Archive for the ‘Meandering Indiana’ Category

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Celebrate Indiana’s Statehood on Dec. 11

December 3, 2009

By Ray E. Boomhower, senior editor of the Indiana Historical Society Press

December 11 marks the 193rd anniversary of Indiana’s entry into the Union as the nineteenth state. The occasion will be marked by ceremonies at the Indiana Statehouse and the usual pomp and circumstance. The thoughts of those who attend the event may turn to seven years from now, when the Hoosier State celebrates its bicentennial. How will such an anniversary be commemorated? For ideas, perhaps we should go back to how the state celebrated its centennial in 1916.

The fall of 1914 was a bloody one in Europe. The British and German were winding down the First Battle of Ypres and would soon dig in to begin the long and futile period of trench warfare. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, however, it was an election year. On November 3, Hoosiers trooped to the polls and “for a time the war dropped into the background as all Indiana played the election game,” wrote Cedric C. Cummins in his book on public opinion during World War I.

In addition to the usual candidates on the ballot, voters had the chance to register their opinions on two special issues: a convention to alter the state’s constitution and whether to celebrate the state’s centennial in 1916 by appropriating two million dollars for the construction of a memorial building to house the state library and other historical agencies. Both measures suffered defeat at the polls.

Democratic governor Samuel M. Ralston, who would become a leading force behind the state’s eventual centennial observance, believed the memorial plan was rejected not because Hoosiers were against celebrating the event, but because they objected to the amount of money sought for the building.

Ralston was proven right; in just two years, backed by the efforts of the Indiana Historical Commission and thousands of volunteers, Indiana residents would see the creation of state parks, the beginnings of an improved statewide road system, the creation of permanent memorials in numerous communities, and an overall awakening of interest in the nineteenth state’s history.

At Governor Ralston’s request, the 1915 Indiana General Assembly agreed to appropriate $25,000 and create a nine-member Indiana Historical Commission to promote the centennial celebration. The legislature’s financial support of the commission marked the first notable state commitment of funds to history in Indiana. Of the $25,000, $20,000 was earmarked for the promotion of centennial activities, while the remaining amount went to collecting, editing, and publishing Indiana’s past.

The Indiana Historical Commission first met on April 23 and 24, 1915, in Governor Ralston’s Statehouse office. An illustrious group joined Ralston on the commission, including James Woodburn of Indiana University, Reverend John Cavanaugh of the University of Notre Dame, and Charity Dye, an Indianapolis schoolteacher. The commission employed Professor Walter C. Woodward of Earlham College to direct the centennial celebration.

The commission set out to educate the state’s citizens about the centennial. Special bulletins were sent to county school superintendents asking for their cooperation; direct appeals were made to teachers in the summer and fall of 1915; a weekly Indiana Historical Commission newsletter began publication; and commission members addressed various clubs, civic organizations, churches, and historical societies (Dye alone gave 152 talks).

The Indiana Historical Commission also turned to film to get its message across to the public. Realizing it had neither the necessary funds nor skills needed to undertake such an enterprise, the commission called upon the public for help. Citizens soon responded by forming the Inter-State Historical Pictures Corporation, which contracted with the Selig Polyscope Company of Chicago to produce a movie titled Indiana. The seven-reel picture featured famed poet James Whitcomb Riley telling the story of the state’s development to a group of children.

To encourage former Indiana residents to return to the state for the centennial, the commission used the services of noted humorist and author George Ade. Honored, or “burdened,” Ade joked in speeches touting the centennial, with the chairmanship of the committee to “sound the call and bring all the wandering Hoosiers back into the fold,” he set about recruiting contributions from a veritable who’s who of Hoosiers for a book.

Titled An Invitation to You and Your Folks from Jim and Some More of the Home Folks, the book, published by Bobbs-Merrill Company of Indianapolis, contained messages from Governor Ralston, Vice President Thomas Marshall, Meredith Nicholson, and Booth Tarkington. Gene Stratton-Porter contributed the poem “A Limberlost Invitation,” and Riley the poem “The Hoosier in Exile.”

