Better with Age: The Late-Blooming of Artist Will Vawter

Will Vawter, Autumn in Brown County, n.d., Flanner Buchanan Indiana the Beautiful Art Collection, https://flannerbuchanan.com/our-art-collection/.

Since at least the late-19th century, art galleries and critics have focused most of their attention on young, emerging artists. This strategy has paid off for savvy dealers and galleries, as these rising stars of the art world have brought in large amounts of money and produced blockbuster shows. The downside of this trend for the artists themselves, is that it can be difficult to find places to exhibit and sell their work as they get older. This is especially disappointing, as many artists peak later in life and produce their best work in their golden years. In this way, an artist’s best work might go largely unappreciated. [1]

Georgia O’Keeffe, From a Day with Juan II, 1977, Museum of Modern Art, www.moma.org.

There are signs that this reign of young artists may be coming to an end. For example, the Tate announced that artists over the age of 50 would now be eligible for the coveted Turner Prize, awarded to a British artist each year for innovation in the arts. This shift recognizes that older artists can also be innovators. [2]

Meanwhile, the Museum of Modern Art [MoMA] recently featured an exhibition titled The Long Run, which featured artists who were at least 45 years old when they made the exhibited piece of artwork. Most were much older, like Georgia O’Keeffe, who painted From a Day with Juan II at 90. The MOMA explained:

Innovation in art is often characterized as a singular event—a bolt of lightning that strikes once and forever changes what follows. The Long Run provides another view: by chronicling the continued experimentation of artists long after their breakthrough moments, it suggests that invention results from sustained critical thinking, persistent observation, and countless hours in the studio. [3]

The Carter Burden Gallery, accessed NPR.

The Carter Burden Gallery, which like other New York City spaces sells its artists’ works for thousands of dollars, is different in one significant way. All of its exhibited artists are 60 or older. The gallery’s director Marlena Vaccaro told NPR:

Older adults do not stop being who they are because they hit a particular age. Professional artists never stop doing what we do, and in many cases we get better at it as we go along. [4]

Frank M. Hohenberger, “Will Vawter at Work in His Studio,” photograph, n.d., Frank M. Hohenberger Photograph Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University.

Simply put, some artists get better with age. This was true for Indiana artist Will Vawter. He began his artistic career in the 1890s as a talented but unremarkable illustrator for his local newspaper. He gained popularity mid-career for his drawings that brought the children’s books of James Whitcomb Riley to life. Vawter peaked, later in his life, as one of the finest landscape artists ever to work in Indiana. As the current art world shifts to include older artists, it’s worth examining one Hoosier painter who produced his best work in his late 60s. Will Vawter’s late-blooming reminds us to give exhibit space to older artists, not for the sake of inclusion only, but because we don’t want to miss out on the best work of their careers.

The Early Years of Will Vawter

John William “Will” Vawter was born in West Virginia in 1871 and moved with his family to Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, by 1880. [5] He worked as an illustrator for the (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat before becoming an illustrator at the Indianapolis Sentinel and the Indianapolis News in 1891. [6] In 1893, Vawter got his big break. The Indianapolis Journal dedicated a full page to an exclusive new poem by James Whitcomb Riley. [7] The Journal described the special edition, produced to coincide with a large national Grand Army of the Republic meeting, as “by far the most expensive and delightful feature ever offered its readers by an Indianapolis newspaper.”[8] The newspaper prominently featured Vawter’s illustrations of the poem.

James Whitcomb Riley, “Armazindy: A Borned Soldier and Hero,” Indianapolis Journal, September 5, 1893, 13, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

By the time Vawter started his illustrations for Riley, the “Hoosier Poet” had achieved national renown, and several of his volumes of poetry were best-sellers. [9] Riley was known for using “Hoosier dialect” to create poems “infused with the very spirit of the Hoosier soil from which they sprung.” [10] Likewise, Vawter honed his artistic skills observing life around him for local newspapers. Both men were Greenfield natives and keen observers of the local culture that colored Hoosier life. In this way, Vawter was uniquely positioned to interpret Riley’s work. Thus, the Riley-Vawter pairing, initiated by the Indianapolis Journal, was the beginning of a long creative partnership.

James Whitcomb Riley, Child-Rhymes, Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1898 edition accessed Indiana State Library, 1908 edition accessed Hathi Trust.

The Riley Years

In 1898, Indianapolis publisher Bowen-Merrill Company reissued a collection of Riley poems as Riley Child-RhymesVawter’s illustrations were heavily featured in the book. In an extensive interview with the Indianapolis News, Riley  described Vawter’s innate ability to capture the spirit of the folks depicted in the poems. Riley stated:

It is a very gratifying thing to find an artist who is unconsciously aware of the exact situation and who understands his own intimate surroundings. Will Vawter is such an artist. There is no vagueness in his interpretation of the poems of this book. He is a Greenfield boy, and natively an artist . . . He depicted people and things in no patronizing way. They are taken in a realistic spirit; he is of them. [11]

Riley went on to describe the importance of understanding the subtlety of local dialect when dealing with characters like the “town gossip,” for instance. He continued on Vawter’s ability to capture these individuals:

All these characteristics have been unconsciously observed by young Vawter. Now that he comes to sit down and illustrate these scenes and people, he knows his material and surroundings perfectly . . . While he may be criticized for lack of technical finish, it would be dangerous to equip him with an exacting technical art knowledge . . . This would be to the absolute loss of native feeling, of the tone and direct blood relationship that is needed in his work. [12]

Riley’s comments are a mixed bag. He praised Vawter for his talent, but noted his unpolished rendering skills. He admired the way Vawter captured in ink the very people Riley depicted in words, but implied that the artist did so out of naiveté. Vawter captured their essence only because they were just the kind of folks that the simple young man knew and understood. At this early point in his career, Riley did not see Vawter as an artist with a vision of his own. Vawter would prove this assumption wrong much later in his career.

The fact that Riley’s appreciation for Vawter grew over the following years is evidenced by the sheer number of times the author paired with the artist on lushly-illustrated volumes of poetry. Vawter illustrated:

James Whitcomb Riley, Book of Joyous Children (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902, accessed IUPUI Digital Collections.

Riley Farm-Rhymes (1901, 1905 editions),
The Book of Joyous Children (1902),
His Pa’s Romance (1903),
A Defective Santa Claus (1904),
Riley Songs O’ Cheer (1905 edition),
The Boys of the Old Glee Club (1907),
Riley Songs of Summer (1908),
Riley Songs of Home (1910),
Riley Songs of Friendship (1921 edition).

Vawter also created front pieces for Riley’s A Child-World (1897) and Home Folks (1900), and illustrations for short Riley volumes Down Around the River and Other Poems (1911) and Knee Deep in June and Other Poems (1912). [13]

A Golden Age for Greenfield

Vawter illustrated a children’s book for another Greenfield author: his sister, Clara Vawter. “Miss Clara” as the local newspapers called her, was a rising star of the Indiana literary scene. She was writing for “several publications of prominence,” her work was read aloud and praised by the Western Writers’ Association, and publishers had written her “offering to pay her handsomely for her literary work.” The illustrated book by the Vawter siblings, Of Such Is the Kingdom of Heaven (1899, later published as The Rabbit’s Ransom) was widely praised not only for stimulating the imaginations of children, but also for appealing to the nostalgia of older people. Unfortunately, every article that mentioned Miss Clara’s promise as a writer, also noted her “delicate health” and she died in 1900. Of Such Is the Kingdom was her only published work. [14]

Will Vawter, illustration from The Rabbit’s Ransom by Clara Vawter (Brooklyn: Braunworth, Munn & Barber, 1899), accessed GoogleBooks.

Vawter contributed art to other Greenfield authors. He illustrated historian and poet John Clark Ridpath’s Epic of Life (1893) and contributed engravings to William H. English’s two-volume history Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio, 1778-1783 (1897). And he illustrated a children’s book by Greenfield author Adelia Pope Branham called Grandma Tales and Others (1899) and poet Barton Rees Pogue’s work Fortunes in Friendship (1926). [15] He made art for numerous other Indiana authors outside of Hancock County. [16] And by the turn of the twentieth century, his original book illustrations were exhibited around the country. [17]

The Rise of American Impressionism

By this time, Vawter was an accomplished illustrator, working in a popular style, and highly demanded by publishers. With the drastic increase in number and circulation of illustrated journals across the country, an illustrator like Vawter could stay gainfully employed in that medium. At the same time, American artists were hungry for an artistic style they could call their own. American painters educated in Europe were returning with the influence of French impressionism – broad, quick strokes, a bright palette, an eye for capturing the effects of light, and a desire to paint en plein air, or outside the walls of the studio. For example, Indiana-born painter William Merritt Chase shifted from the darker tones of the Munich school where he was trained as a young man, to the bright, impressionist style of the era’s avante garde painters during his mid and late career. Working out of his studio in New York, Chase and his colleagues helped to define this style of American Impressionism. These artists remained at home, painting scenes of life and landscape in the United States, as opposed to expatriating to European art capitals like their predecessors. While they drew on artistic elements from European styles as they saw fit, their goal was to create a uniquely American style of art. [18]

William Merritt Chase, Ready for the Ride, oil on canvas, 1877, Museum of Fine Arts Boston, accessed collections.mfa.org.
William Merritt Chase, At the Seaside, oil on canvas, ca. 1892, Metropolitan Museum of Art, www.metmuseum.org.

The Aesthetic Pull of Brown County

Another Hoosier painter took this localism further, pushing his cohorts to not just remain in the U.S., but to paint the beauty of their home state. T. C. Steele followed in Chase’s footsteps, studying in Munich before returning to live and work in Indianapolis. Steele found his calling in the Indiana landscape and his muse in the hills of Brown County. Steele’s plein air paintings captured the light and natural beauty of the region and helped establish the reputation of the Hoosier Group, painters of the Indiana landscape that achieved international recognition by 1900. [19]

Indianapolis News, May 4, 1918, 32, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Someone of Vawter’s artistic sensibilities could not help but be influenced by this aesthetic shift, as well as the renown of the Hoosier Group. By 1909, Will and his wife Mary moved to Brown County, Indiana, just south of Nashville on a scenic farm they jokingly called “Rattlesnake Terrace” after some of the local fauna. Vawter set up a studio in an “old clapboard-roofed log cabin” with an expansive view of the property. Reportedly he kept a cow grazing on the property, despite the fact that it gave very little milk, because it added “picturesque interest to the landscape.” [20] While Vawter continued to derive his income from newspaper and magazine illustration, he too was enraptured by the Brown County landscape and began to work in an impressionist style influenced by the Hoosier Group. [21]

Will Vawter, Sunshine and Hollyhocks, 1925, n.d., accessed Fine Art America.
Frank M. Hohenberger, “Willa Vawter Painting in Studio,” photograph, n.d., Frank Hohenberger Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University Image Collections Online.

Vawter was known to be kind and became popular with the locals. A 1917 Indianapolis News article reported on a little girl who came to visit him in his studio, carrying a well-loved doll. Noticing that the doll’s painted face had faded, Vawter “painted a new face with the rosiest cheeks and a beautiful pair of unwinking blue eyes.” The little girl left “bubbling over with gratitude.” Vawter went back to his work, but only for a few minutes. He was interrupted by another little girl holding her doll, and a half hour later, he had a dozen little fans gathered outside the studio. He quit trying to work and “gave up the day to making faces for all kids of dolls, from the old-fashioned rag baby to the most pretentious efforts in wax.” After fixing everyone’s toy over the course of a day, he joked that “this beauty parlor has closed.” [22]

Frank M. Hohenberger, “Vawter in Potato Patch,” photograph, n.d., Frank Hohenberger Collection, Lilly Library, Indiana University Image Collections Online.

Vawter was just as generous with his fellow artists. After becoming interested in etching in 1919, he opened up the small studio he had moved to in downtown Nashville, Indiana, to his peers. The modest room stood over a grocery store and still displayed the sign of the previous occupant, a realtor. It housed a copper plate printing press, cans of ink, cheesecloth for wiping the plates, a table, and a stove.

The Brown County Democrat reported:

Indianapolis News, June 7, 1919, 18, Hoosier State Chronicles.

It is understood between the few members of a little community etching and printing club that any member is free to use the press, stove, table, etc, but no member must be guilty of using any other member’s printing rags. [23]

In September 1919, Vawter exhibited some of these etchings at the H. Lieber Company art store in downtown Indianapolis, along with oil paintings by Steele and others. [24] While his work gained popularity across the state, Vawter worked to enhance the art scene in Brown County.

Will Vawter, Brown County Landscape, 1920, accessed MutualArt.

By August of 1920, Vawter and fellow artist Adolph R. Shulz, were working to establish an art museum. They found support in unlikely places, both with artists and locals hoping that such an art center would preserve the “nature wonders of a country that is fast losing its old-fashioned atmosphere,” and local businessmen who saw it as a means to increase tourism. [25] Their dream became a reality in 1926 with the opening of a gallery on the public square.  The artists and locals supporting the gallery formed the Brown County Art Gallery Association in order to open quality exhibitions to the public. [26]

In 1925, the work of Vawter and his fellow Brown County artists was exhibited at the art galleries of Marshall Field & Co. in Chicago. This exhibit, known as the “Hoosier Salon,” was popular and well-covered by the press, thus establishing Vawter permanently in the canon of great Indiana artists. For his oil painting Our Alley, which depicted a winter scene in Brown County, he won the Frank Cunningham prize and one hundred dollars. He continued to exhibit regularly at the H. Lieber gallery in Indianapolis and the Hoosier Salon in Chicago into the 1930s. [27]

The Late-Blooming of Vawter

Indianapolis Star, February 19, 1961, 27, accessed Newspapers.com.

But it was in the last years of his life that Vawter created his finest work. No one was better poised to observe this development than Lucille E. Morehouse, an insightful art critic whose popular column “In The World of Art” ran for decades in the Indianapolis Star. [28] In 1936, she covered the Annual Brown County Exhibit at the H. Lieber Company galleries, as she did every year. Morehouse clearly had a fondness for the Brown County artists but also a certain weariness of their subject matter, the landscapes of the county in various seasons, which had become standard fare by the 1930s. Nonetheless, she covered the show in her usual energetic and descriptive manner, because it was still in demand by the public. She explained that the show’s popularity was owed to Indianapolis residents, who vacationed in Brown County and looked to the paintings as reminders of their scenic vacations.

She explained that the public appreciated that Brown County Artists hadn’t changed their style, that they resisted modernism, and made pictures that could “smooth away the cares of the day.” [29] On the other hand, Morehouse wrote: “Sometimes we wish they would paint new subjects or would interpret the old ones in a different angle.”[30] Vawter did just that. Unlike his colleagues, Vawter began to travel in his later years and it refreshed his work. Morehouse especially praised Vawter’s recent painting Blue Pool, which was “one of the fine things from the group of New England coast scenes and Marines.” [31]

Will Vawter, Along the Coast, n.d., accessed Fine Art Dealers Association.

 

Besides exhibiting his reinvigorated work alongside the Brown County artists, Vawter showed his marine paintings in a one-man show at the H. Lieber Company gallery. Morehouse praised his bold paintings in a lengthy article. [32] Comparing his marinescapes with an earlier, popular Brown County fall landscape, she wrote:

When a Hoosier from the Brown county woods goes East to paint New England coast scener[y], one might expect him to go about it timidly. Not so Will Vawter. He makes his brush slash into the ocean just as if it were putting “the glory of autumn” on canvas. [33]

For Morehouse, who had long been familiar with Vawter’s work, these paintings of coastal scenes were like seeing his work fresh for the first time. She wrote:

But I never have been able to throw off my early feeling of wonder when I back away from a broadly-painted canvas and see form emerging from massively-painted surfaces over which the brush had evidently moved with more or less of inspiration. [34]

Detail of Vawter’s Along the Coast showing the abstraction of the work up close as opposed to the impressionist style of the larger work as noted by Morehouse.

