Please, Pardon our Progress

Written by Heritage Interpreter, Bailey Roberts

December, as usual, was the busiest time for the Barker Mansion. Decorated with trees in every room, smiles of visitors, the Mansion never feels more alive than during the holidays.  January has always been the month of recovery, starting the new year by polishing the wood and silver, which the mansion has no shortage of, to keep us busy and ready for the summer months. But this year, we are telling a much different story. From January 20th all the way to March 1st, the Barker Mansion will be closed. Unfortunately, you did hear me right, closed.

While this may not seem ideal for our many guests and visitors, this break is much needed. If you have visited us recently, you’ll notice the amount of work that is being done currently. Many rooms and whole portions of the house have been under construction as restoration of the mansion’s plaster is reaching its peak.

This is something that has been long overdue. Ever since Jessica Rosier took over the mansion as Director a couple of years ago, the Mansion has experienced more and more people coming through the door. The increased foot traffic means more body heat and increased vibrations on the second and third doors which affect the ceilings below them. Plaster has cracked over time but stayed in place (thankfully). When Emily Reth took the mantle of directorship from Jessica, she came in with a vision. Last year we still had a wonderful increase in tourism, but the weather hasn’t been kind to the Mansion’s structure. We had a record amount of water seepage, ice dams and the like which has led us to take dramatic action. Which brings us here to this moment where history is being preserved for the first time a long time.

So, what are we going to be doing during this upcoming month, you may ask? Well, let me share some projects that we will be taking on. Currently, the Master bedroom and the Morning room are being updated. The ceilings have been stripped so we can reinforce the ceilings with newer plaster using more modern methods. The rooms look like a very respectful tornado came through, moving things around to new places. Plastic hangs from ceilings and walls, plaster dust coats the floors and paper walkways trail through the halls. At first, when Emily took me on a walk-through of the progress, my heart was racing faster than I thought it could. I was stressed, anxious, and internally freaking out at seeing how everything looked. But as I continue to walk through, I can’t help but feel relieved. I am excited to see what’s going to happen, what is going to come of the new restorations. I am proud to be here seeing this progress be made. This is a new chapter in our history, and I am anxious for its outcome.

 

The next big step after the second floor will be the Foyer and the drawing room, hence the need to close the mansion. The intricate, beautiful ceilings which have captivated many people upon their first entry will be getting a major facelift. If everything goes right, all that will need to be done is apply adhesive to the cracking sections of plaster, lift them up and reapply some plaster to make them stick together again. But if this proves to be too difficult, and the plaster is too heavy, then a big step will need to be taken. The entire ceiling will need to be replaced. When Emily told me that the entire ceiling might have to be stripped with new molds crafted, I about panicked. These ceilings were our pride, lasting 110 years to still be here today. That is still a point of anxiety, but I know that the product if it comes to that, will be done right. My co-worker TJ and I went to the University of Illinois two years ago because they have all the mansion blueprints in their archives. We were fortunate enough to recover blueprints of the plaster ceilings in those rooms. We will be able to create an exact reproduction of the ceiling if it has to come to that.

While the reproduction is taking place, the staff here at the mansion will have the meticulous duty of cleaning and creating new environments for the artifacts to be preserved in. For the first time, the artifacts will be getting a gritty cleaning, going over every little detail as much as possible. The giant candelabras that flank the main fireplace in the foyer are also going to get a deep cleaning, meaning we get to take Q-tips to clean every nook in the silver. While many people would see this as boring and pain-staking I see it as a new adventure. It’s a privilege to be able to handle these artifacts for the Barker Mansion and make them accessible to the public’s view. History should be accessible as possible for everybody to learn from. Being involved in that process is an honor. And because of that, while we clean the artifacts, I will be taking a photograph of every single artifact we go through and writing a synopsis of each one. In the end, I will place our findings in a binder to be a new, updated inventory for the staff and public to use. We get a lot of questions about some of our artifact, and a lot of them can be quite unique and esoteric, often leaving us stumbling and needed to learn more.  By doing this, the staff will be better equipped to provide more answers and let the public be able to learn even more about our history through the lens of the objects stored within our walls.

