Indiana in 200 Objects: A Bicentennial Celebration

In celebration of the state’s bicentennial, the Indiana State Museum has gathered together objects from its archives and sister organizations to show the history, science, and culture of Indiana. The collection is quite eclectic, featuring archaeological specimens next to scientific discoveries and technological inventions next to items of political significance next to art. I wonder how the curators decided what to include—and what not to include.

The exhibit is a bit overwhelming but a wonderful collection. You’ll recognize many objects, names, and historical events. Other ones you will not realize were associated with Indiana. Still others items will be completely new. Many items complemented my recent explorations of the state.

Some of the sorts of objects in the exhibit:

  • A hand-colored plate by Gene Stratton-Porter for her book Moths of the Limberlost
  • A first edition of Lew Wallace’s Ben-Hur, 1880
  • A letter from Levi Coffin to his son at school dated 1841, which contains information about his anti-slavery activities
  • A Model 1890 Gattling gun, touted as saving lives (!)
  • Ernie Pyle‘s Underwood Universe typewriter, 1934
  • The typescript for the recent movie adapted from the book The Fault in Our Stars

I learned a variety of different things. Some were interesting, some disturbing, some shameful, some embarrassing.

  • Mountain lions used to roam Indiana; the last one was killed in 1851.
  • Indiana passed a compulsory sterilization law in 1907, the first of its kind, that forced sterilized those deemed unfit.
  • From 1907-1912, Indiana car owners had to provide their own license plates; the state didn’t start issuing license plates until 1913.
  • James Whitcomb Riley’s poem Raggedy Man was inspired by a homeless German man who Riley’s father hired.
  • Lynchings were not just a southern phenomenon; in 1930, two black men were lynched in Marion, IN.
  • The guy responsible for the Hays Code—a rating system for movies based on a strict morality from 1930 to 1968—was from Indiana.
  • John Lambert made the first American gasoline car in 1891 (vs. Haynes, another Hoosier, who developed the first commercially successful gasoline car.)

What sorts of things would you learn from the collection? Stop by the Indiana State Museum. The exhibit runs through January 29, 2017.

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