Guest post by Jamie Rhein
When looking for a place in between Chicago and Columbus for a couples’ getaway with friends of ours, Indianapolis made the cut. The weekend was a perfect mix of history, race cars, food, literature, theater and wine–all except for the race cars were within minutes of each other.
Before the weekend, our experience in Indy was nothing more than driving past on our way to somewhere else, and a quick stop once at the Indianapolis Children’s Museum years ago. From the highway, Indianapolis looks like a fairly typical Midwest city of a few skyscrapers clustered in the middle, and from there, suburban sprawl. But, head off the interstate, and there’s a whole lot of interesting.
Our first stop was the Looking Glass Inn, a bed and breakfast near President Benjamin Harrison’s home, now a museum.
Built in 1905, The Looking Glass Inn is in the Old Northside neighborhood where one house is as gorgeous as the next. Here, there are six guestrooms where luxury meets comfort. Each night, after returning from dining and sightseeing, we hung out in the main living room to visit. I definitely recommend a stay here for the make-yourself-at-home laid back vibe. Plus, it’s truly beautiful.
As for 1st nights eats, a big thumbs up for Bru Burger Bar. Based on the recommendation from folks at Looking Glass Inn, we headed here for gourmet hamburgers and local craft beer. The 45 minute wait to be seated was worth it. Besides, we had a beer to tide us over.
Although we didn’t have time to tour Benjamin Harrison’s house due to spending much time at the Indiana Historical Society Museum, we did walk around the grounds and put it on the “next time” list. The poet James Whitcomb Riley’s home is also on this list of future must-sees. I wasn’t aware James Whitcomb Riley was from Indianapolis until we went to the Indianapolis Historical Society Museum and saw his name in the “Destination Indiana”exhibit.
The exhibit is an excellent example of how technology can be used to make history come alive. In a combination of videos, photographs and diagrams that visitors access using a touchscreen, one can create a museum visit that holds particular interest and allows you to skip over what isn’t so appealing.
One of the most unusual exhibits however is “You Are There.” This exhibit is divided into three sections based off three photographs from three specific time periods. After looking at a photograph, visitors walk through doors where costumed interpreters are acting out the scene. For example, in the exhibit 1948: Communities Can, visitors take a trip to the Community Canning Center opened by the Ball Brothers (of Ball mason jars) to provide the public with caning expertise. The two women who were dressed like the women in the photograph answered all of our questions about canning and life back then as if we were back then. Pretty cool.
The two other “You Are There exhibits are: “Eli Lilly, at the Beginning” that hearkens back to when Lilly’s successful drug company was beginning to boom in the 1800s; and 1943: Italian POWs at Atterbury which is a recreation of the chapel that Italian POWs were allowed to create at Camp Atterbury to remind them of home.
The museum also serves as a great lunch spot where seating by the canal is an opportunity to watch paddle boaters and geese compete for attention of passersby.
After an afternoon snack, we headed out on the path by the canal to the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. The museum, although small, chronicles the highlights of Vonnegut’s life. Vonnegut, author of Slaughterhouse Five and my favorite God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, was born in Indianapolis. Included in the museum are Vonnegut’s typewriter and his Purple Heart medal that he earned during WWII. Vonnegut pooh-poohed his valor and wasn’t fond of his medal saying he earned it from frostbite.
For evening entertainment, after having Irish inspired pub food and a couple of brews at Nine Irish Brothers, we took in a live performance of “Rock of Ages”, a terrifically fun production by the local theater organization Theater on the Square (TOTS). We had a blast. Unfortunately “Rock of Ages”closed–we went on the last night, but my bet is that anything you see here will be edgy, excellent and a treat. Voted Indianapolis’s Best Live Theater, TOTS has two different venues–one seats 60 and the other seats 123.
One can’t visit Indianapolis without a trip to the iconic race track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. During our visit, there were time trials of F1 race cars which you can watch for free. Several people had pulled up lawn chairs to watch these bullets speed around the track. We watched for a while before heading into the museum that covers the history of car racing and the Indianapolis 500. There are several historic beauties on display that span the decades from the beginning of car racing to current day. If the track wasn’t occupied by speeding vehicles of high tech wonder, we would have taken a bus tour of the track.