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.

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.

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?

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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The Magic of Christmas Past

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

It’s not really a secret that this time of year is special for me. Not only is it the sweet smell of cider and the crisp cool air, but my memories from childhood of jumping in large colorful piles of leaves, and the realization that the holidays are upon us. It’s time for sugar cookies, spiced eggnog, time to primp, polish, and prepare to dazzle. The Lanier Mansion has to be absolutely beautiful because we are a very large part of a longstanding holiday tradition in this community.

That’s right. It’s time for the annual Night Before Christmas Candlelight Tour of Homes. Thousands of people descend upon Madison from Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana for this favorite holiday tradition. Each year, the Lanier Mansion is among the selected outstanding historic private homes and museums to open their door and be the face of Christmas Cheer in Madison. It is very fulfilling to see families returning year after year to soak in the fine architectural details and beautiful décor with continued amazement and awe. Candlelight Tour of Homes is happening Nov. 26, 27, Dec. 3 and 4.

For the last four years, the Lanier Mansion has taken its holiday decorating in an exciting new direction. Instead of offering the same old over-the-top fare you see everywhere, the Lanier Mansion is offering a truly authentic glimpse of an early Victorian Christmas. We are proud of the fact that our holiday décor is much more in keeping with the kind of holiday that Charles Dickens would have witnessed. We have on display some of the very same toys that children would have found under their Christmas tree in 1850.

The best part of this time of year is that it is a time where the staff here can get their batteries re-charged, so to speak. We can talk to people who enjoy the subtle changes we’ve made through the year, and truly appreciate the grandeur of this old home. It is delightful to see so many people enjoying the fruits of our labor. It fills us with the Christmas Spirit!

In addition we have a Victorian Christmas experience for younger children as well. Spirit of Christmas Past is Dec. 11 from 2 to 4 p.m. and will include a Victorian Santa, storytelling, light refreshments and a craft. For more information go to indianamuseum.org/lanier.

On banjos and museum education

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

This past weekend, I took a couple of vacation days to go on a little getaway. Only it wasn’t a getaway, as much as an adventure. And the adventure began over four years ago right here at the Lanier Mansion after I started working for the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites. 

Dr. Ron Morris, professor of History at Ball State University, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Education to help teachers learn best practices for teaching social studies. A very large part of that is including regular visits to museums and historic sites (like Lanier Mansion) in their own communities and across Indiana.

Since that time, Dr. Morris has helped many of our Historic Sites develop useful tools for educators, going so far as to purchase everyday objects used at the Lanier Mansion for student programs about the Lanier family and their servants. He even helped us write an educational script about a middle-class carpenter who helped build the Lanier Mansion and worked and lived in the same community as the Lanier family. Dr. Morris’ curriculum development class has developed lesson plans for the Lanier home as well as several other state historical sites. His students also created documentaries on the historical and architectural importance of Madison as well as Indiana Mills, New Harmony and a beginning interactive DVD about the Underground Railroad. 

In honor of his work for the Lanier Mansion and other State Historic Sites in our system and around Indiana, Dr. Morris won a Leadership in History Award of Merit from the American Association of State and Local History (AASLH), presented last Friday in Oklahoma City. A couple of us took some personal time to head to Oklahoma City to honor him. The AASLH also recognized the Levi Coffin State Historic Site‘s outstanding volunteers Saundra Jackson, Janice McGuire and the other Levi Coffin House Association volunteers. There was a strong Indiana contingency at the AASLH Awards Dinner.

(L-R) Laura Minzes, Bob McGuire, Janice McGuire, Ron Morris, Saundra Jackson, Anne Fairchild and David Buchanan

Talk about a turn-around trip! It was 15-hour drive with meeting folks in Indy, stops and such. For those of us in the museum education field, it is impossible to not compare other historic sites and attractions to where we work. How can we not secretly feel a little smug when passing the much-touted Missouri Vacuum Cleaner Outlet and Museum? Even on our vacations, I think we tend to pick up good ideas from other places, and feel good about things we think we do better. It is energizing! However, I was glad to get back home.

All in all, I learned how to make Chickasaw Native American style beaded earrings, saw a tremendously beautiful Chihuly glass exhibit at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, visited the haunting Oklahoma City National Memorial commemorating the 1995 attack, talked to someone about finding a reproduction gold $10 coin that Lanier would have taken to Washington, D.C., (visit the site to find out why!), took a canal ride in the old “Bricktown” district, visited the American Banjo Museum and Hall of Fame, and did a lot of walking around. Seriously, did you know about art banjos? With some, it was hard to tell if you should play them or wear them like a tiara with all those encrusted jewels. My favorite banjo paid homage to the carousel horses. I also found a cool historical toy for the Lanier Mansion toy box that I had been seeking. So you see, it always comes back to Lanier!

Thank you Dr. Morris for all you do for the Lanier Mansion and the other Indiana State Historic Sites, and thank you Levi Coffin House Association for all you do for that site and Underground Railroad history in Indiana. We appreciate you!

All photos by Rainette Rowland.