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

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Scary good changes

Change is scary.

 Change is good.

Change is hard.

Change is easy.

What’s your take on change? Is it scary? Good? Easy? Hard? I believe it is all of the above. At the Barker Mansion, many changes have been made over the last 21 months.

Some of the changes were good (and easy). Getting rid of mold and asbestos in our basement was an easy decision to make and has led to a good change. We now have a clean, well-lit space for future programming.

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Above: The basement at Barker Mansion during the renovation process.

Investing staff time and hiring qualified people like Jackie and Emily to organize our precious archival photos and documents was an easy decision and a change that’s led to all sorts of good. The materials will soon be available digitally to researchers across the globe. Intern Anna is continually researching bits of our past that make us change our story, just in the slightest ways.

Some of the changes were good (and scary). Opening up the mansion to after-hours tours during the Halloween season and letting folks wander in the dark was a scary thought. TJ’s Barker Blackout Tours, however, were among our most popular events for the year.

Another scary good change has been allowing the consumption of alcohol on-site during events such as bridal showers, or Austin’s upcoming Painting the Past program (think wine and canvas-type event). I initially worried about the protection of the artifacts if people were drinking and got tipsy. So far, folks have been extremely well-mannered and my worries have amounted to nothing. It’s been a good change.

So what about the hard changes we’ve made?

Some changes have been hard in the matter of time they consume. Designing a website. Branding the mansion. Deep-cleaning every square inch. Working to the wee hours of the morning so contractors can finish the basement work on time. Staying up all night during Night at the Mansion scout sleepovers. Despite the amount of time all the aforementioned tasks have taken, they have been extremely worth it and have led to good change.

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Above: Night at the Mansion scout sleepovers.

Other changes have been hard due to the unknowns. Will people complain if we change our tour times and offerings? How will people respond to more authentic (and way toned-down) Christmas decorations? Will teachers grumble if we scrap a long-running field trip program and replace it with more historically-based material? What will people think if we rope off certain rooms to protect the artifacts? All of these questions posed great concerns to me, and still do. While we certainly take criticism for some changes, others are met with great acceptance.

Please wish us luck, foresight and wisdom as we continue to make scary good changes at the Barker Mansion.

Jessica Rosier, Director

jrosier@emichigancity.com

Getting to know MC- and loving it

This content was originally published as an op-ed piece in Michigan City’s News Dispatch and ran on September 9, 2016.

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My adopted hometown of Michigan City is bursting at the seams with fun events and activities each weekend. A girl really doesn’t need to look hard to find something enjoyable to do. This fall will be no exception. We’re cooking up something big with our friends at Barker Hall. Together, we like to nerd-out on history and dream up ideas for sharing our love with others. Our newest idea? We’re throwing a huge party to celebrate 180 years of Michigan City’s history. The Heritage Ball will be held on Saturday, October 1 with activities taking place at both Barker facilities. You can expect jazz, cocktails, finger foods, period costumes, and more. Tickets are $50 a piece or $85 per couple. Give me a call at (219) 873-1520 to reserve your spot or you can purchase online through Eventbrite.

Before I became immersed in all of this wonderful Barker history, I was just a girl exploring her new hometown. Moving to Northwest Indiana five years ago has been a treat for my history-loving husband and me. After he was relocated for work, we decided to make our home in Michigan City. Coming from small towns in Northern Minnesota established in the 1950’s, we were amazed at the rich history of Michigan City and the great diversity of cultural activities available to residents.

We fell in love Michigan City’s beach, the then up-and-coming Uptown Arts District, and restaurants like Shoreline Brewery, taking advantage of the historic building to serve their brews. We visited the Old Lighthouse Museum where volunteers helped us research the history of our home. We bicycled and drove along Lakeshore Drive to admire the varied architectural styles, feeling as if we’d been transported to Florida or California in an instant. We visited the public library and checked out books on Washington Park’s history, marveling at old photographs from the amusement park days. We climbed the WPA tower at the Zoo and enjoyed Monkey Island. We went to Mass at St. Stan’s and St. Mary’s and were amazed at the beauty of the artwork and details, both inside and out of the sacred spaces. We took advantage of First Fridays, with one of our favorite stops being a tour of Trinity Episcopal Church whenever the bright red doors were open.

Stepping into the role of Director at the Barker Mansion has allowed me to immerse myself even deeper into our City’s history. I feel that it’s impossible to talk about the history of our City without referencing the Barker family. They have been here since our incorporation as a city in 1836. As a handsome young lad from Massachusetts, John Barker Sr. came here at age 22 and set up a general merchandising firm on the shore of Lake Michigan 180 years ago. A couple decades later, Barker became involved in a small freight car business which grew to employ thousands of people and allowed him to accumulate massive wealth. Lucky for our town’s ancestors, he was a generous guy and passed that value onto his kids. Barker money helped build this town. They contributed architecturally magnificent buildings to our City, funded the arts, and built places of worship and education. The Barker legacy of 180 years lives today through two very tangible examples in the Uptown Arts District – Barker Hall and the Barker Mansion.

