 7/24/2014 9:07:13 AM by Michele Stratton | with 0 comments

Michelle McNally with Fun City Finder (Guest Blog)
Indiana’s only Smithsonian Affiliate, Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, has just raised the bar for educational play in their newly redesigned Discovery Station and Craft Corner. Families with children ages 8 and under will enjoy the newly opened space, redesigned with learning and exploring in mind.

My family attended the members preview Friday morning, and there were audible “whoas” as the doors opened and young children clamored to see what was there. The most visually interesting area of the play center is the hideaway area. Here there are blankets, sheets, bedposts, doors and more for children to create their own special spaces.Hideaway in Discovery Station Children moved the sheets around, creating new spaces and imagining everything from their own little house to a burglars’ hideout.

The climbing structure was also immediately popular with the young guests in attendance. Children donned costumes of forest animals, and climbed through the structure, which is designed to look and feel like a forest.

The child-size barn, log cabin and country store are inviting, and before long there were store-keepers and shoppers playing together. The log cabin gives children a chance to prepare a meal, put a baby to bed, and pretend to keep house. The barn is filled with farm animals, and stick horses.

The fort that houses a selection of books claimed the attention of a lot children, as they huddled in together to hear a story. An employee joined them in the hive to share a story and conversation.

Later in our visit, two employees held a story time, and many children sat on the provided cushions to hear the story.

There’s also an infant play area for children too young to safely play in the larger play space. It’s perfect for crawlers and new walkers. Off to the side, parents can sit in the infant space and still supervise children in other areas of the space.

Child-size BarnThe Craft Corner is a newly designated space that children will love. Big tables with room for many, and bins filled with craft supplies invite children to create. The current theme is yarn art, and children are presented with several ideas on how to create. Kids are welcome to make and take a craft during their visit. There’s also a chalk corner, with chalkboards, as well as a chalk table, give plenty of space for creations.

Everything about Discovery Station lives up to its name- children are truly invited to discover through educational play experiences. It’s the perfect way to start or finish a visit to Conner Prairie, or a destination unto itself on a rainy day.

This blog was originally posted on Fun City Finder at
Posted: 7/8/2014 3:59:21 PM by Conner Prairie | with 0 comments

Curiosity FairGail Brown - Program Developer
Well it starts with you! You have shared with us questions, ideas and subjects that you are curious about, and that’s been the basis of our second annual Curiosity Fair June 14 & 15. This has ranged from questions about robots, 3D printers, bees, chemistry and airplanes, to hot air balloons, kites, computers, art, ancient civilizations and the good ol’ standard, “Where do farts come from?”

We then explore Indiana’s great wealth of industry, schools, clubs, and other groups to see who is leading cutting edge research or creating the next “big thing,” or simply who is having fun in those areas where you have expressed an interest. We invite these companies, groups and others to share what they are doing. During these searches it has amazed me to see the diversity of things taking place throughout Indiana. Many of these things we never hear about or may not notice during our daily lives, but there is some great research, development and activities taking place. For example, did you know there are multiple companies in Indiana developing drones to assist farmers in studying their fields? Did you know Indiana is one of the top producers of ice cream in the United States? Did you know there are several companies in Indiana that develop computer software and engineer robotic systems for companies?

The next step is to find some great local talent to provide some entertainment (keeping in mind what you are curious about of course). How do bicycles work? What better way to learn than with a Wonder Wheels BMX stunt show. How do lasers work? Check out Professor Steve’s Outta Sight Light Show. Where does music come from? Listen to the Fourth Wall Ensemble. What happens when I mix this and that together? The folks with Mad Science can perhaps show you.

To top it off, sprinkle in some great hands-on activities we have developed. Curious how a cannon works? We’ll show you, then let you fire a potato cannon. Wonder how a tornado works? Try to spin up your own fire twister. How do you make folded paper artwork? Try your hand at some origami.

Mix these all together and you have Curiosity Far.

All of these exciting things all started with a simple question posed to you. What are you curious about? We will be asking you again on June 14th and 15th. So bring your sense of adventure and exploration and have a lot of fun during Curiosity Fair and remember to take a minute and tell us – “I’m curious about . . . “

Our 2014 Curiosity Fair takes places 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, June 14 and 15. Check out our exciting line-up:
Posted: 6/10/2014 1:56:04 PM by Conner Prairie | with 0 comments

Nathan Allen When a young man in the 19th century indentured himself as a blacksmith’s apprentice he was to learn, among other subjects such as mathematics and reading, the “art and mystery” of blacksmithing.
The first time I saw that phrase as part of an indenture document, I thought it was brilliant. In three words, it sums up a lot of what historical blacksmithing is to me.