 

This month will prove to be difficult and quite the learning experience for all of us. History is a fragile subject which can open doors to vibrant growth. The mansion is a local history which offers worldly goods. No history is too small nor too big. Coming up on my second year as a Heritage Interpreter the mansion has become a home. And like any home, it needs to be taken care of. It will be a lot of work, but it will be the best time I’ve had. This hands-on approach to history is why I want to do history. My favorite thing, at the end of all this, will not be the work being out in, but the outcome of it and letting everyone see what we’ve done. My favorite part of history is seeing how people react to it. I look forward to seeing you all in a month.

 

 

 

Advertisements

When “yes” means goodbye

By Jessica Rosier, Director of the Barker Mansion

***This blog post reflects the view of the author, not Barker Mansion.***

I have a cartoon on my bulletin board. It reads: “The Secret of Time Management. It’s that magic 2-letter word: NO.” I clipped this illustration out a magazine a few years ago as a reminder to myself: don’t become so busy that you don’t have time for things you enjoy, and those which are most meaningful.

Time

There are many things in life that are worth a yes, though. Many of the best yeses are organic. They start from a sincere interest, desire, or curiosity. Perhaps it’s an invitation from a friend or respected colleague. In whatever case, a sincere yes shouldn’t make a person stressed out or pause for a second-guess. It should feel right.

A year-long string of yeses has taken me on a wonderful journey. It started with an honor. I was asked to be a voting delegate in the Diocese of Gary’s first-ever historic synod, which took place in June 2017. Together with hundreds of other men and women across the region, we met to prayerfully discern and direct the future of the diocese regarding key issues such as social teaching, marriage and family, evangelization and more. The Spirit was truly present that day, and I was inspired to become more involved in parish life. The thought of pursuing a job in ministry crossed my mind, but I pushed it aside as I had a wonderful and stable career at the Barker Mansion – one that I had worked many years to obtain.

Later that month, another yes emerged. I had expressed to Father Kevin Huber at Queen of All Saints in Michigan City that I wanted to be more involved, and he asked me to serve in a volunteer role at the parish. He wanted help in coordinating the post-Mass activities in the new Legacy Center. My role would be called the Weekend Experience Coordinator. This played naturally into my professional skill set, so it was an easy yes.

Near the end of summer, Father asked me to serve on the Pastoral Council. I had been curious to know about the inner-workings of the church, so this was another easy yes.

I found myself spending more and more time at Queen of All Saints, and the Legacy Center really started to feel like home. My husband really grew to enjoy spending time there too, and became involved in various ministries on his own. Seeing parishioners and new guests socializing in the gathering space after Mass, enjoying coffee and donuts, writing cards to those in nursing homes, viewing an inspirational film, or creating a craft was really fulfilling. All through the year, that thought of pursing a job in ministry kept creeping into my mind. Each time, I would push it aside telling myself that I could easily balance work at the mansion with volunteer duties.

Also during this time, I felt a pull to deepen my own knowledge of Scripture. Through conversations with friends in South Bend, I came to know about the University of Notre Dame’s STEP (Satellite Theological Education Program). I dipped my toe into this program by saying yes to one class in January 2018. One class led to another, and so on. I was able to attend a powerful conference at Notre Dame in March 2018, Cultures of Formation. It was during this time that I knew I couldn’t keep pushing that ministry job thought aside. It was time for a big yes.

Back at Queen of All Saints, Father Kevin got to me first. He pulled me aside and asked about the possibility of me coming to work there. This moment was truly cultivated by the Spirit. There is no other explanation for the yeses throughout the last year, how organically things grew, and how right it felt. Early this summer, I will start as the first-ever Campus Experience Coordinator at Queen of All Saints. I will schedule usage of the church buildings and rooms, complete marketing, and continue to plan the Weekend Experience activities. This yes, however, means goodbye to the mansion.

I certainly never imagined leaving the mansion after only three years of work. I’ve played a role in transforming the mansion into a viable tourist attraction with diverse programming. Some favorite accomplishments would be redoing the lower level to include usable exhibit space, building a viable volunteer program and hiring dynamic staff, working to create a website and establishing an online presence, revamping our Christmas interpretation to be historically accurate, offering scout sleepovers, and more. I am so grateful for the supportive board, my interaction with the other City departments and Mayor Meer, and my ties to the Barker family during this time. It’s hard to swallow giving up a job in which the community is so supportive, and where we have such a great staff and volunteers. This has really been the best job I’ve ever had in that sense. I never want to seem ungrateful for that.

