Longtime tour guide Lackner leaves post with many happy memories
He has lead tours of the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site
(January 2020) – Longtime Lanier Mansion State Historic Site tour guide Bill Lackner doesn’t know the exact number of tours he gave, but he has a good guess. “I estimate that I’ve given that (mansion) tour 15,000 times to over 60,000 people,” he said. Lackner, 66, retired Oct. 31 from the Lanier Mansion after 11 years of service and with nothing but fond memories.
Lackner grew up near Pittsburgh and joined the U.S. Navy just out of high school. Eventually, his path brought him to Madison. “My brother lived in Madison and suggested I come here. I was living in West Virginia prior to that, then moved to Madison and worked with my brother for a long time,” he said.
In 2006, Lackner heard of a part-time opening for a tour guide at the Lanier Mansion. “I always had an interest in history, so this seemed an opportunity to learn more about Madison. I had heard a lot about Lanier but didn’t know the whole story. There was a lot to study and learn.”
Lackner worked for six months in that position before taking a year and a half break due to recession layoffs.
“A year and a half later in 2008, there was an opening for a full-time position, so I re-applied. I was lucky enough to be offered that job as well,” he said. “I started working there doing part-time maintenance and leading tours. In the past 11 years, I have worked all kinds of jobs.”
Photo by Tali Crowe
Bill Lackner of Madison, Ind., poses outside the Lanier Mansion State Historic Site, where he has spent the past 11 years leading guided tours. He retired Oct. 31 with many fond memories of the people he has met while on the job.
In addition to leading tours, Lackner was also responsible for setting up the Lanier Mansion’s Facebook presence. “We have over 3,500 friends,” he said. Lackner used the social media platform to showcase some of his personal photography and improve the mansion’s online presence. “People started seeing these photos everywhere. One had over 400,000 views.”
Others say they appreciate all the Lackner has done to promote the mansion.
“Bill is such a special guy and is truly a man of many talents,” said Karen Ricketts, who works in Lanier Mansion-Visit Madison’s gift shop. “He really can do anything and is always there to help. If there was an issue with the public, a problem with the building or the Internet, we always called on Bill. I’ve worked every other weekend for the past eight years and so looked forward to coming in and working with him.”
Lackner said that he enjoyed the variety of his work. “Every day was a new experience. It was a delight,” he said. “Every tour was different. Each group had different questions. Some wanted to know about Mr. Lanier, others wanted to learn about his family. Some were really interested in the architecture of the mansion, which is really important and probably the best example of Greek Revival architecture in the Midwest.”
He also had the opportunity to connect with visitors from both near and far. “I had visitors from all over the world. On some tours, only one individual would speak English and would translate to the rest of the group. I gave tours to people from all over Asia and Europe and heard so many different languages. It was amazing to hear. I think our furthest guests were maybe from Tasmania and New Zealand. Everyone had a different story, but each had heard somehow that Madison was a special place.”
Lackner’s favorite part of the job was the variety of visitors and their interests. “I so enjoyed getting to know them in the 45 minutes we spent together and hearing their experiences,” he said. “My most memorable tour was a group of four people, including myself. One man was from Austria, one woman was from Peru, another man was from China, and I’m from America. We had four out of seven continents represented on one tour.”
Despite giving the same tour each day, Lackner said he never grew tired of sharing the same information. “I told the same stories, but the guests and the visitors were all different. That was a neat challenge – learning how to read the guests and what they wanted. I had to figure it out quickly and cater to individual interests. I had to make it come alive and give people the information that they truly wanted.”
According to his co-workers and his guests, Lackner’s hard work paid off. “Bill has values. He’s so respectful and would bring a touch of humor even on the bad days or days when we were busy. He could turn the whole day around,” Ricketts said. “The public loved him. People would come back from the tour and say how wonderful the tour guide was and that he gave the best tour.”
Lackner was also able to watch the Lanier Mansion undergo major changes. “The east side was totally redone 10 years ago to represent the original structural appearance, which was designed by Francis Costigan. When the first Mr. Lanier moved away, his son decided to modernize it and changed the exterior structure. Essentially, he put a French roof on a Greek home, and it looked like that from the 1870s until 10 years ago,” he said.
Lackner said that the changes made represent the original roof based on one photo, and that the interior was redesigned to replicate the past. Visitors can now tour the mansion’s original kitchen, informal dining room and servant’s quarters.
As he reflected upon his time as a tour guide, Lackner also spoke fondly of his co-workers, Mike Foley and Glenn Paul. “I can’t speak highly enough of Mike and how helpful he was to me. He helped me learn many things and connected so well with the children on the tours. He was a pleasure to work with,” he said.
Lackner says that Paul is the “true ‘owner’ of the mansion,” having worked there for three decades since he graduated high school. “That man knows every square inch of the place. He is so attentive to detail, even down to painting the interior of Lanier with the historically-appropriate horsehair brushes and varnish,” Lackner said. “He is one of the hardest working people I’ve ever met, and though he’s behind the scenes, is the most important person there.”
Though he misses the people and the work, Lackner is enjoying a new season of life. “After 11 years, it seemed like a good time to retire and bring some fresh eyes, fresh stories and new ideas to the place,” said Lackner.
While Lackner said he is excited about what’s ahead, Ricketts meantime is feeling the loss of a great friend and tour guide, saying, “I sure miss him. It’s just not the same.”
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