The secret of geodes

geode011As a person who holds a bit more knowledge on certain obscure topics than the general population, I’m sometimes considered a specialist, at least in regard to rocks and fossils from Indiana. That being the case, I often entertain visitors who bring in bizarre objects for identification. Among the most common objects to come through the door are geodes. A fashionable Indiana rock, geodes are mostly found in Morgan, Monroe, Brown, Lawrence and Washington Counties. Most natives of those counties could tell a geode from an ordinary rock, but those of us not born and raised in south-central Indiana often don’t know the identity of these unique natural objects. Geodes are often suspected to be a number of things, including petrified human heads and dinosaur eggs. Unfortunately, neither of these is true. However, they are a minor mystery to geologists.

geode02Indiana geodes originated about 350 million years ago, along with rocks that were deposited while Indiana was underwater (think of a briny middle-eastern tidal flat – very salty and very shallow). The prevailing theory is that geodes originated as an under-sea-floor nodule of the mineral anhydrite. Conditions changed and the anhydrite was replaced, through groundwater flow, by other minerals, resulting in the vast quantity of geodes that we see in only certain rock layers today. By definition, geodes have a hard chalcedony rind, and can either be hollow, with their walls lined by various crystals, or solid.

Many people collect geodes. In southern Indiana, many a fence row is made up of these hard lumpy spheres. They do have another aesthetic value, though. Crack a geode open and you might just find some spectacular crystals, presented nicely in a bowl.

The museum has a collection on display, but through May, a local geode collector, Bob Harman, has been kind enough to loan us some of his best specimens. These are on display in our first floor natural history gallery.

Peggy Fisherkeller is the curator of geology at the Indiana State Museum.

Pushing Power

Tony Stewart's dad, Nelson (l) and his Sprint Car

Tony Stewart's dad, Nelson (l) and his Sprint Car

Dozens of expensive racing cars are arriving at the Indiana State Museum this week, in preparation for the Gathering Before the Green Flag event this Saturday and Sunday.  Some 70 vehicles, valued at well over $21 million will be on display around the museum.  They represent all sorts of racing, including Indy 500 cars, NASCAR, sprint cars, etc.  I’m not a racing fan myself, but have been totally ogling these cars all day…its way cool, I assure you!  Many of them just exude history…Danica Patrick’s car, cars from the 1960’s and earlier, etc.  You really don’t have to be a race fan to appreciate the passion and energy, the sheer beauty, and the history behind these vehicles.

I’m wishing I had little kids again…many of these cars will be available for kids to climb inside!

Becoming Clifford

Clifford at the Indiana State Museum during Celebration Crossing.

Clifford at the Indiana State Museum during Celebration Crossing.

As part of the museum’s 2008 Celebration Crossing exhibit, I was in costume four times roaming the halls as Clifford. Hidden inside a suit where you are completely anonymous, the kid in me was set loose—maybe it was all that adoration coming my way.

At the first sighting for most kids, there was instant recognition and shouts of “Look Mom, it’s Clifford!” Many immediately came running for a hug. Sometimes it was a group-hug of four, five or more and cries of “Take a picture.” Some were shy, but gazed adoringly from a distance. Parents often urged closer contact with talk of watching Clifford on TV and “now he’s right here!” Most could be coaxed closer with the offer of “high-fives” and non-aggressive doggie behavior like happy clapping of paws when a timid one made first touch. If a small child buried his head in Clifford’s chest, the parents cooed with “Oh, that’s so sweet.”

School-age children were the most vocal. Some said, “I have all your books” or “I love you Clifford!” Others caught a glimpse of hairy arm or peered into the big eye peep holes loudly announcing, “I see a face in there.” But many more gleefully ran on yelling, “I got a hug from Clifford.” A frequent question was “Where’s Emily?” to which Clifford could only shrug with upturned paws.

Teen responses ranged from cool aloofness to challenges like “My dog’s bigger than your dog!” A boy playfully invited me outside to settle the score. Girls more often would feign a swoon into Clifford’s arms with “I loved you Clifford.” The grown-up, too cool teens were a challenge to Clifford and his prowess as suitor. If no small ones were present and seeking his attention, he would pursue the cool ones, male or female, tap them on the shoulder and insist on a high-five usually leading to success and even a hug to everyone’s laughter.

Most adult reactions were in response to the children and Clifford, but a few were startling comments directed at his doggishness. Not surprisingly, the most frequent were about fire plugs and directions to the one nearest. One woman spoke of dog breath and another made an indecent proposal of meeting her later!

