Meteorite strikes northwest Indiana! Devastation complete!

by Peggy Fisherkeller, Curator of Geology

The author conducting geological arm waving at the impact site, now the Rogers Group Kentland Quarry. Photograph courtesy Nelson Shaffer.

The author conducting geological arm waving at the impact site, now the Rogers Group Kentland Quarry. Photograph courtesy Nelson Shaffer.

Okay, this is a fictional headline, because there wasn’t anyone around to write it when the impact happened, sometime between 17,000 and 300 million years ago. But with spectacular recent events in Russia, a reminder of Indiana’s very own brush with obliteration is justified.

Kentland, Indiana, is home to one of the larger meteorite craters in the United States, with the area of ground disturbance coming in at more than 7 miles in diameter. You wouldn’t know it though, without the quarry that’s there now. Like most of northern Indiana, the ground surface is covered with glacial till.

The Kentland meteorite crater is part of a great mystery story, because geologists were only convinced that it was a meteorite impact within the past 40 years. Everyone knew that something was up, though, because the rocks there just weren’t right, with layers making a huge irregular bull’s eye pattern where only flat-lying rocks were supposed to be.

A shattercone from Kentland Quarry.

A shattercone from Kentland Quarry.

What really happened has been roughly sketched out, based on evidence at the site and comparison to more obvious crater sites from around the world. A (big!) meteorite struck with such great force that the ground beneath was compressed, bouncing back hundreds of feet higher than before (though the part that was above the ground has since eroded away). Preserved in these vertical, contorted rock layers were shattercones, pointing toward the direction of impact, micro-sized shocked quartz and brecciated rock (containing angular fragments).

Some mysteries remain. How big was the meteorite? Well, big. When did it strike? We know it hit after the Pennsylvanian Period (~300 million years ago), because the crater crosses through rocks of that age. We know that it happened before the end of the last glaciation, because glacial till is deposited on top. With chemical and physical techniques, researchers have done a little better, putting the impact maybe between 97 million and 300 million years.

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.

Hoosiers and the Academy Awards®

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

When you think of Hollywood and the Academy Awards® you naturally think of Indiana, right? Well, you should. Hoosiers have been making an impact on the silver screen from the earliest days of motion pictures. Some of the most popular and celebrated films to come out of Hollywood proudly feature the mark of a Hoosier. Some you may be aware of — James Dean, Steve McQueen, Hoagy Carmichael, Sydney Pollack. While you may be less familiar with some of the others.

Let’s start at the beginning. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented their first awards at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on May 16, 1929. It was there that Louise Dresser of Evansville lost out to Janet Gaynor for the award for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her performance in A Ship Comes In. And I’m sure everyone has seen the Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life at least once in their lifetime. If so, then you’re familiar with Valparaiso-native Beulah Bondi who played Ma Bailey. A graduate of Valparaiso University, she went on to earn nominations for Best Supporting Actress in Gorgeous Hussy (1936) and Of Human Hearts (1938).

And what about that Easter staple The Ten Commandments? Queen Nefertiti was played by Michigan City’s own Anne Baxter. A granddaughter of Frank Lloyd Wright, she had her breakout role starring in the 1942 film adaptation of Indianapolis-native Booth Tarkington’s, The Magnificent Ambersons directed by Orson Welles. She later won Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Razor’s Edge (1946), a film which also featured a Best Supporting Actor-winning performance by Indianapolis-native Clifton Webb. Baxter would again be nominated for Best Actress in All About Eve (1950), a film which also received a Best Art Direction nomination for Kokomo’s George Davis. A bit of a film legend, Mr. Davis received 19 Academy Award nominations throughout his career for his work on such classics as The Robe (winner, 1953), Love is a Many-Splendored Thing (1955), The Diary of Anne Frank (winner, 1959), Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), and Cimarron (1960).

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Now, Steve McQueen isn’t one of the lesser-known Hoosiers in Hollywood, but are you familiar with director and producer Robert Wise? The Winchester-native directed McQueen in The Sand Pebbles (1966), for which he also received a Best Picture nomination as the producer of the film. And the year before, he paired up with cinematographer Ted McCord of Sullivan County for the classic The Sound of Music (1965), for which Wise won Best Director and Best Picture. The double win was also a feat Wise had achieved earlier for a little picture called West Side Story (1961). Now McCord, too, was no stranger to working with fellow Hoosiers: in 1955 he teamed up with screenwriter and Evansville-native Paul Osborn and a then-unknown actor from Fairmont named James Dean for the 1955 epic East of Eden. Both Dean and Osborn received nominations for their work on that now-classic film.

