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LOU'S VIEWS: In with the old as Conner Prairie adds to its offerings

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Lou Harry
In theory, history doesn’t change. It just gets added to. And, each year, it seems, the creative minds at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park add something.

In recent years, the additions have been positive ones, offering enhancements to the visitor experience without compromising the museum’s mission. This year is no different.

But I’ll get to those new things in a minute.

First, I want to talk about Rounders.

No, not the poker movie. The Rounders I’m talking about is the baseball-like game that my family always gets happily pulled into whenever we visit Conner Prairie. It’s not new. Far from it.
 

ae-conner-15col.jpg Outside, a pick-up game proves popular. (Photo courtesy of Moon & Star Photography)

Rounders, or some form of period bat-and-ball game, has been an option since our first visit to the park some 16 years ago. Played behind buildings or in open fields, these games have little structure—kids get added to team rosters when they show up and drift off when they (or their families) want to move on. But that lack of closure never gets in the way of the fun.

Here’s how it works: A pitcher—or bowler—underhand tosses a leather-cased ball to the batter. After swatting at it, the batter runs, clockwise, to the bases—or posts (in reality, a trio of trees that happen to form a very lopsided diamond).

There are no walks or strike-outs in these games, so an ump would seem an unnecessary extra. And, as played here, you can throw the ball at the runner to get him out, which is particular fun when someone is trying to run in period costume.

There are no sign-ups for Rounders. And I don’t think it’s a scheduled event. Like the best elements at Conner Prairie, it’s just something that seems to pop up and dissipate naturally. Inevitably, a game of Rounders fills a half hour or so. And I’m always glad it’s part of the mix.

Now, about those new things for this season:

Inside the Welcome Center, hands-on activities have been enhanced over the last few years; the drab displays are long gone. Instead, parents of young children should be happy to see “TreeHouses: Look Who’s Living in Trees!,” a 2,000-square-foot exhibit parked here for the summer. There is actually information in the treehouses—facts about what animals live in trees and how they manage—plus artifacts, stereoscopic viewfinders, etc. Kids should be forgiven for treating the exhibit as playground equipment. After all, they’re kids.

Also new to the Welcome Center are tables of wooden gadgets that


ae-conner2-15col.jpg Inside the Welcome Center, visitors experiment. (Photo courtesy of Moon & Star Photography)

can be arranged into Rube Goldberg-style contraptions. You know the kind: Crank a handle that turns a gear that triggers the release of a pendulum that knocks over a slab. … There’s also an electronic version, challenging visitors to create electrical circuits. Within minutes, total strangers are collaborating on building a working windmill while parents get itchy to maximize the Conner Prairie ticket price and get outside already.

The kids dragged away from the play (and, shhhh, learn) tables might resist Conner Prairie’s new Nature Walk trail. Without costumed re-enactors or re-created period-authentic settings, visitors get a low-key reminder of the land that settlers found when they arrived here.

The trail begins between Prairietown and the 1863 Civil War Journey and threads through the woods, down a semi-steep incline, winds along a path at the rim of open fields, and ends with a covered lookout area. The journey there and back is only 2/3 of a mile, but the quiet time might be just what you need in the middle of a long Conner Prairie day.

Either that, or it could be a brutal slog with kids who keep asking if that’s all there is, leading to a talk using phrases like “unplugging,” “listening to nature,” “You can have a juice box when we’re done,” and “OK, I’ll carry you.”•

__________

This column appears weekly. Send information on upcoming arts and entertainment events to lharry@ibj.com.

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  • If you haven't been in ages, NOW is the time to come back
    Most people I encounter have not been to Conner Prairie since grade school. My message to them is that the place has changed tremendously. There's something for the entire family, and something for people who love science, technology, and innovation as much as they love history. Check it out!

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  1. I am not by any means judging whether this is a good or bad project. It's pretty simple, the developers are not showing a hardship or need for this economic incentive. It is a vacant field, the easiest for development, and the developer already has the money to invest $26 million for construction. If they can afford that, they can afford to pay property taxes just like the rest of the residents do. As well, an average of $15/hour is an absolute joke in terms of economic development. Get in high paying jobs and maybe there's a different story. But that's the problem with this ask, it is speculative and users are just not known.

  2. Shouldn't this be a museum

  3. I don't have a problem with higher taxes, since it is obvious that our city is not adequately funded. And Ballard doesn't want to admit it, but he has increased taxes indirectly by 1) selling assets and spending the money, 2) letting now private entities increase user fees which were previously capped, 3) by spending reserves, and 4) by heavy dependence on TIFs. At the end, these are all indirect tax increases since someone will eventually have to pay for them. It's mathematics. You put property tax caps ("tax cut"), but you don't cut expenditures (justifiably so), so you increase taxes indirectly.

  4. Marijuana is the safest natural drug grown. Addiction is never physical. Marijuana health benefits are far more reaching then synthesized drugs. Abbott, Lilly, and the thousands of others create poisons and label them as medication. There is no current manufactured drug on the market that does not pose immediate and long term threat to the human anatomy. Certainly the potency of marijuana has increased by hybrids and growing techniques. However, Alcohol has been proven to destroy more families, relationships, cause more deaths and injuries in addition to the damage done to the body. Many confrontations such as domestic violence and other crimes can be attributed to alcohol. The criminal activities and injustices that surround marijuana exists because it is illegal in much of the world. If legalized throughout the world you would see a dramatic decrease in such activities and a savings to many countries for legal prosecutions, incarceration etc in regards to marijuana. It indeed can create wealth for the government by collecting taxes, creating jobs, etc.... I personally do not partake. I do hope it is legalized throughout the world.

  5. Build the resevoir. If built this will provide jobs and a reason to visit Anderson. The city needs to do something to differentiate itself from other cities in the area. Kudos to people with vision that are backing this project.

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