She continued to praise the spontaneity of the work and the “striking evidence of genius” in his mastery of form and “expression of light and atmosphere.” [35] The works were vigorous, alive, and fresh, proving the innovative spirit of the older artist.

In 1938, Vawter again held a solo show. This time he combined his seascapes with other scenes from his travels, including hilly landscapes painted on the East Coast. In a show of maturity as an artist, he also included new, but traditional views of Brown County. He could both try new things and showcase his mastery of the light and scenery of his home county. Morehouse took note:

Indianapolis Star, December 26, 1939, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

What a heritage Will Vawter will leave to Hoosierdom! The longer he paints, the more beauty he captures from nature and transfers to canvas. Because the present exhibit is so all-inclusive, representing every phase of his work. [36]

Morehouse described his Brown County landscapes as “lusciously painted,” his flower still lifes as “vigorously alive,” and again praised his adventuring beyond his home state for new subject matter. [37] She concluded that Vawter’s 1938 exhibit “surpasses all previous showings by this gifted Hoosier painter of landscape.” [38] At 67 years old, Vawter was reaching his artistic peak.

Indianapolis Star, December 8, 1940, 76, Newspapers.com.

In 1940, just two months before his death, Vawter held what would be his last one-man exhibition. It surpassed all previous exhibitions, even the acclaimed 1938 show. Vawter showed nineteen paintings, including tranquil seascapes, the Great Smoky Mountains in early fall, the New England coast in spring, and Brown County landscapes from all seasons. For Morehouse, even his paintings of traditional flower still lifes felt fresh and vibrant. She explained that Vawter didn’t just reproduce the appearance of the plants, but that “he interprets the souls of flowers, makes us feel their personality.” In fact, Morehouse regretted that she couldn’t do Vawter justice by describing his paintings; you just had to see them. She wrote that he depicted something “spiritual that can be expressed only in terms of paint, and not in words.”

Vawter passed away in 1941 after a forty-eight year long art career. But before he died, he mastered not just the technical aspect of art, but found in the heart of his life’s work a spiritual connection to nature so powerful it could be sensed secondhand by the viewer. Will Vawter remains an example to artists everywhere to keep working, despite obstacles the art world places before older artists. By considering the long career of a late-blooming artist, we see that artists can do their best work in their autumn years. Hopefully, art museums and galleries will continue to make more space for this mature, yet still innovative and evolving work.

Will Vawter, A Sunny Day in Springville, n.d., accessed Fine Art Dealers Association.

 

 

 

 

Notes:
All newspapers accessed Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.

[1] Susan Stamberg, “This New York Gallery Has an Unusual Age Limit: No Artists Younger Than 60,” Morning Edition, January 11, 2018, NPR.

[2] Thomas Marks, “Is This A Golden Age for Older Artists?” Apollo: The International Art Magazine, May 29, 2017.

[3] The Long Run, MoMA, November 11, 2017-May 5, 2019.

[4] Stamberg, “This New York Gallery . . .,” NPR.

[5]“The Eclectics,” Indianapolis News, May 14, 1879, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Seriously Hurt,” (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, July 24, 1879, 3; 1880 United States Census (Schedule 1), Enumeration District 194, Greenfield, Hancock County, Indiana, Page 15, Line 27, June 5, 1880, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Eclectic Physicians in Council,” Indianapolis News, November 17, 1880, 3. Newspapers and the 1880 census show Will Vawter’s father Lewis working as a physician in Greenfield by 1879. The 1880 census confirms the family’s move.

[6] (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, March 5, 1891, 1; (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, April 9, 1891, 1; “Notes of Newspaper Men,” Indianapolis News, December 5, 1891, 7.

[7] James Whitcomb Riley,“Armazindy: A Borned Soldier and Hero,” Indianapolis Journal, September 5, 1893, 13, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[8] “That Girl Wuz, and Is, I know, A Borned Soldier and Hero,” Indianapolis Journal, August 30, 1893, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[9] Advertisement, Indianapolis News, October 14, 1893, 9, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[10] “Riley’s New Book,” Indianapolis News, October 6, 1900, 16, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[11]“A Co-Worker with Riley,” Indianapolis News, reprinted (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, December 8, 1898, 5.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Most of Riley’s books featuring Vawter’s illustrations are accessible via Livin’ the Life of Riley Digital Collection, IUPUI University Library. Most other Riley books are accessible via Hathi Trust. First editions are accessible through the Indiana State Library. Vawter’s illustrations for Riley Songs of Cheer are accessed through Newfields.

[14] “New Authoress Rapidly Coming to the Front,” Hancock Democrat, September 21, 1899, 5; “Of Such Is the Kingdom,” Indianapolis Journal, December 11, 1899, 4; Book Buyer 19: 2 (September 1899), 83, accessed HathiTrust; “Miss Clara Vawter Dead,” Indianapolis News, October 12, 1900, 14.

[15] John Clark Ridpath, Epic of Life (New York: Hunt & Eaton, 1893), accessed HathiTrust; “Mr. English’s New Book,” Indianapolis News, December 14, 1895, 5; William Hayden English, Conquest of the Country Northwest of the River Ohio, 1778-1783 and, Life of Gen. George Rogers Clark (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill Company, 1897), accessed Archive.org; Advertisement, (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, June 1, 1899, 1; “Greenfield Genius,” Hancock Democrat, June 8, 1899, 8; Adelia Pope-Branham, Grandma Tales and Others, (Greenfield, Indiana: Harold Pub. Co. Press, 1899), accessed Archive.org; “Greenfield Now at the 5,000 Mark,” Indianapolis News, November 30, 1901, 3; Charles H. Bartlett, Tales of Kankakee Land (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1904), accessed HathiTrust; “C. H. Bartlett’s New Book,” South Bend Tribune, April 9, 1904, 6; John William Vawter, Sheet of 15 Illustrations to Barton Rees Pogue’s ‘Fortunes and Friendship,’ pen and ink over pencil on paper, n.d., Prints, Drawings, and Photographs Collection, Indianapolis Museum of Art.

[16] Robert J. Burdette, Smiles Yoked with Sighs (Indianapolis: Bowen-Merrill, 1900), accessed HathiTrust; “Recent Literature,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, June 30, 1900, 13; Advertisement, Indianapolis News, November 14, 1903, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Wallace Bruce Amsbary, The Ballad of Bourbonnais (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1904); “The Ballads of Bourbonnais,” Indianapolis News, May 7, 1904, 16; “Among the Books,” Topeka State Journal, June 4, 1904, 13.

[17] Advertisement, (Rochester, New York) Democrat and Chronicle, October 29, 1898, 8; “Exhibit of Paintings by Indiana Artists,” Indianapolis Journal, April 24, 1904, 16, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Exhibit of Original Drawings for Novels,” Indianapolis News, March 20, 1905, 8. Vawter’s illustrations from Riley’s Child Rhymes were exhibited in Rochester, New York in 1898. In 1904, his original illustrations were exhibited at the H. Lieber Art Gallery in Indianapolis and the St. Louis Exposition; in 1905, at the Indianapolis “city library.”

[18] “William Merritt Chase,” accessed Indiana Historical Bureau.

[19] “T.C. Steele Home, Studio, Gardens,” accessed Indiana Historical Bureau.

[20] (Greenfield ) Daily Reporter, October 9, 1908, 2; (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, April 7, 1909, 2; (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, May 11, 1909, 1; (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, May 13, 1909, 1; “Vawter’s Brown County Home,” (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, August 8, 1909, 1; “Rattlesnake Terrace, the Vawter Home,” (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, August 12, 1909, 6, accessed Newspapers.com; N. L., “A Day in the Artists’ Arcadia in Brown County,” (Muncie) Star Press, September 5, 1909, 14; (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, October 28, 1909, 8.

[21] William Forsyth, “Art in Indiana,” Indianapolis News, September 27, 1916, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Paintings of Local Artists Exhibited,” Indianapolis News reprinted (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, December 27, 1917, 4; “Brown County Pictures,” Indianapolis News, September 17, 1919, 26, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; William Herschell, “Will Vawter’s Home in Brown County,” (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, August 5, 1920, 1; “Art Notes,” Indianapolis News, December 4, 1920, 5; John William Vawter, Barnes Cabin on Owl Creek, Brown County, circa 1920, Oil on Canvas, Indianapolis Museum of Art; Will Vawter, Sunshine and Hollyhocks, 1925, Oil on Canvas, Private Collection, published in Lyn Letsinger-Miller, Artists of Brown County (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1994), 41.

[22] “Little Stories of Daily Life,” Indianapolis News, May 3, 1917, 24, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[23] “Produced in Brown County Etching Club Shop,” Indianapolis News, June 7, 1919, 18, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Brown County Etchers’ Club,” Brown County Democrat, June 12, 1919, 5.

[24] Ibid.; “Brown County Pictures,” Indianapolis News, September 17, 1919, 26, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[25] “Will Vawter’s Home in Brown County,” (Greenfield) Daily Reporter, August 5, 1920, 1; “Urge a Museum to Keep Romance of Hoosier Art,” South Bend News-Times, August 12, 1920, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[26] “Brown County Art Gallery at Nashville,” Brown County Democrat, September 2, 1926, 1; “Brown County Art Gallery Is Assured,” Brown County Democrat, September 9, 1926, 1; “New Art Gallery,” Huntington Herald, September 8, 1926, 8; “Artists in Brown County Organize,” Indianapolis Star, September 8, 1926, 1; “Art Gallery Association Grows Rapidly,” Brown County Democrat, September 16, 1926, 1; “Open Art Gallery in Brown County,” Indianapolis Star, October 9, 1926, 5; “Vawter Heads Local Artists’ Association,” October 23, 1930, 1.

[27] “Brown County Artists at Exhibit in Chicago,” Brown County Democrat, March 5, 1925, 1; “Winter Scene Wins Prize for Artist,” Indianapolis Star, March 14, 1925, 11; “Richmond Man Wins Art Prize,” Richmond Item, March 7, 1926, 1; “46 Paintings by Brown County Artists Put on Display at Lieber’s Galleries,” Indianapolis Star, November 16, 1927, 24; “Vawter’s Landscape Wins Prize in Exhibit at Hoosier Salon in Chicago Galleries,” Indianapolis News, January 31, 1928, 7; “Eighth Hoosier Salon Will Be Held in Field Galleries Jan. 23 to Feb. 6,” Indianapolis Star, December 20, 1931, 50. Other newspaper articles on Vawter’s exhibitions available in the IHB marker file.

[28] “Miss Morehouse Dies; Ex-Art Critic,” Indianapolis Star, February 19, 1961, 27.

[29] Lucille E. Morehouse, “In The World of Art: Local Art Exhibitions Scheduled for December Are Distinctly Inviting and of Unusual Character,” Indianapolis Star, December 6, 1936, 75.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Lucille E. Morehouse,”In The World of Art: Brown County Landscapist Turns Marine Painter; One-Man Show at Lieber Gallery for Another Week,” Indianapolis Star, November 22, 1936, 65.

[33 – 35] Ibid.

[36] Lucille E. Morehouse,”In The World of Art: Will Vawter’s Exhibition Tops Previous Shows,” Indianapolis Star, December 18, 1938, 69.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

HoosierKind: Drawing and Piecing Together Community

Photo by Andreanna Moya Photography on Foter.com / CC BY

As you’re likely in your second or third week of social isolation, you’ve probably done everything you can think of to occupy yourself. You’ve exercised at home, binged all your favorite shows, cleaned and dusted, and reread your favorite books. What else is there to do?

Puzzles!—a longtime mainstay of home-bodied folks. Whether it’s crosswords or word searches, tabletop jigsaw puzzles or drawing games, puzzles can be a welcome pastime. These three stories from Hoosier State Chronicles, our freely-accessible digital repository of nearly a million pages of historic newspapers, will challenge your mind and warm your heart. The first item comes to us from nearly 100 years ago, in the August 28, 1920 issue of the Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram. This puzzle, known as “Pencil Twister,” was printed in the Junior Palladium section of the paper, a four-page insert published on Saturdays.

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, August 28, 1920, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Do you think you can complete the picture? (You can view the answer here.) You would copy the object shown onto a blank piece of paper and then turn it 90-degrees counterclockwise.From there, you would attempt to complete the drawing based on a clue, which for this puzzle is “Can you change Santa into an Apricot Sundae?” I hope that you got it! This drawing puzzle is a bit different than most of your average brain games.

Next up is an inspiring story from the October 29, 1983 issue of the Indianapolis Recorder. It centers on the life of Bertie Miller, a retired nurse’s aide and secretary who devoted her golden years to jigsaw puzzles—using only one hand to complete them. Years before, Miller lost her right hand to an amputation following a stroke, but that didn’t stop her. Her passion for puzzles started around that time, when her friend asked her to help finish one. “By having use of only one hand,” Miller shared, “I didn’t think I would be much help—I looked past my handicap and helped her.” After that, she was hooked. Over the next seven years, she completed roughly 200 jigsaw puzzles, many of which she had framed for display in her room at the Central Healthcare Center where she lived. She even won a blue-ribbon award at the Indianapolis Black Expo for one of her puzzles.

Alongside her jigsaw joys, Miller kept herself busy with distributing mail to her fellow residents at the Central Healthcare Center, playing bingo, chatting with other residents who were room bound, and attending church. She was also a grandmother to seven and great grandmother to another seven, all of whom she would regularly visit with. The Recorder called her a “truly remarkable and independent lady.”

Indianapolis Recorder, October 19, 1983, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Mary Jane Allen, activity director for the center, remarked on Miller’s love for puzzle craft. “Among Mrs. Miller’s favorite puzzles to work have been The Lord’s Supper, the Changing of the Guards, animals, flowers, antique cars and a large puzzle of kinds of jellybean candies.” Allen also reflected on how this hobby improved Miller’s life for the better. “She has rehabilitated herself with this hobby and is learning to use her good hand,” Allen said. Miller loved sharing her hobby with others; her completed puzzles adorned the walls of the center and were given to fellow residents as gifts. Bertie Miller “hasn’t let her handicap prevent her from living and [bringing] happiness to others,” the Recorder noted. During your time at home, dust off your puzzles and finish one in Bertie’s honor.

Our final story comes from a May 4, 2001 article in the Indianapolis Recorder that also reports on jigsaw puzzles but focuses this time on their educational value. W. Bruce Adams, an entrepreneur who worked as a salesman for iconic game company Parker Brothers, started his own venture creating African American history themed jigsaw puzzles. “I couldn’t believe that 10 years after I left Parker Brothers there were still no puzzles with African-American themed images on them,” he said. This inspired Adams to develop his own line of African American themed puzzles. “I looked all over and couldn’t find any,” he remembered. “I said ‘this is a perfect opportunity for me to start a business, doing something no one else is doing.’”

Indianapolis Recorder, May 4, 2001, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Adams’s passion for culturally-relevant products may have started when he worked as an intern for the trailblazing congresswoman and presidential candidate, Shirley Chisholm. Realizing law wasn’t for him during his work with Chisholm, Adams found his calling in sales and worked for Parker Brothers, as well as Gabriel Toys and Bristol-Myers. It was at Parker Brothers that he first discovered there were no African American themed games, so he started developing prototypes in his spare time that he sold at flea markets, yard sales, and trade fairs.

