Archive for February, 2009


Meandering Indiana – 11.1

February 5, 2009

[I have so much to write about this “Meandering Indiana” county that I’ll have to do it in two parts, so #11.2 will be up next.]

An Indiana city made the national news this week, in almost the worst possible way. Elkhart-Goshen, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, had the largest unemployment rate increase in the nation in 2008 due to cutbacks in the RV industry. A spokesman for the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, however, immediately expressed confidence and hope for turning the area’s economy around.

Elkhart County is an area that has experienced a lot of culture shock lately, ironic for a place with such a reputation for traditional ways of life. I’ve been there often on business (which in my line of work usually means history and culture), but I’ve always thought it would be more fun to go as a tourist.

Elkhart is one of a few spots in Indiana known as “Amish country,” and towns like Goshen, Middlebury, Nappanee, and Shipshewana have developed hospitality and attractions centered on this theme. Driving along the country roads you have to watch out for the horse and buggy traffic, and you’re never far away from a good German family restaurant.

The Indiana Humanities Council has worked with many organizations in Elkhart County over the years. One that comes to mind is the Elkhart County Historical Museum, located in Bristol, Indiana.

From the Elkhart County Historical Museum

From the Elkhart County Historical Museum

I’ve been impressed by the support for this history museum from Elkhart County Parks, which created the museum in an old school building, now on the National Register.  Nick Hoffman, the museum’s director, writes a blog on their latest happenings, including an upcoming exhibit on Presidential campaigns. The Council helped out recently with a grant for Discovery Boxes, a museum-in-a-box program available to area schools.

Next, there is Ruthmere, a historic house museum in the city of Elkhart, which has also collaborated with the Council. Described as “an experience in history, art and architecture,” Ruthmere was built in 1908 by Albert R. Beardsley, an early manager of Miles Laboratories, and his wife Elizabeth. Ruthmere closes for the winter season but still holds many events and activities.

I once spent an idyllic spring day touring the Bonneyville Mill, another Elkhart County Parks property. This huge and impressive structure, also on the National Register, still produces stone ground flour as it has for over 150 years. You can buy some and take it home, but if it’s lunchtime, you could also look around for one of those Amish restaurants. Needless to say, I did both .  .  . though my baking skills were no match for theirs.


Time and Again

February 2, 2009

Since today is Groundhog Day, we were thinking of watching the movie. This movie is so well-known that “Groundhog Day” has entered the cultural vocabulary as referring to a particular type of time travel: being caught in an infinite loop and reliving the same experience over and over.

What is your favorite movie about time travel? Mine would probably be “Back to the Future,” “The Final Countdown,” or perhaps “The Lake House.” Of course, there are many others, including “Somewhere in Time” and the classic, “The Time Machine.”

“The Time Machine” was adapted from the novel by H.G. Wells which defines the genre, but in American literature there is another very fine example: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. I have always enjoyed the chapter where Hank, the Yankee, is trying to explain the concept of inflation to sixth-century peasants who think a penny is an excellent wage for a day’s work. Film cannot possibly capture the fun of the verbal slapstick in Twain’s dialogue as Hank predicts a time in the future when a mechanic’s average wage will be an astonishing 200 cents a day.

In 1890, the year after Twain’s book came out, Ambrose Bierce published a short story entitled “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” This tale set the standard for journeys through compressed time, wherein a character lives a lifetime in a single moment of imagination.

All of these forms of fiction illustrate the mystery of time and the magic of literary and cinematic art. A good book is, after all, a time machine in itself.


2009 – Hoosierati is Back

February 1, 2009

January has come and gone, the month named after Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks both backward and forward, guarding the doorway to the new year.

Jim, the founder of Hoosierati, has also gone on to new enterprises, and we wish him every good fortune.

Among the festivals of January were New Year’s Day, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Inauguration Day, and the Big Snow. All of these were times to look back (especially on Dr. King’s legacy) and to look ahead because sometimes the only way forward is through. Another myth from classical times tells us that when all the evils of existence are let loose on the world, one thing alone remains in Pandora’s box – hope.

Watching the inauguration of Barack Obama, I was reminded of another winter day when Robert Frost was the first poet to be invited to read his work at the inauguration of an American President. Frost wrote the poem “Dedication” for John F. Kennedy, but the glare of the sun on the snow made it impossible for the elderly man to see the words on the page. Instead, he recited his poem “The Gift Outright,” declaring that we (Americans) gave ourselves to the land, “Such as she was, such as she would become.”

In 2009, the poet Elizabeth Alexander was able to read her offering for another young President, saying in conclusion:
        In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air,
        any thing can be made, any sentence begun.
        On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp,
        praise song for walking forward in that light.

So the festivals of January are past, and we look ahead to the celebrations of February:  Lincoln’s 200th Birthday, Valentine’s Day, Presidents’ Day, Mardi Gras, Black History Month. (Check out the Indiana Humanities Council’s Resource Connection for learning resources.)

But first, let us pause to observe one of the great American festivals – the Super Bowl. Tomorrow, Groundhog Day.