Hoosier Hospitality at Lanier Mansion

by Gerry Reilly, Lanier Mansion State Historic Site Manager

Bill Lackner  receives his Hoosier Hospitality Award from Sue Ellspermann at the ceremony on May 8 at the Indiana Statehouse.

Bill Lackner receives his Hoosier Hospitality Award from Sue Ellspermann at the ceremony on May 8 at the Indiana Statehouse.

On May 8, Bill Lackner, tour guide at the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site in Madison, traveled to the Indiana State Capitol to receive a Hoosier Hospitality Award from Lt. Governor Sue Ellspermann. He was one of 18 recipients who received the award from the Indiana Office of Tourism Development.

Bill was nominated because of the excellent customer service he provides visitors to the Lanier Mansion. His tours of the home are always entertaining and informative and he readily answers any questions visitors have about the site and Madison.

Here are a few quotes visitors have written about Bill:

“Bill is the very best tour guide you will ever come across. The home is also just super. I have toured mansions up and down the rivers and this is the best I have seen, I make sure all of my friends get there.”
Trip Advisor, December 2012

“We were given a delightful tour of this beautiful mansion by a gentleman named William. He had interesting and educational stories of the Lanier family and the economic, political and social activities of that era. We learned a great deal about the contributions Mr. Lanier made to the state of Indiana. Even though it was late fall (November), the gardens and the view of the river were lovely.”
Trip Advisor, November 2012

“Wonderful tour by Bill Lackner”
Guest register, May 2012

“Bill Lackner gave a wonderful tour and made the visit very rewarding. Much history and good stories. Thanks Bill!”
Guest register, February 2012

“Very nice. Bill was wonderful.”
Guest register, February 2012

The Hoosier Hospitality Awards ceremony is part of Visit Indiana Week, May 5 through 11. Nominations are submitted by community members and destination patrons. Nominations are reviewed and winners are selected by IOTD. Outstanding service is a major factor in determining whether a person returns to an individual business or destination. Travel, tourism and hospitality businesses support nearly 200,000 Hoosier jobs, drive $10 billion in consumer spending and serve 63 million travelers on an annual basis. The chief beneficiaries of this economic impact are the family-owned and small businesses that are the backbone of Indiana.

Advertisements

Wherein the new Limberlost Visitor Center is chronicled in vintage style.

by Curt Burnette, Naturalist/Program Developer at the Limberlost State Historic Site
(written in the style of newspaper articles of Gene Stratton-Porter’s Geneva years)

To the gratification of all Genevaites and other local citizens of the surrounding environs who have been faithful observers to its construction while eagerly awaiting its completion, Geneva’s delightful new attraction, the Limberlost Visitor Center, is now open. This beautiful 4,000 square foot building is clad with Alaskan cedar, but not in the usual lap-siding pattern of which we all are so well acquainted. Instead, these quite attractive boards are arranged in a West Coast style known as “rain screen.” A gap between and behind each board permits them to dry in a most efficient manner after each rainfall and therefore impart to them a longer life. The Limberlost State Historic Site is the first location in the fine state of Indiana to have a structure with this particular type of rain screen design. The rustic golden Alaskan cedar marvelously compliments the red cedar logs covering the Limberlost Cabin where local author and celebrity Mrs. Gene Stratton-Porter and her husband, Mr. Charles Porter, himself a local businessman and citizen of note, resided so many years ago.

visitor_center

The interior of this building contains three noteworthy areas. Visitors enter the central area through a wonderful glass foyer where handicap-accessible restrooms and drinking fountains await. Beyond the foyer lies a grand and open room with a splendid cathedral-style ceiling. Within is housed the Friends of the Limberlost gift retail establishment and several enlightening exhibitions about Mrs. Porter, her career, her family and her beloved Limberlost. To the rear of this lovely hall, a small bird-viewing room is discreetly placed for the pleasure of the ornithologically-minded.

The western end of the Center houses a fine storeroom, office facilities for the illustrious Historic Site staff, and a classroom/multi-purpose room appointed with audio-visual equipment of the most updated capabilities. This pleasant classroom can be cleverly arranged with chairs and tables for programs, presentations, meetings and gatherings of all manner and purpose. The eastern end contains an office for the sturdy and dedicated Nature Preserves staff, a kitchenette, a room housing furnaces and other devices of mechanical nature, plus another, albeit smaller, multi-purpose room.

Limberlost staff undertook the arduous but satisfying move into the new building in mid-January and threw open its doors to the public by the end of the month. A dedication and grand opening ceremony is scheduled for Saturday, April 27 at 11 a.m. This festivity will truly be a community-wide celebration as our new attraction will not only welcome visitors to the Historic Site but also to the area at large. A bodacious brochure rack in the grand hall abounds with information about Geneva, Berne, Adams and Jay counties, and the Hoosier State as a recreational and tourist destination.

