Indiana State Museum, etc., Indianapolis, IN

Diana, MaceVindaloo, Wraith6

We had been in Indianapolis before — for both C2 and for C3, back in the day. And at least some of Hutters are denizens of this place; nicknames like "Indianapo-no-place" are telling — it has a certain "get me outta here!" quality to it. Indianapolis, these day is the "demographic center of the USA" meaning just about everyone flies here, and being that it's so central, it's a good place to put a convention. It had decent hotels and many motels, and an airport that functions quite nicely.

In its past, Indianapolis was quite the market center, in the sense that it's kind of like the support town for the surrounding "heartland" farms. There are still dealerships for John Deere and other farm equipment, and many of the men sport baseball caps given to them for free by a seed company. It's very "yesteryear" and you can imagine them chawing on some straw. This is the place the ladies came to fantasize that they were living in gentility; the L.S. Ayres department store was located here and the gentlemen would eat lunch in the store's tearoom in the days before fast food chains bore into the country. It was also where women and children came for afternoon tea; those of us who grew up here still consider the tearoom as the height of elegance, even though we've all moved on in life and geography.

This city is full of "hand-on" types, and there were factories manufacturing all manner of goods, including pharmaceuticals, chemicals, pesticides, etc. The Industrial Revolution was good to this resource-rich area (there is a lot of mining and quarrying here, as well as a lot of water), but mechanization put many people out of work, and the new ways left many behind. That's when urban blight had hit this city in the 1970s, like it did to every city in the US. Businesses struggled and closed, areas became run-down and dangerous.

Then at the turn of this century, the city revitalized, building a convention center and museums, and aggressively trying to preserve what was good about its past, and create something good for the future. It was if the residents decided to take matters into their own hands. Even now, after the successful restoration of areas through lost to shabbiness, every citizen seems to know what's going on in their city and takes pride in it (or at least has a strong opinion). For instance, the cab drivers and restaurant servers and volunteers at the museum all understood that a new football stadium was needed to keep their beloved Colts in the city. Ever practical, they saw it as good for business, in that the RCA Dome where they currently play, connected to the convention center, would be converted into more convention space. "We lose too many of the big ones," explained one cab driver. Another time, another cab driver from Haiti repeated this, and hoped, "Maybe we will get one of the big Republican or Democratic conventions!"

Nonetheless, Indianapolis does have a small-town feel to it, a certain quaintness reflected by everyone's desire to know what's happening to their city, plus the fact that they recognized us as out-of-towners and were friendly to us because of it. For some of us raised in bigger, more iconic cities, it was a bit creepy ... but then, it was nice, too.

Our main reason for being here this time was the Lord of the Rings: Motion Picture Trilogy Exhibition at the Indiana State Museum, along with the New Zealand Night Dinner, featuring wines made in New Zealand and exported to the US, as well as some New Zealand ingredients. Unlike other places where this exhibition had stopped, the ticket for the dinner and for the exhibition both included tickets to the rest of the museum as well, so it was worth revolving our activities around this building.

The museum is quite new and the Indiana limestone for which this state is famous (all the marble in Grand Central Station in New York City came from Indiana quarries) is well-represented. Like many government efforts, it was important to drum up support for the endeavor from all the subsidiary governments, and counties throughout the state were invited to commission outdoor artworks which would be embedded into the outside stonework of the museum itself. Most of the counties chose to represent themselves with what they were known for; Delaware County is where Jim Davis, creator of the "Garfield" comic strip, first penned the fat orange cat. They are also known for pickles ... thus their contribution was three shelves of preserving jars, all filled with green pickles, except for the one on the lower right, which contained a rather familiar looking and perplexed fat orange cat. Another was known for its covered bridges; another for livestock and grain. The modernistic representations are a great display in and of themselves, and associated plaques explained the wheres and whys.

Different private and public groups donated different aspects of the buildings, and were so noted. The terrace of the Canal Café & Terrace was donated by the "men and women of the power company." Galleries are named for their major donors, and even corridors become namable space. In turn, these spaces are all up for rent as venues for everything from a wedding to a corporate festival. They even have their own catering facility, complete with permanent kitchen and serving staff, and they will take a crack at anything you want or need in terms of food and entertainment services.

The building is quirky looking from the outside, but it does make sense when you get in. All the floors are inter-connected, there are elevators and considerations for the mobility-handicapped, and the space is climate controlled. It's heated by steam in winter, and some that steam is used to run a steamclock behind the museum, which plays songs about Indiana on the quarter-hour.

Behind the museum is a beautifully maintained canal. Commissioned in 1836, way before the advent of the American Interstate sytem, the canal was built with the hope of linking Indianapolis to the rest of the world, just as the Eerie Canal had done for the Great Lakes, linking Buffalo to the Hudson River, then on to New York City. The southern part had the Ohio River and the northern part had the Great Lakes. Only 20 miles was every built, and an 8-mile section was ever filled, from the White River northward. In 1871, the power company acquired it in order to have a water source for its steam heating and power supply. Mills used the canal the same way. 38 companies used it as a source of ice to stock ice houses, and it was used for entertainment for boaters, as well. In the 1960s was forced underground to support a new interstate system. In 1969, the power company abandoned its use of the canal water and put a portion of it up for sale. In 1976, it was deeded to the City of Indianapolis, who had it lowered, and concreted the toepath and berm to stabilize it, and it was re-named the Indianapolis Canal Walk. Anyone growing up here during that time will tell you that the area was considered dingy and dangerous until its recent renovations by the White River State Park.

