Above: Thrilling rides, like the Legend roller coaster, can be found at Holiday World®. Holiday World® photo
Below: At the Lincoln National Boyhood Memorial, guests can walk to a four-acre living history farm that re-creates life in the 1820s, a period when Abraham Lincoln lived in Indiana. Bernie Block photo
B Y J E A N B. B L O O M
|es, there is a Santa Claus. Its a hamlet located in the gently rolling, agriculturally rich hills of Spencer County in southern Indiana. With a theme park and adjacent water park, Lincoln lore and a selection of interesting roadside attractions, Spencer County makes a terrific springtime family escape.
of Santa Claus
The story of the settlements founding some 150 years ago goes like this. Families living in the nameless community were sharing name ideas in a little church one snowy December evening when a wind gust blew open the door, revealing a picture-perfect winter tableau. A chorus from the gathering rang out It must be Santa Claus and the name stuck.
Each Christmas, the local post office is hard pressed keeping up with the volume of mail to be postmarked with the famous Santa Claus name. The areas popularity, however, stretches beyond Christmastime.
Two parks, twice
Santa Claus, Ind., became a family vacation destination with the 1946 opening of Santa Claus Land, the nations first theme park, according to the Spencer County Visitors Bureau. Local industrialist Louis J. Koch, troubled that children who came in every season to see Santa went away disappointed, decided to build his Christmas-themed attraction. The name was changed to Holiday World in 1984, and the adjacent water park, Splashin Safari, opened in 1993.
Holiday World and Splashin Safari, located at the junction of Highways 162 and 245, ramble over 100 acres. Rides, games, shows and attractions are set in sections named for holidaysHalloween, Christmas and Fourth of July. Overall, Holiday World delightfully blends the thrills of Coney Island with the sights and sounds of a neighborhood carnival.
Wide paths meander through the sections. Dozens of rides appeal to the spectrum of age groups. From the mild Freedom Train to the familiar Tilt-A-Whirl to thrilling roller coasters like the Raven and the Legend, theres something for everyone in the family here.
Splashin Safari also balances its attractions for a variety of ages. One of its thrill rides, Zinga, was named best water park ride last year in "Amusement Today." Guests pile into an inner tube that holds four people to take a wild ride down eight stories, careening across a high-banked slide before dropping into a pool. ZOOMbabwe, named third-best ride in the same trade publication, is an enclosed water slide thats 10 stories high. Riders plummet at knuckle-whitening speed down the slide in just 50 seconds.
New for 2004 is a jungle-themed area to include Jungle Racer, a five-story complex of 10 racing water slides. Next to Jungle Racer will be Jungle Jets, with more than 160 water jets and sprays to keep families cool.
A days outing doesnt have to bust a familys budget. Food and snack choices abound at surprisingly affordable prices and drinkssoda, punch, lemonade, iced tea and coffeeare free and unlimited. Parking, sunscreen and inner tube rentals are also free. In addition, AAA members receive $3 off the adult general admission price (exclusive of the senior admission price) when they show the AAA card at the gate. Holiday World opens May 1 and Splashin Safari on May 15.
The Lincoln connection
Spencer County is also a rich repository of Abraham Lincoln lore. He lived in the area from the time his family moved from Kentucky in 1816 until settling in Illinois 14 years later.
The Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and Lincoln State Park are two wonderful sites for families to investigate.
The national memorial, located off state Highway 162 in Lincoln City, Ind., has an architecturally imposing lime and sandstone visitors center that showcases Lincolns early life. A short film focuses on his time in Indiana and how those years helped to shape his future.
Stretching along acreage once owned by the Lincoln family, the site includes the Lincoln Boyhood Trail, a wooded path that leads to his mothers grave and to the Cabin Site Memorial, where the original family hearth was unearthed. Another trail leads to a four-acre working living history farm that re-creates the 1820s. Set with a log cabin, split-rail fences, buildings and animals, visitors will find guides in period dress doing chores from that time in history.
Across the highway is the 1,747-acre Lincoln State Park. Its one of several prime outdoor recreational centers in the county and features a lake, nature center, cabins, Class A and primitive camping sites, picnic areas and trails.
Many visitors come for an evening of musical theater in the 1,500-seat Lincoln Amphitheater, a 17-year tradition. Here, musical productions professionally produced by the University of Southern Indiana runs in repertory with the long-standing Young Abe Lincoln. This stirring musical dramatically captures the key influences of young Lincolns Indiana years. Grab a bag of popcorn and a drink at the refreshment store and enjoy the show. Performances run Wednesdays through Sundays from mid-June to early August.
In Lincoln City, about four miles west of the parks on Highway 162, is Buffalo Run. Here, visitors can get close to American bison and ostriches.
The land once was home to Dennis Hanks, a Lincoln cousin, and now is the range for a small herd of buffalo.
The farms origin is an interesting tale. Owner Mike Crews gave his new bride, Kathleen, a buffalo for her birthday. A mate came later and soon the Crews herd was on its way.
Pop into the rustic roadside diner and gift shop and ask a guideperhaps Kathleens dad, Walt Beumelfor a tour. See a log cabin before looking at or possibly feeding the animals.
Buffalo meat (bought elsewhere) is on the diners limited menu. The dessert menu features ice cream flavors like buffalo chip and tatanka vanilla.
The nearby town of Dale has Dr. Teds Musical Marvels, an amazing display of restored vintage mechanical music machines that date to the 1800s.
Dr. Ted Walfart, a local practicing physician, has collected the music machines for 30 years. Millie Schum, his mother-in-law, is a gracious guide.
Before leaving Spencer County, stop by Windells Café for great homemade pie.
Local and national legends have their roots in Spencer County. Take time with your family to explore this section of Indiana.
|Jean B. Bloom is a contributor from North Miami Beach, Fla|
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