Bringing Civil War History to Life in the 21st Century

Spring is slowly budding around the city and basketball fever is in the air. Many who choose to enjoy downtown Indianapolis during this time of year are pleasantly surprised to come upon a program that takes place annually at the Indiana State Museum on the last Saturday in March.

For the fifth year, the museum is hosting the 1st Irish Infantry of the 35th Indiana Volunteers, a local Civil War re-enactors group.  This is always one of my favorite programs to work as visitors to the museum have a chance to interact with re-enactors who portray both soldiers and civilians from the Civil War-era. Inside the museum, visitors learn about all sorts of aspects of daily life for soldiers as well as how Irish immigrants answered the call of duty along with native-born Americans. Ladies walk around the museum in their mid-19th century clothing and discuss how the war affected daily life on the home front. Everyone seems to enjoy the outdoor portion the best as the re-enactors use the museum’s front lawn to demonstrate drills and then allow visitors to participate in a mock skirmish.

Don’t miss this chance to interact with history! The 5th Annual Civil War Spring Drill is Saturday, March 27 from noon to 3:30 p.m. And while you are here, don’t miss a chance to visit the two Abraham Lincoln exhibitions currently showing at the museum.

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Finding history in the outdoors

One of the many beautiful vistas visitors find at EcoLab.

One of the many beautiful vistas visitors find at EcoLab.

One of the fun things about my job is the opportunity to leave the office and explore the state. On May 27, the Performing Arts & Education Department did just that, and visited Marian College’s EcoLab, whose staff has been involved in demonstrations at the museum for the exhibit Footprints: Balancing Nature’s Diversity. Many who are native to Indianapolis, or have lived here for quite a while, may not be aware of this natural treasure inside city limits. What fascinated me was not just its natural beauty, but also the history of the grounds.

The EcoLab is part of what was the Riverdale Estate, owned by one of the founder’s of the Indianapolis 500, James A. Allison. He commissioned Jens Jensen, a well known landscape architect who made native plants the centerpiece of his designs, to design the grounds of the estate. Staff and volunteers of the EcoLab have worked hard since 2000 to try to restore the grounds by bringing in more native plants and fighting invasive species. Parts of Jensen’s designs are still easy to find when touring the grounds: limestone steps leading from campus to the grounds; stone benches scattered through the grounds so one can rest and enjoy the scenery; and even half-moon pools made of stone that collect water from the natural springs.

These canals were created by beavers, one going to the left and the other to right, for easy travel.

These canals were created by beavers, one going to the left and the other to right, for easy travel.

My favorite part was learning about the beaver population that call EcoLab home. Their imprint on the grounds is evident anywhere you see water. There are several locations where the beavers have made homes and they love to challenge EcoLab staff by damming up waterways. But, what fascinated me most was that beavers love to create their own canal channels. By opening up waterways and creating these canals, beavers are able to forage for food more efficiently since they travel better in water than they do on land. Sounds very much like those Hoosiers in the early 1800s who, for a brief period, knew that travel could happen faster on water than on land. That is how the building of a canal system began.

The EcoLab is open to the public and you can enjoy the trails and the scenery from dawn to dusk. Staff also offer weekly tours and educational programs for school groups. If you want to learn more, check out their website at http://wetland.marian.edu/.

I “heart” trees!

Planting trees on Arbor Day.

Planting trees on Arbor Day.

By definition, I’m probably not what you’d call a tree hugger. I’ve never attended a protest or chained myself to a tree (or anything else, actually) and I’ve never gone on a hunger strike for the cause. Perhaps I should though, because I really dig trees. I loved climbing them as a kid and investigating what kinds of critters lived in them; and even old, dead trees meant the possibility of morels in the spring!

Since moving to “the big city” several years ago, I’ve especially missed having lots and lots of trees around. Luckily for those of us who need our tree fix, city and state park systems help provide a welcome reprieve from the daily bustle, treeless commutes and new subdivisions with their fresh landscaping. But we also need to do our part to make our yards, neighborhoods and cities more tree and nature friendly.

Carving trees with a chainsaw.

Carving trees with a chainsaw.

So in honor of trees, the Indiana State Museum, Indy Parks and Indiana Urban Forest Council are throwing a little party (okay, who are we kidding – we throw a HUGE party) to celebrate trees. We invite Tim Womick to come all the way up from North Carolina to get us hyped about planting trees and being good stewards of our environment. We have experts from across the state, including Dr. Speer from the Indiana State University Dendrochronology Lab in Terre Haute. (Dendrochronology: the science dealing with the study of the annual rings of trees in determining the dates and chronological order of past events.) We have a chainsaw carver, beekeeper, wood turner and tons of other groups. Then we invite the Department of Natural Resources down to pass out free trees to everyone!

As spring rolls in and the weather gets nicer, it’s time to head out to the park and enjoy the shade of a big oak tree and watch squirrels frolic in the branches. And hey, if you are looking to plant a tree or see a great Arbor Day show – stop on by the museum on April 24. We’re always looking for more muscle to help with our own tree planting.

For more information about the Arbor Day Celebration or to see a short video from a past event, please visit the official museum website: www.indianamuseum.org.