The Visitor Center is the latest step in the most worthy effort to restore and promote the Land of the Limberlost. Mrs. Porter’s writings made the Limberlost famous around the world. The heyday of her immense popularity and the magnificence of the mighty swamp are gone now, but the Limberlost Cabin remains, her books are still read and admired, and the Limberlost Nature Preserves still provide access to the wonders of nature she so enjoyed. The Limberlost Visitor Center is the gateway into her world and is quite deserving of a visit. So govern yourself accordingly.

Wherein the author explains why he begins with wherein

by Curt Burnette, Naturalist/Program Developer at the Limberlost State Historic Site

When I read Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost for the first time, I was particularly intrigued by the way each chapter was introduced. For instance, Chapter 1 of Freckles begins, “Wherein Great Risks Are Taken And The Limberlost Guard Is Hired.” Chapter 1 of A Girl of the Limberlost begins, “Wherein Elnora Goes To High School And Learns Many Lessons Not Found In Her Books.” I thought these chapter descriptions were quaint and fun and whetted the readers appetite for what they were about to read.

girl_limberlost_bookFreckles and A Girl of the Limberlost were the only two novels in which Gene Stratton-Porter used this style of chapter heading, but she was not the only author to do so. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (of Sherlock Holmes fame) used a similar technique in 1926 when he published The Land of Mist. In this book, Doyle’s chapter headings all begin with “In Which” or “Which” or “Where,” such as Chapter 13 — “In Which Professor Challenger Goes Forth To Battle.” This technique goes back even further in time. In Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote, published in 1605, chapter headings are often even more lengthy and descriptive. Chapter XX — “Of the adventure, never before seen or heard of, achieved by the valorous Don Quixote of La Mancha, with less peril than any ever achieved by any famous knight in all the world.” Or Chapter XXIX — “Which deals with the pleasant device that was adopted to rescue our love-sick knight from the severe penance he had imposed upon himself.”

It is probably a good thing all books don’t have chapter headings which are this wordy. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading the chapter teases of Gene’s two most famous books. “Wherein” helped me get into the proper frame of mind to spend some time in the Limberlost at the beginning of the last century.

My use of “wherein” is a nod to Gene and an older style of writing. Books written long ago will, of course, have differences in style, word use and grammar. Gene calls a bicycle a “wheel,” and a car a “motor” and uses words such as “especial” or “espied” that we no longer use today. These differences contribute to the pleasure of reading older books and being transported back to bygone eras. Although it is hard sometimes (or most of the time) to understand what Shakespeare is saying in his works, there is never any doubt you are reading literature from a different time and place. So until next month — fare thee well in your travels and may by fate we will meet again! Forsooth!

Polishing silver at the museum

by Gaby Kienitz, Head Conservator

In period dramas like Downton Abbey, footmen or maids get the dreadful task of polishing the silver. Culbertson Mansion doesn’t have staff hidden in the basement ready to polish the silver; instead, that work is done in the Conservation Lab at the Indiana State Museum. Here in the Conservation Lab, we don’t think of polishing silver objects as drudgery, because we don’t have to polish the same object more than once every 10 years. How do we get away with it? We have a secret ingredient.

Tarnished silver: a punishment for footmen since time began.

Tarnished silver: a punishment for footmen since time began.

Removing the layers of corrosion on silver objects is entirely done by hand with just de-ionized water, precipitated chalk and small pieces of cotton wadding. Once the corrosion layers are removed, the object is carefully rinsed and dried. All of that is pretty much in keeping with Downton-style polishing. The trick up our sleeve is to apply a lacquer coating onto the freshly polished silver. The lacquer prevents a new layer of corrosion from forming on the silver, sealing the shiny silver from things in the environment that might cause corrosion to form again. Unfortunately, the coating isn’t

With all those stubborn nooks and crannies, we’re lucky it won’t need our attention again for a decade.

With all those stubborn nooks and crannies, we’re lucky it won’t need our attention again for a decade.

strong enough to withstand normal household use; it’s meant for objects that get the “white glove” treatment at museums and historic sites. Our most recent polishing project was this lovely silver coffee urn, which took three pairs of hands and many hours to complete.

So, bring out your silver, try on your British accent, and keep regularly polishing at home. Look for the coffee urn to make its appearance at Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site.

