The museum experience at the Indiana History Center is so unique that I have to say, the kids and I have never seen anything like it. Let me think how I can best describe this to you. The centerpiece of the whole experience is the “You Are There” exhibits. There are three period scenes—a grocery store during WWII, an auto garage in the early 1920’s, and an embroidery and violin repair shop during the late 1800’s. At first you see an authentic original black and white photograph on the wall. Then you see that same photo transposed onto a curtain of mist. You walk through the mist and enter the scene of the picture in full color with live actors. It’s as if you went back in time through the original photo into the real live scene! You interact with the actors who speak and act exactly how they would in the time and place of the original photo, shopping for groceries and getting your ration card stamped, making a deal on the model T in the garage, or testing out a violin.
The kids and I absolutely loved immersing ourselves in the experience realizing once again that history did not happen in black and white photos but live and in color. In the general store during WWII we learned about rationing and about what it was like for an African American living in one of the few integrated towns in the midwest. It was so great learning by being in the here and now, rearranging our thoughts about the past into the present so that we could interact with the characters in the scene.
Going into the 1914 garage was fantastic pretending we were interested in purchasing a used Model T which was for sale for about $250. We all got to get behind the wheel and get an up close look at the motor. What struck me most was that the concepts of purchasing a car were the same, but the prices, models were totally different. On many levels we could relate, and in many ways we were surprised…$300 for a new car was a real shocker.
The violin shop was fun too, and the boys especially loved trying their hand at playing one of the instruments. They played right along saying they’d had lessons and were shopping for a new one. Lilia and Abigail in the meantime chatted up the shop owners wife who was embroidering a gorgeous piece showing the girls how to do the stitches.
I loved that the kids were truly engaged, asking lots of questions and participating as much as possible. I think Indiana History Center’s concept is something that more museums should take note of and emulate. There is something about experiential learning that is truly magical. You are engaging all your senses at once being transported into a scene making for a unique and very memorable experience.
*Update: There is a new You Are There exhibit, “1939: Healing Bodies Changing Minds,” that looks equally amazing—check it out! A wonderfully interactive experience and an absolute DO NOT MISS!