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.

Mr. Potato Head I love you!

by Shannon McKinney, Sales Associate in the Indiana Store

Would I be cheating to include Mr. Potato Head as a toy of the 1960s? I don’t think so. While the classic toy was originally released to consumers in 1952 (and we chose to place Mr. Potato Head in the 1950s section of the Indiana Store), it wasn’t until the 1960s that a version similar to the one we know today reached the market.

The original concept for Mr. Potato Head permitted children to engage in an activity typically scorned by parents — playing with their food! More than 60 years ago, George Lerner came up with the idea for a toy that would include a set of accessories for children to attach to real fruits and vegetables, thus creating a “funny-face man.” At the time, though, post-WWII sentiments about conserving food lingered in many people’s minds, and the notion of putting perfectly good food to waste seemed controversial. Lerner ultimately found a cereal company that agreed to buy the rights to the toy for $5,000, planning to include Mr. Potato Head’s plastic accessories in cereal boxes as prizes.

The Hassenfeld Brothers, who founded the toy company that would later become known as Hasbro, realized that Mr. Potato Head had a greater potential than simply residing in cereal boxes and, in 1952, they purchased the rights to the toy. On April 30, 1952, Mr. Potato Head had the honor of becoming the first toy advertised on television. The version sold throughout the 1950s was actually a kit and only contained the components necessary to build Mr. Potato Head, including parts such as the eyes, nose, ears, mouth and a pipe. (More on that pipe later!)

Finally, in 1964, Hasbro’s new release of the toy included a plastic potato on which to place the accessories. Why? Well, much of the reason was that the toy industry had introduced new safety regulations. In order to accessorize an actual fruit or vegetable, the plastic components had to have sharp prongs on the back of them. With the introduction of a plastic potato, the components became more child-friendly.

Safety regulations and cultural shifts over the years have further altered Mr. Potato Head’s appearance — in the 1970s, he grew in size so that his plastic pieces would be less of a choking hazard and, in 1987, he voluntarily surrendered his pipe to the U.S. Surgeon General in support of anti-tobacco campaigns.

Of course, it would be difficult to write about Mr. Potato Head without giving at least a passing nod to his supporting role in Pixar’s three Toy Story films. And today, many variations of Mr. Potato Head (and his family of spuds) exist, including a Wonder Woman Mrs. Potato Head and a Darth Vader Mr. Potato Head. Each new variety entering the market continues to breathe life into the classic toy. It’s doubtful that he and his family will be going anywhere in the foreseeable future.

Building a Mastodon

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When Mike Smith arrived at the Indiana State Museum before the new building opened in 2002, he had no idea just how extensive his skill at exhibit design would become. In addition to his museum work, Smith held studio space at the Stutz Building for nearly 10 years as an abstract steel sculptor. Turns out, his background in fine arts was to be put to the test!

Today, Mike Smith is one of an elite group of people in the world to have mounted the real-bone skeleton of a three-ton mastodon; a real Ice Age giant. His background in welding and steelwork was the perfect combination to take on the project of mounting the 292 bones that make up this mammal.

Prior to Smith’s arrival at the museum, huge bones were discovered in the muck of a peat farm in northern Indiana. It was 1998 and, once the Buesching family realized what they had, the mastodon bones were carefully removed by a team from Indiana University-Purdue University Ft. Wayne, and eventually brought to the Indiana State Museum. Incredibly, more than 80 percent of the skeleton was recovered. A radiocarbon date showed the mastodon, named “Fred” in honor of the senior Buesching, to be 13,020 to 13,760 years old.

Ron Richards, the museum’s Chief Curator for Science and Technology is excited about the mastodon, and is finally able to recover from what he refers to as “separation anxiety” following the 1933 loss of a major find.

Richards explained how then-curator Vern Patty responded to a ‘mastodon call’ in northern Indiana. The skeleton was excavated and brought back to the museum, but then the owner contested rights to it, took the matter to court and won, eventually selling the Indiana mastodon to the Denver Science Museum, where it still resides.

“All these years of working in the field and we had nothing complete like this to show for it … until now,” said Richards.

