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Conner Prairie to open interactive Civil War exhibit

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Conner Prairie Interactive History Park will open a Civil War exhibit in June, hoping for a similar bump in membership and ticket sales as it got from its Balloon Voyage rides the past two summers.

The $4.3 million exhibit, dubbed 1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana, will take visitors through the experience of volunteering to fight Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan and his 2,400 Rebel raiders who crossed into Indiana in July 1863.

About 60,000 volunteers mustered in Indianapolis and traveled south to confront Morgan's troops. Through the use of video, theatrical staging, live action and hands-on experiences, exhibit visitors will be made to feel as if they are joining in with the volunteers.

"We can create this immersive experience and tell people you have just volunteered for this militia," said Conner Prairie CEO Ellen Rosenthal. "You were someone who volunteered. You were one who never expected to take up arms."

Conner Prairie, an outdoor history center located along Allisonville Road near Fishers, has raised $2.1 million of the needed funds and began construction of the exhibit in July. It will be located where the 1886 Liberty Corner has been for several years.

Conner Prairie CEO Ellen Rosenthal said she expects the Civil War exhibit to boost membership by 13 percent, which would bring in an extra $67,000. That's how much membership grew this year after the July 2009 opening of the 1859 Balloon Voyage ride.

The Civil War exhibit will be included in Conner Prairie's general admission. Conner Prairie's market research projects overall admission sales will get a $100,000 boost from the exhibit.

Total revenue and expenses at Conner Prairie totaled about $9.5 million in 2009, the latest year for which results are available.

Conner Prairie's timing is pretty good. With 2011 marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, historical institutions around the country expect interest to be especially high.

"The Civil War has enjoyed growing interest as we approach the sesquicentennial," said John Herbst, CEO of the Indiana Historical Society, who noted that the Civil War is always one the top five topics for researchers going through the society's archives.

Conner Prairie found the same thing. In an online survey, as well as focus groups conducted in Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Cincinnati, it found that the Civil War drew far more interest than other historical eras such as World War II or the 1960s.

"It was a landslide," said Rosenthal, who estimated that 80 percent opted for Civil War topics. "People are really interested in the Civil War."

Conner Prairie already hosts a Civil War re-enactment during one weekend each May. This year, the so-called "Civil War Days" drew more than 10,000 visitors.

But Conner Prairie has never had a permanent exhibit set during the Civil War. Its core exhibit, Prairietown, is set in 1836. It also has an exhibit on Native Americans set in 1816. Its Liberty Center was set in 1886.

Herbst, who was CEO of Conner Prairie until 2003, said it's a smart strategy for any cultural institution to keep freshening its exhibits, which gives visitors a reason to keep coming back.

"They have to change their offerings, add something new that really catches the people's attention," he said.

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  • The zoo
    Jeff, I don't know what you're talking about. In the last 5 years or so, the zoo has added exhibits for white rhinos, meerkats, dog shark petting and cheetas. It has also refreshed the elephant exhibit, Oceans, added the dolphin dome and is currently reconfiguring the tiger exhibit to bring them closer to patrons.

    I think the zoo has done an excellent job of adding as much as they can and improving the park, especially given it's limited space on the edge of downtown. True, a one-time visit is costly for a family. It's a much better value to purchase a membership and visit several times a year. Keep in mind, too, that the zoo receives no tax dollars.
  • Will The Zoo Get a Clue
    Wow. Wonder when the Indianapolis Zoo will do something new---besides just charge you money for the same stuff year after year...
  • Sounds great, but
    will the BP logo be plastered on this display as well??
  • Great Educational moments
    Well if complete the thought!
    . I have read my Great Grandfather,who was a Colonel from Indianapolis letters and they are interesting to see what life was like in that time period.
  • Great Educational moments
    I look forward to this exhibit. I have read my Great Grandfather,who was a Colonel from Indianapolis. It is good that people learn more about the heartache and striff of the times. Can't wait to attend.

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    1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

    2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

    3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

    4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

    5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?

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