All aboard: State fair goes 200 years back in time with train exhibit

By Shelby Mullis
TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS — Hoosiers can step aboard 200 years of Indiana history when they climb on the Indiana Bicentennial Train at this year’s state fair.

But the train is nothing new for Indiana.

The Indiana Bicentennial Train sits inside the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Monday. Visitors can walk inside the train to learn about Indiana’s history. Photo by Jackson Hughes, TheStatehouseFile.com

The Indiana Bicentennial Train sits inside the Indiana State Fairgrounds on Monday. Visitors can walk inside the train to learn about Indiana’s history. Photo by Jackson Hughes, TheStatehouseFile.com

Since 2003, the Indiana Historical Society has used the big red train to cross the state to transport traveling exhibits.

“With the bicentennial year coming close, we decided to rebrand it as the Indiana Bicentennial Train, and then do a general ‘200 years in Indiana History’ exhibit on board to get folks excited for the bicentennial or even to just be aware that it was coming up,” said Marianne Sheline, the historical society’s programs specialist.

The image-based exhibit features three cars filled with photos, timelines and artifacts important to the history of Indiana.

When fairgoers step on board, they walk into a time of the unknown, before Indiana was named the 19th state in 1816. The second car takes riders through the state in the 20th century, and they finish their experience in a third car that features photographs of current times and looks ahead to the future of Indiana.

Merrill Simmerman, 66, comes to the state fair every year to immerse himself in the history exhibits, and called the addition of the bicentennial train a neat feature.

“I’m very proud to be a Hoosier,” Simmerman said. “I think more people should take pride in the history of this state. All that history in Indiana is important for children to learn so they don’t just take it for granted that things were always this way.”

Visitors explore Indiana’s rich past inside the Bicentennial Train Monday at the Indiana State Fair. Many artifacts were featured inside the train. Photo by Jackson Hughes, TheStatehouseFile.com

Visitors explore Indiana’s rich past inside the Bicentennial Train Monday at the Indiana State Fair. Many artifacts were featured inside the train. Photo by Jackson Hughes, TheStatehouseFile.com

Nine-year-old Jonathon Figueroa had no idea Indiana would be turning 200 this year, but said his plans to throw the state a birthday party are in the works after visiting the train Monday.

“It was cool,” Figueroa said. “I saw a real rifle and it was my favorite part.”

The Indiana Historical Society employees have received nothing but great feedback from families since the train opened at the Indiana State Fair Friday. More than 6,000 people explored the exhibit over the weekend, with nearly two weeks left of the fair.

“A lot of people like the train,” Sheline said. “We did make sure that all 92 counties in the state were included with an image in some way, shape or form on the train, so a lot of people like when they can find personal connections.”

The train will call the Indiana State Fairgrounds home for the next five years with new exhibits to be featured each year.

Shelby Mullis is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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