Not far from Indianapolis, Conner Prairie re-creates life in early 19th century Indiana. The team there has developed a number of interactive experiences for groups, including the acclaimed Follow the North Star program.
“We take groups out and give them a feel for what it would have been like to be a runaway slave going through Indiana on the Underground Railroad,” said general manager Michelle Evans. “You encounter good guys and bad guys along the way, some that are trying to help you and some that are trying to stop you.”
During the 90-minute experience, guests wander through the woods and meet interpreters playing the roles of Quaker abolitionists, slave hunters and freed blacks. The program ends with a debriefing at the visitors center, where participants can ask questions and learn about modern slavery and human trafficking issues.
For a more lighthearted experience, groups can schedule a Hearthside Dining program in the 1823 William Conner House. Participants help prepare and then partake in a typical meal from the period.
“We start with cider and popcorn to warm people up,” Evans said. “There’s always butter to churn and bread to make, and people also grind coffee and prepare vegetables. We use all historic recipes, and people get a chance to help cook around the fire.”
The food preparation and subsequent meal are led by the site’s interpreters.
— www.connerprairie.org —
Old World Wisconsin
Situated on 600 acres of Wisconsin farmland, Old World Wisconsin educates visitors on the way of life established by international settlers who came to the area in the 1800s. Groups can take part in several special experiences, among them knitting and weaving demonstrations, historic fashion shows and interactive cooking.
“We have a small-group tour that’s two hours of cooking on a wood cook stove in one of our kitchens,” said curator of interpretation Jennifer Van Haaften. “Half of the group will be making a spiced pound cake and learning how to measure heat on a wood stove without thermometers. The other half of the group will mix ice cream ingredients, chop up the ice and churn the cream.”
On a historic agriculture tour, groups join the staff’s agricultural expert to tour a number of the farmsteads in the area. During the visit, they’ll see horses, cattle, chickens and hogs up close and learn how the animals were fed and cared for in the 19th century. Many groups also enjoy a session with the gardener at Old World Wisconsin.
“She is very well versed in the heirloom variety of plants, and she talks about what the different ethnic groups grew in Wisconsin,” Van Haaften said. “You take a personalized garden tour with her, where she pulls different herbs and offers people to taste and smell them.”