With the publicity campaign on its way to being a success, the commission had to turn its sights to how best to state the actual celebration; keeping in mind the lack of funds, it was clear that such events would have to be financed locally. The Indiana Historical Commission turned to staging historical pageants. These dramas appealed strongly to the commission because they could both focus attention on Indiana’s history and bring communities together.

The commission hired William Chauncy Langdon, former first president of the American Pageant Association, as the state pageant master. Langdon’s main duties were to write and direct three pageants, one at Indiana University, another at the old state capital of Corydon, and a final one at Indianapolis. Historical studies were made, music was especially composed, and costumes were designed “for the sole purpose of producing in the sequence of its various scenes a clear, beautiful and inspiring drama and a truthful impression of the development of the State of Indiana,” noted Langdon.

These same ideas were used by local communities in developing their own pageants. The commission gave what help it could, securing centennial chairmen in all but three of Indiana’s counties, with each responsible for selecting a county committee to plan the work. The plan worked. Director Woodward reported that forty-five county or local pageants presented in 1916 were seen by an estimated 250,000 people, and anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 Hoosiers participated in the performances.

Most counties used incidents from their past as the basis for the pageants. Miami County, for example, used the story of Frances Slocum, who was abducted at the age of five from her home in Pennsylvania by Delaware Indians. She was discovered by her family fifty years later in Miami County, Indiana, the wife of an Indian chief. Titled “Ma-con-a-quah,” the pageant opened with the following:

            Miami! What wealth of history

            This name suggests! Here in years

            A hundred past and more,

            The red forebears of your possessions

            Roamed the virgin wood, and called it Home.

            Here, in primal glory, ere white man’s craft

            Had fashioned this, your city, lived we, the Miamis.

Along with the week-long pageant in Indianapolis, capital residents had the chance to hear from President Woodrow Wilson as part of activities for Centennial Highway Day on October 12, 1916. Invited to speak by Governor Ralston, a vigorous supporter of roadway improvements, Wilson arrived in the city by presidential train (which was late). While in Indianapolis, the president reviewed an automobile parade before delivering a speech on the need for good roads to 10,000 people at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.

Perhaps the commission’s crowning achievement came with the development of Indiana’s first state parks. The movement began in April 1915 when Governor Ralston received a letter from Juliet V. Strauss, a nationally known writer living in Rockville, Indiana, appealing for help in saving the Turkey Run area in Parke County from being sold to timber interests. The commission created a special parks committee with Richard Lieber, who would become the first director of the Indiana Department of Conservation, as chairman.

While talks for purchasing the Turkey Run property for the state were under way, the commission learned of the opportunity to purchase the rugged area of McCormick’s Creek in Owen County. A total of $5,250 was raised, one-fourth of which by Owen County residents, and McCormick’s Creek became Indiana’s first state park. The commission later acquired the Turkey Run property.

When the last notes of music from the various pageants faded away and celebrants packed their costumes, the commission attempted to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the centennial observance. Although a 1917 bill calling for the establishment of a permanent state agency for history failed, the commission was resurrected following World War I to organize a county-by-county war history. Since that time, Indiana has consistently funded a state historical agency.

The commission’s spirit is today kept alive by the activities of the Indiana Historical Bureau, but few may know of the lasting legacy of the nine-member body that pushed and prodded the state to at last take a real interest in its own past.

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Meandering Indiana 18 – Lawrence County

November 30, 2009

It was about this time of year, many years ago, when I took my first trip to southern Indiana. The occasion was a visit to my new husband’s hometown of Bedford, Indiana, where he had graduated from the old Bedford High School (before Bedford North Lawrence). A Hoosier boyhood among the quarries was his experience, as in the movie “Breaking Away.” Known as the Land of Limestone, this area of Indiana was the source of building material for the Empire State Building, the Pentagon, and most of Indiana University. Generations of stone cutters and carvers, some from the craft traditions of Italy, worked in that industry.

As the Indiana Humanities Council gears up for its theme program, Food for Thought, let me pause here to note that the Lawrence County Tourism Commission has provided a Dining Guide to the county, as well as other useful information.

Persimmon Pulp

Persimmon Pulp

Speaking of food, Mitchell, another notable town in Lawrence County, has a few claims to fame of its own. First, it’s the home of the Mitchell Persimmon Festival, held annually in September since 1947. My mother-in-law first introduced me to persimmon pudding, a Hoosier treat described as “a baked dessert with a taste similar to pumpkin pie filling but with the texture of gingerbread.” Sure enough, we had some for Thanksgiving this year.

