What if I told you there is a way to get an inside look at the politicians who govern your state? What if there was a place where you could find out not only who these politicians really are, but why they made the decisions they made? Most importantly though, what if I told you, what they do is ultimately up to you? The Indiana Legislative Oral History Initiative (ILOHI) serves as your gateway into the lives of Indiana’s former General Assembly members.
How the Project Began:
ILOHI was created by House Bill 1100 by the Indiana General Assembly (IGA) in 2017. It is an ongoing oral history project established to record the history of the IGA—from the latter part of the twentieth century to the present day—from those who experienced it first-hand.
What the Project Does:
Essentially, interviews are conducted, transcribed, preserved, and then eventually made publicly accessible. Thus, as ILOHI’s oral historian, I travel around the State of Indiana interviewing former legislators who served as early as the 1960s. I record their stories to provide a new history of the IGA and its members and shed light on the modern political and legislative processes that help shape our state. In turn, this project will highlight the ways in which Indiana has changed over the course of the last four decades and show lawmakers’ contributions and responses to this evolution. As a result, by sharing the history of the IGA and its influence on the people, processes, and institutions of the state, we can begin to more fully understand the role Indiana plays in a national and global context.
Why You Should Care:
State government, let alone government in general, can often seem like a remote and overly-complex process in which we have no control. Consequently, this feeling of powerlessness can sometimes cause us to remove ourselves from legislative issues. However, our role as citizens is far more influential than meets the eye. These are elected officials, meaning they work for us. They are voted into positions of power, because we the people chose them in hopes they will make our state better. Although we should be involved in what they do and how they do it, it is easy to feel intimidated by political officials and the political process. That’s where ILOHI oral history interviews come in. They can help demystify elected officials and inform you about the legislative process, so that you can better understand your state and the people who serve it.
As Ned Lamkin, former member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1967 to 1982, states in an ILOHI interview:
It’s theirs [the people], and it will be whatever they want it to be, if they in fact want to have an influence. . . . The General Assembly is there to listen and respond to the needs of its citizens and if the citizens recognize that and think about how things could be better and organize to try to make them better, the General Assembly will ultimately respond.
Charlie Brown, former member of the Indiana House of Representatives from 1982 to 2018, informed the ILOHI that citizens:
have as much power as they want to have. . . . I often tell folks you don’t know how powerful you are. While I’m sitting there in the General Assembly and my staff comes to me with a stack of phone messages and all of them are centered around, most of them centered around one subject matter, something that I had not been giving much attention, I said, ‘Boy, I better find out more about this.’
Ergo, legislators may be members of the IGA, but the IGA answers to you. On the other hand, perhaps you already feel confident in your understanding of the legislative process and your role in it. But maybe you question the motives of some politicians and worry that political games or self-serving interests affect the actual will of the people. After all, nearly everyone can recall a story about a corrupt politician at the state or national level. But a blanket dismissal of state government and the men and women who are elected into these positions of power removes their human aspects and motivations. This is why when government officials are examined closely via ILOHI interviews, a different side of politics emerge—one that may just restore your faith in your elected officials or at the very least helps you see a different side of the story. As a matter of fact, you may even come to think that they chose to get involved in politics because they honestly wanted to dedicate part of their lives to helping Hoosiers and the state that they too call home.
Bill Frazier, former member of the 1969 Indiana State Senate, provided insight into the responsibilities of legislators in his ILOHI interview. He says a legislator should “Be honest, and know politics is not an excuse to be dishonest.” And Pat Miller, former member of the Indiana House of Representatives in 1982 and the State Senate from 1983 to 2016, asserted:
I had pride in what the General Assembly was doing, I had pride in my colleagues because they took it serious. . . . I had pride in the ethics. . . . I mean you never had to question them. You never had to question their word, and I think for legislators the only thing we had was our word. And if we weren’t good to what we said, then we essentially lost all ability to be effective in the General Assembly.
Overall, these oral histories are meant to pull back the curtain and reveal the intentions and perspectives of legislators as they debated the policies, wrote the laws, and crafted the budgets in an attempt to shape and better the lives of Hoosiers today. Furthermore, the insights and lessons that emerge from their experiences are indispensable in understanding how we got to where we are today. If you care about your state, want to make a difference, and change how things work, let these interviews be a source of empowerment and reveal the nature of the relationship between the IGA and the citizens of Indiana. Because Indiana ultimately belongs to you, it requires interaction between elected officials and citizens, and the more citizens work with legislators to help make our state better, the more we all benefit.
