VALPARAISO | The Indiana Historical Society hit town Thursday to stir up a little Hoosier historical hysteria for the state's bicentennial in 2016, and it appeared to be working.
About 1,000 people, including 700 youngsters from area schools, toured the bicentennial train's exhibits and took part in the interactive displays, such as voting for the state's favorite innovator (Orville Redenbacher is the odds-on winner here), designing a flag or a park and playing the railroad trivia game, which isn't really about railroad trivia but state historical trivia.
In addition to viewing three train cars packed with historical photos of the state's past, visitors can get a history of the early railroads from Kevin Stonerock, who portrays Daniel Morgan Cook. Cook retired from working on the railroads 100 years ago and talks (via Stonerock) about his travels during the state's centennial year.
His 15- to 20-minute presentation includes his "recollections" as a 5-year-old of standing next to the tracks with his parents and others to see the funeral train of Abraham Lincoln. He tells of his father, a Civil War veteran, crying and saying, "I lost an arm for that man and I'd give the other one to get him back."
Cook ends his program by urging the audience to go to the centennial celebrations with the admonition, "I don't know about you, but I don't plan to be around in 2016."
Those who are around in 2013 said they found the trip to the train and down memory lane a worthwhile journey.
"It was very interesting," said Cindy Faraone, of South Haven. "It takes a while to read everything, so I want to look it up online where I can take my time. I'm a re-enactor of the Renaissance, so seeing (Stonerock) is the best there is."
Larry Miller, of Valparaiso, said, "All the pictures of past things kind of refreshed my memory of a lot of things in Indiana I had forgotten."
John Herbst, president and CEO of the Indiana Historical Society, said, "It's a great way for people to prepare for the bicentennial and get them thinking about Indiana in the future. We lead you through Indiana in the past using four key issues (transportation, land use, talent and community) the state will face in the future.
"We are hoping the bicentennial will be a time people can start to think about what it means to be a Hoosier and to encourage them to know more about the state," Herbst said. "It's more important for the young people who will become voters to know and relate to where they are from."
The train and all its attractions are free, and it will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. today and Saturday. Souvenirs are available and all visitors will receive a complimentary pass to the society's Indiana Experience at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in Indianapolis.
Spokesperson Amy Lamb said the society still needs volunteers to help with the final two days of the train's stay in Valparaiso.