Another issue museums often face, Richards says, is that key parts of a skeleton are often missing or in bad shape. The head, for example, can be broken by heavy equipment when it is initially found in a farmer’s field, etc. Then, when the mount is made, a museum might ‘borrow parts,’ turning mounts into a composite of several animals.

The Buesching mastodon is thus a prized specimen because more than 80 percent of it is real bone from a single beast, not casts like the majority of mounted specimens you see at many museums. Richards adds that Fred is a work of art, with gently curving steel supports and each bone of the spinal column mounted “like a gemstone.”

While it was decidedly less expensive to mount the mammal in-house at the Indiana State Museum, this was an unusual course of action, and dollars still had to be raised to pay for preservation and mounting. In response, museum leadership launched the creative “Buy-A-Bone” campaign allowing the public to sponsor individual bones or give them as gifts. In return, sponsors received an actual bone fragment from one of the museum’s many digs, and a certificate of authenticity from chief curator Richards. Support has come from a wide cross section. For example, one of the bones was sponsored by an elementary school “penny drive”; the assembly process received a financial boost from a grant by the LDI 100th Anniversary Celebration Cultural Partnership.

Now that Fred is complete and in place in the museum’s Nina Mason Pulliam gallery, the soft-spoken Smith is “mostly relieved,” he says, “and somewhat proud, but also thankful for the help from several staff members.” His family and friends are bragging about him on social media. And while Smith took a brief moment to bask in the glow of success, he quickly moved on to work on other museum exhibits.

Meanwhile, Fred stands proudly, awaiting the November opening of Indiana’s Ice Age Giants: The Mystery of Mammoths and Mastodons which explores how the Indiana State Museum has excavated more such burial sites than any other institution in the state. The bones reveal what the museum learned about their lives and their deaths in Indiana, some 13,000 years ago.

**For timed-release video of a portion of the mounting process, please visit our YouTube page:

What is cool?

by Michelle Padilla, Museum Editor / Content Manager

Well, according to my Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition:

cool (kool) adj. *8 [Slang] very good, pleasing, etc.; excellent

A small amount of online research suggests that the term “cool” used in the slang sense above, was born sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century within black American culture. Although the first recorded instance doesn’t show up until the 1940s. But by the 1950s, “cool” became the buzzword of the Beat Generation, then was used by hippies in the ‘60s and eventually embraced by teenagers everywhere! It is one of the few examples of slang that has maintained its popularity across generations.

James Dean ... the epitome of cool.James Dean, 1955. James Dean® is a trademark of James Dean Inc., licensed by CMG Worldwide, Inc. www.JamesDean.com

James Dean … the epitome of cool.
James Dean, 1955. James Dean® is a trademark of James Dean Inc., licensed by CMG Worldwide, Inc. http://www.JamesDean.com

So that’s all academic and everything, but it doesn’t really say what makes something cool. One of our current exhibits at the Indiana State Museum is Eternal James Dean. For many, Dean represents the epitome of cool — a good-looking young guy in a leather jacket leaning very nonchalantly against a wall seemingly without a care in the world. But cool is so subjective. You know … one person’s cool is another person’s cheese.

For me, “cool” is creative, edgy, thought-provoking, surprising, fun. And often, I just use it to describe something I like. Here is a short list of some things that I think are cool: The Beatles, Cirque du Soleil, Will Ferrell, hikes in the woods, Michelle Obama, almost anything by Stephen King, London, Smart cars, greyhounds (the dogs), the Muppets, Rene Magritte, Sting, Pixar films, dark chocolate.

I know your list would be way different than mine. And so, in an effort to define cool, the Indiana State Museum is going to attempt to assemble a Dictionary of Cool! We will compile this dictionary from what you tell us you think is cool. Look for blog, Facebook and Twitter posts asking for what you think is cool.

Let’s start now … today, Jan. 18, would be A.A. Milne’s 131st birthday. You probably know Mr. Milne best as the creator of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories. In the 1960s, Disney started producing animated shorts featuring Pooh and friends. As you well know, Disney has produced many Prince Charmings, evil stepmothers, loveable sidekicks and heart-melting characters since the 1920s. In your opinion, who is the coolest Disney character?

