The Indiana Insider Blog

Death Comes to the Indiana State Museum

Current exhibit at IN State Museum sounds morbid, but informational.

Current exhibit at IN State Museum sounds morbid, but informational.

I bet that title caught your attention!

Actually I’m not exaggerating. Today is a big day in American History. It is the 150th anniversary of the date that President Abraham Lincoln died at the hands of an assassin. The year was 1865. The Civil War, which had been fought for four long, difficult years, had been declared over on April 9 when General Robert E. Lee surrendered his Army of Northern Virginia. On April 14, 1865, President Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth, a Southern sympathizer who entered the Presidential booth in Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC where Abe and his wife, Mary, were watching a play. Booth shot the President in the back of the head, then leaped off the balcony and onto the theater and disappeared into the night. Lincoln died early the next morning.

As morbid as it might sound, the Indiana State Museum has a neat display of items from the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, commemorating the beloved president’s death and the social customs of mourning in the mid-1800s.

 

A wreath of human hair, death mask and child's coffin were ways of handling grief in the 1800s.

A wreath of human hair, death mask and child’s coffin were ways of handling grief in the 1800s.

Looking at items for dead people may sound strange, but death has been and always will be a part of every society’s culture. This exhibit was well laid out and had many items and pieces of information that were new to my husband and me. We found it fascinating.

This wreath of human hair display really caught my interest. I could not imagine cutting off snips of hair from loved ones who have died and braiding them into a wreath to hang on my wall. Yet, that is apparently what many people did during this time to remember their dead.

The death mask beside it is equally creepy but indicative of the society’s familiarity with death. Signage explained that it was created from the face of a loved one who had died since the living didn’t have oodles of photos to gaze at in remembrance as we do today. This child’s coffin was found in someone attic, but 1 in 6 children died of a myriad of diseases at this time so it’s surprising that it was not used.

 

Wedding dress also served as mourning dress.

Wedding dress also served as mourning dress.

 

This dress served a dual purpose—it was a wedding dress for a woman who had recently lost her mother, hence the dark color because it was also mourning attire. The shawl was also worn to indicate mourning.

There is more to the Lincoln Exhibit ‘So Costly A Sacrifice’ which runs from February 7 – July 5, 2015. Be sure to get there in time to see it.

 

This statue greets visitors at the entrance of the IN State Museum.

This statue greets visitors at the entrance of the IN State Museum.

As it was our first visit to the Indiana State Museum, my husband and I leisurely toured the rest of the very large, impressive building, which is located within the White River State Park on the Whitewater Canal. Groups of school children would have no problem navigating through these halls.

 

Ernie Pyle was a noted Hoosier during WWII.

Ernie Pyle was a noted Hoosier during WWII.

We particularly like World War II history so the museum’s display of Hoosier vets who served was interesting, especially that of journalist Ernie Pyle who died in the trenches during the war from an enemy bullet.

 

Famous Hoosiers like Red Skelton are featured in the museum.

Famous Hoosiers like Red Skelton are featured in the museum.

This room featured dozens of famous Hoosiers—those who had made it in Hollywood and otherwise in the news. My favorite has always been Red Skelton. Too bad kids today don’t know who he was!

 

This gorgeous piano greets guests to the L.S. Ayres Tea Room.

This gorgeous piano greets guests to the L.S. Ayres Tea Room.

In 1905 L.S. Ayres & Co. opened its Tea Room and Grille in its store in Indianapolis. It remained open as a fashionable place to dine until 1990. The room in the museum is open for special occasions during the year and the original dishes are used. Wouldn’t this be a fun place to bring someone special who appreciates fine china?

There was so much more to see at the Indiana State Museum like dinosaur bones, car displays from all of the manufacturers of Indiana and the Imax theater, but we needed a break.

In summer the Indiana State Museum would be a nice place to visit and walk the canal, then get a snack in its café that looks out over the canal. The indoor parking garage is handy during inclement weather or with children.

The Indiana State Museum is a tribute to our great state. Even if you’ve lived here all of your life, I guarantee you will learn something new during your visit.

 

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Written by : Kayleen Reusser is a lifelong resident of northeast Indiana and loves to write about her home state to excite others about its treasures. She has written 11 children’s books and had stories published in Chicken Soup, Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, Bluffton News-Banner.