Historical Society brings Gettysburg to life

By Makenna Mays

INDIANAPOLIS – The fourth graders from Sycamore Elementary in Avon were ushered into the 1863-themed parlor and gathered at the feet of Mahala Beem, wife of David Beem, as she recounted one of the more notable letters she received from her husband, a soldier at the battle of Gettysburg.

While the students may have felt as if they were transported to 1863 for a moment, this was only a dress rehearsal for a 17-month long exhibit that will be housed in the Indiana Historical Society – You Are There 1863: “A Letter Home From Gettysburg.”

Sarah Tam reading over lines for her character Mahala Beem.
Photo by Makenna Mays, TheStatehousefile.com

“This particular exhibit covers the battle of Gettysburg, but from the perspective of people on the home front,” said Angela Wolfgram, exhibitions researcher for the Indiana Historical Society.

Opening on Sept. 23, the exhibit allows visitors to experience a whole new side of the battle of Gettysburg, one of the bloodiest of the Civil War.

“We thought it was a very compelling letter and wanted to bring that to life,” said Wolfgram.

The exhibit is set up as an 1863 parlor in Spencer, Indiana, the hometown of David Beem, who served in the 14th Indiana Infantry Regiment.

The experience begins when Mahala Beem receives the letter from her husband. This then fades to David Beem and his experiences in the war nearly 600 miles away at Gettysburg, the central Pennsylvania town where Union and Confederate clashed for three days. Eventually the program returns to the perspective of Mahala Beem.

“This letter in particular that was written just a couple days after the battle of Gettysburg, gives a wonderful description of what Beem experienced, what he saw and what he felt,” said Wolfgram.

Before entering the parlor, guests can visit the content room, which will give them all of the relevant background information they need to feel fully immersed in the 1863 experience, something that is very important to the actors of this exhibit.

Tessa Gibbons getting into character for her part as Mahala Beem.
Photo by Makenna Mays, TheStatehousefile.com

Sarah Tam, 22, and Tessa Gibbons, 19, both play the role of Mahala Beem, who at the time this letter was received was 21. Both have done extensive research to get into character including reading the letters that Beem sent his wife, and even visiting Beem’s hometown of Spencer, Indiana.

“I think once we open I’ll be a little nervous, but once we get into the swing of things it will all come into place,” said Gibbons.

For Wolfgram, her favorite part of the exhibit is watching how the actors connect with the guests. She trains the actors early on and likes to see that full transition of how information and research can become a lived experience.

“People have all sorts of learning styles,” said Wolfgram. “Some people really enjoy the experiential, conversational and activity based learning.”

For more information on the upcoming exhibit, visit www.indianahistory.org. Brochures will also be available at the historical society with additional resources that encourage continued learning outside of the exhibit.

“We’re hoping to provide that different perspective and angle that connects Hoosiers to what was going on in the Civil War,” said Wolfgram.

The Indiana Experience is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Indiana Experience Admission

IHS members Free
Adult $9
Seniors 60 and older $8
Youth ages 5 through 17 $5
Children under 5 Free

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

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