Heather Smith - Night Security
The clock strikes 5 pm and that means the end of a day at Conner Prairie. However the end of a day only means the beginning of the night for me. My name is Heather, I am 22, and I have been with Conner Prairie for almost a year now. during the night at Conner Prairie it would seem as though nothing could happen since everyone has gone home, right? Well you couldn’t be more wrong. To me, a night at Conner Prairie is the most exciting part of my job. I get to experience what everyone else has to imagine.
Walking inside the Welcome Center the lights are shut off and the chatter and sounds of kids playing have disappeared. All that remains is me watching over the Welcome Center, as well as its surroundings. I check on the balloon to make sure it has power, check the doors to make sure they are locked, and then settle in for a night of watching over Conner Prairie.
Nighttime is just as busy and event-filled as the daytime. We may not have hundreds of children roaming through Prairietown or families visiting the Conner Homestead, but you can see that there is just as much to offer. If you peek into the Animal Encounters Barn
for instance you can see the animals resting after receiving much attention throughout the day, and enjoying the silence before another fun-filled day approaches.
You can walk to 1859 Balloon Voyage
and see the balloon being tethered down by the pilots after a day of venturesome flights. Standing still you can hear the natural silence emitting from every direction and fogging your senses, and allowing you to see Conner Prairie in a different light.
I may be the only one inside the Welcome Center but roaming around on the grounds you’ll find staff members making sure everything is ready for the next day - doing things like cleaning and maintenance on buildings, as well as preparations for any events or activities scheduled for the following day. The most important thing for us to remember while out on the grounds at night is that the hard work we put in at night shows the next day when Conner Prairie opens.
Before my employment here I was an Active Duty Soldier in the United States Army for 2 years. After being discharged, I opted for a much calmer job and being at Conner Prairie gave me that. I enjoy the night shift because, although much calmer than the busy day, I still serve a purpose in helping Conner Prairie remain just that, Conner Prairie.
Colleen Setchell: Guest Blogger - Travel Writer and Photographer
I held the tomahawk with my right hand and extended it over my right shoulder. With my feet together, I fixed my gaze on my target and then, stepping forward with my right foot, threw it over my shoulder straight towards the target. HIT!
Did I hit a deer? A squirrel, or some other edible creature? No, it was a lump of wood and American Indian Michael Pace was teaching me how to throw a traditional Lenape Indian tomahawk in the Lenape Indian Camp at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.
How wonderful to be here at Conner Prairie on the outskirts of Indianapolis, Indiana. I am from South Africa, and I grew up learning about fierce Zulu warriors who fought against the British and the Boers. Sadly, the only knowledge I had about American Indians and the original settlers in America, was all learned from movies, and let’s face it, we all know how biased they can be.
So, I’ve come here to learn about America in the period from 1823 to 1863. This huge park is split into different sections that enable you to see how life was tackled back in that time period.
I headed straight for the Lenape (also known as Delaware) Indian Camp, where you can learn about the culture of these fascinating people when they lived in this area from 1795 to 1820. In this imitation village, volunteers showed me how to make beaded jewelry, grind corn, build wigwams from Tulip Poplar bark and animal skins (and later sails from sailors), identify animal skins (deer, beaver, raccoons and otters) and my favorite part of all, throw Tomahawks. This was extra special because Michael Pace, who I mentioned earlier, was descended directly from the Delaware Tribe. In traditional dress and with Delaware markings on his face (two bold red lines under each eye drawn up towards the hairline), he spent a while trying to help me perfect my tomahawk throw and telling me about his people.
Tomahawks were used as a tool for building. The skills were learned when the children played games by attempting to throw spears through moving hoops that got smaller as they got older. This helped them develop their hand and eye coordination and helped a great deal when hunting later in life. Boys and girls learned both tomahawk or spear throwing and beading or silverware, and this meant there was never a shortage of skills in a tribe. The Delaware Indians are the 25th largest tribe in America and they still have regular tribal meetings, even though they are now spread over a large area. Wisconsin, Oklahoma and Ontario, Canada, house the main groups. I thanked Michael (my newly learned Lenape meant I could say “Wanishi”) for his time and wealth of information and headed out to explore more of Conner Prairie.
After a short visit to the Conner Homestead, where William Conner, an American trader, interpreter, scout, community leader, entrepreneur and politician, lived, I did a quick detour to the nearby Animal Encounters Barn and petted most of the adorable animals. Then, I arrived in 1836 Prairietown
. I passed signs before the entrance reminding me that I was entering a period where no cell phones, Internet or TV existed. I shuddered at the thought and held my iPhone closer to me.
I had a fascinating talk with the blacksmith about weird and wonderful foods, and he told me all about otters being too fatty to eat, how squirrel tasted like chicken, and how tasty turtle is when it is cut into strips and fried. His apprentice listened in the background while learning how to bend metal in the fire.
I visited Whitaker’s store and watched some children trying to earn money by helping Mr. Whitaker, the store owner. I walked past Dr. Campbell’s office and home and watched the residents teaching visitors old yard games while others played fiddle music in the background.
The sun beat down and the dust covered my feet and flip-flops, and I wondered how the female residents with their long dresses and bonnets managed in the heat. How I loved my shorts and flip-flops now! Pavement wasn’t invented until the 1900s, so I sipped what seemed now to be luxurious bottled water and walked on through the dust.