Behind the scenes at Lanier Mansion

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager

To me, the most interesting thing about an old house isn’t the fancy parlors, or how the dining room is decorated, but rather the cool little details that are easily missed. You know, places such as a space in the basement that once held ice, how a closet is designed or a specialty room modern buildings would never have. 

The Lanier Mansion, considered the “Crown Jewel” of Madison’s Historic District, is full of unique features throughout the 13,500 sq. feet home —10,000 of which the family lived in — that are easliy overlooked with a general visit to the site. For those who share that passion of exploring nooks and crannies, Lanier Mansion State Historic Site now offers a Behind-the-Scenes Tour on the second Saturday of each month at 4 p.m. The cost is $10 per person and we highly suggest making reservations by calling 812.273.0556. 

Tour guide Bill Lackner is waiting to take you on a behind-the-scenes adventure at Lanier Mansion!

Tour guide Bill Lackner is waiting to take you on a behind-the-scenes adventure at Lanier Mansion!

Bill Lackner, our main tour guide at Lanier Mansion — and winner of the 2012 Madison/Jefferson County Hospitality Award — offers some insights about this tour.  

Anne: What is your favorite Behind-the-Scenes part of the mansion?

Bill: Seeing the structural components of the house. A great example of this is found in the floor joists. The dimensions of the wood are many times larger and closer together than modern specifications demand. The remnants of bell signaling system. The modern HVAC and electrical systems are hidden from view and do not take away from the authentic appearance of the rooms. Also, be sure to take a closer look at the thick brick walls separating the rooms. Their thickness was determined more by financial ability than structural needs.

Anne: Why have the Behind-the-Scenes Tours been so popular?

Bill: People often wonder, “what is behind that door?” Now you can finally find out! People also like to have the inside story and be let in on some secrets.

Anne: How long has Lanier Mansion been offering these tours?

Bill: They began last year.

A brighter corner of the Lanier basement.

A brighter corner of the Lanier basement.

Anne: What is the #1 thing you think people ought to know about the mansion?

Bill: I actually have two things! First, it’s a showpiece. The building was meant to be dazzling in its day, and it still is today. It showed the wealth of the owner and demonstrated the ability of the architect and builder, Francis Costigan from Baltimore. This was Costigan’s first big job. After Lanier Mansion, Costigan went on to bigger jobs, and eventually moved to Indianapolis.

Second, its quality. In 1844, Madison was considered the Far West, and people often had to make do with available materials and workers. Lanier’s building materials, strength, beauty and craftsmanship is the same scale of quality you might find in more established Eastern cities such as Baltimore. For its time, it may have been the most significant home west of the Allegheny Mountains.

Anne: What should people know if they are interested in going on this tour? 

Bill: It is more physically demanding than the regular tour. There are more stairs, steeper stairs and fewer handrails. The tour covers all levels of the house, including the basement with its uneven dirt floor. It also takes about twice as long as a regular tour. In the winter, it is dark by the time the tour is complete. So if you have a flash light, bring it with you.

Wherein we learn why the Limberlost now abounds with deer, but Mrs. Porter never saw any

by Curt Burnette, Limberlost Program Developer/Naturalist

It is easy to imagine the mighty Limberlost swamp would have been brimming with wildlife during the years Gene Stratton-Porter wandered about it, recording her observations and taking photographs. And, in the case of many types of wildlife, this would have been true. However, other kinds of wildlife are more abundant now than they were in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Believe it or not, some were already gone or disappearing even during Gene’s time.

It is quite common now to see white-tailed deer crossing our local roads, in fields or back yards or dead along highways. If anything, parts of Indiana and some of the eastern United States are overrun with deer, even in suburbs and cities. Can you imagine a time when there were no deer here at all? Although it does not seem possible, it is true.

Photo taken at the Loblolly Marsh by Willy De Smet, Friends of the Limberlost board member.

Photo taken at the Loblolly Marsh by Willy De Smet, Friends of the Limberlost board member.

Deer were abundant when the first settlers began arriving in the early 1800s, but were so heavily hunted during the 19th century that the last deer was reported in our state in 1893. For the next 41 years, there were basically no deer in Indiana but for the occasional stray from a surrounding state! As I wander the Limberlost State Historic Site these days, I see deer or deer tracks everywhere I go. Travel back to when Gene was wandering these same grounds more than 100 years ago; she would never have seen a deer or their tracks.

In 1934, the Division of Fish & Game (now known as the Division of Fish & Wildlife) began reintroducing white-tailed deer into seven counties. By 1951, the deer population had recovered well enough to allow limited hunting. Nowadays, hunting is allowed throughout the state and deer season is a joy to many Hoosier hunters. Hunting fees are also critical to managing and maintaining Indiana wildlife populations and habitats.

