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Open house an invitation to explore Riley

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Back in time: Brigette Jones, as Clara Louise Bottsford, and Jeff Kuehl, as James Whitcomb Riley, greeted visitors at the open house last year. Jones was portraying Riley's fiancee.
Back in time: Brigette Jones, as Clara Louise Bottsford, and Jeff Kuehl, as James Whitcomb Riley, greeted visitors at the open house last year. Jones was portraying Riley's fiancee.

GREENFIELD — Last year, more than 100 people flocked to the James Whitcomb Riley Home and Museum on the Sunday before the annual festival celebrating the Hoosier poet’s birthday.

It was a record turnout for the Riley Home’s annual open house, kicking off the week of the Riley Festival, and the home’s hostesses are once again hoping plenty of people take advantage of the event, which is this weekend.

It’s the one day each year that visitors can tour the Riley Home for free. Standard admission fees of up to $4 for adults are waived for the two-hour open house only.

“There is a lot of people living in Greenfield that drive by the Riley Home and think, ‘We need to get there sometime,’” said hostess Brigette Jones. “Well, there’s no excuse now. It’s free.”

Free admission into the home will be accompanied by special events, marking the start of Riley Festival week. Riley impressionist Jeff Kuehl will be on hand to greet guests at his home. The year’s theme poem, “The Bear Story,” will be recited by Hancock County student Savannah Coe.

Complete with refreshments and entertainment, Hostess Gwen Betor said the open house is always a festive day.

“I love it because it’s kicking off the Riley Festival,” she said. “This is the kick off; it gets you in the mood.”

The open house is also the first official appearance of the Riley Festival royalty. Queen Allie Dickmann and her court will greet visitors in the gardens of the Riley Home throughout the afternoon.

Because of the expected high volume, the open house does not run like traditional tours. Instead of being guided through the home by a single hostess, visitors are free to move about the home on their own.

Jones said it makes for a more relaxed atmosphere and allows visitors to take as much, or as little, time in the home as they would like.

Hostesses are stationed throughout to answer questions and provide information about the home’s former occupants.

Hostess Frieda Pettijohn said visitors will hear stories about Riley’s childhood in Greenfield, as well as those of his family. Pettijohn said stories of the woman who inspired Riley’s famous poem, “Little Orphant Annie,” are also popular tour fodder.

“We recite some of the poems,” Pettijohn said, “especially ‘Little Orphant Annie.’”

Though visitors will not have a dedicated tour guide, Pettijohn said everyone will still walk away learning plenty of new things about Greenfield’s famous son.

“His world, the details of his life, people enjoy knowing that,” she said. “That’s what we want to keep alive. He was a local boy here.”

Even residents familiar with Riley and the home may find something new.

Jones said the museum tries to stay fresh by routinely rotating the items on display. Several new acquisitions have been made over the last several years, as well, she said.

“That’s how a museum stays fresh,” Jones said, “by offering a new experience every so often.”

To see what the Riley Home has to offer this year free of charge, stop by the open house from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday.

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