Indiana Historical Society tells Indiana’s tall tales

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From a car-sized snapping turtle to the phantom screams of Peru, Indiana’s circus train accident, the Indiana Historical Society (IHS), located in downtown Indianapolis, explains the lore rooted within the state in their latest exhibit, “Indiana Lore: Tracing the Roots of Indiana’s Tall Tales.” The fourth floor of the Indiana Historical Society has filled the space with art that accompanies the Hoosier legends, from Indianapolis-based artists the Brian Twins, according to the exhibit website. The exhibit can be walked through from either end of the gallery that IHS patrons enter. 

Photo by Justus O’Neil The Crawfordsville Monster looms above the town of Crawfordsville, Ind. Witnesses have reported a large floating object similar to a reptilian eye, covered in fog and sporting tenticular appendages, haunting the town. The monster has never been caught on camera.

As guests enter the space from the west end, a panel featuring a legend of the tales told in the exhibit illustrates where the Hoosier history comes from, ranging from East Chicago all the way down to Evansville. According to the legend, some tales are unique to their towns, while some of the same tales are told in multiple locations throughout Indiana with location specific details changed to fit their respective region. As guests proceed through the specific tales told within the exhibit, panels of storytelling text, accompanied by videos of actors retelling the story in a fireside atmosphere. Along with the legends themselves, the myths within them are pointed out by a “Spot The Myth” flip panel that encourages guests to ask themselves which parts fall within the blurred line between fact and fiction.

The gallery introduction explains the cautionary, moralistic or belief-confirming aspects behind the legends that have been told through generations. According to the exhibit introduction, these tales play an important role in helping us develop and understand our community and the world around us.

The exhibit itself features the stories of the Fauntleroy House in New Harmony; Belle Gunness in La Porte; Hannah House in Indianapolis; Stiffy Green in Terre Haute; Tuckaway House in Indianapolis; Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus Wreck in Hammond and more. The Hannah House is home to various paranormal occurrences including cold spots, disembodied voices, flying spoons and doors and wall hangings with minds of their own, according to the local legend.

Photo by Justus O’Neil The legend of the Haunted Avon Bridge is told at the Indiana Historical Society in the 4th floor gallery. The “Indiana Lore: Tracing the Roots of Indiana’s Tall Tales” exhibit is home to various other legends that have come to fruition throughout history in the Hoosier state.

The Beast of Busco lore is particularly interesting, as it features a snapping turtle with a head the size of a small child and a body the size of a small fishing boat. The turtle was not seen until a year later when one of the previous witnesses spotted a large shape in the same lake that it was seen in the year before. Churubusco, Ind. had gained a reputation and was dubbed “Turtle Town USA.” Since 1990 and to this day, the town of Churubusco has held the Turtle Days festival that provides residents with two days of turtle-themed fun. However, when guests flip the “Spot The Myth” panel, they find that the possibility of the Beast of Busco being entirely true is slim and that the turtle was most likely made up as a joke. With this being said, the panel admits that a large alligator snapping turtle could have been spotted in the lake as they can grow up to 300 lbs and live up to 100 years. Even though these turtles are primarily found in southern Indiana, this turtle could have migrated north, according to the panel.

As guests traverse the rest of the fourth floor of the IHS, similarly tall and interesting tales reveal the lore of their towns and the entirety of the Hoosier state. Legends exist in every culture to help explain the unexplainable, and at IHS, guests are  immersed in the legends while simultaneously interacting with them. The Indiana Lore exhibit is included with general admission to the Indiana Historical Society, which admits guests to a multitude of other exhibits and interactive family friendly experiences.

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