Portraits of African American Inventors, W. B. Adams Puzzles & Games, Amazon.com.

Adams began his own game company around 1998, with his first two puzzles centered around African American history. The first, “Portrait of African American History,” highlighted important figures such as Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The puzzle “The Dream, Martin Luther King, Jr.” focused exclusively on the civil rights leader and orator. Later, he created puzzles focusing on Kwanzaa and Kenyan culture. Adams developed these puzzles and others with African American artists, such as Brenda Joysmith, Synthia St. James, Charles Bibbs, and Paul Goodnight. His roster grew to 20 puzzles by 2001.

“Developing a Winner,” W. B. Adams Puzzles & Games, Art by Brenda Joysmith, Amazon.com.

Customers at flea markets and trade shows were thrilled with Adams’s puzzles, citing their educational value. Adams recalled:

When I was doing flea markets, African American parents would always come up to me and ask, ‘Do you have any African-American educational puzzles?’ Puzzles are very educational because they teach eye hand coordination skills, they help your memory, and I noticed that a lot of African Americans bought puzzles.

His success with the company led to retailers like Walmart and Toys “R” Us carrying his products, which sometimes sold out too quickly for his small sales staff to keep up with. In an effort to meet demand, the company used telemarketing and the internet to get the word out about his puzzles.

Kwanzaa Family Celebration 300 Piece Jigsaw Puzzle, W. B. Adams Puzzles & Games, Amazon.com.

Alongside puzzles, Adams developed educational CD-ROM games with Lady Sala Shabazz, a nationally-syndicated radio host and independent children’s book author. He also developed puzzles with food entrepreneur and television personality Wally “Famous” Amos. Adams’s dedication to fun games with a message should encourage you to take advantage of the time you have at home, to perhaps finish a puzzle with a historical or educational theme. If you have kids, bring them in on the fun!

We hope these stories of puzzles, games, and community have helped uplift you. It’s through all of our actions that we can extend our sense of Hoosier kindness to ourselves and others. Now, get to puzzling!

HoosierKind: A Harvest of Friendship

During these trying times, IHB is going to bring you stories of small kindnesses by Hoosiers throughout our history.

Dean Olsen, “Farmers Reap Fields in Friendship,” (Lafayette) Journal and Courier, September 26, 1985, 3, Newspapers.com.

Joan Ogborn and Robert Davis grew up in Pine Village, Warren County, Indiana, where they attended the same high school. Joan worked at her family’s grocery store and Robert carried on his family’s farming tradition. They married in 1952 and made a life for themselves in Pine Village. They attended the local Methodist church, had two sons, and grew their farm. By the 1980s, their expansive, productive land included 180 acres of soybeans and 180 acres of corn. When Robert died unexpectedly in 1985, Joan went to visit her son and spend some time with family. What happened on the Davis farm while she was gone still warms our hearts today.

In September 1985, twenty-two friends and neighbors arrived to harvest the Davis’s acres of soybeans. They brought twelve combines, five trucks, and a dozen or so grain wagons. The Lafayette Journal and Courier reported: “An estimated $1 million in farm equipment passed over the land Davis farmed, harvesting about 7,500 bushels, or $38,000 worth of soybeans.” The farmers worked from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., and their wives served roast beef, ham and beans, and pie to keep them going.

One of the farmers, Robert Akers, told the local newspaper simply, “This is just the way the community works.” The neighbor who organized the harvest, Ralph Reed, echoed the sentiment, stating: “It’s just a job that has to be done.” Reed explained that this community effort was their “own kind of insurance.” Robert’s brother Clive teared up when he told the local reporter:

If he could only see this today. It just makes you feel great. I’m really not a person for tears, but when I saw those farmers in that field, it brought tears.

When Joan found out about what her neighbors had done, she was extremely grateful. Their kindness had saved her an inestimable amount of time, money, and worry. She was only disappointed that she wasn’t there to see it, but hopeful that she could “pay them back someday.”

Dean Olsen, “Farmers Reap Fields in Friendship,” (Lafayette) Journal and Courier, September 26, 1985, 3, Newspapers.com.

These neighbors came out of “the tradition of loyalty that binds farm communities.” The farmers had helped each other before and would always be available to help again. In fact, they made plans to return in two or three weeks to harvest the Davis farm’s 180 acres of corn.

From all of us at IHB, we hope you’re well and taking care of each other.

Sources:

“Ogborn-Davis,” (Lafayette) Journal and Courier, June 10, 1952, 21, Newspapers.com.

Dean Olsen, “Farmers Reap Fields in Friendship,” (Lafayette) Journal and Courier, September 26, 1985, 3, Newspapers.com.

“Joan (Ogborn) Davis,” (Lafayette) Journal and Courier, February 8, 2014, accessed Legacy.com.

Coping with Quarantine in a Pre-Digital Era

Employees of Seattle, Washington’s Stewart and Holmes Wholesale Drug Co. on 3rd Avenue during the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic, courtesy of University of Washington Libraries. Very few images of the public exist from this period-being that there was a quarantine-so we have yet to locate a similar images of essential Hoosier workers.

At the height of World War I, Spanish Influenza ravaged Hoosier servicemen and servicewomen. Fortunately, city and health officials acted quickly in the fall of 1918, resulting in Indianapolis having one of the lowest casualty rates in the country, according to IHB historian Jill Weiss Simins. But how were Hoosiers’ daily lives impacted by the dread malady? As we can now relate, the public was consumed with news reports about the pandemic and resultant quarantine, which we will re-examine here via Newspapers.com and the freely-accessible Hoosier State Chronicles.

The flu struck Fort Benjamin Harrison in September of 1918 and by October 6, U.S. public health service officials mandated a statewide quarantine for Indiana and most other states. [1] Making us grateful for the immediacy of Apple News and Google Alerts, state board officials at the time spread the news by dispatching telegrams to board secretaries in every county, ordering them to “immediately close all schools, churches, theaters, amusements of all kinds, and to put a ban on all public meetings and gatherings.” [2] The order initially exempted factories, “business houses,” and restaurants, and limited confectionaries’ services.

Princeton Daily Clarion, October 7, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

Much like now, some Hoosiers pushed back against the ban, deeming it unnecessary as influenza patients, in their estimation, suffered from nothing more than “heavy colds.” [3] A Terre Haute high schooler placed an ad in the paper the day after the public health announcement, stating “can work all day during quarantine.” [4] Perhaps in response to this disregard, health officials across the state placed “influenza placards” at the residences of those infected as a measure to keep the community safe. [5]

Quarantined individuals communicated through letters printed in local papers, detailing how they passed their time. Four Hammond soldiers quarantined at Camp Sherman, Ohio wrote, “I guess we Hoosiers are too strong bodied to have it for we are well at this time.” [6] A quarantine pastime familiar to us today, they reported doing “nothing much but eating and sleeping.” After a little drilling, they “played games and bullfrog. We have boxing contests and concerts of our own.” Of their new normal, they wrote, “We are our own washowmen [sic] for we are orphans without wives or mother, but one great Uncle who is Uncle Sam, but we have the time of our lives just the same.” [7] At night, the men caught up on local news by browsing Hammond papers by candlelight, likely searching for the names of friends and family who may have fallen victim to the malady.

Advertisement, Terre Haute Tribune, October 9, 1918, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

According to the Columbus, Indiana Republic, quarantine wasn’t just a matter of public health but patriotism during World War I. The paper urged readers to have “common sense,” as the epidemic ravaged healthy U.S. troops and argued that quarantine “is of vital importance in connection with the war and the sooner the disease is stamped out the better it will be for war conditions.” [8] Given the global conflict, one South Bend writer framed quarantine as a much needed pause contending, “In our present nervous state of society, due to the war, the Liberty loan, the draft, etc. . . we have found something new to nurse our nervousness; and possibly the quarantine is necessary as a means of rest.” [9]

Indianapolis News, November 2, 1918, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

For many Hoosiers, the practical took precedent over the patriotic during the shutdown. Teachers in Seymour wanted to know if they would still be paid while classes were suspended. Fortunately, the state ruled that they would receive full wages because it would be wrong to lose money due to an “order over which they have no control.” [10] Unfortunately, they would not be able to spend these wages on libations, as Seymour health officials ordered “all near beer places of business to be closed” the next day. [11] Nor could they worship together, as pastors across the city appealed to congregants to conduct services from their own homes. [12]

As the “enforced vacation” dragged on, Richmond children felt as if they “were having summer vacation once more.” [13] One nostalgic girl wrote to the Palladium-Item with recollections of her summer visit to see family in Boston. With the sunny season a mere glimmer in one’s eye, the YMCA of Evansville distributed cards advising residents—who now lacked the “old excuse of ‘I haven’t time'”—to exercise for thirty minutes three times per week. [14] It’s no #situpchallenge, but Richmond’s Earlham College got creative with physical fitness during their four weeks as “strangers to world outside.” The school converted the chapel into a calesthentics area, and female faculty members played hockey and baseball. [15]

The quarantine also impacted politics, disrupting campaigns for the November congressional election. Unable to stump across the nation, candidates sought to sway local electors via “letters and heart to heart talks.” [16] They scattered campaign cards and held “street corner sessions,” where they informed citizens about political platforms from afar—social distancing, anyone? Voter turn-out was low, as expected, and experts predict the Coronavirus will have a similar effect on the 2020 congressional and presidential elections. In fact, as of this date, Indiana’s primaries have been pushed back to June.

The Times [Seymour, IN], October 8, 1918, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.
As the quarantine dragged into November, newspapers reflected the financial anxiety that set in for numerous Hoosiers. While some businesses capitalized on the social isolation, like Morell Tilson & Sons phonograph company—“The New Edison will be worth the price for entertainment in your home during the influenza quarantine on public musicals and social gatherings”—many others took a hit. [17] Terre Haute theater companies, having taken “their medicine without complaint,” clamored to reopen after three weeks of quarantine. Their employees struggled to make ends meet, despite being temporarily commissioned as members of the “spittoon squad of sanitary health officers, placing boxes of sawdust here and there for the use of thoughtful expectorators.” [18] The South Bend News-Tribune reported on November 12 that “the merchants of the city are becoming restive. These dreary and dismal days are getting on the nerves. Business is practically at a standstill.” [19] In fact, the merchants considered staging a protest against the continuation of quarantine. The paper noted that businessmen weren’t the only ones growing restless, reporting, “The school children are running on the streets and congregating in spots as is their custom.” Regardless, officials extended the quarantine into the winter.

Despite experiencing setbacks, the compliance of businesses, schools, politicians, and the public enabled Indiana to avoid a much worse outcome.  After the isolation of quarantine and the solitude of winter, on May 7, 1919, 20,000 men and women congregated in Indianapolis’s welcome parade. For thirty-three blocks, Hoosiers honored victorious troops returning from World War I combat—no masks or social distancing needed.

Hospital 32 Nurses in Welcome Home Day Parade, photograph, 1919, courtesy Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

Notes:

[1] “No Public Assemblages,” Princeton Daily Clarion, October 7, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[2] Ibid.

[3] “Closing the Town,” Terre Haute Tribune, October 9, 1918, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[4] “Wanted-Situation,” Terre Haute Tribune, October 8, 1918, 15, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[5] “State Board Orders Homes Placarded,” South Bend News-Times, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[6] “From Lonesome Boys,” Hammond Times, October 9, 1918, 13, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Influenza is Not Epideic [sic] in This County,” The Republic [Columbus, IN], October 23, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[9] “Influenza and Fear,” South Bend News-Times, October 11, 1918, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[10] “Teachers to Get Contract Wages,” The Tribune [Seymour, IN], October 10, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[11] “Near Beer Places Are Closed,” The Tribune [Seymour, IN], October 11, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[12] “No Church Services will be Held Here Tomorrow,” The Tribune [Seymour, IN], October 12, 1918, 4, accessed Newspapers.com.

[13] “Quarantine Brings Memories of Summer,” Palladium-Item [Richmond, IN], October 19, 1918, 9, accessed Newspapers.com.

[14] “To Begin Gym Work When Ban is Off,” Evansville Press, October 16, 1918, 10, accessed Newspapers.com.

[15] “Students at Earlham Remain within Campus,” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1918, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[16] “Campaign is Very Quiet this Fall,” The Tribune [Seymour, IN], October 19, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[17] “No Danger of Influenza,” The Evening Star [Franklin, IN], October 11, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[18] Terre Haute Tribune, November 3, 1918, 14, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[19] “‘Flu’ Cases are Growing Less,” South Bend News-Times, November 12, 1918, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

THH Episode 30: Giving Voice: Erin Carlson Mast

Transcript of Giving Voice: Erin Carlson Mast

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Giving Voice.  

For this installment of Giving Voice, I had the pleasure of talking with Erin Carlson Mast, the CEO and Executive Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, DC. The Lincoln Cottage is leading the way for institutions working to infuse history relevancy into their practice.  If you haven’t listened to the most recent episode of Talking Hoosier History, History Relevance 101, I would suggest going back and listening now, as Erin and I dive right into the thick of things with the history relevance campaign. That episode will give you a good basis for understanding our conversation.  

And now, Giving Voice. 

(Talking Hoosier History Theme) 

Beckley: Alright, I’m here with Erin Carlson Mast, CEO and Executive Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C. Welcome, Erin! 

Mast:  Thank you for having me, I’m delighted to be on. 

Beckley: I’m so excited to get to talk a little bit about history relevance today. Our last episode – full episode – was about history relevance, so I know that our listeners are pretty excited to hear a little bit more, especially since we used President Lincoln’s Cottage as an example in our episode.  

Mast: Yea, excellent. I’m happy to be here to share.  

Beckley:  So, I thought we’d start out with just talking a little bit about how your institution has infused history relevance into your programming and into other parts of your institution.  

Mast: That’s a great question. So, I think , part of what makes this interesting for us is that we began doing this work before the field had a name that they put to it, that they were using more broadly. So, this goes all the way back to the capitol project when we were trying to figure out what the Cottage could be and what the Cottage should be, and we had a fair amount of flexibility in determining that, even though you could say that there is kind of well worn path of what historic house museums are, in their interpretive approach, you know, their period of significance. We were doing this planning in the ’00s when there were – the conversations had come around, yet again, as to whether the traditional historic house museum was failing. So there was a big appetite to do something differently. And what we seized on – because the Cottage itself had been in continual use, the property its on, which is now called the Retired Forces Retirement Home Campus, is still serving the same fundamental purpose it served in President Lincoln’s time, it’s still a home to retired veterans. What really made this place important was what Lincoln did while he was here; the conversations he was having; the people who were influencing him; the ideas that he created and turned into policy and action.  

So, that – when we landed on that – we started to say, “Well, if those are the stories we’re gonna tell, what is the methodology?” And, as I mentioned, the Cottage had been in continual use. It was the first woman’s dormitory at one point. Presidents Hayes and Arthur had also lived there – So, it wasn’t like the owners had locked the doors and turned the key over. 

Beckley: Boarded it up, yeah. 

Mast: Yea, right. It’s not like all the furniture from the Lincoln Era was in there. There were very poor records on what had been there. Like, maybe we knew there was a marbletop table but that could mean almost anything. So rather than seeing that as a handicap, we thought that that was a real opportunity to keep the focus on ideas, which, by definition, have relevance to today. It’s about freedom, democracy. We see ourselves not only as a site of war history and presidential history and political history, but of labor history. So we realized we could use these stories that were kind of based in these fundamental ideas about human rights and civil rights and democracy and justice, and carry that forward to the present.  

And we decided that the most effective way to do that was through a conversational guided tour so that we could really gauge where visitors were coming from, the ideas that they were bringing with them to the site and have a conversation so that we could really understand one another. And so that was the genesis of it, really. Sort of figuring out what to do with this place in what is already sort of a crowded sea of other historic sites and museums here in D.C.  

