Recreating the Civil War at an Indiana Theme Park

FISHERS, Ind. — The drama unfolding here on the outskirts of Indianapolis involves a dashing, Kentucky-born guerrilla fighter, ruthless in plunder and genteel in manners. There’s a pioneer fur trader, too, a man who negotiated with the Lenape Indians to move them out of central Indiana and lost his Lenape Indian wife and children in the bargain. And let’s not forget the 20th-century philanthropist who envisioned a living museum that would reflect the history of his state; his gift of that museum to a nearby college that had other priorities led to 21st-century courtroom battles and, ultimately, to the museum’s recent independence. Now teams of “interpreters” and “facilitators” and costumed Indianians lure more than 220,000 visitors a year to this endearingly strange place.

Here at the Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, on 850 acres of prairie land that mainly belonged, in the 1820s, to one William Conner (that fur trader and negotiator with the Indians), all of these elements come together, creating a hybrid of historical society, amusement park, 19th-century village and high-tech theater. Its history inspires it to try to tell history in a different way: not as fact but as experience.

Its most ambitious undertaking yet is “1863 Civil War Journey: Raid on Indiana,” a $4.3 million interactive show that received its premiere on June 4. The drama is staged in buildings meant to represent the town of Dupont, Ind. During the Civil War Dupont was attacked by thousands of Confederates led by John Hunt Morgan; they had been riding on horseback through Indiana, plundering and pillaging, wrecking rail lines and cutting telegraph wires. “Morgan’s Raids” are the only Civil War battles that took place in Indiana....

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