I didn’t get to see much of Lawrence County on my first visit, which we spent hanging out with my husband’s old pals, but since then I’ve enjoyed a number of area attractions. Spring Mill State Park, a popular facility with a delightful inn, a pioneer village, and a memorial to Astronaut Gus Grissom, is a destination near Mitchell. And I have yet to visit Oolitic, but it’s one of my favorite Indiana town names.

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Meandering Indiana 17 – Adams County

October 26, 2009

For a small county (pop. 34,000), Adams County has a lot of towns, or so it has always seemed to me.

Photo: Berne Chamber of Commerce

Photo: Berne Chamber of Commerce

BERNE – First settled in 1852 by Swiss Mennonites, Berne was named after the capital of Switzerland. A popular place to visit in Berne is the Swiss Heritage Village & Museum. On the grounds of this outdoor museum are a number of nineteenth-century buildings (schoolhouse, church, sawmill), but the one I remember is the Sweitzer Barn. Cleverly designed with an upper story accessible from the rear by going up a bank or ramp, the “bank barn” was popular among Pennsylvania Germans as well as settlers in this area of northeast Indiana. I enjoyed my tour of this impressive structure during planning for the Indiana Humanities Council’s Barn Again! program.

lmb_house

Photo: Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites

GENEVA – Indiana author and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter’s Limberlost Cabin is another highlight of Adams County. Now a state historic site, the home was built near the Limberlost Swamp, described as Stratton-Porter’s “playground, laboratory and inspiration.” Here she wrote novels, including Freckles and A Girl of the Limberlost, and nature books. While the home may be considered rustic by architects, I thought the interior was polished and beautiful with its updated Arts and Crafts style.

DECATUR – We should not leave Adams County without a brief nod to the town of Decatur, Indiana. Although I’ve missed it in my meandering, it is the county seat and site of the courthouse. No doubt the courthouse will be along the route of the Callithumpian Parade, scheduled for Oct. 26, 2009, although someone besides me will have to explain the origin of this annual Decatur event.

Photo: Derek Jensen

Photo: Derek Jensen

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Meandering Indiana 16 – Spencer County

September 28, 2009

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Spencer County, Indiana, is Abraham Lincoln country, the locale of his boyhood home. In preparation for the Lincoln Bicentennial, I have had the opportunity to take many trips to Spencer County, but two were especially memorable.

My first visit to the Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial was a tour guided by site superintendent Randy Wester. From the memorial building, with its large sculptured limestone panels depicting phases in Lincoln’s life, we walked across a landscape designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., then up a hill to the Nancy Hanks Lincoln gravesite. A sense of peacefulness and remembrance seemed to hold these places apart from time. Randy pointed out that the site was a National Memorial, not a park or a monument.

The second occasion I remember vividly was a tour led by Bill Bartelt, author of There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. Bill, a teacher who spent many summers as a park ranger, had studied not only the life of Lincoln but also the land he must have walked in southern Indiana.

Path in Spencer CountyCrossing over to Lincoln State Park, which adjoins the National Memorial, Bill led us to a wide path in the woods that was once a primitive road connecting one frontier settlement to another. As we stood among the trees, with hardly anything modern in sight, it was not difficult to imagine a teenaged boy of the 1820s, sauntering along this path on his way back from an errand.

Last night Ken Burns’ latest project, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea premiered on PBS. Lincoln Boyhood was the first national park established in Indiana when, in 1962, it was transferred from the jurisdiction of the state to the National Park Service. Not only are our national parks amazing resources that we all can share, but we can also access NPS.gov, a rich online resource for discovering history, exploring nature, and continuing to learn about our country.

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Meandering Indiana 15 – Posey County

August 4, 2009

LenzGardenHoosiers call it the Pocket or perhaps the Boot (although in that case it should be the Toe), the farthest southwestern corner of the state. The first time I went there, I was amazed by the fact that it was actually 20 minutes past Evansville, which scarcely seemed credible.

