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.

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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.

Spookiness at the Lanier Mansion

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager

Fall is probably my favorite time of the year with the beautiful fall colors, brisk weather and thoughts of hot cocoa, hayrides and, of course, Halloween! This year’s Spooky Mansion at the Lanier Mansion was great fun! More than 100 children with parents in tow trooped through the mansion which was decorated with skeletons, spiders, ghosts, creepy crawlies, a frightening doll (see picture at left) and, new this year, the King and Queen of Halloween. Trick-or-treaters braved giant spiders and monsters in the basement to get to the candy.

Outside, two Union soldiers and one Confederate replayed a Civil War skirmish on the north lawn, their gunfire sparking the night air and adding unexpected excitement to the evening. Beloved storyteller Bob Hartsaw told Halloween tales and drew applause for his version of James Whitcomb Riley’s “Little Orphant Annie.” To finish the evening, children made flying bats and decorated pictures with foam cutouts. 

The best part is all the creative costumes! Some are homemade, some purchased, but all are better than the plastic mask and garbage bag version of my youth. All and all, it was a successful, fun program that the staff looks forward to each year.

Lessons on Indiana

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager for the State Historic Sites

Last Friday, I headed up from the Lanier Mansion in Madison to Ball State University campus in Muncie to meet with elementary education majors studying social studies curriculum with Dr. Ron Morris.

One of the key components of this class is to create curriculum for Indiana historical sites to use with teachers. The group pictured here include Sarah Neal, Senior Elementary Education major from Orlando, FL; Katelyn Fields, Junior Elementary Education major from Noblesville, IN; and Klara Howards, Senior Elementary Education major from Upland, IN. 

They developed two separate units for the Indiana State Historic Sites, including The Indiana Frontier and Pre-1865 transportation along the Whitewater Canal.

The essence of these lesson plans is to take students beyond surface messages (like the date Indiana was settled) and delve into deeper issues (like how a community worked together in 1825) and how some of these core issues are still with us today.

I really appreciate the work done by these students and others like them not only because these students are finding ways to use our sites to teach their curriculum for themselves, but for teachers and students throughout the state of Indiana.

Thanks Ball State, Dr. Morris and students Sarah, Katelyn and Klara!

Teachers who are interested in any of these curriculums should contact Anne Fairchild at afairchild@indianamuseum.org.

The art and science of window washing

by Bill Lackner, Tour Guide at Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, and Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager

When it comes time to cleaning windows at the Lanier Mansion, there are extra things to consider. After all, some of the glass dates back to 1844!

First, there is the old method of using  gravity as the main method to flatten the surface of blown glass.  Because this system wasn’t perfect, the imperfections and distortions you see can make weak areas in the glass.  Also, this method did not allow them to make large panes, so we have many tiny windows supported by wooden frames instead of one large window. This makes the job even harder! 

Then there is the new technology to consider: A thin film filter was applied to the interior surface of the glass to block ultraviolet light. This filter protects textiles, papers and other surfaces from damaging sunlight coming through the windows. Any abrasions to this delicate film can cause damage from the sun in the future.

Then there is the outside. These windows are large and very high up in the air! They are pretty hard to get to and you need to take great care to prevent damage to the old window panes, the window frames and blinds (today we call them shutters). So, where do you put the ladder? It gets tricky.

Of course the biggest hazard is falling off the ladder. Any volunteers?

The river runneth over

The mighty Ohio River has been spilling over its banks onto our State Historic Sites this week … Lanier Mansion’s gardens in Madison got more than watered, and Angel Mounds in Evansville saw more than their share of flooding as well.  Hopefully better weather this weekend will help to dry things out. We’re also hoping that all these April showers bring beautiful May flowers!

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What a beautiful day!

by Anne Fairchild, Eastern Region Program Manager for the Indiana State Museum

It is rare in downtown Madison to get much snow, let alone have it stick. For a transplanted northerner, it was quite cheerful to see a little snow before Christmas this year. Enjoy the pictures of our grounds. Happy Holidays from the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site!

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