Five Questions with Conner Prairie Interactive History Park
1859 Balloon Voyage is one of Conner Prairie's newest attractions.
Whether you want to take a ride in a giant balloon or practice your tomahawk-throwing skills, there's something for everyone at Indiana's Conner Prairie Interactive History Park. Don't believe me? Just keep reading for the inside scoop from Conner Prairie Chief Operating Officer Ken Bubp.
NEA: Please tell us a little bit about Conner Prairie Interactive History Park and what makes it unique.
KEN BUBP: Conner Prairie is an interactive history park, 17 miles north of downtown Indianapolis. At Conner Prairie, families of today engage, explore, and discover what it was like to live and play in Indiana’s past. Every visit is a unique adventure that provides an authentic look into the history that shapes us today. We are unique in that we deploy a lot of staff on a daily basis in order to engage guests by following their curiosity and interests. We do this by offering a wide variety of ways for guests to connect with history--- from first person characters who help guests imagine their lives in another time period, such as1836 Prairietown to our Science Lab where guests can explore science through the lens of history. For example, the Science Lab, where activities change monthly, recently had a focus on simple machines: pulleys, levers, gears, and wheels. Guests experimented with these simple machines to investigate for themselves how Hoosiers of the past used them to make life easier and work more efficiently.
NEA: What’s your favorite part of Conner Prairie and why?
BUBP: My favorite part is the Animal Encounters barn, where our exceptional staff introduce guests to a wide range of animals---up close and personal. By all accounts, this is something the full range of our guests love, from the youngest children to grandma and grandpa. I love this area because you can see the instant joy and wonder as a two-year-old holds a baby chick for the first time, or as the fourth-grade student learns more about the rare (and sometimes strange looking!) breeds of farm animals we preserve. Their eyes light up. It is a real and meaningful way we can help connect guests with their past. And it is memorable!
Making new friends in the Animal Encounters exhibit.
NEA: What’s on exhibit now?
BUBP: On a daily basis, there are four themed areas for guests to explore. In 1836 Prairietown, costumed staff engage guests through conversation and activities focused on life in that time. See the blacksmith working iron at the forge, help with farm chores, or take a lesson in the school house. The William Conner Homestead and Animal Encounters Barn feature affords guests the opportunity to tour William Conner’s original 1823 brick home, to meet animals up close, and to dip a candle. At the 1816 Lenape Indian Camp, we feature the lives of the Delaware, or Lenape, Indians, including a visit to a trading post, a chance to practice traditional Lenape skills, and the opportunity to throw a tomahawk. The 1859 Balloon Voyage is our newest exhibit area---and the first of its kind in the country---where guests explore the historic balloon voyage of John Wise. An interactive exhibit allows guests to experiment with the science and technology of the history of ballooning. Guests can then climb aboard a tethered helium-filled balloon, which carries them more than 350 feet above the landscape, and see the world as John Wise did 150 years ago!
On top of all of this, we offer the Science Lab Craft Corner, where guests make their own historic crafts; and Discovery Station, a play and learning area where our youngest guests can explore trains, gardens, and a kid-sized historic grocery store.
NEA: What do you hope visitors to Conner Prairie Interactive History Park will take away from the experience?
BUBP: Conner Prairie Interactive History Park is one of those rare places where fun and excitement go hand-in-hand with learning and exploration. We are most gratified when our guests share comments with us about how much fun they had, saying, “I never knew learning could be this fun!” We know people have precious little leisure time available in their packed lives, so we strive to be a place where families can come together and enjoy, learn, and share experiences. That’s why we are particularly pleased with our track record of five straight years of attendance and membership growth. It is gratifying that more and more people are choosing to visit Conner Prairie each year.
A Conner Prairie guest interacts with a Prairietown carpenter.
NEA: Aside from Conner Prairie History Park, what’s your own favorite museum to visit and why?
BUBP: My answer to this has certainly changed over time. At my current point in life, I have a three-and-a-half year old at home who loves carousels and train rides. There is an interesting small museum in the town where I live (Noblesville, Indiana) called the Indiana Transportation Museum. A few months ago little Julia got to take her first train ride, and she was delighted. We like that museum because of the unique sorts of experiences it provides. That said, she really does love visiting Conner Prairie because of the animals and the 1859 Balloon Voyage.
All photos courtesy Conner Prairie History Park