There were other animals that were formerly present in the Limberlost but were gone by Gene’s time. The hunting party from which Limber Jim got himself lost in the early 1800s could have encountered wolves and bear, but Gene would not have. Another animal both Limber Jim, in his day, and I, at the present, could see are beaver. By Gene’s time, they had been trapped almost to extinction, but like the deer, they have been reintroduced and are now common. Wild turkey were also once plentiful in Indiana but disappeared. They too have been brought back successfully through our conservation efforts and are found in today’s Limberlost, but not Gene’s.

One animal that we know Gene encountered frequently is so rare today it is classified as endangered in Indiana. In her writings, Gene mentions how common the massasauga rattlesnake (the swamp rattler) was in the area. Now, they are pretty much found only in a few protected spots in northern Indiana such as state parks. In the Limberlost of the past, Gene and other residents were very concerned about the bite of a rattlesnake, but that’s not the case today. Today’s concern is the collision of a deer along the road instead of the bite from a rattlesnake. Times sure have changed.

An unconventional cleaning

by Meghan Smith, Conservation Specialist

In the Indiana State Museum conservation lab, we employ a lot of cleaning methods that would probably surprise you. Historic clothing, for example, almost never gets washed in the traditional sense; instead, we use vacuum cleaners to remove dust and dirt from the fabric. Paper artifacts get cleaned with something fairly normal – an eraser – but the eraser is ground into bits first, which are then gently massaged on the surface.

It’s been a long time since she had a bath.

It’s been a long time since she had a bath.

But sometimes, even we think our methods are unusual. A recent example of this was a marble statue, which was brought into the lab for a checkup before going down to the historic Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site in New Albany. It’s a small-scale copy of a statue called Venus Italica, sculpted by the Italian artist Antonio Canova around 1812. Numerous copies can be found in museums and private collections throughout the world, while the original is in the collection of the Pitti Palace in Florence, Italy. According to our records, this particular copy was purchased by Mrs. Francis Heberly during a trip to Florence in 1887. After living through more than a hundred years of coal dust and grit, the Venus was looking pretty gray. We cleaned off larger patches of grime using an adhesive putty called groomstick, and then attempted spot cleaning using cotton swabs and a very mild detergent solution. Unfortunately, this cleaning method created an uneven, patchy effect on the statue’s surface.

This is where the unusual method comes in. In order to achieve an even appearance on the surface, we decided to mix up a poultice. If you’ve heard of poultices before, it’s probably in the context of pioneer medical remedies, where a poultice meant a kind of mash made up of medicinal plants that would be plastered to a wound. In this case, it means a thick, gelatinous mixture spread over the surface of a marble or granite statue to remove stains.

Mixing up the poultice was a little bit like taking chemistry all over again, although (with apologies to my excellent high school chemistry teacher) the practical applications were easier to grasp. Most of the poultice is water, which is the actual solvent that does the cleaning. But to get it to stay in place, it has to be a lot thicker than plain water. Accordingly, the water is mixed with methyl cellulose, which is a thickener that can be found in some shampoos, paint and even ice cream. Movie fans will be

I’m mellllltiiiiing!

I’m mellllltiiiiing!

interested to note that methyl cellulose mixtures have been used in many films, including Ghostbusters (ectoplasm!) and Aliens (acidic alien drool!). But these two ingredients don’t get the job done on their own. Ammonium hydroxide is added to keep the poultice’s pH basic, so as not to etch the surface of the marble. Finally, fumed silica powder and propylene glycol are added to make the poultice even more viscous and elastic.

Once applied, the poultice made the Venus look like a melting candle. We had to babysit the drying process, pushing the gel back into place when it threatened to ooze off her limbs.

After about two days, the last of the poultice had hardened into a thin, crackly skin. We peeled it back, and voila! The dirt came with it.

Peeling off the poultice was extremely satisfying.

Peeling off the poultice was extremely satisfying.

Because the layer of grime was so thick in places, we ended up doing multiple applications of the poultice. The most stubborn area proved to be the backs of her legs, due to the gravity-defying angle of the surface. In order to get the poultice to stay put long enough for the water to do its work, we wrapped the gelled area with cling film and left it for a few days before allowing it to dry.

Post-cleaning. What a difference, huh?

Post-cleaning. What a difference, huh?

After some additional mechanical cleaning to even out the last few patchy areas, the Venus was ready for her debut!

To see the Venus and other beautiful 19th century decorative and household items, visit the Culbertson Mansion State Historic Site in New Albany! It is a truly stunning example of Victorian glamour.

The Venus Italica in her new home at the Culbertson Mansion.

The Venus Italica in her new home at the Culbertson Mansion.