Dave Allison - General Manager for Experience Delivery
October nights are famous in central Indiana for Conner Prairie’s popular Headless Horseman program, but weekend days in October will be chock full of interesting experiences in Prairietown as well.
As a former costumed facilitator in Prairietown, I have participated in all of the following special programs, so I thought I’d share a bit of “behind-the-scenes” insight for you.
Meet a Phrenologist- Oct. 2 and 3
Phrenology was the palm reading of the 1830s, and traveling phrenologists like Thomas Jefferson Tripplett would go from town to town feeling the bumps on people’s head as a way to tell their character and predict their future. Guests can meet with Mr. Tripplett and talk to him about his pseudo-science, have him read the contours of your head and then determine if he is a quack or if he is legit.
A New Family Comes to Town- Oct. 23 and 24
Covered wagons would have been the primary mode of transportation for the thousands of people who moved further west throughout the early part of the 19th century. This exciting program allows guests to get involved with helping to unload a family’s wagon and then helping them to determine whether to stay in Prairietown or to press on further west. This is a great chance to meet Conner Prairie’s crack team of oxen, Red and Blue, and to share in that quintessentially American experience of pulling up stakes and moving to a new place with better opportunities.
Pumpkins, Tricks and Pranks- Oct. 30 and 31
This program is a great way to cap off Conner Prairie’s outdoor season. (Even though the last day for the outdoor historic areas will be Oct. 31, Discovery Station and the Welcome Center are open Thursday- Sunday from November through March). Last year was the Prairietown debut for “Pumpkins, Tricks and Pranks.” Although in 1836 Halloween was not the cultural phenomenon that it is today, the Zimmerman’s at the Golden Eagle love a good practical joke, and guests will have the chance to “get in on” the joke and enjoy some old fashioned sibling rivalry at the Inn.
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“Conner Prairie? I haven’t been there since 4th grade!”
I get that line a lot when I tell people I work for Conner Prairie. And honestly, I said the same thing when I started working here in 2008.
As the Manager of School Services, I am more than ecstatic that we have thousands of school-aged children visit us every fall and spring semesters with their schools. Last year, we had over 40,000 students, parents and teachers visit us on field trips! But, as the buses pull away for the day, I think to myself, “Will any of these students be back? Will they bring their family and friends to share what they experienced?” Or will they too, 20 years from now, repeat the aforementioned phrase that I hear from so many adults when I mention Conner Prairie?
My job is to make sure that your child’s teacher is armed with all he or she needs to make their time spent at Conner Prairie the best learning experience possible. I create and find resources that will enable the teacher to use Conner Prairie to teach history, language arts, mathematics and science all at the same time.
But again, I wonder when that student will return here. Conner Prairie is a dynamic place- every day is different, depending on the weather, time of year and even what interpreters we have working in the historic areas. Even for me, there is something new to see each time I walk out onto the grounds.
My advice to parents- if you have a child coming to Conner Prairie on a field trip- sign up to be a chaperone, especially if the last time you were here was when you were your kid’s age. If you cannot do that, come and visit us after the field trip. Have your child show you what they liked the best about their field trip- even if it was the playground! Not only will your family have a great day out, your visit and interest in what your child experienced on their visit will help reinforce what they learned here and in their classroom.
As 2009 draws to a close, I’ve been thinking a lot about traditions. What is a tradition? Do you have to keep doing it just because you always have? How do traditions get started?
While I was visiting my family in Michigan over Christmas, we decided to visit Frederik Meijer Gardens
, a favorite Grand Rapids attraction, to see the beautiful “Christmas and Holiday Traditions Around the World”
exhibit. More than 40 trees and displays representing the holiday traditions of countries, ethnicities and religions dotted the hallways, each inviting the visitor to explore a new holiday tradition from somewhere outside their own world. Some sparkled with intricate glass ornaments and elaborate embellishments, while some were so familiar, with colored lights and homemade ornaments, that I could imagine them in my own living room.
The first possible tradition I encountered was the blizzard. The last time we visited this exhibit as a family was also during a blizzard. Have we now made it a tradition to brave the inclement weather in the spirit of Christmas around the world? Should we try to keep up this tradition? It seems dangerous, albeit likely considering the high possibility we will, regardless of our own wills, encounter a blizzard on Christmas weekend in Michigan.
The second tradition I encountered has to do with oranges. My sister and I never knew why our mother would always put oranges in our stockings—until we got to the Netherlands tree. Nestled between blue and white Delftware ornaments and handpainted wooden shoes were oranges galore. Our Dutch mother, it turns out, put oranges in our stockings because her Dutch mother put oranges in her children’s stockings, and her mother’s Dutch mother put oranges in her children’s stockings, and so on. A tradition is born.
Be it oranges, blizzards, orange blizzards (Dairy Queen, anyone?)—traditions are unique, and meaningful, and I believe they come and go with time. Maybe I’ll put oranges in my children’s stockings someday, or maybe I’ll realize that kids like regular candy much more. It’s fun to try something new and see if you like it enough to make it a tradition. Here a few ideas for the coming year:
Gather your (adult) family members or friends and sign up for a night of Hearthside Suppers
. The Conner House in winter is magical, cozy and perfectly quaint. If your experience is anything like mine was, you’ll want to come back year after year.
o Try out a Prairie Tykes class
with your 2-5 year old. I often notice many of the same families when I stop in to the different classes, a tell-tale sign of a tradition-worthy experience.
o Come see our baby animals
on opening weekend for our outdoor areas, March 27 and 28. No matter how hard the winter was or how restless the kids are getting, baby animals are a momentary panacea.
Whatever you choose, we invite you into the new year with us and hope you’ll see it as an opportunity to explore, discover and experience
the world around you in new and exciting ways.