Visitors will see signs of
Morgan’s raiding party.

Summer is drawing to a close, but there’s still time to take your family on a vacation they will never forget.

No, I’m not talking about the beach. (As an historical fiction author, I would never recommend something as simple as that–although sun and sand make a nice vacation too). I’m talking about combining a fun experience with a learning experience by visiting a new museum that will let your family encounter and interact with history.

If you think going to a museum means walking around and staring into glass cases, you have something to learn. A new museum that opened in June near Indianapolis will open your eyes to the “next generation” of how history is learned. Described as part amusement park, part19th-century village, and part high-tech theater, this museum tells and teaches history in a different way: not as fact but as experience.

It reportedly took five years of research, planning, design and construction to create the exhibit, called 1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, a Smithsonian affiliate. This presentation is truly is unique because it combines the artistry and magic of technology with the authenticity and warmth of characters. Images, video, sound, live characters and period-specific sets and buildings work in concert to create an experience that will never be forgotten. Most importantly, the experience engages visitors to become active participants.

The Civil War Journey takes place in a re-creation of the southeastern Indiana town of Dupont, and chronicles the only Civil War battle fought on Indiana soil. That battle was triggered by the July 8, 1863, Ohio River crossing and subsequent capture of Corydon, Indiana, by Confederate General John Hunt Morgan and his band of 2,400 cavalry. Morgan’s Raid left up to 15 dead and more than 40 wounded in Corydon before moving on to several other small Indiana towns including Dupont.

According to Conner Prairie President and CEO, Ellen M. Rosenthal, “Civil War Journey is a vivid illustration of the transition from exhibit to experience. Whether one refers to it as ‘next generation’ or ‘Museum 3.0,’ Civil War Journey will truly immerse our visitors in history. It is unconventional.”

Civil War Journey tells the story from the viewpoints of people who actually experienced Morgan’s Raid. Its main characters are 16-year old Attia Porter; teenager Albert Cheatham, former slave, but now a free black man; and Confederate General John Hunt Morgan. The experience is based in large part on letters, journal entries, and other historical archives outlining the days and weeks before and after the raid. Civil War Journey conveys the terror and uncertainty that erupts when war arrives in one’s hometown.

Upon arrival, visitors are recruited by the Governor to defend the state. Stepping through Dupont’s covered bridge, they find the town has been ransacked. Each visitor is then asked to defend Indiana against General Morgan and 2,400 Confederate raiders. From the Mayfield and Nichols Dry Goods Store and Mrs. Mayfield’s urgent pleas for help, to the family home of the Porters, now occupied as Union militia headquarters, visitors are swept up in the conflict along with the townspeople. Civil War Journey is an intense, self-led exploration through a town in chaos.

With today’s growing use of technology and the need to teach children in new and creative ways, I envision this type of museum exhibit being joined by others that allow visitors to “experience” history rather than just read about it.

For a video about the exhibit go here.

 

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