The only time I tried archery before was a couple of weeks in high school P.E. class. Not one of my arrows hit the target. They all landed in the grass only a few yards from where I stood. So you would think when I was asked whether I’d rather go horseback riding or to the Koteewi Archery Range in Hamilton County, Indiana, I’d choose horseback riding. But I had been on a horse a couple of times over the past few years. I wanted to give my readers something different. So for you, my dear readers, I chose to embarrass myself the way I did over four decades ago.
The year is 1859. Experienced balloonist John Wise attempts to deliver airmail for the first time in U.S. history. He plans to fly his balloon from Lafayette, Indiana, to New York City with a bag of 123 letters. Unfortunately, the wind blows in the wrong direction. Instead of flying northeast, the balloon flies southward. He gives up after 30 miles and lands in Crawfordsville, Indiana. Fast forward to 2017 and the Conner Prairie living history museum where one of the attractions, the 1859 Balloon Voyage, represents Wise’s airmail attempt.
I was excited to ride in the Conner Prairie 1859 Balloon Voyage because despite my fear of heights, a ride in a hot-air balloon is on my bucket list. The 1859 Balloon Voyage isn’t quite the same as a hot-air balloon ride, but it’s a step towards it.
Over 20 years ago we visited Conner Prairie, an outdoor history museum in Fishers, Indiana. I remember the 1836 Prairietown, where costumed interpreters stay in character. I remember the William Conner House, home of the early 1800s trader, entrepreneur, and politician. And I remember getting to hold a lamb as we watched sheep being sheared.
Fast forward to 2017 and our second Conner Prairie visit. What a change! The 1836 Prairietown and William Conner House are still there, but they’ve added so much more. We experienced a balloon voyage, which lifted us to heights higher than the Statue of Liberty. We climbed a four-story treehouse in the woods. And we found ourselves in the midst of the Civil War, Disneyesque style.
This first article in a series about Conner Prairie introduces you to William Conner, his two very different lifestyles, and his home on the prairie.