It’s easy to feel cooped up as we dutifully abide by our “stay-at-home” instructions to help flatten the Coronavirus curve. It can be particularly challenging as we deal with the tempestuous spring in Indiana, wherein we can face anything from snow showers to beautiful sunshine to severe thunderstorms. Some days it’s just not possible to get the exercise we crave and need. Thankfully we do not usually have to deal with a quarantine, but Hoosiers—especially in a pre-treadmill world—have always grappled with the weather and getting fit for “the pleasure of outings, long walks, or rambles through the fields, wood or parks.” Check out some interesting home exercise tidbits from April 1915 to see how Hoosier women creatively prepared for “the spring outing” by using home furnishings to get in that daily workout.
You’ve been (hopefully) sticking close to home and avoiding crowded stores for over three weeks now. If, like us, you’re peering into your pantry to find naught but potatoes, rice, and stale bread, we have just the thing for you: historical recipes!
Our ancestors were exceptionally skilled at making food last. They weren’t able to flit to the corner store to pick up a few staples or summon UberEats deliveries. Largely, they had what they had until they could grow more. Have stale bread? Make bread pudding or breadcrumbs. Have chicken bones or vegetable scraps? Make broth. Have a 10 lb. bag of rice but your significant other suddenly doesn’t like rice even though you’ve been making rice for years and he never complained before?
Anyway, when I look into my barren refrigerator and think, “what would my ancestors have made?” my next stop is Hoosier State Chronicles, which has nearly 1 million pages of freely-accessible digitized historical Indiana newspapers. Some of these include thousands of time tested recipes! Plugging in any given pantry staple brings up dozens of recipes. Granted, some are more useful than others (sadly, I think few of my loved ones would be tempted by a recipe for Tongue Toast), but by and large, these recipes are simple, economical, and delicious! Let’s take a tour through 19th century papers, using search terms for a few items I still have left in my house.
As the sage hobbit Samwise Gamgee once said, “Boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!” One of the best things about potatoes is their versatility. That, and the fact that they can last for months if stored properly, make them the perfect pantry staple. Let’s take a look at several potato recipes from the April 15, 1876 issue of the Terre Haute Saturday Evening Mail.
This fairly basic recipe for mashed potatoes takes a wild turn towards the end when the author casually suggests making a mashed potato custard! Similar to the filling of a sweet potato pie, this recipe calls for boiled potatoes, milk, butter, eggs, sugar, and nutmeg. After consulting some modern recipes, I’ve made an educated guess as to the amount of each since, as with so many historical recipes, this one leaves much to be desired in the way of specificity.
These potato fritters are – as advertised – absolutely delicious! I haven’t made every recipe in this post, but I have made these and I highly recommend them. They get even better if you add in a little bit of bacon, cheese, jalapeño, or anything else you have around the kitchen.
This “potato cake” recipe is basically just a recipe for delicious, always soft, and surprisingly healthy potato bread.
Remember the 10 lb. bag of rice I mentioned earlier? Despite what my husband has to say about it, I’m going to be making a lot of rice in the coming days. Luckily, I was able to track down some alternative uses from the 19th century that may help in this endeavor.
This simple rice pie can be enhanced with any number of additions. Add in raisins, prunes, and brown sugar, for a sweeter dish, or bacon bits, chives, and cheese for a more savory breakfast item. This recipe from Martha Stewart even adds in a bit of brandy into the mix.
Rice . . . but make it waffles! This interesting take on waffles will mix things up at your breakfast table. I think since this recipe is on the simple side, it would be a great base to build upon. Top it with gravy. Or go the sweet route and top with fruit and syrup. Or go for the all-out savory dish and make these loaded rice waffles with sausage, spinach, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. Since this recipe uses some outdated measuring terms (1 gill is roughly 1 cup), I’ve modernized it a bit below to make it easier to follow.
Do you eat the heel of your bread loaves? If not, what do you do with them? Consider this – a typical loaf of bread contains twenty to twenty-four pieces including the heels. If you are in the habit of throwing away the heels, that means you’re throwing away 10% of every loaf of bread you buy. If your family eats a loaf of bread per week, you’re throwing away over five loaves of bread a year! Never waste a piece of bread again with these historical hacks for using even the hardest bits of stale (or unwanted) bread.
Breadcrumbs are an ever-useful thing to have around the kitchen. From coating your rice croquettes or chicken tenders for frying to filling out your meatballs, you’ll always find a use for these crumbs.
