Indiana: Hoosier daddy?

Often called “The Crossroads of America,” Indiana’s largest city is the place where many major interstates connect. Best known for auto racing, the city has vibrant cultural and entertainment venues. Located in the heart of the downtown area, the 250-acre White River State Park is America’s only urban cultural state park. One major attraction is the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, which houses a major collection of Native- American artifacts and Western American paintings. Other museums in the park include the Indiana State Museum and the NCAA Headquarters and Hall of Champions. Located about five miles from downtown, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum rotates exhibits from its vast collection, but there are about 75 vintage cars on display at any given time. There are also displays of Indy 500 memorabilia and trophies. Completed in 1875, the President Benjamin Harrison Home is a 16-room Italianate Victorian mansion. Harrison lived here until his death in 1901 with the exception of 1889 to 1893 when he and his wife were living in the White House. His paintings, furniture, decorative arts, books and political memorabilia are on display. Located in the Indy suburb of Fishers, Conner Prairie is a 210-acre living-history museum that depicts the lives of Indiana settlers through costumed enactors in historic settings.

Fort Wayne
In 1905, Arthur Hall and other area businessmen founded the Lincoln National Life Insurance Co. Hall received permission from Robert Todd Lincoln, the president’s only child who lived to adulthood, to use a photo of Abraham Lincoln on the company’s letterhead. To thank the Lincoln family and show his fondness for the 16th president, Hall founded the Lincoln Historical Research Foundation in 1928 and opened The Lincoln Museum to the public in 1931. Today, the museum houses the world’s largest private collection of Lincoln memorabilia. A recent acquisition is a rare edition of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Lincoln in 1864. Eighteen interactive exhibits allow visitors to explore Lincoln’s world through activities such as reading the president’s mail, decorating the White House or fighting a Civil War battle. The Lincoln Family Album, a special collection of family photographs and genealogy, will be on display until Feb. 17, 2007. Other local specialty museums include Fort Wayne Museum of Art, Fort Wayne Firefighters’ Museum and The History Center.

South Bend

In 1852, the five Studebaker brothers opened a blacksmith shop in this northern Indiana town. From 1861 to 1865 they built Civil War wagons and from 1902 until 1964 they were a leading automobile manufacturer. Rebuilt in 2005, The National Studebaker Museum has a collection of wagons, vehicles and artifacts that spans 150 years of local industrial history. This is also the site of the largest Presidential carriage collection known to exist, displaying carriages belonging to Presidents Lincoln, McKinley, Harrison and Grant. Within this collection is the museum’s oldest vehicle, the Lafayette carriage built in 1824. Next door is the Northern Indiana Center for History in the former Oliver home. J.D. Oliver made his fortune as president of the Oliver Chilled Plow Works after his father invented the “chilled” plow, which was made by rapidly cooling hot metal in a mold, making its surface harder and able to withstand rough use. He moved his wife and four children into Copshaholm, a 12,000-square-foot, 38-room Queen Anne mansion, on New Year’s Day 1897. The furnishings on all three floors are original and they include museum-quality porcelains, glass, silver, prints and bronzes. For 72 years members of the Oliver family lived here, and it is now a part of the Northern Indiana Center for History. A special exhibit on display until Jan. 7 is titled Rockne: Crossing the Last Chalk Line. See memorabilia from Notre Dame football and its legendary coach, Knute Rockne. Other noteworthy museums include the South Bend Chocolate Co.’s Chocolate Museum and the College Football Hall of Fame.