Is it a solid? A liquid? It’s Silly Putty!

by Shannon McKinney, Sales Associate in the Indiana Store

As a kid, one of those thrilling, childish moments came about upon my discovery of Silly Putty and its amazing properties. It’s not quite a solid, not quite a liquid, and its uses are nearly endless. For those of you who are old enough to remember when newspaper ink was petroleum-based, you probably remember experimenting with Silly Putty’s ability to lift the ink from the page, creating a perfect mirror image of the text or pictures when pressed against them. Unfortunately for this particular experiment, it is no longer likely to work, as newspaper printing has shifted to the use of non-transferable inks.

But what else can Silly Putty do?

Silly Putty Frosty! Ain't he cute!

Silly Putty Frosty! Ain’t he cute!

Let’s back up a minute and first discuss a bit about Silly Putty’s history. Did you know that it was developed during World War II? The war in the Pacific Theater, where the U.S. had been importing its rubber, created massive rubber shortages and a significant demand for an alternative thanks to rubber’s vital military uses. In the process of attempting to develop a synthetic rubber, scientists created what would come to be known as Silly Putty. At the time, no one could quite think of a practical use for the substance.

Everything changed in 1949 — four years after the war had ended — when toy store owner Ruth Fallgatter placed the bouncing putty in her toy catalog at the recommendation of an advertising executive named Peter Hodgson Sr. Hodgson soon came up with the name “Silly Putty” and, beginning in 1950, the toy became a national hit. Ever since, it has been a favorite among youth and adults alike.

Silly Putty Frosty has melted!

Silly Putty Frosty has melted!

Back to Silly Putty’s uses. The toy is both practical and fun. Astronauts on Apollo 8 took it to the moon to ensure that their tools would be secure in zero gravity. As a toy, it bounces, stretches, tears and shatters, depending on the whims of the user. And these days, you can even purchase “thinking putties” with interesting, unique properties that the original does not possess, such as magnetism and the ability to glow in the dark.

Regardless of whether you purchase the original, pale-pink putty that we carry in the Indiana Store or the newer, more expensive thinking putties, you are sure to enjoy playing with the substance and experimenting with its different uses.

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.

James Dean: The People’s Choice

by Katherine Gould, Associate Curator of Cultural History

Tonight is the kick-off to awards show season with the broadcast of the 39th People’s Choice Awards. Soon to follow are the Critics Choice Movie Awards, the Golden Globe Awards, the Producers Guild of America Awards, the Directors Guild of America Awards, the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the Writers Guild of America Awards, the Film Independent Spirit Awards, and finally the Academy Awards. Did I miss any?

The thing with all of these awards and accolades is that they are a tally of the judgment of industry insiders. But the People’s Choice Awards is different, in that it’s a reflection of the tastes of the general public. It is more a fan celebration of pop culture celebrity than recognition for professional accomplishment. But the People’s Choice Awards have only been around since 1975. Prior to that, what about the opinion of the people who actually go to see the movies? What about the fans?

East of Eden poster

East of Eden poster

In 1955, an audience award poll, conceived of by the Motion Picture Theater Owners’ Organization, took place in more than 8,000 theaters across the country. Over 14 million ticket buyers participated to vote for what they thought were the best performances of 1955 for films released before Sept. 30. For his performance in East of Eden, James Dean was voted the Audience Award for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor. Other winners included Jennifer Jones for Best Performance by an actress and Mr. Roberts for Best Picture. At a banquet on Dec. 6, 1955, Dean’s costar Natalie Wood accepted the statuette, the “Audie,” on his behalf.

James Dean’s Audience Award trophy for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor.

James Dean’s Audience Award trophy for Best Performance by a Motion Picture Actor.

Now, this award is pretty significant because fans chose him over other well-known Hollywood actors with starring roles that year including Marlon Brando, Jimmy Steward, James Cagney, Spencer Tracy and Frank Sinatra. One of the other categories that fans were able to vote on was Most Promising New Actor. That went to Tab Hunter for his performance in Battle Cry. Dean could have been considered for that since East of Eden was his first starring role in a motion picture but fans instead chose him for best overall.

One could argue that the tragedy of his death on Sept. 30 and the release of Rebel Without a Cause in October elevated his star and influenced public opinion of him. However, his subsequent Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for best actor seem to validate the public’s opinion: James Dean, for a short time, was considered by many to be the best.

To see Dean’s Audience Award trophy and other film-related artifacts, visit Eternal James Dean now through June 2, 2013.