I am so grateful that life has brought me to Michigan City, a place steeped in history, art, and architecture. Please help me celebrate 180 years of my adopted hometown’s rich heritage this fall by attending the ball on October 1. We have so much to celebrate and so much to which we can look forward. Guys, dust off your fedoras. Ladies, get out your flapper dresses. I know I’ll be wearing mine.

By Jessica Rosier, Director

A reminder of who I should be

Life is about relationships. It’s about how we choose to make a mark on this earth, who we can impact and reach in a positive way before our number is called.

This is something I forget sometimes. I used to be better. I used to remember every single visitor’s name, even remember their dog’s names, their likes and dislikes. That was when work was easier. I was a seasonal interpreter and had time to invest in building relationships with visitors, and thus, enhancing their experience and making them feel as if they belonged and were a valued addition to the property. I was pretty good at that.

Then, I became a grown up. I got a full-time job. Oftentimes, moving up in the field of interpretation (whether at parks or museums) means moving from the front visitor lines to behind a desk in a back office. The desk world is tough. Staring at a computer screen, meeting deadlines, doing budgets (math isn’t my thing), and being a logistics coordinator means I spend less and less time with visitors. That’s how I excuse my “inability” to learn visitor’s names and backstories. I leave that job to our seasonal heritage interpreters, the role I once held so well.

I am wrong, though. I need to hold onto this role. I need to strike a balance between the desk duties and visitor interaction. I have been letting this desk job get the best of me. Luckily, last week’s History Camp brought me back to life. Hanging out with seven kids for the week, designing and leading programs like I did as a seasonal interpreter, detaching myself from the computer, and just taking time to enjoy their personalities has reinvigorated me.

Our History Camp ran Monday through Thursday of the past week. We had boys and girls ranging in age from six to 11 years. I’ve led many camps before, but none quite like this. This one seemed special. We had less kids than camps I’d led in the past, and that was really a blessing. It allowed us to absorb their personalities and really bond through the week. Each day started with an ice breaker, created by staff member Amanda. We learned many things about each other, from one camper’s ability to recite all the presidents to another’s musical talents. Though the week, we toured through the mansion and ventured into the “creepy and smelly” basement. We embarked on a scavenger hunt (which prompted one high-energy camper to repeatedly hide in closets) and even took a field trip to the Old Lighthouse Museum where we had a fantastic tour led by Karen. Our last day ended with a special lunch from Top Dog. Seeing the kids picnicking in the formal mansion gardens with ketchup and mustard smeared all over their faces was a great contrast.

The last few minutes of camp were a little crazy. We were cleaning up lunch, passing out t-shirts, and parents were coming to get their kids. As they were leaving, many campers expressed interest in coming back again next year; some wished it could be History Camp every day of the summer. They even offered to move into the mansion, live in the servant’s quarters and clean for me if they could stay a little longer.

Yes, we will be offering History Camp again next summer. I hope my feeling of having reconnected with an interpreter’s purpose doesn’t fade through the next year. If it does, I will count on these campers to reinvigorate me again in 2017.

Thanks to our staff and volunteers for their assistance. Thanks, especially, to our seven campers for reminding me that life is about relationships and the way we relate with each other as human beings on this earth. Thanks for reminding me that it’s important to step away from my desk and connect with visitors. I hope our camp has impacted and reached each one of you in a positive way. See you in 2017.

By Jessica Rosier, Director

jrosier@emichigancity.com

New Discoveries at the Barker Mansion

Today the staff members did something that has been on our bucket list since the beginning of the summer- we opened up the attic spaces and took a peak inside. The staff have anxiously awaited this afternoon when we would all be free to take our flashlights out and see if the Purdue (or even the Barkers) left some treasures in the attic. There are two openings into the attic- one in the old 1857 part of the mansion and the other in the ballroom on the 3rd floor of the 1905 edition. Who knew what we would expect! Would there be enough room to physically inspect brickwork or would we be blocked at the door and only take a small look into the area where so many of our visitors ask questions about. I was not taking any risks when it came to climbing up into the attic. I came to work prepared with my jeans stuffed into long socks and boots. It looked like I was going into a bio-hazardous situation with my NASA sweatshirt pulled over my head and secured with a mask. But I wanted to be safe rather than sorry.