It’s really a bit difficult to articulate why I want to work in ministry. Father recently asked me why I feel called to this job, and I felt a bit tongue tied. It just feels right. It’s a good yes. A yes that grew organically.

Saying yes to this new job allows me to use the event planning, facility management, and interpretation experience I’ve gained in parks and museums and use them for another cause. This yes that allows me to use my strengths to help bring others closer to Jesus.

This yes brings another change. Being a part-time position, I will be able to visit my home state much more frequently to help care for my grandmother and spend time with family.

This yes, though, means goodbye.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported me through my three years at the mansion, especially our amazing board members. Please be assured that I will be active in the search for a new Director, and will assist in the training-in period.

j

Lampshades of the Barker Mansion

3

By Jackie Perkins, Heritage Interpreter at Barker Mansion

 

As visitors walk through the Barker Mansion during tours, they view many things such as marble fireplaces, beautifully carved woodwork, hand woven tapestries on the walls, and stunning light fixtures scattered throughout the rooms. However one thing visitors may notice missing are the lampshades that were commonly seen on light fixtures and lamps of Victorian and Gilded Age mansions. The lampshades that hung in the Barker Mansion were typically made of silk and other delicate fabrics with elaborate stitching or beading to enhance the elegance of the room they were in.

Currently on display in the foyer are eight of the original Barker lampshades. These lampshades were taken from the rooms they hung in and moved to the archives a number of years ago. They will only be on display for a short time to prevent the silk from becoming damaged.

Among the lampshades within the case, are two with a rather interesting history. The first is the small red lampshade that sits in the back left corner that has the stamp “Cricklite” on the inner rim. Also in the case is an almost identical pink lampshade that has only three differences: the color, the size, and the absence of the “Cricklite” stamp. These two lampshades, as well as several others in the case, are covers for fairy lamps. They were candle burning lamps that peaked in popularity during the Victorian Era. The most well known in the business of fairy lamps was Samuel Clarke, who was a candle maker who patented the holder for his candles. He outsourced the production of the candle holders and lamps to other companies and was a genius in advertising. Clarke protected his patents fiercely, but that did not stop other companies from copying as much of his design as possible. The red lampshade that has the “Cricklite” stamp is one of Clarke’s design. The pink lampshade is a well made copy from one of his competitors. The Barker Mansion Archives also currently hold three more red “Cricklites” and four yellow “Cricklites”. The yellow shades hung in the foyer through the years but are unfortunately not able to be displayed due to their poor condition.

The lampshades on display represent only a small number of the total that exist in our archives. The ones chosen for this case were chosen not only for their excellent condition, but also to show our guests the variety in lampshades that were utilized during the Barker’s time. Make sure to check out this temporary exhibit during your next visit to the Barker Mansion!

Decking the Halls of Barker Mansion

By Bailey Roberts, Barker Mansion Heritage Interpreter

The Gilded Age of America, a time of great wealth, prosperity and industry was also the Golden Age of Christmas. Twas the Night Before Christmas was published as was Gift of the Magi, both beloved Christmas stories in the height of Gilded Age America. But while these may serve as echoes into the world of this period of American History, it lacks in giving people the opportunity to experience Christmas during this time. Jumping forward from 1905 to 2017, the Barker Mansion still gets decorated every year to celebrate the holidays and give guests a sneak peak into the world of Christmas in the Gilded Age.

What truly makes Christmas at the mansion so special is the work that is put into setting it all up. The Christmas trees and room decorations are all set up by volunteers in various community organizations. The spirit of giving is thus constantly overflowing in the halls and rooms of the mansion, a testimony to the philanthropy of Mr. Barker. It’s a way of giving back to the man behind Michigan City, it’s a way of keeping the spirit of their family’s celebrations alive, 112 years later.

