Conner Prairie is once again putting on their best Glorious Fourth Celebration for you. We'll have baseball 1800s-style, a rifle firing, sack races, barn dances (do-si-do!), and to top it all off there will be a reading of the Declaration of Independence and the launching of a smoke balloon (the 1836 version of fireworks). Glorious Fourth runs July 2-4. See you there!
Posted: 6/30/2011 11:53:35 AM
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If you’ve visited Prairietown
this year, you may have noticed that the Prairietown Host, that blue-shirt-wearing, modern-minded person at the main crossroads in town, had a few new tricks up his or her sleeve. We’ve been testing different guide-book-like options that you can carry around to help you get involved with the daily life of Prairietown more deeply. By the end of the year, we hope to hone in on what the best possible version or versions of these guides should be for people of all ages to use in town.
Another item that the host has been using is a ballot box and a set of ballots with one really simple question: do you think you would want to settle in town or keep moving West? We would like all of our guests in Prairietown to put themselves in the shoes of the average traveler in 1836. Many, many people were on the move, in search of a place where the grass truly was greener and where life could be a little easier. Any traveler who happened across a little town like ours would have to ask themselves that same question: do I stay or do I go? The relative safety offered by a town like Prairietown (most of the Indians have moved on, most of the bears and wild cats have been killed off, etc) would be attractive, but the wide-open possibilities of the endless ‘West’ would still call to most of those men, women, and children who couldn’t help but be curious about what else was out there.
By casting your vote on our little ballots, you’re helping us reenvision our understanding of Prairietown. For decades, we have thought of Prairietown as a fictional-yet-typical little village in the 1830s, and for decades we’ve sealed its fate – a town Prairietown’s size would not have been likely to survive the economic collapse of 1837 and would have disappeared.
But what if Prairietown didn’t stay the same size? After all, some small towns in Indiana did survive the collapse, all thanks to the proper balance of settlement, economic investment, and natural resources. So, what if Prairietown could attract enough of the right kind of people – hard-working, ingenious types – who can help make sure the town survives? As we collect information from you all in the form of ballots and other feedback, we’re going to periodically evaluate Prairietown’s potential strength and vitality – if we find a high enough percentage of determined settlers who want to put down roots here, we might be able to justify Prairietown’s fictional survival.
Check back throughout the year to see how the decisions you make in Prairietown shape its fictional future! And, as, always, please let us know what you think of this idea!
Posted: 5/13/2011 2:21:37 PM
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Pamela Jackson - Guest Services
It’s spring, and after we survived the long winter months, we hope you’ll join us in welcoming both spring and the 2011 season at Conner Prairie. We’ve got lots of exciting events coming up, so give us a call in Guest Services if you aren’t sure what programs are appropriate for you and your family or group.
First up is our acclaimed Follow the North Star
program, an Underground Railroad simulation that runs Fridays and Saturdays the first three weekends in April. (The last weekend is sold out; remaining available dates are April 8 & 9). If you plan to attend, stop and say hello to me at the Guest Services ticket desk, where I will be checking in tour groups with reservations and handing out release forms.
A lot of these groups consist of school children, but since Follow the North Star is not recommended for persons under age twelve, these school groups tend to be high schoolers or even college students. We have many teachers and sponsors who return year after year, eager to introduce their students to this very effective learning experience. There are also other participants arriving from nearby or far away, many for the first time, and full of questions:
“Will they touch us?” (No!)
“Will we get lost?” (You may think you’re lost, but we know where you are at all times.)
“Will it be cold/rainy/windy?” (Maybe, so we hope you’re dressed for the weather.)
“Are we going to get yelled at?” (Absolutely!)
Follow the North Star is such an intense experience because guests assume the roles of fugitive slaves. Our Conner Prairie interpreters – you know, the ones who are usually so friendly and helpful while in 1836 costume – take on different personas for this program, and can be either very intimidating or quite helpful to the “slaves” on their journey to freedom. This program is designed to create a learning experience unlike any other, not by reading or listening or watching, but by doing. As such, it is not for the faint of heart!
You see, when I’m not at the ticket desk, I also participate in Follow the North Star in various capacities. Perhaps I am walking the groups out to begin their experience, admonishing them to remember it is 1836. Perhaps I am in costume waiting to assist them on their outdoor journey, or – not to give too much away – perhaps I see that groups arrive at their final stop relatively unscathed.
