I know Indianapolis is not a place many would think of to vacation, and rightly so. Our weather is hardly tropical. We have no water to speak of. No beaches. No surfing or sailing. It's not cold and/or snowy enough through the average winter to support winter sports.
But, there are some things of interest - primarily indoor sporting events which do draw fairly large numbers of visitors here. I believe Indy is hosting the NCAA Final Four next spring. We are hosting the Super Bowl in 2012. Of course, every year we have the very outdoor Indy 500 and Brickyard 400 auto races. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is now also hosting a yearly motorcycle event and we have drag racing national competition every year.
Outside of sports Indy does sponsor a national violin competition every couple of years. There are a number of a variety of conventions and other gatherings of large groups here throughout each year. However, I'm not writing here to boost those events. They seem to do all right without my help.
So, too, does the Indianapolis Children's Museum. It is, I believe, the largest children's museum in the world, and some will tell you it is the best. That, I don't know. I have visited only one other children's museum in Winnipeg. While that visit was several years ago, I will say that it was a pretty great place, and my wife, Jo and I enjoyed our tour of it. But, the ICM is, I believe in a class by itself.
Earlier this evening, Jo and I took a "behind the scenes" tour of portions of the ICM with my sister in-law and her husband. It was a pretty great evening. At one point I stood holding like a 65 million year old triceratops tibia. How cool is that?
During their teen years, both of my kids were active at the ICM working on a children's newspaper - The Children's Express - and otherwise volunteering in some of the exhibits. It had been several years since either Jo or I had been there. I was vaguely aware that the museum had been undergoing some expansion and general remodeling, but we were not prepared for what we saw earlier this evening.
I don't know the exact figures, but it seems to us that the museum has perhaps doubled in size. As the above photo illustrates, this is one damn big museum. But its size is only part of the story. The ICM hosts an ongoing rotation of a large variety of traveling exhibits every year. They have been hosting a King Tut exhibit since last summer which, unfortunately, will end next week. In December, they will be opening a "Barbie" exhibit in honor of her 50th birthday. While I can't say that Barbie is exactly my cup of tea, it should be remembered, it IS a children's museum.
But the museum's permanent exhibits are, for the most part astounding and at the very least are usually very interesting and masterfully presented. They are big on dinosaurs. If you look closely at the photo a bit left of center in front of the glass building is a very large dinosaur reared up on its haunches, whose head is actually protuding into the main lobby of the museum. There are other dinosaurs busting through walls and generally cavorting on the museum lawn.
The permanent ICM exhibits run the gamut of natural history, science, and all manner of stuff of interest to kids. They have a monster toy train collection, not to mention an actual well over 100 year old steam locomotive and caboose in the lower level. We toured a portion of their collections which has every toy any kid ever imagined having.
In the inner lobby is a fascinating "water clock" installed several years ago. One can stand and watch it operate for several minutes or even several hours. In the very center of the museum proper is a huge blown glass sculpture designed and largely executed by Seattle's Dale Chihuly. On the lower level is a great planetarium and on the top floor is a full size, fully operational carousel. Of course, this list just skims the surface.
The point of this little bit of shameless hometown promotion is that, while I doubt that many people would make a special trip to Indy just to visit the ICM - although, I'm sure some have, and it would not be a bad choice to do so, anyone who may be coming to Indy for whatever reason - sports, music, a convention, visiting friends and family - make a mental note to include a trip to the Indianapolis Children's Museum whether you have kids with you or not. You won't be disappointed.
In fairness, I should also note that the Indianapolis Museum of Art is rather amazing in its own right as is the Eiteljorg Museum of Indians and Western Art and the Indiana State Museum just a couple of blocks further west. We also have the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum and what I think has been dubbed the Hall of Champions at the national headquarters of the NCAA. There's probably more, but that's all I can come up with right now. If museums are your thing, Indy won't disappoint.