Friday, April 06, 2012

Not just another history museum

I made my first visit to downtown Indianapolis's Indiana Historical Society recently. While I do find history interesting, I wouldn't say I have a passion for it.

But this was anything but a typical "stale" history musuem. At the Indiana Historical Society, history really does come alive.

Several of the exhibits feature period actors who give a "firsthand" telling of history as it is happening.

My main reason for visiting was to see the "Kennedy Speaks" exhibit about Robert Kennedy's visit to Indianapolis the night that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. A friend of mine had been in the crowd that night and told me about "holograms" and actors portraying characters. It had me intrigued.

I most certainly was not disappointed. As you enter the Kennedy Speaks exhibit, the empty bed of a pickup truck stands 15 feet in front of you. Two live "characters" are in the room, welcoming you, asking you if you've heard the news about King, things like that. They do a great job of recreating the atmosphere.

Suddenly a veil of smoke pours down over the bed of the pickup truck and out of nowhere, realistic 3D images of Kennedy and three others appear on the back of the truck. Kennedy then gives his brief speech, confirming the news that King has been shot and making an appeal for peace. For someone like me, who was born after the event happened (and for my young boys), it was a great way to get immersed in history and to get a sense of what it was really like.

Other exhibits we saw with period characters included Cole Porter singing in a lounge, a Prohibition exhibit that included one of Indy's first female police officers, a detainee and a woman from the Christian Temperance Society. There was also a 1950s exhibit featuring one of the first displaced Jewish families to arrive in the city following WWII.

Kids will enjoy a History Lab and some other hands-on exhibits on the second floor.

There's also a theater that runs a series of 3-4 minute movies about nine Indiana.

The fourth floor features an Indiana sports exhibit. Comprised mostly of photos from the archives of the Indianapolis Star, the exhibit covers auto racing, high school and professional basketball, football and more.

The Historical Society also features one of the premier libraries and archives of Indiana history, as well as a cafe.

It sits along the canal at the corner of New York and West streets and is easy to get to.