Joining us today as a guest blogger is local Indianapolis history lover and expert Tiffany Benedict Berkson, who you might know (or should know) as Historic Indianapolis. Whether a life-long resident or one-time visitor, you may discover something new in something old every day in Historic Indianapolis. Check her out on HistoricIndianapolis.com seven days a week, showing connections to Indianapolis’ past.
Indianapolis is lucky to be home to a number of fabulous and expansive museums, stretching over thousands of square feet or multiple acres with overflowing shelves, walls and exhibit cases—any of which could take a full day to semi-ingest. But what about for those with no attention span or narrow time table?
“Boutique Museums,” as I refer to them, fit easily on one side or the other of lunch plans — or if you were rash, romantic or know how to choreograph a schedule so it works like a Eurorail time table—might even supplant lunch plans. A quick respite, an escape to another world, the spark of inspiration only found in something not experienced on a regular basis—this is what to expect in the alternate world of boutique museums. Four favorites worth at least one visit:
Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site- Like that saying “I want to know something about everything and everything about something,” this place is THE world authority on President Benjamin Harrison. Though Indiana is yet to produce a native-born United States President, 23rd President Harrison lived in Indianapolis for the majority of his life. And we all want a glimpse behind the scenes of what a president’s home is/was really like, don’t we?
Since we’ve only had 44, Indianapolis is lucky to have such a gem. This one gives you lots of nifty bits and pieces: the room where winning election results were wired in by telegraph (no bank of tv’s here); early work-out equipment (Harrison wasn’t accompanied for a post Big-Mac jog by an entourage—though he did once have to chase a pony from his back yard down Pennsylvania Street); the carefully crafted bookshelf designed by one of his law-practice clients thought to have been payment for counsel (those days are long gone). The exhibits are always interesting: the Women’s Suffrage exhibit in the carriage house is worth that last stop and through February 2012, “Presidential Huddle,” showcases the various presidents with ties to the sport having a wee get-together here in January. (This one is also is handicapped accessible)
Morris-Butler House- Beautifully decorated, and an excellent example of an upper-middle class, Civil War era home, this museum is a particular favorite of lovers of the “Steam Punk” movement in the past few years. This museum allows you tangible entrée into a contextual knowledge of the world of our ancestors. Or for whom they may have toiled. Workshops and classes are also a specialty here, so come first to tour the house and return for an event—from the first ‘green’ movement (think cleaning and sanitizing with non-chemical household items) to the special “Tea” parties, the house hosts a number of events you won’t often find elsewhere in the city. It is the headquarters for the Hoosier Chapter of the Victorian Society in America and it is owned and operated by Indiana Landmarks, itself housed within the dazzling structure next door. You can’t miss it. Nor would you want to.
James Whitcomb Riley House- The first of our boutique museums in our first historic neighborhood, Lockerbie Square, that was home to the most beloved “Hoosier poet,” who told stories of Orphan Annie and Raggedy Man, among others. Think of a sort of J.K. Rowling of his day—on a much smaller scale—and would a person in 100 years be interested to see her personal effects or where she spent most of her time living? This museum is one of the best of its kind in the country because the house was so quickly purchased after the poet’s death. When the museum officially opened its doors five years later, the lady who had known him and been the home’s house keeper was the first to give tours here. It still looks like Riley might have just stepped out of the door, to return at any moment.
The Medical History Museum- This one is a little different than the others. It is not a former home, and it would require a bit more time than the others. There are so many interesting points from which you might skew your journey here, that it is almost overwhelming. The Victorian era, the medical field, western city suburb, nursing, medicinal plant garden, body parts, diseases, health care, death, insanity, neurology, architecture, design, photography, science—the list goes on—and I daresay there would be something here to interest everyone.
Indianapolis has many gems awaiting discovery and rewarding the local explorers. The historic neighborhoods of the three house museums are also worthy of walking or driving tours and really add to the ambiance and thrill of visiting these places. Each trip may yield another thrilling find.