Thursday, May 3, 2012

Travel options for this summer

When I was growing up, my father decided one year that it was time for us to get to know the state we lived in. So he planned a day trip for every day of his one-week vacation so we could see a number of attractions in Nebraska as well as the Eisenhower Museum in Abilene, KS. I’m sure part of it was compromise with my mother, who really prefers sleeping in her own bed every night, plus the cost savings of not staying in a motel.

Now that the price of travel has risen…again…and isn’t likely to go down or even level out with gas prices being what they are…the “staycation” is being considered by more as a travel option so here are some ideas and observations for you and your family.

I’d obviously be remiss if I didn’t first mention the History Center. We, like many other entities in Fort Wayne, are often forgotten as a place “to get away to” by those living in the city. The Downtown Improvement District, Arts United and Visit Fort Wayne would like to change that and thus the reason for the last Saturday events every month. We offer half price admission then, as do many of the other attractions, so rather than trying to take everything in the day of  Be a Tourist in Your Own Hometown, why not see Fort Wayne this year? You will be amazed at what this city has to offer.

Besides the History Center, if you like history there’s the Fort Wayne Firefighters Museum on Washington beside the Allen County Public Library, the African American Historical Museum east of the downtown post office, and the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum, just off South Calhoun.

Chicago is not that far away but even closer is South Bend. Since my husband’s work sometimes takes him there, one day I tagged along and went to the Notre Dame campus. I’d be perfectly happy spending several hours in their book store but there is much more than that to see and if you like photography, the options for some terrific photos are certainly available on that campus.

South Bend has a wealth of museums and some fine hotels if you do decide to spend the night. This year we hope to go to the Studebaker Museum. I had a great aunt who would drive nothing else and I’ve always wanted to be able to figure out why. Perhaps 2012 will be the year I do!

A couple of weeks ago we ventured down to Indianapolis to the Indiana Historical Society. Interestingly enough, everyone that I’ve mentioned this place to has said something to the effect of, “I’ve been meaning to go there. I hear it’s pretty interesting.”

IHS offers on a rotating basis what they term “a unique set of visitor exhibitions called the Indiana Experience”. Here’s where my “observations” come in.

Indiana Experience allows you to “step into” a photograph and become a part of history. Some of the “experiences” become reproductions of places such as a police station during Prohibition or the kitchen of Jewish immigrants after World War II. These two particular exhibits featured actors who would converse with you as though you were in the time of the exhibit. Another—the exhibit that I particularly wanted to see about Robert F. Kennedy’s speech in Indianapolis the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination—puts you in the location with actors in a movie slipped into the space as though you are watching them.

One of the IHS staff, who happened to be at the genealogy convention here in Fort Wayne last weekend, told me that exhibits typically stay up about six months. Researching and putting them together is a lengthy process so they like to make the most of their time.

There were several school groups there the day we visited and the kitchen had them fascinated. The woman playing the “lady of the house” was answering a number of questions from what was in her glass on the kitchen table (tea) to what kind of card game was she playing with her friend (cribbage). I felt as though I had trespassed on someone’s private property but the kids were having a great time and probably didn’t want to hear her observations on the Holocaust, which to me were of greater interest. And at my age, a 1950’s style kitchen isn’t history—it’s my childhood!

My husband enjoyed the “police station”. As I asked questions about some of their artifacts, since they are similar to the ones we have in the former City Hall Jail, Tom was told that his wife certainly knows her way around a jail. Hmmm………..

The Kennedy exhibit was somewhat disappointing but more so I think because I was 16 when RFK was assassinated so actors will never “be” him. The accompanying exhibit, which featured persons living in Indianapolis now and who were there the night of the speech, was of far greater interest to me. I wrote down several names to further research but was disappointed that there were no artifacts to see—only videos of interviews.

But the visual nature of the exhibit seemed to appeal greatly to the students and Tom reminded me that the JFK Presidential Library is far more video than artifacts also. The Eisenhower, Truman and Roosevelt libraries are filled with items from their presidencies and reproduced offices. Kennedy’s administration was the first to be highly televised, and therein lies the difference in the approach to presenting the history of their administrations.

This leads me to tell you that to “present history” in ways that appeal to everyone is nigh on to impossible in one museum. Budgets just don’t allow for it nor do the size of facilities unless, of course, you’re the Smithsonian. And not even it is “perfect”. Regardless of where you and your family go, not everything, nor the way it’s presented, will appeal to all of you. Part of the fun of a museum, however, is going with an open mind about learning something new and then talking about your experiences with others who may have lived in that time frame or have studied it so that it becomes more real and more alive.

The best example of that for our family was an unplanned side trip off I-80 one vacation to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. There was a ‘65 Mustang out front (my high school graduation present for earning a four-year scholarship) and an exhibit of John Lennon’s artwork inside. Our son, Christopher, was rather amazed at how much staid old mom and dad knew about rock music. Ah, the joy of being a “Boomer”.

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