Beckley:  Yeah, I definitely think you’ve accomplished standing out from the crowd, in that sense, from other house museums or other historic sites there in D.C.  

I was wondering – so, obviously, you’re the CEO and executive director – I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how to get leadership invested in history relevance and how that can kind of change how your institution views it.  

Mast: Yeah. That hasn’t been a linear process for us. So, when we first opened, we were part of a larger national organization – the National Trust for Historic Preservation – and we had a lot of autonomy in sort of creating what the experience would be. And after we opened, there was a time period where the National Trust was really looking towards the period of significance being now, and so what we were already doing fit within it.  

Beckley: Yeah, absolutely. 

Mast: So, that was a situation where the leadership then, when I was the executive director – it was sort of going back and forth, it wasn’t one directional, it wasn’t like the hierarchy said “you need to do this” and then we implemented it. We were trying something out and they recognized the value of it, not only at our site but at some of our sister sites like the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, Acoma Pueblo, you know, a lot of our sister sites that were starting to do this in different ways.

So then fast forward to when we started being our own 501c3 – and that became official in 2016 – the Board of Directors we have now really kind of started out as our advisory council. And as much as we had been building credibility with our audience, that we were committed to telling these more complex stories, that it was just a function of how we do our work – the board was seeing the value in that. It was influencing who we were attracting to the board, and for that reason, it’s sort of grown together. It’s not that I had to convince the board, they became convinced of it on their own, and it has influenced their very makeup, so that it’s something they fully support. 

On a staffing level, we really embody it – I talk about it as living our vision and mission. That it’s not just – you could be doing the best work interpretively, but if you’re not living those same messages internally as an organization, you’re going to loose your credibility pretty quickly.  

So, I’ll give a concrete example. For the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, and that was before we separated from the National Trust, we thought, you know, we could do another historical exhibit on the Emancipation Proclamation. Or we could talk about slavery in the United States 150 years later. What we did was an exhibit called “Can You Walk Away?” on human trafficking in the U.S. in the present day. And we were fully confident that that fully fit within our mission and that it was the right thing to do – we did have a few board members who said, “are you sure you don’t want to do just a nice exhibit on Civil War Generals?” or something like that, and I’m not mocking that, but I think for them – well, for some of them, they weren’t really seeing what the connection was, because they weren’t there everyday having the conversations with visitors that we were.   

Beckley: Yeah, and visitors often make those connections themselves, so if you’re just using feedback from visitors and then incorporating that into your programming, that’s obviously going to be a winning strategy.  

Mast: One-hundred percent. And that’s actually a point that I think is worth highlighting, that we really do have an inquiry-based conversational tour. There are stories that it’s based on, but there is – it is conversational. So it’s what we are hearing from visitors. So when we have something that’s like – okay, we have to be clear with people that the Emancipation Proclamation didn’t end slavery. That’s pretty elementary, we need to make that clear. And so, we need to point out that it’s the 13th Amendment that actually legally ended slavery, constitutionally ended slavery, right?  

Well, just because something is illegal doesn’t mean it stops, right? That’s logical, and yet it became very clear to us that visitors were walking away with this false message of, “oh, that solved the problems.” And it didn’t. There are so many problems that sprang up, you know, in the void of that, or in the wake of that, rather. So, those ideas for special exhibits and programs come from the conversations we’re having with visitors, understanding where we could or need to go deeper on a subject, because they’re having a hard time making a connection between what happened historically and what’s happening in their lives today. So that’s why we did that exhibit. And all of the ones we’ve done since.  

Beckley: Absolutely. And it seems to me that having more of a conversational, feedback kind of tour would give visitors a richer experience as well. Because if I go to a museum once and I know that the next time I go to that museum I could get a totally different experience based on what questions I ask, what I’m bringing to the table, that’s definitely going to drive me to go there – that site – more often than, say, somewhere that’s going to give a docented, standard tour every time I go there.  

Mast: Right, like a script. So that you know it’s the same content. Yeah, and we’ve actually had that feedback from our visitors too. You know, we’ve talked to folks who have come eight different times for a tour. We opened in 2008 so they’re averaging taking the tour itself, not just coming to our other programs, at least, a little less than once a year, and they said it was different every time. And it’s not that they were not walking away with the same main points or stories, but the way it was presented was different, the transitions were different, the personal, you know, additions by each person giving the tour was a little bit different. And of course, if you’re really, truly inviting thoughtful questions from the visitors, by definition the experience is going to be different because it is partly led by the visitor.  

Beckley: I was hoping we could shift gears a little bit and talk about a few questions that were actually posed during our History Relevance Workshop that we held last fall. And the first one from that workshop that kind of got me thinking and that I’d like to get your thoughts on is: are historical institutions and museum neutral? And should they be? 

Mast: Yeah, that’s a great question and I think one of the first things to think about is what is meant by “neutral,” because sometimes that comes up in, you know, if we’re talking about present day issues, does that risk harming neutrality, if an organization thinks they are and should be neutral. Another way to think about it is, is the information being presented, is it factual?  

Of course, there is a fair bit of interpretation that goes it our work. You know, we do the research. We interpret the results. Even if an organization is trying to present things as close to the original source as possible, they’re still choosing which primary sources they’re sharing and which they aren’t.  

But I think this also gets to a question about the origin story of our organizations. You might want to think your organization is neutral but looking at the history of the organization itself, you might find that its founding was anything but neutral. It might have been created with a very specific point of view that it was trying to espouse. It might have been created to suppress another point of view, or created in a way that in effect did that. [Here’s an example of a museum coming to terms with it’s origin story and attempting to break with that origin]  

So, I think that President Lincoln’s Cottage itself came about recently enough that we know our origin story and the people that were a part of that very well and we also have a very strong point of view and we own that point of view.  

So, I mentioned the “Can You Walk Away?” exhibit. Another thing that was coming up a lot on our tours that had always been a part of our interpretation but was an example of another topic that we thought we could go deeper on was immigration. It coincided with a scholar who – there’s something like 16,000 books written on Lincoln but no one had touched Lincoln and immigration. And there’s a really rich history there. I mean, he signed an act to encourage immigration on July 4, 1864 and yet no one had written about his immigration views and policy. 

Beckley: Wow! 

Mast: Yeah, and so we knew that this new work of scholarship was coming out and of course getting the latest news and scholarship out is a big part of our work, and making that accessible to the general public. So, everything was just coming together to say that we should be doing this kind of exhibit. 

Well, that exhibit was set to open right during the primary season for the last presidential campaign, when immigration became a huge issue. So as a team we were pretty unified that we shouldn’t be backing off on this exhibit that not only talked about the issue historically, but also shared stories and data on immigration today, including the stories and pictures of families who had been here for their naturalization ceremonies at the Cottage. So it was pictures of them here at the Cottage. And we thought, you know, do we need to review this for our messaging? We did that just because sometimes a turn of phrase can become a partisan slogan. The title of the exhibit was “American by Belief.” And it wasn’t suggesting that we should remove birthright citizenship, but that was something that at that time was being discussed more. So, I actually spoke with the executive committee of my board and I said, “You know, we aren’t a partisan organization, but if partisan actors take an issue that we already have a strong interpretation on an make it partisan or political, I don’t think that we should back off on that.” And they agreed.

So, it was sort of a line in the sand, that, you know, we believe that the narratives that we have and the stories that we’re sharing are absolutely espousing a certain viewpoint. Maybe it’s Lincoln’s viewpoint, but more often it’s multiple points of view that are a unifying voice around an issue. But, you know, the point being, there is no neutrality, because if you’re going to try to be safe and neutral, everything around you is shifting anyway and it strikes me as a much more courageous, you know, just that – a more courageous point of view to say, “This is our point of view. This is why we believe this is important to tell or exhibit,” or what have you, and to move forward with that than to hold onto this idea of being neutral only to have everything around you shifting.  

Beckley: I like your point that something can become “politicized,” even if it – you know, we could do the same exhibit today and then the same exhibit ten years from now and it’s going to be interpreted in a whole different way depending on the world we’re living in and the politics that are going around at the time. That’s no reason to step back from it. Maybe review, make sure that everything is still accurate and that the interpretations are still good, but don’t step back, just maybe take a little closer look, and then keep going forward in doing good work.  

Mast: Yeah, and I would say there’s both, “don’t step back” but also, “don’t fear stepping forward.” You mention that towards the end of that comment, too, and I would underscore that. There shouldn’t be a fear of “oh, we’re going to loose supporters” or “we’re going to loose visitors” as long as it’s reflective of the organization, and you’ve been messaging who you are and what you do as an entity, it shouldn’t be a surprise to people, and so that fear shouldn’t be there. You know, through this work we have-and this wasn’t intentional-we have gained supporters and board members who, maybe they have an appreciation for Lincoln or the Civil War, but what really gets them going about the Cottage is the impact we’re having today.  

Beckley: One last question. Since we’re talking about history relevance and how we’re using it in our institutions, I was wondering if you think that we can be relevant to everyone. If one institution can or should try to be relevant to every single visitor.  

Mast: Well, I think it depends on what we mean by being relevant. The way we try to be, at least – and I don’t think we set out with a goal of being relevant – but when you asked that question I thought about what we do for every visitor and what our expectations are for how we treat and serve every visitor, and how they in turn treat us. We are committed to being good listeners and to hearing people and facilitating conductive conversations, so, you know, if we were trying to, sort of in a patriarchal way, try to say what’s best for everyone, I think that we would fail, but by listening to what our visitors are bringing with them every day to the site, we’re facilitating those connections, and it’s a one-on-one, or not one-on-one necessarily but one-on-however many people are on the tour, connection and conversation to be made.  

So, there are some people who maybe don’t like the experience because it’s not their cup of tea, because not every visitor is going to want the same thing. But I don’t think we’ve ever had a visitor walk away saying, “it’s not relevant.”  

Beckley: Well, what we started out our History Relevance episode with is the question: “What do you expect from your history institutions or from your museums?” and I think that by shifting what we expect from those museums and us as public historians shifting our perceptions of historical institutions, like you have- rather than words on a wall, or exhibits in a hall-it’s a conversation. I really like that point.  

Mast: Well, and also taking those – it really is, I have to say that we get so many great ideas – there are wonderful ideas that come from the team itself. But a lot of it comes from listening to the visitors and realizing what’s happening in the communities that we serve, and that tells us what people don’t know, and what they’re confused about, and what they’re worried about, and what they want more information on. And that’s how we’re able to respond in a way that’s, I think, much more productive than sort of reacting and doing things in a sporadic way that doesn’t make sense externally. You know, I mean, our mission statement – it’s right there. We say the mission is to reveal the true Lincoln and continue the fight for freedom.

So, in just a few words, we’re signaling that we are committed to telling the truth about the past, and that we recognize there’s a lot more work to be done today, which is not a neutral statement, and that we are committed to being part of that. So, anyone who comes here and is surprised that it’s not a traditional experience that sort of glorifies one person and is only focused on one person, really didn’t do even the bare minimum homework of looking at the main page of our website, because we’re very transparent about what we are and what we promise to do and be.  

Beckley: Absolutely. And I was on your website earlier today and it really comes through in all the work you do and I just want to thank you for all of the work you do. I know that a lot of us here at the Historical Bureau kind of look up to you guys and take note of what your doing and model ourselves after you, so thank you for that. 

Mast: I appreciate that. That’s a huge honor that – I’m really humbled by that.  

Beckley: So I wanted to give you a few minutes here at the end of the episode to plug any websites or any programs that you guys have, remembering that most of our listenership is going to be in Indiana, so we can’t all necessarily come out to Lincoln’s Cottage, no matter how much we want to, so I’ll give you a few minutes to do that now.  

Mast: Great! Thanks for that. So, of course, folks can check out our website, LincolnCottage.org and connect with us on social media, but especially because this is mostly listeners in Indiana and they’re listening to your great podcast, I would plug our own podcast, which is called Q and Abe, which is kind of a cutesy name, but it is available on all major streaming services and through our website. And the whole premise of this is around those great questions we get on the tour. So, when we were thinking, “you know, how do we continue that conversation?” we landed on the idea of starting our own podcast.

It’s my colleagues Callie Hawkins and Joan Cummins, who lead it. And to give you an example of the kind of issues we delve into, the very first episode of the very first season, we took a question that we got from a second grader on a tour who asked, “How could Lincoln sleep if slavery was happening?” So we explored that question with sleep experts. There’s a Civil War dream expert, and others to really sort of go down the rabbit hole of these great questions and give the listeners all around the country and all around the world a really intimate  learning and conversational experience. We already have listeners in eighteen countries, and we’re getting started on season 3 now.  

Beckley: That’s amazing. And I just want to note that the fact that there’s a Civil War Dream Expert proves that there is an expert on everything. 

Mast: One hundred percent, yes. We were so excited to find someone whose expertise was actually that because it was perfect for that episode. So, thank you so much for allowing me to share that information.  

Beckley: Of course, and thank you for coming on and taking a little bit of time during this kind of crazy, crazy time in our lives to talk with us a little bit about history relevance.  

Mast: It really is. Thank you so much, Lindsey.  

Beckley: Alright, so everyone, make sure you go and download Q and Abe and listen to the existing two seasons and watch out for those coming episodes and thank you guys for listening. 

Mast: Thank you! 

(THH Theme) 

Beckley: Once again, I want to thank Erin for taking the time to talk with me for this episode. Check out the Lincoln Cottage website at lincolncottage.org to learn more about the awesome work they’re doing. Specifically, I recommend taking some time to read their blog, which is an absolute master class in History Relevance.  

Like everyone out there, our work situation is a little bit up in the air as we are transition to remote working. But we’ll be back soon with the second and last installment of our Tenskwatawa series! In the meantime, follow the Indiana Historical Bureau on Facebook and twitter for daily doses of Indiana History tidbits. Subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.  

Thanks for listening!  

 

Giving Voice to Silent Film Star John Bowers

John Bowers, courtesy of IMDB.

Many dismiss movies made during the silent film era (1885-1930) as farcical or irrelevant. However, this period of great discovery and innovation laid the foundation for modern film-making techniques. One early contributor to this burgeoning new art form was Hoosier actor John Bowersox. He made over ninety films during his career and was among those first honored with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. His versatility and athleticism enabled him to become a leading man in a variety of roles and genres. Off-screen, Bowersox was an extreme sports enthusiast who enjoyed racing his automobile, airplane, and yacht during a novel time for those sports.

Born circa 1884,[1] John Bowersox grew up in the small town of Garrett, Indiana, not far from Fort Wayne. Six feet tall and naturally athletic, Bowersox played football on a local Garrett team.[2] As a young man, he could often be found sailing his boat on nearby Lake Wawasee, the largest natural lake in Indiana. As early as fifteen, he began acting locally in amateur plays. His parents encouraged him to become a lawyer and John enrolled in nearby Huntington Business College. However, John Bowersox was destined for something completely different.

Bowersox continued to act while attending college and he caught the eye of local stock company owner, C. Garvin Gilmaine, who took Bowersox under his wing and eventually recommended him to a touring company performing A Royal Slave.[3] Turning his back on college, John signed an acting contract and left Garrett for rehearsals in Coldwater, Michigan in July, 1904.[4]

As a demonstration of support, his father equipped him with $450 worth of clothes and a trunk that his co-workers joked was worth more than all the show props combined. Bowersox recalled his father’s parting words in an interview with Photoplay Magazine, “If you don’t make [a go of it], come home.”[5] That $450 investment George Bowersox made in his son turned out to be a good one.