With the mansion being decorated, it feels so lived in. It’s always felt comfortable and inviting, but Christmas time makes it seem like the Barkers could walk through the door at any second. That notion is comforting, for we try our best to recreate the life and times of the Barker family when they made this home the center of their daily life and lifestyle. For example, dominating the Foyer is a Christmas Tree decorated from base to angel in Red and White, complimenting the red rugs, plaster ceiling and limestone fireplace.

IMG_1932

This is my first Christmas at the mansion. I began as an intern in the summer but became a staff member after taking a semester off college to transfer to Valparaiso University. It’s exciting, being able to see the Mansion come to life in the spirit of the holidays. Each room slowly being decked in various colors and decorations from silver and gold, Nativity Scenes, and a large model train; a testimony to the religious and industrial life of the Barker Family.

We’ve been finding a lot of newspaper clippings, as well, talking about various Christmas Parties that the Barkers were throwing around this time of year. December is one of out busiest months this year. We have so much going on at the mansion from meetings to field trips and parties. Mr. and Mrs. Barker would be pleased to see the house being used for social events as they would have 112 years ago.

IMG_1928

So, my thoughts on Christmas at the mansion? Working in this Gilded Age home, surrounded by the impressive decorum of Christmas makes me a truly happy historian. This house is so unique, so lucky that the family is still working with the mansion to keep it in its historic image, to keep its history thriving and attention grabbing in this quickly modernizing world. Christmas at the mansion is taking a break from reality and being able to settle down in the quiet comfort of Christmas music, Christmas trees, and historical interpretation of the lives once lived.

 

Barker Mansion volunteers honored

Barker Mansion Top 5 Volunteers 2017. Bruce and Pat Frankinburger, Anthony Holt, Sandy Komasinski, Carolyn Pahs
Volunteers Bruce and Pat Frankinburger, Anthony Holt, Sandy Komasinski, and Carolyn Pahs are pictured above. All were top hour earners in 2017.

Michigan City’s Barker Mansion held an evening in appreciation of its volunteers on Friday, November 17, 2017. During the event, which was held in the ornate Drawing Room, volunteers were recognized for their dedication to the historic site and their creativity in planning programs.

“We absolutely could not operate in this capacity without our volunteers,” said Director Jessica Rosier. “Volunteers are essential to everything we do, from leading school groups and tours to marketing to research.”

The top five volunteers in 2017, in terms of hours, are as follows: Carolyn Pahs of Michigan City (92.5 hours), Pat Frankinburger of LaPorte (89 hours), Bruce Frankinburger of LaPorte (60 hours), Sandy Komasinski of Beverly Shores (40.5 hours), and Anthony Holt of Michigan City (32 hours). Rosier stressed that any time commitment, whether it’s once per week or once per year, is needed and appreciated.

In addition to providing recognition to volunteers, the casual event included dinner and games. Those interested in volunteering at the mansion can email jrosier@emichigancity.com.

Overcoming Stigmas through Interpretation

The following article was published in the National Association for Interpretation‘s Legacy magazine, aimed at professionals working in parks and museums. The content is property of Legacy and was written by Barker Mansion director Jessica Rosier.

 

If you’ve seen one historic home museum, you’ve seen ‘em all. Only old people visit there. They don’t allow kids inside. Looks fancy; I bet it’s expensive.

Historic home museums can be burdened with stigmas. These stigmas provide a challenge when it comes to attracting visitors and sharing an interpretive story. The Barker Mansion in Michigan City, Indiana was faced with many of these challenges when I began as director a couple years back. I like to stay that the mansion had been asleep for a few decades and was in need of a gentle awakening.  Waking up from that deep sleep proved hard. It meant replacing tour scripts with interpretive outlines, shifting from an artifact-based tour to a more stories-based tour, and just getting people to realize we were an interesting place they could visit with nice, welcoming, trained interpreters! I have spent the past two-and-a-half years trying to accomplish these goals through successes and failures. In the following paragraphs, I want to share with you how the Barker Mansion has tried to overcome the stigmas of our sleepy years through interpretation. It is my hope that you can apply some of these ideas, or at least learn from our bouts of trial and error, at your own historic home museum.

If you’ve seen one boring historic home, you’ve seen ‘em all.