These coffee fritters use up your stale bread at double time – the fritters themselves are made of strips of stale bread and they’re coated in stale bread crumbs before being fried. Delicious with your morning coffee or afternoon tea, I’ve made this recipe and it’s mouthwatering just as it’s written.
My favorite thing to make with stale bread is bread pudding. Traditionally, like many English puddings, bread pudding is boiled in a pudding basin or a tightly woven cloth. See an example of this done with 18th century plum pudding here. More popular in America, though, is the baked version of this delectable dessert, so I’m including an example of each. Below is each recipe broken down and translated for the modern kitchen.
Want more recipes? From dried beans to pigs feet, there are recipes for just about any food item waiting to be found in the pages of historical Indiana newspapers. Show us what you make on twitter by tagging us @in_bureau!
Many people are looking for ways to channel the anxiety of our current crisis into something healthy and productive. For those of us with green thumbs, this has meant more time in the garden. And there is no better place for us to get some sage advice than from those Hoosier gardeners who came before us. Luckily, some of them shared their wisdom in an early-twentieth century column in the Indianapolis News titled “Of Interest to Farmer and Gardner.”
Here are some April highlights.
The Pepper King
In 1912, the Indianapolis News columnist raved about the new Ruby King pepper (Capsicum annuum). The writer enthused:
There are a great many varieties on the market today; but there is only one kind of sweet pepper to grow for a large yield, fine appearance and good selling qualities — the Ruby King . . . when a farmer comes in [to market] with a load of Ruby Kings, what a difference there is and how quickly the buyers pick them up!
An exciting new find for the writer, we now consider the Ruby King an heirloom variety. According to several companies selling the pepper, it was first introduced in 1902. However, the American Garden: Illustrated Journal of Horticulturedescribed the Ruby King in 1885. The American Garden writer explained that with the introduction of milder yellow peppers, people seemed to have “developed a taste for less pungency in this fiery vegetable.” This critic was not a fan of the yellow pepper, stating emphatically that “it cannot be denied that the correct color in a pepper seems to be red.” The only vegetable that fit the bill as both mild in taste and red in color was “Burpee’s Ruby King, now introduced by W. Atlee Burpee.” The writer called it a “a respectable Pepper . . . mild and pleasant to taste — unequaled, in this respect, by any other variety.”
Burpee does not seem to offer the variety any longer, but you can add the Ruby King to your garden by ordering from heirloom sellers like the non-profit Seed Savers Exchange.
An Overlooked Bramble Berry
In the April 29, 1911 edition of the Indianapolis News, our gardening columnist gave some advice on introducing a low-maintenance bramble called a dewberry into the garden. While blackberries and raspberries were (and are) better known brambles, the writer gave several reasons to add dewberry, which is also native to Indiana. The dewberry does just fine in poor soil, doesn’t need fertilizer, and can produce in partial sun or full shade. While raspberries and blackberries need regular pruning, the dewberry doesn’t. It can be trained to a stake or a trellis, but doesn’t require any support. And while it doesn’t produce until its third or fourth year, the writer suggested that the plant benefits from mulch and frequent harvesting once it has berries. The Indianapolis News columnist had one more piece of advice for bramble growers in 1911: plant different varieties together. I was not able to confirm the science behind this, but the writer’s experience shows that dewberries grow better when planted with blackberries or raspberries.
There are several varieties of dewberry, but one native to Indiana, according to the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, is the Lucretia Dewberry (Rubus roribaccus). Writing for the Cornell University Bulletin in 1892, L. H. Bailey described the ease of growing the Lucretia Dewberry. Interestingly, this gardener-writer also recommended planting dewberry with blackberry and raspberry brambles. The main value of the dewberry was that of the three, it ripened first. Bailey also pointed out that dewberry is hardier than other berry plants, able to survive harsh winters without taking any special precautions. Birdwatchers might also want to plant this lesser known species. According to the Missouri Department of Conservation, dewberry is a favorite of catbirds, waxwings, and finches. I couldn’t find an Indiana farm selling Lucretia dewberry, but you can find them at DeGroot Nursery in Michigan, a family-owned farm in operation since 1957.
The Wolf Flower
The April 3, 1909 edition of the Indianapolis News column touted the beauty of lupines, recommending them to Indiana gardeners. The News columnist explained that this flowering plant works both in formal and more natural gardens, easily withstands the cold midwestern winters, and come in an array of colors and varieties, both annual and perennial. Lupine seeds should be direct sown in April after frost and will flower in June, “and if cut frequently so that the plants can not go to seed, their flowering period continued almost up to the first frost.” An added bonus: lupine returns nitrogen to the soil. (You can learn how here). Beyond gardens, Hoosiers can also keep a look out for lupine in the wild, or even by the side of the road.