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Suited up for our attic adventure

 

When we opened the attic in the 1857 house,  fellow Heritage Interpreter T.J. and I were able to crawl around and examine where the old brick meets the new edition. We saw original piping and what looked like the makings of an old duct in the kitchen. Instructions for the laying of wool insulation littered the area beneath us as we carefully made our way to each rafter. The Ballroom was not as fruitful. I had hoped to find a bust of Katherine Barker which would complete our set of busts of John H. Barker, Anna Barker, and young Catherine Barker. I wanted to find missing pictures or perhaps small toys that were placed there for safe keeping and later forgotten. Unfortunately, all we saw was modern insulation.

Seeing the attic was just another way I could really visualize what sort of construction was happening in the mansion over 100 years ago. I can more accurately define where the 1857 house ends and the new edition begins after seeing that raw footprint. But like any good researcher, we were left with even more questions and more opportunities for some interpretation of the construction in our Behind the Scenes tours. The sites were truly remarkable and warrant further research to bring what we saw today into aspects of our tours and exhibits.

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Heritage Interpreter T.J. Kalin takes the first look into the 3rd floor attic

If you are looking to know more about the workings of the mansion or simply just want to peak into rooms that are not included on the 1pm guided tour, come to our Behind the Scenes tours on Wednesday nights at 7pm. Doors open 15 prior to the tour. Capacity is limited to the first 15 guests that arrive. Tickets are $15/adult, $10/youth.

See http://www.barkermansion.com for more details.


Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter

 

Behind the Scenes Tour

Tonight will be the mansion’s 3rd Behind the Scenes tour of the summer! I had the privileged of leading the first Behind the Scenes tour on June 15th. Summer had finally come, and with that, a specialty tour. This tour in particular is unique because guests visiting the Barker Mansion can discover how the mansion operated, explore the basement and peek into rooms that are not seen on the guided tours.

Guest admiring artifacts in the Library

As an interpreter, I have mixed opinions about this sort of tour and I was both excited and nervous about leading people through the archive, the basement where we are currently renovating some of the rooms, and other more personal areas, such as my office located in what would have been a servant’s bedroom in the 1857 part of the house. I was worried that because I would be leading a tour through rooms like the Summer Kitchen and Wine Cellar in the basement, I would not be able to answer as many detailed questions. As I walked through rooms two weeks ago making last minute preparations before guests arrived, I realized that this tour would be more of a challenge- the tour talks more in depth about our relationship with Purdue and has more of a mechanical feel since we discuss the inventions installed in the 1905 edition that were “before their time”. Pictures, blueprints, diagrams, and copies of post cards were set up along my journey to assist me in interpreting the rooms and artifacts.

Students from Purdue North Central when the Barker Mansion served as a center for study

 

For the community, this is a fantastic way to travel back to an era where modern inventions were merely ideas and dreams. The two hour guided tour is a way to comprehend how a different generation operated. My knowledge of the Barker family and the factory are challenged, but a new narrative is created, shedding light on so many questions guests have wondered while touring the mansion. As an interpreter, this tour was a way to share a story that is not told very often.

Space for this tour is limited to the first 15 guests.  Admission prices are $15/Adult & $10/youth.  Doors open 15 min in advance.

 


Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter

Pink Tea in the Garden

Summer at the Barker Mansion is here! We are anxiously awaiting some of our newer events such as our Summer Camp and Movie by Moonlight events. For the first time, I will experience the Pink Tea event coming up on June 25th and 26th. Both afternoon teas will start at 3pm.

The Pink Tea has been a Barker Mansion tradition for quite a few years. Traditionally held outside under the pergola, the tea invites a new experience to guests. When the Barkers lived in the mansion over 100 years ago, tea in the garden, whether in the tea house or under the pergola, was not out of the ordinary. At the Pink Tea, guests can imagine what tea with Mrs. Barker and friends could have been like as they enjoy the sites of the garden with their own family and friends.

 

This year’s afternoon tea will be catered by the Duneland Beach Inn. Take a sneak peak at our menu!

The Braur Museum’s Gregg Hertzlieb will be our speaker this year. He will take a look at the captivating artwork of dunes painter Frank Dudley(1868-1957), whose regional contributions in the creative and environmental realms would have been familiar to the Barker Family.

 

 

Reserve your seat at this year’s Pink Tea!

Also new this year, the occasion will include a self-guided first floor tour of the mansion following the event. Advance registration and payment of $32 per adult or $28 per youth (ages 17 and under) is required. Groups can reserve a table of six for $180. Eventbrite processing fees will apply.

Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased through the link below:

https://www.eventbrite.com/e/pink-tea-in-the-garden-tickets-25618937933

 

 


Emily Reth

Heritage Interpreter