Experience Indiana: Follow the North Star

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Educational Experience: Follow the North Star
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Photo credit: Hamilton County Tourism

Before you hate me, yes, I know I write about travel, parenting, and family, and this doesn’t seem like it fits the bill for “things to do in Indiana,” but I want to tell you that it does. So much so, that if you only had 1 thing you could do in Indiana, it should be this. No, it’s not your typical “fun,” and it’s not a day at the beach. Hear me out though. You won’t regret it. I want to tell you a little bit more about why you should Follow the North Star.

Why Should You Get Thrown Into the Past?

Not everyone is interested in history, and even fewer are willing to subject themselves to museums with murals, automated recordings, and lectures. It’s understandable. Sometimes history seems so inaccessible and too far in the past.​

My daughter sometimes tells me, but it happened and it’s over. Why do I need to know about it? My answer? So, we’re not doomed to repeat it. Without hesitation, she tells me we’re not like the people of the past, so why would we do the things they did? It might seem like I’m telling a story about something completely irrelevant to the subject of a travel blog, but I’m not.

We often say we’re “not like those people,” but maybe we are, and even if we aren’t we should step outside our comfort zone to understand our past mistakes. Slavery is a derisive issue that continues to leave its lasting mark on our society. It’s a glaring reminder of how much hate and ignorance we had and as a country still retain.

Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

The shouting begins. What are you good at? How many children can you have? Keep your eyes. Don’t look at anything besides the ground and the feet in front of you. Instantly, your individuality and your pride sink. You know the experience isn’t real, your captors are just actors, but it’s easy to forget.

The Encounters

​Watching a TV show or visiting a museum provides none of the breathtaking realism of an interactive experience. As you step off the tram on Conner Prairie, you are instantly thrust into the past. In the dark and cold, feeling abandoned by the driver, you’re waiting, but for what?

Educational Experiences, getting water at the well
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Photo credit: Hamilton County Tourism
​As you continue your journey from slave to fugitive, you meet someone who represents every type of person (and the prevailing views) you would find in 1830s Indiana. The farmer who doesn’t want to see you enslaved but certainly doesn’t see you as an equal or the man who lost everything, including wife and child, and blames you. The freed slave who saved enough to buy her daughter. You meet Quakers who feel its their God-given mission to stop slavery because every human being should be free. The freed people who own farms and live their life in fear of those who would burn their papers and sell them South.

​The stories are poignant, real, and raw. In turn, they make you angry, sad, and distraught.

The Feelings

When you start your journey, you are a hopeful, happy person. As you get passed from one family, one home, to the next, you start to feel unwanted and hopeless. No matter how many times someone risks their life and opens their door to you, you’re not welcome. It’s too dangerous, they tell you. Getting caught is too big a risk for them, and for their families. They risk arrest, fines, and maybe even more, their freedom to help you escape bondage. Yet still, you KNOW you have no place. You don’t belong anywhere.

My Reflection

I’ve written this post many times in my head, and it just doesn’t capture a tenth of the actual experience. I’ve never participated in an interactive theater that was so real, it actually made me afraid. I knew I could put my headband on at any time and step back into the modern day, but I also knew the people we were portraying couldn’t for a moment. It made me feel guilty to think I couldn’t even take a pretend moment of this life. Then I felt angry. How could someone treat another like this? Didn’t they know we were humans too? Just because we didn’t look like them didn’t mean we weren’t like them on the inside…but wait, we did.

Connor Prairie, home to Follow the North Star
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Photo credit: Hamilton County Tourism

I felt so many emotions. I’m still not sure I’ve sorted them all out. I took away something I couldn’t from a history book or museum – a true sense of understanding. Reading history books upset me, but I still didn’t really get it. Being a part of Follow the North Star sickened me, and made me appalled. I wanted to actively challenge racism and other people’s views. I wanted to encourage other people to try Follow the North Star so their views, opinions, and ideas would be challenged too.

So, What is Conner Prairie and Follow the North Star?

Okay, so I made you wait until the end to tell you about what Conner Prairie and Follow the North Star actually are. I did it for a reason. I didn’t want you to be able to dismiss the value of them. You might have blown it off if I casually told you about this thing you should try. I felt like it would have been like telling someone who was afraid of heights to jump out of an airplane.

Conner Prairie – What Is It?

Eli Lilly started Conner Prairie in 1934 to encourage the exploration of the culture and history of Indiana. It uses interactive experiences to teach its visitors history, science, math, engineering, and technology. Conner Prairie is on 800 acres, including a recreated prairie town, wooded land, a Native American camp, a working farm, an immersive Civil War experience, and more.

Connor Prairie pottery immersive experience
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Photo credit: Hamilton County Tourism

Follow the North Star

Follow the North Star is an interactive theatrical experience on Conner Prairie. It allows you to step into the life of a slave in Indiana during the year 1836. While Indiana was a “free state,” that didn’t mean much for those trying to escape slavery. You get to experience the prevailing view in Indiana (and in most states) at the time. Through firsthand experiences, you live a second in history.

​If you’re looking for something memorable to do, try Follow the North Star while you’re in Hamilton County. You won’t be disappointed!

Video about the experience

​NOTE: Children under 12 are not allowed to participate in Follow the North Star due to its intense nature.

Follow the North Star educational experience.
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