But the most fun for Clifford were the infants, those old enough to fix a gaze, but not yet speaking. They generally were not frightened. They just watched in fascination often with a puzzled expression. Playing peek-a-boo or blowing kisses would usually bring a smile to the delight of parents and the satisfaction of Clifford. Those were the times the sweat-soaked guy inside the scratchy suit forgot his creature discomforts and reveled in the moment.

Donovan Miller is a volunteer at the Indiana State Museum.

Happy 80th Birthday, Dr. King

Today is the official day, and as such, the State of Indiana held their celebration at the museum today.  Besides Gov. Mitch Daniels, there were dignitaries from the Indiana Civil Rights Commission and various King Commission awards were handed out.

My personal favorite was the ‘Sound Machine’ choir from College Park Elementary School, who sang “I Have a Dream” and “Let Freedom Ring”.  Apparently the governor enjoyed it, as well.  He always likes to get in there with the kids and talk with them about their grades, homework, and today, music.  Apparently he recognized one of the students as “my harpist”…from some other activity where they’d been introduced.  How gratifying for her! She’s with him on the right in this picture…

Playing with Owl Puke

owl_pelletsEveryone has boring things they have to do at work as well as parts of their job that rock. Not only does my job have a ton of things that rock – but the best part is sharing the fun stuff with the public. (Luckily for those people, I keep all the boring data entry and meetings to myself).


In addition to awesome events and interesting people at the museum, we also have an educational cart program that provides interesting tidbits of information about a number of topics. One of these carts is all about owl pellets.

Museum program specialist Aaron Braithwaite investigates some owl pellets.

Museum program specialist Aaron Braithwaite investigates some owl pellets.

If you’ve never seen an owl pellet, it looks, well – sort of like poo and in fact, that’s what most people think it is when they walk up. They think that I’m some odd girl, standing there with a friendly smile and a table full of poo. Well folks, it’s not poo. It’s actually owl puke and it’s very cool.

Without ruining the whole experience for you, basically an owl eats its prey whole but can’t digest the fur and bones. So all of that goodness gets wadded up into what looks like a big fur ball and spit back up. I use the term “spit” loosely. It’s actually a more violent process – more akin to vomiting. So the owl hacks up this ball of fur and bones and goes on his merry way. Someone then collects these owl pellets so that those of us in education can dissect them.

Why dissect them? Why not leave the puke ball alone? Why pick up something that looks like that investigate what’s inside?

Because we can. And even the most reticent people can’t resist picking one little bone out of the pellet, then another, then another and before long they’ve been there 45 minutes and have two shrew skeletons and half a mole. What could be more fun?

So stop by and dissect your own owl pellet on Sunday, January 18 from noon to 2 p.m. in the O’Bannon Great Hall or feel free to e-mail me about future owl pellet dates.

First Love, then Hope

Indiana Obelisk

Indiana Obelisk

Pop artist – and native Hoosier – Robert Indiana was made famous in the 1960s with his iconic “LOVE” sculpture. Visitors to the Indiana State Museum are greeted by his 55-foot-tall “Indiana” obelisk in the Great Hall – the artist’s largest sculpture. We just found out the Robert Indiana and Rosenbaum Contemporary in Florida have teamed up to design a new sculpture commemorating the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. The new piece is called, appropriately, “HOPE.”

The Power of One

There is a quote I try to live by that says,

I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do. (Edward Everett Hale)

This quote speaks well for our own Karine Huys, the museum’s Volunteer Coordinator.  She truly “walks the walk” as she not only works many hours for the museum, but also volunteers her time for the Indianapolis affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

This month Karine was awarded Komen’s Promise of One award for her volunteer service on behalf of the affiliate, which was presented by Indianapolis Colts Superbowl winner Jeff Saturday and his wife Karen.

Below is what the Komen people had to say about Karine…we are very proud of her dedication.

Komen was founded on a promise between two sisters so there is no higher Komen national award than the Promise of One, a symbol of the Komen heritage. Karine Huys is one of those quiet, behind the scenes volunteers who helps everywhere and can be depended upon 100% to get the job done.  She serves on the Pink Tie Ball committee overseeing the silent auction process, serves on the Volunteer and the Development Committees and can frequently be found helping out in the office. She gives 110% to honor her sister who is currently battling breast cancer.

Family New Year’s Eve

What a great time was had by about 1500 people on New Year’s Eve, here at the museum!  The band was perfect, with a distinct Caribbean feel to their holiday and other familiar tunes, there was face painting and bowling and other fun activities for kids, and the balloons dropped at 8 p.m. for an exciting start to a new year.

You can find galleries of photos both on and here on the IndyStar site as well.  A couple of my favorites are below…made me wish my kids were young enough to enjoy this kind of entertainment again.