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Interpreting the Past

DanDaniel Shockley is IHS’s director of interpretation. He’s in charge of the stories, characters and costumes that shape the History Center’s You Are There experiences.

Explain the definition of “interpreter.”

The historic interpreters work in clothing appropriate to the year in which each You Are There is set. Through their characters, they embody the attitudes, emotions and lifestyles of their particular eras. The interpreter’s role is to foster a personal connection to our collective past for each visitor.

How many interpreters will work in the You Are There experiences?

Each You Are There will have three interpreters working per day. However, each scene could have up to seven characters. A guest could visit the Indiana Experience several times and meet different combinations of characters.

What has been your biggest challenge in preparing for the opening?

My biggest challenge is also my greatest joy. When possible, we try to tell the real stories and recreate the personalities of the characters in each You Are There. That requires a lot of detective work to locate family members or close friends of the people portrayed in each space. Finding K. Joy Ballard Peters, the granddaughter of Terre Haute postman George Spottsville, in Atlanta, Ga., was like discovering a diamond mine. With her help, we were able to recreate her grandfather’s story and add him to the 1945 grocery store. The same is true for the 1924 auto shop scene. I knew that the mechanic, Harry Kirkwood, needed to be a key character. What I didn’t know was that a month later I would be seated across a table at the Blackford County Historical Society from his son, Gail.

What do you look for when you’re filling the You Are There spaces with characters?

We always say that “ordinary people have extraordinary stories.” In this case, we are not looking for the famous Hoosiers of the past. We are telling the story of the postman, the mechanic, the homemaker. These are the people you will meet in the You Are There experiences, and we want our guests to connect to all of our past through their lives and stories.

What do you hope visitors will take away from the History Center?

I want our guests to feel as if they truly were “there” during a visit to the Indiana Experience. Our guests really get to shape what kind of visit they want to have. The more questions they ask and the more they want to explore a space, the better time they will have. History is so much more than “on this date, this happened.” The Indiana Experience allows you to go so much deeper into a time from Indiana’s past.