But New Harmony in Posey County is very popular with the history crowd, due to both its background and its facilities. The town had two lives in the nineteenth century. First, it was founded as a utopian religious community. At that time it was on the state’s main drag (the Wabash River), just a stone’s throw from the nation’s superhighway to the West (the Ohio River).

New Harmony originated as a German religious community, founded in 1814 and led by George Rapp. When the Harmonists decided to relocate to Pennsylvania, the settlement was bought by Robert Owen and William Maclure who brought in a “boatload of knowledge” (scientists and educators) and established a community of learning. In a sense that legacy remains today. With its nineteenth-century buildings and its conference center, Historic New Harmony (a program of the University of Southern Indiana and the Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites) is a prime destination for gatherings and for tourism.

Staying in the New Harmony Inn, I’ve enjoyed the period furniture and the peaceful retreat setting. Perhaps my favorite building, though, is the Working Men’s Institute, the oldest continuously operating library in Indiana (established 1838), which also has an archive, museum, and art gallery.

New Harmony, however, is not the county seat of Posey County. That distinction goes to Mount Vernon, one of Indiana’s three official ports. (The other two are Burns Harbor on Lake Michigan, and Jeffersonville, upstream on the Ohio River.) As a port, Mount Vernon is protected by the U.S. Coast Guard 8th District, headquartered in New Orleans, and it was one of 19 stops for the Indiana Humanities Council’s Always a River floating museum.

So while Posey County may seem to be tucked away in a remote corner of Indiana, from a maritime point of view it’s on the (water)way to everywhere.

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Meandering Indiana 14 – Henry County

June 8, 2009

Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame

Chaucer wrote in The Canterbury Tales that when spring arrives “than longen folk to go on pilgrimages.” So it was that while on vacation I decided to visit a shrine or two. Of course, this led me to Henry County.

I’d been in New Castle before, attending a meeting at the community foundation. But this time I was able to enter the sacred space of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. On that particular day, the long walk from the parking lot to the front door was lined with clothes and shoes, set out on tables. Under a sunny sky, The Hall was having a yard sale.

Inside I watched the brief film that tried to explain why basketball is special in the state of Indiana. It was preaching to the choir but nicely done. Wandering up and down among the glass cases, I saw photos, trophies, newspaper clippings, jerseys and letter sweaters — all the material embodiment of legends and heroes.

The most special of all, always paired in my mind, are the 1954 and 1955 state championship teams. You know the stories, too. The first is the Miracle of Milan with Bobby Plump’s last shot. The second, as wonderful, is the first school ever to win a state championship for Indianapolis — Crispus Attucks with its star, Oscar Robertson. I was once privileged to attend a 50th anniversary reunion of that team and the team it beat in the finals, Gary Roosevelt. The Indiana Humanities Council was part of the celebration at Hinkle Fieldhouse via a grant for the project, which was directed by Dr. Bill Wiggins.

Afterwards I went through the enshrinement gallery, with its exhibit of black-and-white portraits drawn by the artist Keith Butz. Each player or coach is depicted in two images, one at the time of induction into the Hall of Fame and one as he or she looked back in the day. (Girls and their coaches were included although they did not get a state tournament until 1976.)

I could have spent more time there, but I wanted to move on to my next stop in Henry County, the Hoosier Gym. Taking Route 3 south from New Castle, past I-70, to U.S. 40, then turning west brought me quickly to Knightstown. It took a bit of searching to find the Gym because it’s attached to the Knightstown Academy, which looks more like a courthouse. It was, however, once a school, and when the county built a new consolidated high school, a developer bought the Academy, now on the National Register, and turned it into condominiums.

A weekend festival was about to start, with a commemorative game to be played between “Hickory High” and “Terhune.” Again I found piles of T-shirts and souvenirs for sale outside and a volunteer docent inside to explain about how “Hoosiers” came to be filmed in this gym. I asked him whether the film crew had to do much to prepare the site for movie-making. No, he said, it only needed a coat of paint and a bit of gloss added to the floor. Otherwise, it was already perfect.

Still owned by the town, the Hoosier Gym is administered separately from the condos, so it is watched over by its community group, just as the Hall of Fame is. Therein lies the true soul of Indiana basketball, for legendary games are not only about those who are heroes but also about those are witnesses.