So come on out and try our Underground Railroad simulation if you have a sincere desire to learn in a unique fashion. If that is not for you, then we hope to see you during the daytime for an enjoyable visit back in time!
Posted: 4/6/2011 10:37:03 AM
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“Won’t I/she/he get hot?” is a frequently heard question when a new Youth Volunteer
comes to me to discuss reproduction historic clothing, and the answer is “Yes, but this is how people dressed back then.”
On February 11, our Youth Experience Coordinator, Sarah Morin, called the 30 youth who were added to our Youth Volunteer program for 2011, joining 70 or so returning boys and girls. Not all Youth Volunteers take on a first-person, reproduction-historic-clothing-wearing role, but that’s what drew many of them to the program in the first place, and sometime in March or April, they’ll show up for an appointment in Historic Clothing.
We start with the basics: “This is how you would have dressed in 1836 or 1816.” (Youth will have to wait and see if there will be “first person” roles in 1863 for them.) Many of them are surprised at the different layers that were worn, especially by girls, but I assure them that “they” wore even more.
Boys have to have a shirt, waistcoat (optional for 1816), neckerchief and trousers, and girls have a petticoat, dress, apron, and daycap. They all have to wear hats or bonnets outside, long stockings and shoes that look right for the time period, even though their 1816 and 1836 counterparts may have gone barefoot all summer.
All of them get to choose from our selection of as-accurate-as-possible fabrics. It’s always interesting watching to see if the accompanying adult guides or tries to guide the youth’s choices. After that, girls have to choose their dress, apron and daycap style, while the boys are ready to pay and hit the road. Finally, laden with fabric, patterns, instructions and notions (including rope for the girl’s corded petticoats), they head out, followed by parents who may be dreading or anticipating sewing for their youth or hurrying home to call down the “approved sewist” list to find someone to do it for them. “Don’t forget to pre-shrink your fabric,” I call. “Good sewing!”
When the outfit has been approved for sewing accuracy and is modeled for fitting approval, it’s all worth it. Anna, Sarah, Jake or Sam “is approved to work in Prairietown or Lenapehoeking
Posted: 3/11/2011 3:32:01 PM
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Throughout 2010, we spent some time looking at how our guests move through Prairietown
– which buildings they visit and in what order, and how long they spend there. While there were many interesting results from our analysis, one of the most intriguing findings involved Mr. Whitaker’s Store.
It turned out that the store was one of the most frequently visited places, but guests spent, on average, a much shorter amount of time at the store than at the other frequently visited locations. This implies that the store experience as it is currently designed does not fully meet guest expectations – somehow, guests are influenced to move more quickly through that space and, we assume, engage less deeply than they do at other locations in Prairietown.
Of course, this could be caused by many factors. For one thing, the Prairietown store is laid out as one long, dark, narrow corridor. This design means that if more than one group is in the store at once, it begins to feel crowded and can make people feel like they need to move through more quickly.
However, as we analyzed the situation, we began to realize that there is one big difference between the store and every other post in Prairietown: the store is the only place where you can’t really do what you would have done in that place in 1836.
By that I mean, at the school, you can pretend to be a student, or someone interested in sending their children to the school. At each of the homes, you can easily take on the role of someone just out visiting or passing through town. At each of the trades’ shops, you can pretend to be a potential customer or someone seeking advice. But at the store, we haven’t traditionally encouraged you to pretend to be a customer – when you enter the store, you know you don’t have the right kind of money and that you probably won’t be allowed to actually buy anything there.
So, what if we changed that? What if we designed things so that you could have some authentic money and could buy something in the Prairietown store?
We experimented with this idea on a couple of days during 2010 and plan to test it in more detail in 2011. And while there are many factors that we need to think through, we would LOVE to hear your thoughts on one of our biggest questions:
What would you want to be able to buy in Mr. Whitaker’s Store in Prairietown if you had the chance?
Posted: 1/25/2011 4:57:10 PM
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Why a Soldier Returns to Civil War Days
See, Feel, Smell the Civil War
Our Mother’s Day Tradition is Conner Prairie
A Year in the Life of a Conner Prairie Volunteer