The part he played as a Mexican soldier in A Royal Slave introduced Bowersox to a world he could have only dreamed of as a small-town kid. It led to more roles and bigger parts and, by 1912, Bowers had dropped the “ox” from his name and worked as an actor in New York City. [6] Many of his early performances came by way of his relationship with William A. Brady, a prolific producer of both stage and screen.[7]  Under his guidance, Bowers made his Broadway debut in Little Miss Brown on August 29, 1912.[8]

When Bowers was working in New York theater, film studios in and around the city dominated the American motion picture film industry. By today’s standards, “silent era” films can seem campy and amateurish. The acting was often melodramatic and unnatural, a by-product of stage performances. However, a century ago this entertainment medium was every bit as creative and innovative as modern day modes of expression like virtual reality and TikTok.

Image courtesy of IMDB.

As the scale of production increased, the larger studios on the West Coast began dominating the film industry and Bowers eagerly followed the work, moving back and forth between New York, Chicago, and California.[9] It’s impossible to know precisely how many films Bowers made. Early film stock contained highly volatile nitrates that were subject to deterioration at best, and combustion at worst. Some sources estimate that seventy-five percent of early films are forever lost to either decay or disposal.[10] Bowers’s first known credit appears in the short film The Baited Trap (1914), in which he played a criminal.[11] He made two more films that year including one with Tom Mix. It wasn’t long before “John Bowers” was a leading man. He is officially credited with appearing in over ninety films, including Lorna Doone (1922), The Sky Pilot (1921), When a Man’s a Man (1924), and Chickie (1925). His rugged good looks and natural athleticism allowed Bowers to play many different roles.

Although often the love interest, Bowers played heroes, gangsters, cowboys, businessmen, soldiers, and lawyers. He acted in many genres including drama, musical, comedy, romance, crime drama, adventure, action, and westerns. He worked with most of the early silent film stars, such as Mary Pickford, Will Rogers, Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, and Richard Dix. In 1960, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce honored him with one of the inaugural stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.[12] However, acting did not define John Bowers.

Always a bit of daredevil, Bowers took pride in doing his own stunts, believing the audience would appreciate him more if they saw him risking life and limb.[13] Early in his stage career, while acting in A Royal Slave, his over-enthusiastic dueling performance resulted in a sword-jab to his eye, causing serious injury.[14] Years later, while making the film When a Man’s a Man (1924), he broke his leg trying to bull-dog a steer.[15]

He was always athletic and believed that staying physically fit was essential to happiness.[16] As a teenager, he built his own 21’ sailboat that he sailed around Lake Wawasee in northern Indiana. Bowers became so adept at maneuvering it that he would sometimes “turn turtle” just to exasperate his parents watching from shore.[17] Sailing would become central to Bowers’s life. After achieving some success in New York, he purchased a 70’ racing schooner, the Uncas, which he enjoyed sailing up the Hudson River.[18] Sometime in the early 1920s, his friend Doc Wilson sailed it from New York to California in ninety days.[19] Later, Bowers would take his Hollywood friends out for weeks at a time.[20]

An early adopter, Bowers embraced new technology. He became enamored with automobiles and was a known speedster around Los Angeles. In 1924, he took racing lessons from professional driver Ralph De Palma and even entered the 250-mile Thanksgiving Day race at the Ascot Speedway in LA.[21]  In addition to sailing and racing cars, Bowers became an accomplished pilot and even customized his own racing plane. In 1927, Bowers won first place on both days of the Santa Anna air races with his plane, the Thunderbird.[22]

In the early decades of the 20th century, the Western genre began to take off and many film roles required athleticism. Bowers, who was reportedly, “an excellent horseman, can swing a mean lariat, and can bull-dog a steer like a hardened plainsman,” landed many plum roles.[23] The exuberance in which he lived life made for great press. Publicists, either on behalf of the studios or hired by actors for a percentage of their income, carefully crafted the images of movie stars. They arranged appearances, set up photo shoots, and provided copy to trade magazines and newspapers eager to report the off-screen lives of the Hollywood elite. [24]

Bowers and De La Motte on set, courtesy of Motion Picture Classic Magazine.

His third wife Marguerite De la Motte was also a silent film star. [25] De la Motte and Bowers co-starred in the film What a Wife Learned (1923), where they developed a friendship. For quite a while, fans and media speculated about their relationship and, according to most sources, Bowers and De La Motte married in 1924.[26] The couple often entertained and sometimes amused their guests with an exhibition of Bowers’ shooting prowess. De La Motte would place an object on her head and John would shoot it off, an offer he made to anyone willing to participate.[27] It is unclear how many reports about John Bowers are true. Many newspaper accounts reported what he was going to do rather than what he actually did. It’s possible that some accounts of Bowers have been exaggerated. Self-promotion and exaggeration were just as common then as they are today. One thing is certain; John Bowers embodied the spirit of carpe diem.

Bowers worked steadily during the 1920s, but like many silent film stars, he was unable to make the transition to “talkies”. Actors struggled to succeed in the era of sound for many reasons. Sometimes their voices did not match their screen persona, possibly due to an accent or the pitch of their voice. Some actors relied on constant direction that was not possible with the introduction of sound. For whatever reason, by 1927 Bowers’s film career was in decline. To make matters worse, around 1930 John and Marguerite likely separated.[28]

Bowers and De La Motte in Daughters Who Pay, courtesy of IMDB.

The last movie Bowers made was Mounted Fury (1931). By then his drinking had become a problem. Bowers was only forty-five-years-old, but his life was unraveling. A few years later, he returned to Indiana and wrote a weekly fictional serial for the local newspaper, the Garrett Clipper. [30] The serial was a lighthearted coming-of-age story of a small town kid who made good. The protagonist, John Wright, was affable, ambitious and, “If he had fallen into a sewer he would have come out with a bouquet in his hand.” Many of the characters would probably have been familiar to Garret residents, and the serial ran from March until August of 1936.

While in Indiana, John had been caring for his long-ill mother, Ida, in nearby Syracuse when she passed away in July of 1936.[31] Given the new void in his life, John decided to give acting another try. He heard that his old friend Henry Hathaway was directing a film with Gary Cooper and hoped there might be a part in it for him. So, he went back to LA one last time.

The morning after finding out that Hathaway was unable to offer Bowers a part in his movie, Bowers rented a small sailboat in Santa Monica. Two days later, on November 17, 1936, his body washed ashore in Malibu. The coroner reported the cause of death as “Drowned as a result of suicide – jumped off sail boat.” The boat was later recovered adrift.[32] His sister, with whom he was staying at the time, reported that he had recently become despondent.[33]

Although nobody knows what was on the mind of John Bowers when he went overboard, most believed he died by suicide. His mother had recently passed away, his acting career was floundering, and his drinking had become problematic. Despite such a tragic ending, this Hoosier left behind a legacy as a prolific film actor and adventurer.

Notes:

[1] The exact date of Bowers’s birth is questionable. Census records, newspaper articles, and magazine stories report his date of birth differently, but generally around 1885. The DOB from his death certificate is the only official record. “California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9SF-P9BR-Y?cc=2001287&wc=SJ5X-JWG%3A285174601%2C285330201 : 22 August 2018), Los Angeles, Death certificates 1936, no. 10100-12041, image 31 of 2142, California State Archives, Sacramento.

[2] “Local and Personal,” Garrett Clipper (Indiana), October 15, 1903, 5, Newspapers.com.

[3] “John Bowers Receives Contract for Royal Slave Company,” Huntington Herald (Indiana), May 20, 1904, 4, Newspapers.com.

[4] “John Bowers Receives Contract for Royal Slave Company,” Huntington Herald, May 20, 1904, 4, Newspapers.com.

[5] “He Hasn’t Been Home Since,” Photoplay, August, 1919, 61, Internetarchive.org.; “The Right Bower,” circa 1920, Indiana Historical Society, David L. Smith Collection, Collection #P568, Box 1, Folder 3.

[6] “He Hasn’t Been Home Since,” Photoplay, August, 1919, 16: 3, 61, Internetarchive.org.

[7] Brady produced both plays and films. IMDB credits him for producing forty-three films from 1897-1920. Here are some examples of Brady-produced plays in which Bowers was a cast member: “At the Brady Playhouse,” Brooklyn Citizen, November 30, 1913, 17, Newspapers.com.; “The Family Cupboard” Chat [Brooklyn, New York], January 3, 1914, 16 Newspapers.com.; “Attractions of Current Week in Leading Washington Theaters: Family Cupboard,” Washington Herald [Washington, D.C.], January 18, 1914, 18, Newspapers.com.; “Belasco: The Family Cupboard,” Evening Star [Washington, D.C.], January 20, 1914, 8, Newspapers.com.; “This Week in the Theaters: Alvin,” Pittsburgh Daily Post, January 25, 1914, 23, Newspapers.com.; “Attractions at the Theatres: The Decent Thing to Do,” Boston Globe, March 8, 1914, 150, Newspapers.com.; “Surpasses Drury Lane,” Brooklyn Citizen, October 8, 1914, 6, Newspapers.com.; “Plenty of New Productions Listed for Future Appearance,” Variety, October, 1914, 36, 10, Internetarchive.org.

[8] David L. Smith, “John Bowers: A Tragedy That Became a Legend,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Fall 2017, 4, Indiana Historical Society.

[9]  1920 Census, Los Angeles Assembly District 63, Los Angeles, California; Roll: T625_106; Page: 12B; Enumeration District 167, FamilySearch.org.

[10] Paul Harris, “Library of Congress: 75% of Silent Films Lost,” Variety, December 4, 2013, https://variety.com/2013/film/news/library-of-congress-only-14-of-u-s-silent-films-survive-1200915020/.

[11] “King Baggot in ‘The Baited Trapm,’” Great Falls Tribune (Montana), June 21, 1914, 8, Newspapers.com. See IMDB for information on film credits.

[12] “John Bowers,” Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, November 22, 2019, https://www.walkoffame.com/john-bowers

[13] “Movie Facts and Fancies,” Boston Globe, July 29, 1923, 54, Newspapers.com.

[14] “John Bowers Narrowly Escaped Permanent Injury,” August 16, 1904, 4, Newspapers.com.

[15] Bull-dogging refers to the act of wrestling a steer to the ground by holding its horns and twisting its neck.; “Movie Facts and Fancies,” Boston Globe, July 29, 1923, 54, Newspapers.com.

[16] “Sophistication Lends Charm, is Actor’s Theory,” Los Angeles Times, May 1, 1927, 57, Newspapers.com.

[17] David L. Smith, “John Bowers: A Tragedy That Became a Legend,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Fall 2017, 4, Indiana Historical Society.

[18] “The Sport of Kings – and Movie Stars,” Motion Picture Classic, September, 1923, 18:1, 18, Internetarchive.org.

[19] “The Sea-Going Actor,” Indiana Historical Society, David L. Smith Collection, Collection #P568, Box 1, Folder 3.

[20] “The Owner of the Uncas,” Motion Picture Classic, January, 1920, 20, accessed Archive.org, https://archive.org/details/motionpicturecla1920broo/page/n25

[21] “Notes from Movie Land,” Knoxville Journal and Tribune (Tennessee), August 10, 1924, 17, Newspapers.com. This article establishes that he began taking racing lessons.; “Famous Driver Adopts Novel Training Stunt,” Los Angeles Times, August 16, 1924, 11, Newspapers.com.; “Floyd Roberts Adds to Fame,” Van Nuys News (California), September 16, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com. The previous two articles establish that Bowers became involved in the professional auto racing world in 1924.; “50 Daredevils Gamble Lives Against Time in 250-Mile Speed Battle,” Los Angeles Evening Express, November 27, 1924, 1, Newspapers.com. This article reveals that Bowers did not race in the Thanksgiving Day race but rather contributed as an track official.

[22] “Planes are Hobby of Bowers,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1927, 46, Indiana Historical Society, David L. Smith Collection, Collection #P568, Box 1, Folder 3.

[23] “Yachts and Autos His Hobbyhorses,” Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1924, 48, Newspapers.com.

[24] “Publicity and the Film Star,” Film Reference, February 27, 2020, http://www.filmreference.com/encyclopedia/Independent-Film-Road-Movies/Publicity-and-Promotion-PUBLICITY-AND-THE-FILM-STAR.html.

[25] “California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9SF-P9BR-Y?cc=2001287&wc=SJ5X-JWG%3A285174601%2C285330201 : 22 August 2018), Los Angeles, Death Certificates 1936, no. 10100-12041, image 31 of 2142, California State Archives, Sacramento.

[26] The couple were cagey about announcing their marriage. The consensus at the time was they were married in 1924. Although IHB has been unable to unearth their marriage certificate, Marguerite was listed as Bowers’s wife in his death certificate. “California, County Birth and Death Records, 1800-1994,” FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QSQ-G9SF-P9BR-Y?cc=2001287&wc=SJ5X-JWG%3A285174601%2C285330201.

[27] “Hollywood’s Halls,” Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1927, 136, Newspapers.com.

[28] Solid proof of the separation of John and Marguerite may not exist. Exactly when they married and when they separated is uncertain. “Romance of Screen Pair Disrupted,” Los Angeles Times, December 19, 1930, 8, Newspapers.com.

[30] “Middle West,” Garrett Clipper, March 9, 1936, 2, Newspapers.com; “Middle West,” Garrett Clipper, July 6, 1936, 2, Newspapers.com; “Middle West,” Garrett Clipper, August 10, 1936, 3, Newspapers.com; “Middle West,” Garrett Clipper, August 17, 1936, 2, Newspapers.com.

[31] “Mrs. Ida Bowers,” Garrett Clipper, July 16, 1936, 1, Newspapers.com.

[32] “Body of Former Film Star Found,” Cushing Daily Citizen (Oklahoma), November 19, 1936, 12, Newspapers.com. After his death, a local newspaper reported that Bowers had been depressed and wanted to get back into movies. “John Bowers,” Indiana Historical Society, David L. Smith Collection, Collection #P568, Box 1, Folder 3.

[33] “How Bowers Met Death,” Hammond Times (Indiana), November 19, 1936, 4, Newspapers.com.

Gardening Wisdom from the Historical Indianapolis News: March Edition

Like a lot of people, the historians at IHB are working from home. We’re feeling very lucky to be healthy and employed, as we know not everyone is so fortunate. As usual, we’re trying to find historical stories that will be of interest, and hopefully useful, to our fellow Hoosiers in these strange times in which we find ourselves.

Since Hoosiers across the state are stuck at home, let’s try some new things in the garden. And who better to look to for advice than the generations of Hoosiers who came before us? So let’s see what we can do with just a few supplies and perhaps an order of heirloom seeds. You can find heirloom seeds from small companies like Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds that are attempting to keep rare seeds with long histories in circulation. They’re  closed until Monday, March 23 to make sure they’re completely disinfected and their employees are healthy. That gives us time to look through historical newspapers for gardening wisdom from experts in the past. A great resource is the early-20th century column titled, “Of Interest to the Farmers and Gardeners”  in the Indianapolis News. It’s so packed full of advice, it’s hard to know where to begin. So here are just a few ideas from March articles about early spring planting.

Indianapolis News

Hotbeds and Cold Frames

A March 1909 Indianapolis News column warned:

The amateur gardener who wants to keep abreast of his neighbors when warm weather comes had better prepare his hotbed of boxes at once.

Well, okay then. The March 19, 1910 Indianapolis News explained the advantages of both hot beds and cold frames and how they work. Checking the information against a recent article on the subject from the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture of the Purdue University Extension, the historical paper’s advice really holds up.

Indianapolis News, March 19, 1910, 28.