On a superficial level, this statement has some truth. What do you expect when touring an historic home? Fine woodwork? Rich textiles? Fancy artwork? Yes, yes, and yes. While some folks can gawk at these features all day, others want more or they’ll quickly view your historic home as just another one they’ve checked off their list. Trust me: your visitors want stories, they want gossip, and they want to feel like an insider. This was my theory, at least, when I started at the Barker Mansion in 2015.

At that time our standard tour was extremely artifact-based and did not apply any interpretive principles. While people loved the grandness of the mansion, I could immediately see their eyes glazing over with the information overload as nearly every artifact in all 38 rooms was described in painstaking detail. It was simply too much for a person’s brain to compute and quite impersonal. Tilden was probably turning in his grave, as his second principle, information, as such, is not interpretation, was violated again and again.

Through researching the family diaries, letters, and scrapbooks, I began to slowly rework the tour outline. We began to focus less on the artifacts and architecture and more on the family story through interpretation. Is a visitor really going to care that Mr. Barker’s cigar box is made of Capodimonte Porcelain that was hand painted in Naples, Italy over 200 years ago? Maybe. What’s going to really pique their interest is that the box was a fixture in the mansion’s library, which turned into his no-ladies-allowed man cave at night, a place where card playing, whiskey drinking, and cigar smoking were commonplace amid cutting business deals with clients from his nearby freight car factory.

Morning Room at Barker Mansion

To beat the if you’ve seen one boring historic home, you’ve seen ‘em all stigma, you need to get the back story on the home’s residents. While I understand that not all historic homes are going to have documentation on the previous residents, it can be found through creative means. Visit your local historical society to pull records related to the family. Genealogy quests, court records, and newspaper clippings can help you piece together a person’s life in the absence of written correspondence or scrapbooks. If this sounds daunting, or if you have limited staff, consider partnering with local high schools, universities, or senior centers on research projects.

Another easy, but sometimes scary, way to cure the seen ‘em all stigma is to literally let them see it all. Our Behind the Scenes Tour was released in 2015 to explore all the spaces that are off-limits during a normal guided tour. We offer this interpretive tour at least once per month, and tickets typically sell-out far in advance. We keep the tour groups small to allow for an intimate experience. Visitors get to see inside all the closets, cupboards, storage rooms, offices, the basement, and enter the rooms that are normally roped off. We took Tilden’s fifth principle, interpretation should aim to present a whole rather than a part, pretty seriously with this one! This immersive experience takes trust on the interpreter’s part but is one of the most rewarding tours we do based on positive guest reaction. After viewing all of the hidden blemishes and inner workings (even down to the fuse boxes and plumbing) of our home, a guest could never lump us into the seen ‘em all category. Your historic home, no matter how small or seemingly uninteresting, can easily offer this type of interpretive tour. Offer the tour at night and equip each guest with a flashlight for an added feel of excitement.

Only old people visit there.

Don’t get me wrong, we love our senior citizen visitors. Retired folks on vacation and bus groups from retirement homes were the mansion’s bread and butter when I started as director. People of an older generation have a deep respect and interest in the fine details of the mansion. They often have great stories to share about their upbringing, as items inside the mansion spark fond memories from childhood. Welcoming seniors can be great fun, but I did not feel it should be the only group we were serving. To that end, I decided early on that we would target two additional groups: young families and millennials.

Designing programming specifically for families also helped us beat the they don’t allow kids inside stigma, which was quite strong when I began as director (and something we still hear from time to time today). Our garden provided the perfect setting for an inaugural kids program. I called on my friend, and local naturalist, Cookie Ferguson to create “Kids’ Nature Play in the Garden”. During the program, Cookie urged kids to explore nature as a young Catherine Barker (heiress to the family fortune) would have done in the early 1900’s. The activity was priced at just $2 a child (a way to overcome the looks fancy; I bet it’s expensive stigma) and included story time, exploration, a take-home craft, and a snack. Cookie is now in her third year of facilitating this program for us. Although it’s a program aimed at youngsters, it really becomes cross-generational as you see infants, stay-at-home moms and grandparents interacting with their kids in the mansion. If you don’t have the skills to facilitate nature programming at your site, consider reaching out to a local Master Naturalist group in your area to design the program. And if you don’t have gardens or green space at your property, try following the format with an indoors scavenger hunt on rotating topics.

