This story is part of Indianapolis Monthly’s 2016 Indiana Bicentennial coverage, which includes a piece on how to enjoy this year’s festivities. For more on this celebration of the state’s first two centuries, click here.
If you can’t pay your respects to original capital Corydon this year, head to the Indiana History Center’s You Are There 1816: Indiana Joins the Nation exhibit. Sitting inside the re-created log cabin where 43 delegates convened to hammer out the proposed state’s constitution, actors are ready, quills poised, to answer your questions. Of course, walking into a major historical moment can be intimidating. That’s why we asked a few of the men—who prepped using archive materials, biographies, and more—for tips on striking up a conversation.
Actor: Matthew Walls
1816 roles: Jonathan Jennings and Frederick Rapp
Who’s that? Jennings became the first governor of Indiana, a U.S. congressman, and the namesake of Jennings County; businessman Rapp was New Harmony founder George Rapp’s adopted son.
Icebreaker: “Anything one would care to debate, as long as they are able to keep an open mind for the sake of the experience.”
What you wish someone would ask: “Why are we becoming a state? We always explain how, but that’s only the first layer.”
Actor: Mark McNees
1816 role: Alexander Devin
Who’s that? Baptist minister from Gibson County
Icebreaker: A background query. “Not all of the 43 delegates here are politicians. Why, we have just as many lawyers here as farmers.”
What you wish someone would ask: “The names of my 13 children. I didn’t memorize them for nothing!”
Actor: Mike Redmond
1816 role: Dennis Pennington
Who’s that? Farmer, stonemason, and justice of the peace in Harrison County; future state senator and representative
Icebreaker: “Why should the Indiana Territory become a state?”
What you wish someone would ask: “What is your life like away from the convention? What is your house like? What do you eat?”
Photo courtesy Indiana Historical Society; the exhibit runs through Jan. 21, 2017, indianahistory.org