Hotbeds and cold frames are built the same: a frame set into the ground with a glass panel to cover the plants. While there is a lot of advice about how to tweak each design, the heat source is the only real difference. These instructions from Purdue University give all the necessary details. But they’re both ways to get a jump on the growing season in the spring or extend it in the fall.

Indianapolis News, March 19, 1910, 28.
“Growing Tomatoes,” Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/plant/tomatoes

As the 1910 Indianapolis News explained, the hotbed is supplied with heat, usually from fermenting manure, but there are other options (see the sweet pea section below). The News suggested placing the bed not in the garden, but by a path or building “where it can receive attention without interfering with other work.” The 1910 columnist stated that it should always face south with the south side of a building or hedge providing protection. The hotbed should be started in March if growing tomatoes and cabbages, so they are ready to plant in the garden in April. If the night gets really cold, cover the glass panel with “board shutters, straw mats, or mats of burlap or carpet,” and if it gets too hot in the day, raise the panels to ventilate the plants. The News advised, “Hotbeds should be watered in the morning only and then only on bright days.” This avoids losing heated air by opening the panel too often, lowering the temperature too much, or making the soil too damp.

Indianapolis News, March 19, 1910, 28.
“Growing Lettuce,” Old Farmers Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/plant/lettuce

The same Indianapolis News article also explained:

Cold frames are devices intended to protect plants from cold, without forcing them to growth. They differ from hotbeds in that no artificial means of heating are employed.

Likewise, the Purdue Extension explains that plants grow slower in cold frames, which is great for lettuce and spinach. The Old Farmer’s Almanac recommends cold frames for greens as well as radishes, scallions, kale, and endive. They also have a step by step guide to building a cold frame.

Purdue University, https://www.hort.purdue.edu/hort/ext/Pubs/HO/HO_053.pdf

 

Starting Seeds Indoors

Of course, not everyone has the resources to build frames. The March 27, 1909 Indianapolis News has advice for simpler starts as well:

The simpler method of raising plants to be set out after danger of frost is over is to sow seed in boxes or pots to be kept indoors. The boxes should have holes for drainage in the bottom, but should not be so open as to let the soil dry.

“Starting Seeds Indoors,” Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/content/starting-seeds-indoors

I use the plastic flats from my previous year garden store purchases. Right now my kitchen table is covered and I have native wildflowers just starting to sprout. They’re doing much better this year than the ones I started last year because I carefully mixed peat, potting soil, and pearlite and have misted them regularly. The News recommended a light mix like this for the top soil when planting in boxes but noted that regular garden soil would be fine beneath that. The 1909 gardener advised small seeds be sown over the surface and gently pressed down while “coarse seeds” needed to be dropped into little holes and covered. Water both immediately after planting and set boxes where they will get indirect sunlight, not harsh rays.  And finally, the Indianapolis News gave some advice on a flower you can start right in the garden this month.

Sowing Sweet Pea Seeds

“Of Interest to Farmers and Gardeners,” Indianapolis News, March 11, 1911, 8.

Annual sweet peas have a wonderful, unforgettable scent. The perennial version has no scent and can be invasive, so choose wisely. Try heirloom varieties like the 1896 “America” or the ca. 1901 “Old Spice.” Sweet peas like cold weather, so they’re a great plant to start in the early spring. In March 1911, the Indianapolis News gave the perfect recipe for rich soil to grow this delicate flower. The newspaper’s advice for a “rich and deep” soil that would create “plenty of blooms of good substance” was to add “plenty of well-rotted manure.” Of course, those of us without access to manure (or without the desire to have access) can use rotted grass clippings , leaves, vegetable kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, or a mix of these items. The Farmer’s Almanac gives a rundown of the benefits of each mix and its own tips for growing sweet peas.

Growing Sweet Peas, Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/plant/sweet-peas.

The 1911 Indianapolis News recommended you sow seeds directly outdoors (as opposed to starting indoors) while weather is still cold between mid-March and mid-April. The article continued:

Make a trench or furrow about six inches deep, in the bottom of which sow the seed thickly. Cover the seed with about an inch of soil, pressing it down firmly. As soon as they are above ground, thin out to two or four inches apart; when planted too close they do not attain their full development. As soon as the plants are above the trench the balance of the soil may be filled in.

Before they mature, add stakes with wire netting or even branches, that are at least four feet high. Adding mulch at the start of the summer will help them get through the hot weather.

We hope you’re finding productive ways to spend your time while at home, whether you experiment with heirloom plants or not.  Check in with IHB on Twitter (@in_bureau) or Facebook and let us know what history questions you have. And check back in April for more historical gardening wisdom from old newspapers. Finally, here’s a stanza from a relevant James Whitcomb Riley poem, for all of us itching to “git back” into the garden this weekend.

James Whitcomb Riley, “When the Green Gits Back in the Trees, The Complete Works of James Whitcomb Riley (New York, Harper & Brothers, 1916), accessed GoogleBooks.

Sources
All newspapers accessed Newspapers.com.

Hotbeds and Cold Frames:

Boeckmann, Catherine. “How to Build a Cold Frame,” Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/content/how-build-cold-frame.

Dana, Michael N. and B. Rosie Lerner.”Hotbeds and Cold Frames,” Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, Purdue University Extension Service, https://www.hort.purdue.edu/hort/ext/Pubs/HO/HO_053.pdf.

“Construction of Hot Beds and Cold Frames for the Growth of Early Plants to Transplant to the Garden,” Indianapolis News, March 19, 1910, 28.

Starting Seeds Indoors:

Boeckmann, Catherine. “Starting Seeds Indoors,” Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/content/starting-seeds-indoors.

“Starting Seeds Indoors to Gain a Month in the Garden When Danger of Frost Is Over,” Indianapolis News, March 27, 1909, 17.

Sweet Peas:

Andrews, Moya. “Invasive Sweet Pea,” Focus on Flowers, https://indianapublicmedia.org/focusonflowers/invasive-sweet-pea.php.

Boeckmann, Catherine. “Growing Sweet Peas,” Old Farmer’s Almanac, https://www.almanac.com/plant/sweet-peas.

“Prepare Beds for Sowing of Sweet Pea Seeds,” Indianapolis News, March 11, 1911, 18.

 

A Wonder to Behold: The Franklin Wonder Five Makes Its Mark on Indiana Basketball

Franklin High School Basketball Team, 1920, photo courtesy of the Johnson County Museum of History.

March Madness may not officially start for another week, but here in Indiana it’s already underway. This is the time of year when basketball reigns supreme in the Hoosier state, as fans flock to gymnasiums and arenas to support their high school and college teams and reminisce about the legendary players and moments of the past. This year marks the 110th anniversary of the annual Indiana high school boys basketball tournament (the 109th officially sponsored by the Indiana High School Athletic Association). Throughout its long history, the tournament has given us numerous memories of underdogs defeating giants to claim the state title and bring glory to their towns. Hoosiers will no doubt recall Milan’s 1954 championship, but well before Milan other small schools made their mark on Indiana basketball. The tournament also gave us players like Johnny Wilson and Bill Garrett, who used basketball to overcome racial barriers and help pave the way for others. And it served as a unifying force both at the state level and in small towns across Indiana, creating a shared interest and passion for basketball among Hoosiers. This was certainly the case in the 1920s when the Franklin Wonder Five made their mark on Indiana basketball and established one of the first dynasties in the state’s history.

The Franklin Wonder Five era represented an eight-year period from 1918-1926, wherein Franklin, a small town just twenty miles south of Indianapolis, dominated the state basketball scene. The Wonder Five won an unprecedented three consecutive state championships at the high school level, followed immediately by two state collegiate championships. They were the talk of the town and the target, envy, and dream of many teams across the state and the Midwest. Basketball was already immensely popular in Indiana by this time and the excitement surrounding the sport would later earn the moniker “Hoosier Hysteria.” In Franklin, as in other small towns across Indiana, local residents and businesses rallied closely behind their basketball team. Games were intensely followed by the majority of the community and regular season wins were often celebrated with bonfires and parties in the town square that brought people of all ages and classes together.

Coach Ernest “Griz” Wagner, “The Scenario,” Franklin High School Yearbook, 1922, photo courtesy of the Johnson County Museum of History.

Many of the young men who played during Franklin’s Wonder Five years had grown up playing the game together or competing against one another in grade school. This experience helped them develop a remarkable sense of teamwork once they reached Franklin High School and later Franklin College, which no doubt contributed to their success. It’s important to note that despite their nickname, the Wonder Five comprised more than five young men. That being said, not every player on Franklin’s rosters between the years 1918 and 1926 earned the distinction of being part of the Wonder Five. According to Phillip Ellett, author of The Franklin Wonder Five: A Complete History of the Legendary Basketball Team, Wonder Five teams all featured player Robert “Fuzzy” Vandivier and Coach Ernest “Griz” Wagner. Additionally, “to be considered a member of the Wonder Five, a player must have been on at least one of the three high school state championship teams.” Using this as a benchmark, Ellett identified fourteen players that he considered to be members of the renowned team. [1]

Robert “Fuzzy” Vandivier. “Franklin College Ace,” Indianapolis News, January 2, 1923, 20.

The Wonder Five era began in the fall of 1918, Vandivier’s freshman year and Coach Wagner’s third leading Franklin’s high school squad. The team had a strong season, losing just one game before tournament play. In January 1919, the Indianapolis Star described them as “one of the fastest passing quintets . . . [they] have both speed and stamina, and play a wonderful floor game with a fine degree of team work.” [2] They won the sectional tournament handily, outscoring their four opponents by a total score of 123-34, but fell to Crawfordsville 18-16 in the first round of the state tournament. [3] While the loss no doubt stung, hopes for the future were high. The majority of the team remained intact for the 1919-1920 season and players were eager to improve upon the previous year. They did not disappoint.

As early as November 1919, the Indianapolis News considered Franklin to be a “strong contender” for the state title. [4] They dominated their opponents throughout the season, again losing just one game, to Martinsville, on December 24, 1919. Newspapers frequently commented on their “stonewall defense,” their terrific passing game, their shooting accuracy, and perhaps most importantly, their remarkable sense of teamwork. [5] The team continued its winning ways through sectionals, where they again walloped their opponents by a total score of 174-50. Heading into the state tournament, they were the favorites to win it all. After three big victories, followed by a tight overtime victory over Anderson, Franklin defeated Jefferson High School of Lafayette 31-13 on March 13, 1920 to claim the first state championship for the school and forever cement their name in IHSAA history. [6] The Indianapolis News reported on the celebrations in Franklin in its March 15th issue:

Indianapolis News, March 15, 1920.

Franklin is hilarious today despite the fact that celebrations have been going on regularly since the results of the final game with Jefferson were flashed over the wires. The official Franklin city celebration did not take place until today. The jubilee started at [one] o’clock this afternoon and was scheduled to last until 6 this evening. A mammoth parade in which all the high school students, the greater part of the Franklin College student body, and hundreds of townspeople participated, was the first thing on the program. – Indianapolis News, March 15, 1920.

In a show of appreciation for leading the team and bringing a championship to the town, Franklin’s residents raised a $1,000 purse, which they presented to Coach Wagner shortly after the tournament. [7] With four of the team’s five starters graduating that spring, leaving only junior “Fuzzy” Vandivier, few could have expected Franklin to claim a second championship in 1921. Little did they know that Franklin’s period of basketball dominance was just beginning.

Advertisement promoting new electric score board, Franklin Evening Star, January 8, 1923, 5, accessed Newspapers.com.

Wagner frequently adjusted his Franklin High lineups early in the 1920-1921 season as he experimented with his new starters. The different combinations proved successful, as Franklin continued to score big wins early in the season. Despite losing four games throughout the year (twice as many as it had in its previous two seasons combined), the team proved that it was again a top contender for the state title. Fans came out in droves to support the team both at home and on the road, with tickets often selling out within minutes. During these years, Franklin alternated between playing their games at the South school gym and Franklin College’s gym, as their gymnasium at the high school was far too small. In December 1920, a new opportunity to follow the team presented itself when the Franklin Opera House placed an electronic score board on its stage. [8] The new scoreboard provided play-by-play coverage of the game for fans. As Ellett notes, “With radio still a novelty and television unheard of,” the electrical scoreboard provided an incredible opportunity for Franklin’s residents to gather together to follow the game “live” with friends and family. Interest in “watching” the game on the scoreboard became so high that its use at the Opera House (and in later years at the Artcraft Theatre as well) became commonplace throughout the Wonder Five years.

Franklin College Gymnasium, photo courtesy of the Johnson County Museum of History. The Franklin Wonder Five played many of their high school games in this gym to accommodate more fans.

Franklin’s continued success during the 1920-1921 season and its huge following helped underscore the need for a new high school gymnasium that could properly accommodate its fans. As the team prepared for another strong run in the tournament, the Franklin Chamber of Commerce began a season ticket drive for the following year in an effort to help raise the needed funds for construction of a new facility. The drive was successful, as Franklin’s loyal fans purchased 1,000 season tickets, a sign of their faith in and support of the team. [10] It quickly proved to be good investment, as Coach Wagner and his young men again advanced to the state tournament shortly after the drive’s completion.

The team defeated Anderson High School 35-22 on March 19, 1921 in front of more than 10,000 fans at the Coliseum at the Indiana State Fairgrounds for its second consecutive state championship. [11] According to the Richmond Palladium-Item, that evening, “a crowd of about 3,000 persons met the victorious squad at the town square and bonfires were built, yells were given and even the old canon [sic] gave vent to its feelings with an awful roar.” [12] Later that month, the Chamber of Commerce held an official celebration for the team that attracted thousands more. The team had again brought glory to the small town of Franklin.

Indianapolis News, February 25, 1922, 16, accessed Newspapers.com.

While fans were eager to see the team claim another state title in 1922, they also recognized the enormous difficulty of the task at hand. As the Franklin Evening Star noted on December 3, 1921, “Franklin high school admittedly has the hardest job of any team, for it will have to do the thing that has never yet been done, namely, capturing the state high school championship for three successive years.” [13] Despite a few losses, Franklin had another strong season and looked poised to make another run in the tournament.

Indianapolis News, March 17, 1922, 34.

With over 500 teams contending for a chance at the state title that year, the competition was fierce, but Franklin did not let the pressure get to them. On Saturday, March 18, 1922, the team made history when it defeated Terre Haute’s Garfield High School 26-15 for its third consecutive state title. [14] This remarkable feat would not be matched for over sixty years, when Marion won three straight state titles from 1984-1987.

Franklin High School Basketball Team, 1922, photo courtesy of the Johnson County Museum of History.

The end of the 1922 season symbolized a changing of the guard for Franklin High School in more ways than one. While the school would experience many other successful basketball seasons in the decades to come, the 1922 state championship was its last. In late April, Coach Wagner became athletic director and basketball coach at Franklin College. Franklin High School graduates Fuzzy Vandivier, John Gant, Carlyle Friddle, and Ike Ballard joined him there that fall in hopes of continuing their reign as champions. Coach Wagner began the 1922-1923 season by alternating between the college’s veteran players and his group of freshmen, but the freshmen quickly claimed the starting roles. As they had in high school, they continued to score impressive wins, drawing attention and praise from across the state.

Indianapolis News, March 2, 1923, 36.

By January 11, 1923, the Indianapolis News reported that:

Franklin College seems to have a world championship basketball team. This assertion may be made advisedly for basketball reaches its greatest state of perfection in Indiana and there is no team now playing in the state that appears to be able to conquer the Franklin five.