Another program designed to follow Tilden’s sixth principle, interpretation addressed to children should…follow a fundamentally different approach and beat the they don’t allow kids inside stigma is our “Night at the Mansion” sleepovers. Available upon request by scout and youth groups, kids can “camp out” in the mansion’s Drawing Room for the evening. The evening includes a mansion tour geared toward kids and a pizza party. Lights out follow viewing of the movie “A Night at the Museum”. The kids have a simple breakfast of orange juice and granola bars before departing the next morning. Each child walks away with an embroidered Barker Mansion patch and bragging rights that they got to spend the night in Michigan City’s most historic building. This program is, hands-down, my favorite experience that we offer. I love hearing girls giggling in their sleeping bags at midnight as they lay under the ornately-carved plaster ceiling surrounded by world-class artwork. No matter your interpretive site, you can offer an immersive experience like this quite easily (provided you have a staff member or volunteer crazy enough to camp out with all those kids).

DSCN1693

We’ve planned a couple programs specifically aimed at millennials over the past year. We struggle to reach this group, which is ironic because myself and most of my staff fall into this category. Our best ideas to reach millennials have involved partnering with local breweries and distilleries, something we felt would appeal to this age group. Our “Hop the Cosmos” stargaze featured our local brewery, Zorn, dispensing beer while the night sky was interpreted via a powerful telescope by friend Brad Bumgardner. To relate back to our historic roots, we created an interpretive display about stargazing during the Victorian era. Folks really enjoyed lounging in the garden after dark and sipping beer, but paid little attention to our interpretive information, so I feel we failed in this area.

Another program geared toward millennials and aimed at defeating our only old people visit there stigma was the “Bootleggin’ at Barker” event, which was a Prohibition-era cocktail party largely organized by social media platform Dig the Dunes. Guests roamed from room to room of the mansion while sampling throwback cocktails prepared by local bars. Mansion volunteers were stationed in each room with “cheat sheets” on the history of the home so they could share interpretive tidbits with guests; this was an attempt to channel Tilden’s fourth principle, the chief aim of interpretation is not instruction but provocation. Our staff was very pleased with the amount of questions we fielded about the artifacts and the Barker family throughout the evening.

Couple in Monuments Room at Bootleggin

These two events obviously took a lot of resources and planning; permits to serve alcohol had to obtained, partnerships established with local breweries and bars, and a big pool of volunteer help recruited. We were very intentional in how we marketed these two events geared toward millennials as well; we placed more emphasis on social media marketing and less on traditional newspaper press releases. We were sure to partner with the businesses that are thought of as “hip” and “cool” too.

Your site may be clouded with some of the stigmas just mentioned, or you may have an entirely different set of burdens to bear. Whatever the case, it is my hope that you could relate to some of the aforementioned examples, and that you find inspiration in designing programming for your interpretive site. Certainly not everything I have tried here at the Barker Mansion has been a success, or has reached the groups I intended. We have had some big misses, along with our successes. I do know, though, that more folks are feeling welcome at the mansion and more are wanting to learn our interpretive story and that can be counted as progress any day.

Are we haunted?

The following article was submitted to the National Association for Interpretation’s Great Lakes Region newsletter by TJ Kalin, Heritage Interpreter at Barker Mansion (Michigan City, IN). While the content was aimed toward museum professionals, we wanted to share.

Do guests ask if your site is haunted?

There is a difficult balancing act between telling guests what they want to know about ghost stories and scaring visitors away. You certainly do not want your museum known for being haunted! Working in a Gilded Age house museum I get asked about ghosts quite often. Our solution to guests’ inquiries and the interpretive difficulties incurred was to hold our Barker Blackout Tours. On a few nights in October we walked guests through the mansion in total darkness with only tea-lights guiding the way. Along the way we told spooky experiences staff have had in the mansion but also we interpreted what it is like to work at the mansion, the history of some local legends and the history of Gilded Age and where the stereotype of the haunted Victorian mansion began. Overall, it was a fun way to interpret our ghost stories without scaring guests, all while sticking to our interpretive goals.Barker Mansion, date unknown