Selections from the Permanent Exhibit
The Haskell & Barker Car Company and the Legacy of Freight
This permanent exhibit opens December 2022 at the Historical Barker Mansion, a historic house museum in Michigan City, Indiana. The exhibit focuses on the Barker family's legacy in the freight car business in the Haskell & Barker Car Company, which spans from just before the Civil War to 1970.
My aim was to highlight the immense technological advances in the factory and its long history, but also center the community of Michigan City: underscoring the families that built the factory and the factory that built the city. I believe that it is this social grounding of history in individuals, families, and communities that provide the fullest understanding of these great changes. My goal is always to provide ways for visitors to learn and develop more empathy.
Four-room, 1,400-square-foot exhibit experienced chronologically
Room 1 sets the national context through Civil War and Gilded Age.
When visitors walk through the brick entryway into Room 2, they walk "into" the Haskell & Barker factory and learn about how boxcars are made.
Room 3 features the 7' x 9' scale model of the factory in 1910, with all 40 buildings 3-D printed.
Room 4 highlights the individual factory workers and features an Instagram wall of Mr. Barker made out of H-scale toy freight cars.
The Barker Mansion is a historic house museum in Michigan City, Indiana, originally built in 1857 and expanded in 1908. It features 4 floors, 38 rooms, about 30,000 square feet. It is open to the public for tours and events.
Room 1 sets the context for the visitor - what was Michigan City and the US like during the time of the Haskell & Barker factory? The Gilded Age (1860s-1900) was a period of immense change - great economic growth, industrialization, and invention. I wanted visitors to be able to see this immediately and have a sense of the historical and social context, in a tactile and visually interesting way.
Two introductory panels are featured on the other side of the room, giving the visitor information on the two Mr. Barkers and the innovations of the factory both within the freight industry, within the community, and Indiana at large.
Gilded Age Michigan City Wall
One of the exhibit pieces featured photos and objects from this time of great transformation. I chose these particular photos from a local collection of over 6,000 individual images that I discovered at the local library. They showcased the city - from the early harbor and the downtown Main Street - to national changes like immigration. I added historical objects in shadow boxes to give a tactile feel to this area.
One historian described the Gilded Age as "going to sleep in one country and waking up in another." I wanted visitors to think about these great changes in day-to-day life for average people. For example, I chose one photo that showed a boy with a primitive toy - a rolling hoop. This photo was juxtaposed with an adjacent object - a toy typewriter - that showed the modernization of children's toys and the development of another great Gilded Age invention. The immigrant family's photo is paired with an early passport - another way to ground the experience of traveling to an entirely new country.
It is these types of juxtaposition and breadth of experience that I wanted the viewer to see prior to learning about the development of the factory, to help ground them in a time and space in which to discover the rest of the exhibit.
JOURNEY OF A BOXCAR
Room 2, north panel
I discovered 1908 photographs of the factory's different departments and wanted to take the visitor on the boxcar's journey through its construction, from the foundries to the paint shop. Visitors can first zero in on the actual fabrication of the boxcar in the individual departments and then get a bird's-eye-view of these departments and factory's footprint in the next room.
This room features the interactive 7-foot by 9-foot model of the factory as it was in 1910 - all 38 buildings and tracks! This work was done in conjunction with Engineering students at Purdue-Northwest and features an interactive button that narrates the work that was done in the Haskell & Barker assembly shop, complete with lights, sounds, and movement of the train.
Room 4, Accordion panel
This accordion-style panel highlights the factory workers and their long tenures. I wanted to emphasize the ways in which the factory evoked changes in the local community through individuals and their families. We designed this accordion-style panel to allow the viewer to focus on each panel individually.
320 individual HO boxcars make up this image of president of the Haskell & Barker Car Co., John H. Barker. This "instagrammable" area of the exhibit is exciting visually but also subconsciously suggests how the individuals create the larger picture, how the town was built by these railcars and the cumulative work of individual workers.