Twice that season, the team defeated the Indianapolis Omars, an independent professional team that many considered to be among the best in the Midwest. [15] These victories earned them further clout. Franklin College lost only once during the season, to Indiana University in December 1922. However, because IU refused to waive its rule preventing freshmen from playing in the game (as such, none of Coach Wagner’s former championship team could compete), the game is often omitted from Wonder Five history. [16] On Thursday, March 1, Franklin defeated Butler to secure the best record in the state and thus claim the 1923 state collegiate title. [17]

Richmond Palladium-Item, January 3, 1924, 10, accessed Newspapers.com

Franklin maintained a highly competitive schedule during the 1923-1924 season, playing and defeating the likes of Wisconsin, Marquette, and Notre Dame. The team lost just one game of the season, to Butler, and clinched their second consecutive state collegiate title in March 1924. [18]

There is only one team of any sort in the world that can’t lose. That is the Franklin College basketball team. When DePauw failed, why should others try? This machine is the nearest approach to perpetual motion that scientists have found and it seems not to be affected by flood, famine, or fate. – Muncie Star Press, February 10, 1924, 13.

Injuries and ineligible players hurt the team’s chances in 1925 and 1926 and Franklin fell short of the state title both years. Although the Wonder Five era had come to an end, the team’s legacy endured. Many players later coached basketball, imparting on other young men the skills they had learned under Coach Wagner. In 1962, Wagner and Vandivier were among the five charter members inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. John Gant was inducted five years later in 1967 and Burl Friddle (half brother of Carlyle Friddle) in 1969. Vandivier was also enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame in 1975. [19] Even more important than individual honors though was the team’s impact, both on the town of Franklin and on Indiana basketball in general. For years they brought Franklin residents together and turned the state’s attention towards the small town. They had set a new bar for the quality of play that other teams would continually try to match for years to come.

Footnotes:

Note: All newspaper articles accessed via Newspapers.com.

[1] Phillip Ellett, The Franklin Wonder Five: A Complete History of the Legendary Basketball Team (RLE Enterprises, Inc., 1986), 1-2.

[2] “Shortridge Loses Again,” Indianapolis Star, January 23, 1919, 15.

[3] “Franklin Lost 18-16,” Franklin Evening Star, March 14, 1919, 1.

[4] “Franklin High Looms Up,” Indianapolis News, November 13, 1919, 25.

[5] Ibid.; “Rushville Easy for Franklin,” Franklin Evening Star, December 13, 1919, 2; “South Gains Comment for Splendid Playing,” Indianapolis News, January 26, 1920, 16.

[6] “Franklin Trounces Jefferson, 31 to 13, for State Net Title,” Indianapolis Star, March 14, 1920, 26.

[7] “Franklin Coach Awarded Purse,” Columbus Republic, March 18, 1920, 6.

[8] “Big Game at the Gym Friday Night,” Martinsville Reporter-Times, December 16, 1920, 1.

[9] Ellett, 58-59.

[10] “New Gym for Franklin,” Muncie Star Press, March 6, 1921, 15.

[11] “Franklin Defeats Anderson for Title, 35-22,” Indianapolis Star, March 20, 1921.

[12] “Franklin Does Honor to Quintet Champion,” Richmond Palladium-Item, March 22, 1921, 11.

[13] “Want County to Nail Three Championships,” Franklin Evening Star, December 3, 1921, 1.

[14] “Franklin High School Wins Title for Third Time,” Indianapolis Star, March 19, 1922, 25.

[15] “Vandivier Shines in 32-31 Victory,” Indianapolis Star, January 18, 1923, 10.

[16] “Local Freshmen Barred in I.U.-Franklin Game,” Franklin Evening Star, November 18, 1922, 1; “Baptists Defeat Omars, 36 to 29, in Last Half Rally,” Indianapolis Star, February 2, 1923, 13.

[17] “Franklin College Wins State Championship,” Franklin Evening Star, March 2, 1923, 1. Some sources claim that by winning the state championship, Franklin College was also the national champion during this period. Because the NCAA tournament did not start until 1939 and there was no other official national tournament at this time, it is difficult to definitively claim Franklin as the national champion. In fact, other schools like Kansas also try to lay claim to the “national” 1922 title. For more information about this, see Zach Miller’s “What Constitutes A Basketball Championship? Don’t Ask Kansas,” The Missourian, March 6, 2012.

[18] “Franklin Wins State Title,” Franklin Evening Star, March 5, 1924, 1.

[19] Details about the Wonder Five players is limited in this post due to space constraints. For more information on the players, specific games, and fan reactions, see “Franklin Wonder Five,” Marker File, #41.2020.1, Indiana Historical Bureau or Ellett’s The Franklin Wonder Five.

THH Episode 29: History Relevance 101

Transcript of History Relevance 101

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley, based on talks given by IHB staff members Dr. Michella Marino and Jill Weiss Simins

Produced by Jill Weiss Simins

Beckley: What do you expect out of a museum? A chronological recounting of a specific facet of history? Old stuff with little labels telling you what it is and where it’s from? Around the nation, museums, historical societies, and other cultural institutions are going beyond the expected to meet the varied needs of different communities. In Brooklyn, New York, the Weeksville Heritage Center hosts a Farmers Market, a program started after the community around the center was designated a food desert. Just outside of Washington D.C., on the morning after the 2016 presidential election, staff at President Lincoln’s Cottage decided to stay open late to act as a forum, sending out the following message on their social media platforms:

Voice Actor: We recognize that people are expressing a need to come together peacefully when we are a House Divided. As a National Monument, where Lincoln came to deal with epic division and chaos in our country, we are committed to providing a secular place of reflection and serving as your beacon of hope. Our lights are on for you. All of you.

Beckley: And right here in Indiana, when state legislators in the General Assembly enter their chambers, one of the first things they see are monitors displaying important stories from Indiana history – stories that show the influence of yesterday’s lawmakers and that may, in turn, offer lessons for today’s decisions. Produced through a partnership between IHB and the Indiana State Archives, this project, called Indiana History in Session, is an attempt to remind legislators of the legacy they’re creating each day.

These programs are nothing alike – they have different audiences, different run times, different methods, and different goals – but they all go beyond what is typically expected of historical institutions. They all address current issues using historical context. They show why history is relevant and the impact history has on our everyday lives. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the history relevance campaign, which is the movement behind some of the most innovative programming in the field today.

I’m Lindsey Beckley and this is Talking Hoosier History.

As you may have guessed, this episode is going to be a little bit different from our usual fare. Last Fall, IHB partnered with the National Council on Public History and Conner Prairie Interactive History Park to host a history relevance workshop. Public historians from organizations in Indiana and surrounding states gathered for a day of hard questions, discussions, and (we hope) ideas on how to infuse the practice of history relevance into their organizations. Today, we’re bringing those same discussions to our listeners – both those who are in the public history field and those who are just interested in history.

We hope that public historians use this episode as an introduction to the History Relevance movement – something to spark inspiration in our fellow educators. But these ideas aren’t just for those of us working in the field – they’re for everyone. We hope that through the course of this episode, you think about what you expect from your historical institutions – and what you should expect. We’re going to lay out our case for why history is just as important to the modern world as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That’s right. We’re taking on the almighty STEM right here and now.

But before we get to that, we should get ourselves acquainted with the origins of the History Relevance Campaign. Throughout this episode you’ll be hearing from leading figures in the movement, Tim Grove and Richard Josey, both history consultants who led the workshop last fall – some of the audio is of a bit lower quality than you might be used to, but the content is worth it. First, I’ll let Tim Grove give you a little run down of the history of history relevance:

Grove audio from workshop:  It all started here, actually, in Indianapolis at History Leadership Institute. I was in town and we started talking about it one night. And it was – I guess it was 2012 because the movie Lincoln was out and I was saying you know, lots of people are going to see the movie Lincoln but a lot of those people don’t visit historic sites, don’t go to museums. You know, what’s up with that? People do like history. They claim to like history. They’re interested in their own genealogy, their own past. Why are we not engaging them more?

I was working at the National Air and Space Museum at the time, which is a unique place because it focuses on history and science. It’s a history of technology museum but depending on who you ask, people would say its science. They do have hard core planetary science research going on – a division devoted to that – so they are science but they’re also history of technology. But at the time, the secretary of the Smithsonian was focused on STEM and he kept talking about STEM and he had just made this proclamation that we’re now going to focus on STEAM, and add the “a.” And that was just too much for me.

So I went on a rant with my colleagues in Indianapolis and I said, you know, why is history always left out? And that’s not a new question. In no way is it a new question. It’s not a new conversation. We’ve had this conversation before. But whatever we’re doing is not working. We need to do more.

If you think about history as a brand and STEM as a brand, which we started doing – this little group started talking about the branding aspect of it – STEM has a huge strong brand, right? And history doesn’t. So this group started talking about how can we raise the brand of history, the profile of history?

Beckley:  How do you go about changing the perception of something as broad as history? How do you “re-brand” a discipline that is thousands of years old? First, you need to understand what the current perception is.

Voice Actor: History is real simple. You know what history is? It’s what happened.

Beckley: That’s conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh’s view of it. And that’s what a lot of people think – history is simply an accounting of names and dates and events. But it’s not. That’s just the past – a series of facts strung together – and that perception of history has been making high schoolers and college freshmen loathe the subject for a century. This is the brand we’re trying to change. But how did we get to this brand in the first place?

Well, that’s a question with a complicated answer. Let me just pull one thread out and examine it for our purposes here. Dutch Historian Pieter Geyl defined history as “an argument without an end.” Not facts in a book. Not labels in a museum. An argument. Historians are constantly revisiting previously “settled” topics, and bringing new perspectives and new evidence, with them. They revise history. Politicians and the media throw around “revisionism” like a dirty word. But that’s history. Learning and revising is the whole idea of history. If history didn’t change – if it were simply “what happened,” then there wouldn’t need to be more than one book written about any one topic. There wouldn’t be a 34 foot tower of books at the Ford Theater Education Center– each telling a slightly different version of “what happened” – all dedicated to the life and times of one man – President Abraham Lincoln.

You may be thinking, “But surely, not every one of the books in that tower tells the true story of Lincoln’s life, right?” And while I haven’t actually read more than 10 or 15 of the books in that tower, I can tell you that no, not every one of them is factually correct through and through. Not every interpretation is equal. And there is scholarly consensus on certain facts. For instance, historians generally agree that Abraham Lincoln was our 16th president. It’s when you’re fleshing out the story that interpretations can vary. But that’s why history, and a better understanding of what history actually is, is so important.

Every day, we, as historians, and you, as human beings living in the world, encounter claims – whether they be on the news, in a dusty filing cabinet, or on social media. And with each new claim we encounter, we have to choose whether or not we are going to trust the source it’s coming from and thus believe the claim being made. In order to do this, we need to engage in “historical thinking,” a type of critical thinking that can be learned through the “doing” of history.

Tim Grove, who we heard from earlier, lays out five key elements of historical thinking in his article, “Historical Thinking is an Unnatural Act,” from the Spring 2016 issue of History News.

Voice Actor: One: Multiple Perspectives

Beckley: Always keep in mind that there are several ways to look at a story – whose perspective are you seeing? Whose is missing?

Voice Actor: Two: Analysis of Primary Sources

Beckley: Think about what claims are being made in the source. What claims are left out? Given your prior knowledge of the topic and other sources, do these claims seem valid?

Voice Actor: Three: Sourcing

Beckley: What are the questions related to the source? Why was this document, photograph, video –  or whatever it may be –  produced? Why did it get saved? Who created it? What were their biases? These questions surrounding sources could be endless.

Voice Actor: Four: Context

Beckley: What else was happening around these events that could impact your understanding of the story? What led up to the events being told? Were there unseen influences? Context can completely change a story.

Voice Actor: Five: Claim/Evidence Connection

Beckley: Is the claim you’ve encountered based on evidence? Does the source provide that evidence? If not, why?

In short, historical thinking is turning a critical eye on sources being presented to you. We all come into each situation, whether that’s reading a historical document or deciding who to vote for in an election, with preconceived notions, opinions, and biases. It’s nearly impossible to be completely neutral, but when we employ historical thinking, it makes that a little more achievable. And it’s okay if we change our minds on a topic as we go along – that just means we’re learning and growing!

And when we use this kind of solid historical thinking as a method for understanding a current issue, interest, or problem – whether it’s examining your family’s roots or the roots of the healthcare debate – we make history relevant to today. We call this application HISTORY RELEVANCE. And this – the application of historical thinking outside of the field of history – is what makes history – real history – so important, even if it is hard to fit into the STEM acronym.

So, we’ve established, I hope, that history is useful. But are people interested?

According to Norman Burns, the President and CEO of Conner Prairie, who spoke at the History Relevance workshop, they are.

Burns’s audio from workshop:  Ninety-one percent of Americans think it’s important to learn about history to build a strong foundation for the future, and that curiosity in history is expanding in generations across the nation. And I found this very encouraging, especially with millennials. Fifty-five percent of millennials say they’re more curious about history today than they were even last year.

Beckley: So – history is useful. People are interested and growing more so every day. We just need to work on our branding and outreach to connect the two. And that’s where the history relevance campaign comes in.

Historical organizations, libraries, and museums across the country, like those discussed at the top of this episode, are participating in the campaign, which is attempting to communicate the value of history to the public. The goal is to use historical thinking skills to address contemporary issues and recognize how history has value in our daily lives. To this end, the campaign has identified several ways that history is valuable to us today. The values are split into three different categories. First, is the value of history to ourselves – to each and every one of us – at a personal level. Within this category are identity and critical thinking. Here’s what the value statement says on those topics:

Voice Actor: Identity – History is valuable to ourselves at a personal level. When we look into the stories of our families and our communities, we find stories of sacrifice and achievement of injustice and triumph that can shape our personal views and the values that guide us through our own lives.

Critical Thinking – History leads to personal development of life skills. It teaches us to evaluate evidence, consider multiple perspectives, develop contextual understanding, and it provides historical perspective. It teaches us to interpret and communicate complex ideas clearly and coherently.

Beckley: The next category is Communities – how is history of value to the community in which that history took place? Again, from the values statement:

Voice Actor: Vibrant Communities – a place becomes a community when it is wrapped in memory. When we tell and commemorate our histories we open up discussions with our neighbors and recognize our responsibilities to each other.

Economic Development – When communities build strong heritage institutions and a sense of historical character in neighborhoods they become desirable destinations. This attracts tourism, revenue, and business opportunities and builds the local economy.

Beckley: The final category, and perhaps the one most often overlooked or misunderstood: What is the value of history to our future? How do these two diametrically opposed ideas, “history” and “the future,” interact with each other? The values statement lists three distinct ways in which history is valuable to our future (and not one of them is that “history is a circle” or that it repeats itself).

Voice Actor: Engaged Citizens – Democracy thrives where people both actively express their opinions but also listen to others who may disagree. Building these discussions on a historical foundation can clarify misconceptions, reveal complexities in arguments, ground views in evidence, and provide ideas for solutions.

Leadership – History shows us examples of effective leaders and role models who we can learn from and who can inspire us to become today’s leaders. Looking to leaders of the past can help guide today’s leaders’ values and ideals.

Legacy – When we value history, we preserve history. And this preserved historical knowledge is crucial to preserving democracy. Through the documents, artifacts, images and stories that we save, we provide a foundation for future generations to understand what it means to be a part of the civic community.

Beckley: At the top of the episode, we mentioned a few examples of History Relevance in action. Now, let’s take some time to go over a few more inspiring examples of how the campaign is influencing work – both around the nation and right here in Indiana. As we go through these, keep in mind those values we just went over – Identity, Critical Thinking, Vibrant Communities, Economic Development, Engaged Citizens, Leadership, and Legacy. We’ll go back to this list to see which of these values are most obviously present in each one.

