I’m not a big fan of museums. I get overdosed pretty quickly on displayed stuff: historic artifacts, art, sculpture, insects, natural history whatever, it doesn’t matter. I love the idea and the mission of such places, but after an hour or so, I’m usually sated on inspiration and information and I’m looking for a way out.
So I didn’t hurry to get to the Studebaker Museum right on time after lunch on Friday. When I got there, the woman at the ticket counter told me I was lucky because “the house tour group” would be leaving in just a minute or two, and my LHA admission got me a free ticket for the house tour too. OK, I said. I didn’t even know whose house I was gonna see. This tour actually took us to two houses.
First, we visited a small working family’s house that really needed a new paint job, especially in the back where we entered. Just off the museum’s parking lot, this little vintage frame structure houses a recreation of what the home of a Polish immigrant worker and his family might have looked like in Indiana in the early 20th century. It looks a bit like my grandparents’ houses, with some Polish memorabilia added.
Our tour guide himself was classic. Brusk, formal, somewhat jaded, smug, and in a bit of a hurry because this would be his last tour of the day.
After the low-rent worker house, he walked us to the nearby grand mansion of the Oliver family. The Olivers profited mightily from James Oliver’s innovations with cast iron plowing equipment in the nineteenth century, and the Oliver Chilled Plow revolutionized farming in the American Midwest and its huge success set this family up for many lives to come.
The mansion’s impressive and early-twentieth-century excessive but actually no great shakes in terms of a tour. They had a lot of money and not any special quirks or secrets, no unusual sense of style or taste, and the family’s history got tedious before we ever got to the carriage house. Enough!
I wish I had spent all that time in the Studebaker National Museum. There was less than an hour left before closing when I finally got back there. I ran around, hopped in the elevator, quickly checked out the beautiful old cars on the three floors of the place.
I glanced at the Harley Davidsons on display, skimmed the surface of the Lincoln exhibit, which included the carriage that took Abe to Ford’s Theatre, and I had about two and a half minutes in the gift shop before they kicked us out.
I ended up really liking the Studebaker. I didn’t get tired of it. It houses a lot of what made South Bend an important city in years gone by, and I wish I had more time to check out some of the interpretive signs and the information behind some of the cars and other vehicles on display.
Like any memorable entertainment, a good museum leaves you wanting more.