In fact, a waiter at the L.S. Ayres Tearoom told us to be sure we walked along the canal, and emphasized that it's perfectly safe now. It's really a beautiful walking path now, populated by families of all ages and generations. Not only that, the real estate overlooking the water has become valuable. On the other end of the canal is the State University, and housing always seems to be in short supply where schools are concerned. There are many yuppie-style townhouses and apartments built around fountains along the canal. It seems deserted when we wandered around, but that might be because they're so new and not yet occupied.

There are fountains of many types along the canal, including waterfall, spouting, drip, etc. There are bicycle rentals during the warmer months in fine weather; there is even a gondola for rent parked mid-canal. The rental company is called Wheel Fun (imagine Elmer Fudd saying that?), and they not only rent conventional bicycles, but also 3- and 6-passenger bike surries (complete with shopping cart style seats in front for small kids), but also the laid-back style of chopper bike in one or two passenger models, and also tandem bicycles. At a mid-canal location, there were 1-, 2- and 4-seater peddleboats, including awnings to keep the sun off you. They also had more kayak style boats, with paddles, too. Business was hopping, and for about $10 to $30 per hour, you could enjoy the urban renewal for yourself.

Being that it's a state museum, one could expect a lot of Indiana history and pride to be contained in it. It's nice that more tangible things like the Canal or the L.S. Ayres tearoom are also preserved, and that that museum is not simply a mausoleum. But even when it serves as one, it does so in interesting ways. For instance, the Oscar C. McColloch School No. 5 is a three-story facade preserved for its terracotta structures, and also represented a settlement in a battle between the White River State Park Commission and the Historic Landmarks Foundation of Indiana; the latter would get approval of preservation efforts (or otherwise) for historic sites and structures by the parks commission. The Parks commission actually partially destroyed the school, and then later agreed to rebuild and incorporate the facade. Maybe no one really won, but maybe everyone did.

Within the museum, there are many things that are simply "Indiana," including a large sculpture spelling it out (just in case you thought you might've been in some other state). Naturalists, painters, musicians, and all manner of volunteers were populated amongst the displays. You could bring a rock you found and have someone let you know what they thought it was. Maybe it's an arrowhead, or a water-born or glacier-carried pebble from out of state?

Though this isn't a science museum, it does function as one, with many displays on the flora and fauna here, past and present. It was revealed that Eli Lilly, the pharmaceutical giant, was an active and published archologist. He studied many native American mounds and sites before taking the reins of the family business. It was during his tenure at the company that big advancements were made in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, for which the company is still known (primarily for drugs like insulin and Prozac). There are also details of the nearly complete remains of mammoths found in farm ditches, along with videos of the dig, and of the owners of the land who felt very strongly that the beasts should remain in Indiana.

There were also displays showing reproductions of Lewis & Clark's journey westward, fossils, painting, costumes, clothing, ship models, and even photo galleries for the portraits of favored son James Dean. In seeing the photos, it was obvious that Dean was his era's Johnny Depp — they even have similar glasses in some movies. Though Dean would return to his uncle's farm in Fairmont (where he was raised after his mother's death), it was obvious in these photos that he was not comfortable in the world where he was raised; but neither did he fit into Hollywood or New York. In retrospect, it's obvious that he wasn't meant to stay long in our world ... It's said that Alec Guinness refused to ride in the sports car that Dean died in; it was the first time a strong, strong feeling had controlled Guinness's judgement, going against what he thought was best. Apparently, the feeling hit him again after looking at a script by a young director named George Lucas; he thought it was a ridiculous story, but something about it made him say "yes" to the role of Obiwan Kenobi ...

Alas, we didn't find any decent souvenirs to bring home; the gift shop had a lot of standard toys and books; we had hoped to pick up a cookbook. The manager of the L.S. Ayres Tearoom had said there was a tearoom cookbook, but we couldn't find it. There were rocks, stuffed animals, candy (which you weren't allowed to eat in the museum), and a larger display of hand-thrown pottery, which wasn't all that attractive or practical to try and take home. There was a strong emphasis on all things Indiana, of course. Even the Lord of the Rings show didn't have anything for sale which we couldn't get closer to home. There was no exhibition catalog, and stuff you could buy online by Sideshow Weta or ebay at much more reasonable cost. Books were cover-priced, as well. Even though we know profits will go back to the museum, we thought it would be better to simply support the museum itself rather than buying the stuff.

On our way out, we realized that there were state seals embedded in the walkway leading up to the front of the museum, starting with Delaware and ending at Indiana. It seemed odd that they wouldn't have the rest of the states which came after Indiana; if they wanted to emphasize Indiana's place in history, did they really need the states that came before it, but not after? If you followed that pathway, you came upon the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indian and Western Art. Our L.S. Ayres waiter pointed out that "Indians" are not the only native americans, and that the Scandinavian name for the museum was a mite confusing. We liked the pergola and staircase carpentry, and the fountain-sculpture in front of leaping deer, though it was reminiscent of the cows fording a stream in Irving, TX ...

In conclusion, the Indiana State Museum is a lovely building and the White River State Park Commission is doing a great job of maintaining the campus and preservation efforts. We hope people do use this reasonably priced venue and visit it often. We're from out of town, and are glad we decided to focus our weekend on this one place, rather than trying to wander all over town. Even in a city as small and as quaint as Indianapolis, one has to plan in order to get the most out of your time. If you find yourself with a layover here, consider this place for refreshment of many sorts.

Disclaimer: All contents are personal observations, and no profit or lucre is expected, solicited, advocated or paid by anyone, including those being observed. This is all just for fun. Any comments, please e-mail the author or WOOKIEEhut directly. Flames will be ignored. This report may not be posted anywhere without the author's knowledge, consent, and permission.