Often the blacksmithing trade is seen as a very mechanical trade producing tools and objects that had to function but not necessarily look good doing it. Certainly there is truth that many blacksmiths were great inventors such as John Deere and the steel plow or William Peterson, the inventor of Vise Grips. But there were many, many others who were also great artists.

One of the more rewarding parts of working as a blacksmith in a history museum is the reproduction work I have gotten to do over the years. Studying old objects gives one a great sense of appreciation for the artistry that went into making even the most utilitarian wares. The old smiths had a great feel for combining practicality and aesthetics to make tools and implements that felt right, looked right and functioned as they should.

The “mystery” that is fun to unlock about working iron with traditional methods is figuring out how objects were made. Looking at a piece of antique ironware that needs reproducing is an exercise in reverse engineering. I look for clues such as tool marks and patterns in the grain of the iron; these are subtle hints that help the modern smith unlock how objects were made using very basic tooling.

Conner Prairie's BlacksmithA couple of the historical “mysteries” for the old smiths must have been forge welding and hardening and tempering of steel. With modern scientific equipment and understanding, we now know what molecular changes occur to a piece of steel to make it undergo the physical changes of hardening and tempering. We also understand how a piece of iron can be successfully welded by heating and hammering together.

To a smith of the 19th century and before, these processes must have been fascinating. There was a great bit of understanding of what to do and not to do to make these processes work. But, no understanding of why they work (kind of like computers for me).

Conner Prairie’s historic trades classes, part of the Prairie Pursuits series, are an excellent way to immerse yourself into the “art and mystery” of learning skilled trades of the past. We have a variety of classes in pottery, textiles, woodworking and blacksmithing that help bridge the past with the present while you get to put your hands and mind to work fashioning objects. Check out the upcoming trades classes under the “Learn & Do” section of our web site to find a key to unlocking a mystery.

Posted: 6/6/2014 9:02:55 AM by Michele Stratton | with 0 comments

Dani Tippmann, plant expert
Would you survive if you got lost in the middle of the woods during a camping trip? How long would you last as a competitor on “Survivor”? Could you build a shelter and find edible wild foods as you fled from a zombie attack?

Join Conner Prairie’s “Survival Skills” workshop to channel your inner Bear Grylls, Katniss Everdeen or Rupert Boneham. During this class, held 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 24, you will discover how the wisdom of yesterday’s pioneers, combined with some modern techniques, can prepare you to survive the wild of today. Learn how to build a shelter, find and purify water, forage for food, track and catch animals, start a fire and more. (Register here).

The 6-hour indoor and outdoor class will be led by Dwight Gallian, a Conner Prairie interpreter who has mastered outdoor survival, and Dani Tippmann, a member of the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma and an expert on traditional usage of plants for food, medicine and technology.

The pair will teach you how to identify edible plants and how to use nature for medical purposes, shelters, tools and more. They will also show you how to find water by searching for landmarks, and how you can extract water from certain plants.

“The three things people complain about water are color, smell and taste. But none of that will harm you,” Gallian said. “It’s what you can’t see, smell or taste that will.”
And, many water sources can be made potable by purifying it over a fire. Which brings us to the next skill you will learn – how to start a fire without a match.

Gallian will show you a variety of ways to ignite a flame, and let you try them out yourself. Techniques will range from the pioneer method of using flint and steel to modern use of a magnesium block, which still works even if it gets wet.

And a fire may not be enough to keep you warm or protected outdoors, so you will discover the types of shelters that can be built in different environments and weather.

“I’d like to send participants out on our grounds to search for sticks to make a lean-to shelter,” Gallian said. “You can also build a shelter on the ground, filled with leaves, which can keep you warm even in 30 degrees.”

The class will also dispel some myths and provide you with tips on what to stash in a survival kit in your car, including a wool blanket, which is the only fiber – modern or natural – that will keep you warm even when wet, Gallian said.

“Cold weather will dehydrate you as quickly as heat will, which many people don’t realize,” Gallian said. “And drinking whiskey or other alcohol when it’s cold makes you colder. It doesn’t warm you up.”

Prepare for the hardships of camping or an alien takeover by joining Conner Prairie’s “Survival Skills” workshop here or by calling 317-776-6006. The class will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, May 24. Ages 16 and older.
Posted: 5/21/2014 12:53:57 PM by Conner Prairie | with 0 comments

Recent Posts
A Prairietown Wedding - Sharing in a Happy Day
Discovery Station Provides Hands-On Learning
What is Curiosity Fair?
The Art and Mystery of Blacksmithing
Surviving in the Wild