Jill’s Story

Our project began in October of 2008 with our yearly “myths and legends month”
in my classroom which is when we learn through the reading genres of fantasy and
mystery which include myths and legends. I read and tell stories that capture
student interest. Many of the myths and legends are based in Indiana or are urban
legends which are heard in all cultures. Students were fascinated by the stories
they heard.
The month ended along with our focus on myths and legends. Well into November
as we finished our first project, I noticed that my students continued to seek out
myths and legends independently. They begged me to tell more stories. I
introduced the idea of making this the topic of our second project. Of course,
students were thrilled.
Now that I had the kids pumped up about the topic, I was met with a dilemma.
How can you make the intangible topic of myths and legends tangible? After
making simple representations of our current knowledge, the students led the way
with their interests. I simply guided them. We began with experimenting with
common urban legends such as whether your stomach would explode if you ate Pop
Rocks and drank Coke at the same time…well, I was the guinea pig for that
experiment and I’m still alive to tell about it…we debunked that urban legend.
Students chose to focus on the investigation of Indiana myths and legends and
chose the topics, the Hannah House (an Indianapolis haunted home which was part
of the Underground Railroad), Bigfoot (because there have been hundreds of
sighting in Indiana), the legend of Crown Hill Cemetery (about a ghost who haunts
38th street on prom night) and the legend of the House of Blue Lights (the legend
of Skiles Test and his mysterious dead wife who was displayed in a glass coffin at
his home). We investigated 3 sites to learn about these topics: the Hannah House,
Crown Hill Cemetery and Skiles Test Park (formerly the location of the House of
Blue Lights). We found artifacts, learned about the myths/legends, heard experts
tell their stories and eventually formed our own conclusions.
Throughout this project, my students consistently made comments about
documentation around our school. They were frustrated that they did not have
adequate time to view the documentation of other students, but more importantly,
they couldn’t interact with a lot of the documentation in our school because they
were not allowed to touch it. We began having conversations about how we needed
to examine our own documentation to relieve some of those frustrations for other
During phase 2 of our project, we decided to create a Myths and Legends Museum.
The focus was that students wanted something tangible that all school and local
community members could interact with and explore. We began planning out what
our museum would look like and where we wanted to house it. Originally, students
wanted to create the museum out of cardboard. While meeting with our Assistant
Principal, Miss Sughrue, she simply told the students to “think wood”. A whole new
world of possibilities opened. Students didn’t believe me when I told them they
could use power tools. I remember Abbi saying, “no way Mrs. Rippy, you’re just
playing.” Others thought I had lost my mind when I said that we would teach these
4th graders to use saws and drills. Why not? We had such great resources as
experts to teach us.
We met with various staff members and experts to determine the best way to
proceed. We decided and were granted permission to construct the museum in our
school foyer with the intention of it being a permanent piece of documentation and
learning in our school and the community.
This brought on a whole new set of challenges. We wanted to build 2 people size
house replicas of the Hannah House and the House of Blue Lights as well as
represent Bigfoot and Crown Hill Cemetery. We had brilliant ideas, but we had no
clue how to be construction workers and build this museum. The only way we knew
how to move forward with this task was to start a whole new project…Construction.
We began phase 1 again and worked our way through the Project Approach with
construction with the ultimate goal of having one culminating activity for both
projects…presenting our constructed museum.
We began researching, field visits and began to seek community involvement.
We were fortunate to have several volunteer Engineers from InDesign as well as
numerous other volunteers. The building materials cost over $1000 and were
supplied by InDesign and J. Greg Allen Builders Inc. We had parents and
community members donate tools and materials as well. Our Engineer friends came
to help us plan and build every day for at least an hour over a period of several
months. They helped us understand how to plan and guided us with the
construction of the museum. We learned so much from our hands on work
constructing the museum. And we sure did learn how to safely operate power tools
like jigsaws, drills, reciprocating saws and one of the most important tools…the
shop vac.
In the midst of this project, we met Garry Ledbetter, a caretaker for Skiles Test
and the House of Blue Lights. This chance meeting opened a whole new world of
factual information regarding our understanding of Skiles Test. Garry led us to
Skiles Test’s daughter, Louellen Hesse. She gave us even more insight into the
truth behind the legend.
If you watched us work from afar, you may have thought we were having a lot of
fun…because honestly, we had a blast. If you had the pleasure to watch these
incredible minds up close and experienced the rich conversations, you would have
been amazed.
Our project culminated with a grand opening ceremony where each student read
self written speeches. They thanked all the volunteers and shared the legends
they thoughtfully brought to life through the museum. We were touched to have
the Mayor of Lawrence attend as well as several other Indiana leaders. No doubt,
our most special guests were the family of Skiles Test who attended. Skiles Test’s
daughter, Louellen Hesse and her husband flew all the way from California to
attend the event. We were so honored.
There is no doubt the knowledge these children have acquired is vast and deeply
rooted in them. The content learned is paralleled with the life skills that were
engrained. Some of these students didn’t think they could use a power saw or build
an amazing piece of permanent documentation. The skills they learned will last a
lifetime. The relationships they formed with the Engineers have inspired future
engineers, creative thinkers and have given some children a connection to a strong
male role model to some pretty incredible men. Meeting the actual daughter of a
local legend and hearing tales first hand is a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The Indiana Myths and Legends Museum is housed at Harrison Hill School of
Inquiry in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Jill Rippy
4th Grade Teacher
Harrison Hill School of Inquiry