Around the corner and past McClure’s Carpenter Shop and home, I discovered my chance to live in Prairietown – a cabin for sale – a single story, one-roomed cottage with a bed in one corner and a table and fireplace in the other. I was able to walk inside the cottage, see how the bed was made with rope crisscrossed across a wooden frame and the mattress with a layer of straw covered with a sheet. I thought lovingly of my queen-sized memory foam mattress back home. As cute as the cottage was, I decided that I wouldn’t buy it on this occasion.
A short walk away and over the covered bridge, I entered 1863
and an imitation village attacked during the Civil War. I was greeted by a soldier who called me “Ma’am,” and with his wonderful drawl and accent, I was tempted to ask him to repeat it because it sounded delightful. He directed me to the village store and after more visitors joined us, we were shown a video that was cleverly projected onto the windows and the area behind the counter. That coupled with a real soldier coming in and out, it really felt like we were part of the experience.
“Watch out, they’re coming with guns and trashing the store!” said the soldier.
As if on cue, real shelves fell next to where I was standing and I squealed with fright. I clutched the telegram I was given by the soldier fearfully behind my back as a projection of General John Hunt Morgan confronted us about hiding a telegram. I was thankful and excited when he walked away because I had a small taste of what it must have been like during the Civil War raid on Dupont, Indiana.
My visit was almost over, and I had just enough time to enjoy an ice-cold soda in the Café on the Common and watch the 1859 Balloon Voyage.
This was a memorable visit with loads of interactive things for both adults and kids to take part in. Conner Prairie was a massive learning experience for a foreigner such as myself and a place which I would return to again and again.
Thank you, Conner Prairie, for making American history come alive for me.
Colleen Setchell is a writer, photographer and enthusiastic explorer who's jumped off cliffs in South Africa, dived with sharks in Egypt, been lost in the spice market in Istanbul, and eaten unpronounceable things in Gambia. She calls England home but is an explorer at heart and is at her happiest when she's living out of a suitcase and always excited to see where she'll end up next. Colleen writes about her travel adventures on her blog www.writearoundtheworld.me and currently freelances for various magazines and websites.
"Soccer games, my kids’ play dates and oh yeah my boss wants me to form a committee to plan our company/client event. Eeks! Is 2011 already half over? Let’s see we did one back in 2008 or was that back in 2006? We went to a county destination and we had to get all of our own entertainment. What set up and clean up committee, hah! What can I do differently?”
Does this sound familiar? Or how about it’s the Indiana families turn to host the family reunion? In any case, have you thought about a local destination that makes it as easy as apple pie to plan, execute and afford such an event? How about...Picnics on the Prairie?
Conner Prairie not only has the family fun part ready made through our general admission (at a group discount); we have outdoor picnic pavilions, some with access to sand volleyball courts and areas for tug o’war and sack races.
How about a rustic red barn with indoor/outdoor seating with a ‘front row’ view of the Balloon Voyage
and/or the Lenape Camp and its tomahawk throwing contest? For something more private the Prairie House (log cabin) and / or the Chinese House are perfect for an at home feel but without the hassle of set up and clean up…because the Conner Prairie staff does it all for you. Weekends in the summer are fleeting but there is still time.
We have made planning summer event even simpler by packaging a picnic-themed meal with the venue and meal beverages (non – alcoholic) priced to meet just about any budget. You simply add the entertainment component and your picnic planning woes are done.
For more information check out the following link: Picnics on the Prairie
. Or contact me directly via phone at 317.214.4495 or via email email@example.com
With the Conner Prairie 1859 Balloon Voyage regular season now being over, it is appropriate to explain the answer to one of our most common questions out at the balloon, “What do you do with the balloon during the winter?”
One common misconception is that we deflate our balloon at the end of each season; however, this is not true. We leave the balloon inflated year-round for a number of reasons, but most importantly is the fact that it would cost somewhere around $60,000 in helium alone to re-fill in the spring. Not to mention a crew of about 50 people working somewhere close to 16 hours in addition to the filling of 400 sandbags, weighing 50 pounds each. Needless to say, it would be a rather labor-intensive process.
How does the balloon survive through the brutal Indiana winter climate? Believe it or not, the balloon is least likely to be damaged due to weather during the winter months due to a lack of strong wind storms and severe weather. The biggest threat, as you can probably guess, is snow. Snow typically accumulates on the top third of the balloon, which is roughly 6,000 square feet worth of space that needs snow removed. 6,000 square feet would be like shoveling an average width, 600 foot long driveway. You can imagine the amount of weight and stress this puts on the balloon, which is why it is important that we remove snow from the top of the balloon whenever it exceeds one inch of accumulation, as soon as possible.
How do we get the snow off the top of the balloon? It is a relatively simple, yet complex process. We have climbing gear which allows us to climb and traverse the balloon when needed for routine maintenance and repairs. We climb the balloon’s netting, like that of a rope ladder as we are connected to a series of climbing ropes. Once we reach the top of the balloon, we permanently anchor ourselves with a strong, thicker, stationary rope which we attached to a steel ring on the North Pole of the balloon. This allows us to move freely around the balloon without the fear of falling or ropes/climbing gear failing. To remove the snow we use a push broom or a shovel, and carefully push the snow off the side. An average, 4-6 inch snowfall will take somewhere between 2-4 hours to remove all of the snow.
You can learn more about our snow removal process and winter upkeep by watching a short YouTube clip we created last winter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8XvORNqIRY