During the history relevance workshop, Richard Josey added a few additional aspects of relevance to think about when looking at an institution or project.

Josey’s audio from workshop:  I want you all to think about relevance in three different spheres, or in three different ways. The relevance of history to society, which lends itself to sort of that big picture – the macro, if you will. The relevance of an organization to its community – and when we think about the community, let’s define that not just in a geographic sense, you know, in geographic terms. But in all the different ways in which – how we think about your organization’s community. And also the relevance of an organization to the individuals it engages through its exhibitions. Through its mission. Through its programs and the like.

Beckley: So, keeping both the values and those spheres in mind, let’s see what history relevance looks like in action. First, let’s start with the national stage. At our relevance workshop, Tim Grove and Richard Josey brought in some really strong examples of organizations doing this work. The first example is an advertisement from the Tenement Museum in New York City, which tells stories from the 1860s to the 1930s of immigrant families who lived in the building where the museum is located.

Audio from advertisement:  America is a great nation. It’s lived through these amazing advancements, right – the Civil War, the Great Depression. We remember the politicians, you know, we remember the people who are thrust into power and leave their legacy. But it’s people that live through those events. It’s people that die in those wars. It’s people that build the bridges. The stories we tell are about those people, and not that many places tell those stories.

What we do here at the Tenement Museum is we collect the stories of ordinary new Americans – people starting their lives here. And we see what they did to survive.

We’re going to go into that building – 97 Orchard. It was built at the same time as Lincoln was president.

It was important to me that the Tenement Museum become a storytelling museum. People remember stories much more than facts. If the facts are hung onto the tree of a story they become relevant – they become memorable.

Ruth’s genius was to identify an abandoned tenement – a condemned building – as a museum. In effect to put up a sign and say this is a place where we can tell America’s most important story.

The mission of the museum is to engage people in the power of the past to make them think about the present.

Beckley: The ad goes on to show docents leading groups of attentive adults and spellbound school children through the spaces once occupied by the people who built New York – the construction workers, the seamstresses, and the factory workers. Then, toward the end, there’s this:

Audio from advertisement:   I had this Chinese immigrant who came and after the tour I said does anybody have anything to say about what they saw? And this Chinese woman, she goes, “I never knew that this happened in New York in the past and that people lived this way and now I see my own life in a completely different light.

Beckley: What a powerful reminder of what history, when done right, can do. I think that’s every public historian’s dream, right? Change lives through the power of history. And that’s happening at the Tenement Museum. Now let’s relate it back to what we’ve covered today.

When thinking back to those spheres Josey covered – relevance to society, to community, and to the individual – in this case, the relevance of the Tenement Museum to each of those spheres comes from the same place. They tell the stories of people who are often forgotten by history. Now, I’m not an immigrant but I do connect with that – it’s very unlikely that my name will ever appear in the pages of a history book or on a panel in a museum, and the same is true for the vast majority of people in the world. And yet, we are the ones who build the world. We live and work and love here. Yes, the Tenement Museum is telling the story of immigrant families who lived in their building. But, in a way, they’re also telling my story, or at the very least, one I can connect to. And when people can connect to a story, they can empathize with the people in the story. Creating empathy is the first step to creating acceptance and if just a portion of the 200,000 annual visitors to the Tenement Museum are impacted in this way, well, that’s a fantastic example of history having a tangible effect on the present.

Now let’s turn to the values we went through earlier. Which of those seven values are most prominently featured here? First and foremost, is Identity. They’re redefining who we might see as our founders. Yes, Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and the men at the Philadelphia Convention framed the Constitution. But it was the masses who lived out those sentiments, who fought to preserve them, endeavored to extend them to all, and who came to America seeking them. Thoughts like those can really affect your personal identity and shift your mindset if you let them.

Also very prominent in the Tenement Museum are the values of Creating Vibrant Communities and Economic Development. The founders of the museum took a boarded up, crumbling building that was more likely to be condemned than to become a tourist destination and turned it into one of the most innovative museums in the nation. And they did that through telling the history of the community surrounding it. They now lead neighborhood walking tours that tell the history of the broader community and offer English Language Workshops in which new immigrants, just like immigrants from all times, learn the language of the nation they’ve chosen to call home.

I could go on and on about the importance of the Tenement Museum and its use of History Relevance but I want to turn to another example.

We’ve talked about History Relevance on the national stage but this is Talking Hoosier History so – let’s talk about history relevance in Indiana. Actually, let’s talk about History Relevance right here, on this show. You might recognize that we often end our show with a section talking about how the topic of that episode is still affecting Hoosiers today – whether that’s tying redlining to gentrification or the story of a formerly enslaved family to the present state of the American judicial system. And we try to choose topics that are a little bit off of the beaten path, or at least take a new approach to familiar stories. That’s not an accident. We aren’t telling these stories just to tell them. We want to challenge our listeners’ understanding of our history and of what the lasting effects of that history are on their fellow Hoosiers. We hope that all of our listeners come away from each episode with a new perspective on our past and a better understanding of how that past effects our present and our future.

Now, I’m going to turn to another program here at IHB – the Indiana state historical marker program. The marker program is one of IHB’s central programs and my boss, Dr. Michella Marino, talked at our workshop about how we are working to keep this 80-year-old program relevant.

Before we go to that clip, let me give just a brief overview of the program. Putting up a historical marker is a collaborative effort between IHB and the community. A community member or organization applies for a marker. We evaluate the applications, approve those which qualify, conduct additional research on the topic, work with the applicant on the text that will be on the marker, and then once it’s installed, we come together to dedicate the marker, along with the community.

During her talk, Dr. Marino covered a few examples of IHB’s use of historical relevance in this program. I’m just going to pull one example out of her talk. In 2019, IHB installed a marker for the free black settlement, called the Sugar Creek Community, in Boone County in rural Indiana. And in 2020, we’ll dedicate another marker to the Weaver Settlement in Grant County, which was also a free black community settled in the mid-1800s.

Marino’s audio from workshop: But today I want to focus on how this marker in particular returns history to the landscape, and directly hits on History Relevance components of Identity, Community, Engaged Citizenship, and even Ecotourism.

So these markers in particular challenge a long held belief that there isn’t much Black history in Indiana until the Great Migration or we’re focused on Indiana Avenue in Indianapolis. And that later on in the 20th century, Black people are moving into white spaces. This is partly because of Article 13 in the 1851 Indiana Constitution that bans Black people from moving into the State of Indiana.

But through research, we know that there were vibrant African American communities across the State of Indiana very early on in the state’s development. So, Black settlements were founded in the 1830s, 1840s, 1850s, and even after Article 13 is put into place. So by including and marking these stories, Indiana history is no longer one of Black people moving into white spaces – they were Black spaces to begin with.

Beckley: Something important to note about these communities is that oftentimes, there are very few physical remnants of them left. The houses, churches, and businesses have been converted or torn down and the descendants of those settlers have moved away. But those descendants, along with the current residents of those towns, are invested in preserving that history, giving IHB the opportunity to return some of that story to the landscape in the form of a marker.

Marino’s audio from workshop: So, again, we’re highlighting Identity through the marker, we’re hoping to inform and create an engaged citizenship by bringing in multiple perspectives, we’re showing a misperception about Black migration to the state in this story. And also markers can spur Ecotourism. A lot of people stop to read these still. They drive around the countryside looking for them. And we’ve heard multiple times about people planning their vacations or trips around the markers themselves. Which – good for them. I like Florida but whatever – you know, people can do whatever.

Beckley: So, markers in general, and these markers in particular, can add to a community’s understanding of its identity, get citizens engaged with preserving their own history, and even bring tourist dollars into the town – whether the trip was planned around markers from the beginning or a family stopped to read a marker and decided to stay for lunch at the café across the street.

Here we have a medium that, on its face, seems a little antiquated– historical markers are far from the high tech interactive and immersive exhibits at some museums – but we’re still able to infuse the values of the History Relevance Campaign into them and tell a compelling and relevant story because IHB as a whole has dedicated ourselves to doing so. It’s not always easy, but it’s always worth it.

That’s one of the results of embracing the History Relevance Campaign. Historical institutions can change themselves and their values just by learning how to make history relevant to their audience. And when history is relevant to your audience, they are more likely to think deeply about what they have learned and more likely to return to your institution for more.

And the results of exposing our audiences to history relevance are even more profound. When visitors are presented with different perspectives and challenging ideas, they are presented with the opportunity to practice the fine art of critical thinking and to grow as people. And if enough institutions are committed to doing this, and enough visitors are exposed to this kind of mindset, we can change lives and, if we want to be ambitious, we can change the world.

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. Talking Hoosier History is a product of IHB, a division of the Indiana State Library. Talking Hoosier History is written by me, Lindsey Beckley, adapted from talks given by Dr. Michella Marino and Jill Weiss Simins. Production and sound engineering by Jill Weiss Simins. A special thanks to the National Council on Public History and Conner Prairie for partnering with us on the History Relevance workshop and to Tim Grove and Richard Josey for taking the time to walk us through the concepts behind history relevance. And, of course, thanks to Justin Clark for lending his voice to the show. You can find more resources about the History Relevance Campaign, the projects we mentioned in this episode, and other sources in our show notes which can be found at blog.history.in.gov. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at the Indiana Historical Bureau and remember to Subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts.

Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for History Relevance 101

The majority of this episode was based on talks given by Jill Weiss Simins and Dr. Michella Marino, along with the History Relevance Workshop led by Richard Josey and Tim Grove.

Learn more about the History Relevance Campaign here.

See the Value of History statement here.

Learn more about the Weeksville Heritage Center farmers market here.

Learn more about the programming at the President Lincoln’s Cottage here.

Happy 105th Anniversary to Us!

Indiana Historical Commission – 1915, (from left to right) Samuel M. Foster, Lew M. O’Bannon, Frank B. Wynn, John Cavanaugh, Samuel M. Ralston, Harlow Lindley, Chas. W. Moores, Charity Dye, James A. Woodburn, Accessed IHB’s website.

This week marks the Indiana Historical Bureau’s 105th anniversary! We’ll be celebrating with cake and history—the two go really well together.  IHB’s founding can be traced back to the creation of the Indiana Historical Commission in 1915.  The Indiana General Assembly created this commission for the purpose of “providing for the editing and publication of historical materials and for an historical and educational celebration of the Indiana centennial.”[1]  The thinking was that as Hoosiers celebrated 100 years of statehood in 1916, an understanding of their state’s history would give them a sense of identity and community.

For the next decade, the commission led the centennial celebrations, gathered and published important historical documents, collected records from World War I, and worked with local and state historical societies as well as other state agencies.  They also began marking historical locations around the state—something we’re still passionate about today! In March 1925, the General Assembly passed a new law reorganizing the Indiana Historical Commission into the Indiana Historical Bureau.  We’ve been researching, publishing, surveying, writing, and telling stories about Indiana history ever since.

Of course, though, there have been many changes to and within IHB during its long history, particularly within the last five years.  We have a young staff here without a lot of institutional memory, so we have recently begun digging into our own history. We hope this will help us better understand our current programming and the work we do here, as well as the relationships we’ve had with other historical organizations across the state.  Just like the original organizers of the Historical Commission, we believe that it’s important to know where you’ve been in order to understand where you are.  We hope that our research during our 105th anniversary year can illuminate more about our fruitful past to better prepare for our future.

But back to those more recent changes . . . In July 2018, IHB formally merged with the Indiana State Library (ISL), and we became one of three divisions of ISL (IHB, Public Services, and Statewide Services).   We have long been tied to the library through various means, and in some ways, this merger was a return to the past (in a good way).  When the Bureau was formed in 1925, IHB, ISL, and what was then called the Legislative Bureau (now Legislative Services Agency) were each divisions of a larger Indiana Library and Historical Department.[2]

Since the 1930s, IHB maintained offices in the Indiana State Library and Historical Building.  However, this recent merger has really opened up doors for IHB in terms of access to resources and opportunities for new partnerships.  In February 2019, ISL underwent an internal reorganization when the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department and Digital Initiatives Department joined with IHB’s public historians to comprise a new IHB division.  We now have stewardship of documents important to Indiana history and provide free access to resources like digital newspapers, while our public historians make the history accessible through outreach.

So who are we as we celebrate our 105th year, and what exactly is it that we do?  Formally, IHB is a division of ISL made up of three smaller departments: Public History, Rare Books and Manuscripts, and Digital Initiatives. Informally, we describe ourselves as a public history research institute.  As such, we continue to abide by our mission statement adopted in 1996 that says,

The Indiana Historical Bureau provides publications, programs, and other opportunities for Indiana citizens of all ages to learn and teach about the history of their communities, the state of Indiana, and their relationships to the nation and the world.

We deep-dive into primary source research and then utilize that research in our public projects and programs.  We have re-imagined our work to include practicing 21st century history and have shifted away from publishing print materials, instead largely adopting digital media.

We’re still excited about markers! We’re proud to diversify and expand our marker program both by topic and geography.  We’ve drastically increased our marker content to include more women’s history and African American history topics, and we are determined to fix our problematic markers related to indigenous history.

Roberts Settlement Historical Marker, Hamilton County, Dedicated in 2016, Accessed IHB’s website

In addition, IHB offers new initiatives such as the Indiana History Blog, Talking Hoosier History podcast, the Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative, and the Hoosier Women at Work biennial history conference, among other programs.  We partner with other organizations such as the Indiana Historical Society to operate the County Historians Program and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on their History Unfolded project. We also host a newspaper digitization project, Hoosier State Chronicles, and a collaborative collections portal, Indiana Memory.  In short, we keep busy and do our best to provide Hoosiers with fascinating and inclusive stories from our shared past, as well as provide resources and services to help you dig into the history yourself.

At the heart of all the projects, programs, and collaborations is our belief in and commitment to the History Relevance campaign.  The campaign, which has been in action for approximately seven years, “encourages the public to use historical thinking skills to actively engage with and address contemporary issues and to value history for its relevance to modern life.” We want Hoosiers to first and foremost understand what history is, how to practice it, and develop the critical skills it offers. Secondly, we want Hoosiers to recognize its importance and relevance to the world in which we live.  History is NOT merely a series of names, dates, and facts to be memorized.  It is an interpretation of the past based on primary source materials and facts.  It is a narrative based on evidence and sources that helps us understand what came before, and why and how that informs where we are right now.  To emphasize a quote from Sam Wineburg,

History teaches us a way to make choices, to balance opinions, to tell stories, and to become uneasy—when necessary—about the stories we tell.[3]

Furthermore, as the campaign asserts, history is essential for the future.  Indeed,

historical knowledge is crucial to protecting democracy.  By preserving authentic and meaningful documents, artifacts, images, stories, and places, future generations have a foundation on which to build and know what it means to be a member of this civic community.[4]

As we celebrate our 105th anniversary, we want to ensure that we continue to help Hoosiers learn more about Indiana’s past and the ways in which it is relevant to the present. This also means that IHB will continue exploring our own history to stay relevant and continue serving Hoosiers in the best way possible.  We hope that you will help us do this and embrace the new and exciting things the Bureau has to offer in 2020!  Stay tuned for more, and here’s to another 105 years . . . Now cake!

[1] Laws of the State of Indiana, 1915, (Indianapolis:  Wm. B. Burford, 1915), 455.

[2] Laws of the State of Indiana, 1925, (Indianapolis:  Wm. B. Burford, 1925), 191.

[3] Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001), ix.

[4] Value of History Statement, History Relevance Campaign, https://www.historyrelevance.com/value-history-statement, Accessed 4 March 2020.