Beautiful white, blue, and purple wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) thrives in the sandy soil of the Indiana Dunes and the larger Calumet Region. Here they support the life cycles of three different butterflies that only eat lupine. One of these is the endangered Karner Blue butterfly. At the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, the National Park Service uses controlled burns that encourage lupine growth, in order to improve the Karner Blue’s habitat. While much has been done to improve the chances of this endangered species, climate change is also proving to be a threat, according to the NPS. In response, scientists are working to create lupine-filled microclimates.
Butterflies aren’t the only species that eat lupine. While the flowers are not edible (in fact they are poisonous), the nut-like seeds are edible for humans once soaked to remove the toxic chemicals and historically have been ground into a flour for cooking. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, lupine seeds were “a favorite food for traveling troops in ancient Europe.” The historical lore around this flower’s name is also rich. “Lupine” is latin for “wolf.” While we now know that lupines add nitrogen, the opposite was once thought true, that they “wolfed” nitrogen from the soil to get their color. Others have claimed the that the flower got its wolfish name, from the barren habitat in which it thrives. After a prairie, the lupine could be seen thriving among the burnt landscape, like a lone wolf. But it is lupine’s intense color, especially the blue, that has captured the imaginations of poets, artists, and writers through the ages. Let’s close then with an 1851 journal entry by Henry David Thoreau:
June 5. The lupine is now in its glory. It is the more important because it occurs in such extensive patches, even an acre or more together, and of such a pleasing variety of colors, — purple, pink, or lilac, and white, — especially with the sun on it, when the transparency of the flower makes its color changeable. It paints a whole hillside with its blue . . . No other flowers exhibit so much blue. That is the value of the lupine. The earth is blued with them. Yet a third of a mile distant I do not detect their color on the hillside. Perchance because it is the color of the air.
Sources: * All newspapers accessed Newspapers.com.
The Pepper King
American Garden: Illustrated Journal of Horticulture 6:2 (February 1885), 23, accessed GoogleBooks.
“Of Interest to Farmer and Gardener: Suggestions for Growing Peppers,” Indianapolis News, April 13, 1912, 17.
An Overlooked Bramble
L. H. Bailey, “The Lucretia Dewberry,” Cornell University Bulletin, reprinted in American Gardening 8:5 (May 1892), 274-75, accessed GoogleBooks.
Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, “Rubis Roribaccus,” University of Texas at Austin, https://www.wildflower.org/plants/www.utexas.edu.
Missouri Department of Conservation, “Dewberry,” Field Guides, https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/dewberry.
“Of Interest to Farmer and Gardener: How to Grow Successfully the Bramble Berries in the Small Garden,” Indianapolis News, April 29, 1911, 22.
The Wolf Flower
“Growing Lupines,” Old Farmer’s Almanac, accessed https://www.almanac.com/plant/lupines.
Sarah Fuller, “Wild Lupine,” Indiana Dunes, accessed http://www.indianadunes.com/beaches-and-beyond/blog/wild-lupine/.
Nathaniel Lord Britton, Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions, vol. II (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1897), 269, accessed GoogleBooks.
Kim Mitchell and Cathy Carnes, “Wild Lupine and Karner Blue Butterflies,” Midwest Region Endangered Species, U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service, accessed https://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/insects/kbb/lupine.html.
National Park Service, “Impact of Climate Change on the Karner Blue Butterfly,” 2010, accessed nps.gov.
“Of Interest to Farmer and Gardener: Perennial and Annual Lupine,” Indianapolis News, April 3, 1909, 20.
Henry David Thoreau, The Complete Works of Henry David Thoreau, vol. 36 (Hastings, East Sussex, United Kingdom: Delphi Classics, 2017), accessed GoogleBooks.
“Wild Lupine,” Save the Dunes, accessed https://www.indunesguide.com/lupinusperennis.
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. 
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. 
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. 
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. 
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.  He worked as an illustrator for the (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat before becoming an illustrator at the Indianapolis Sentinel and the Indianapolis News in 1891.  In 1893, Vawter got his big break. The Indianapolis Journal dedicated a full page to an exclusive new poem by James Whitcomb Riley.  The Journaldescribed 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.” The newspaper prominently featured Vawter’s illustrations of the poem.
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.  Riley was known for using “Hoosier dialect” to create poems “infused with the very spirit of the Hoosier soil from which they sprung.”  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.
The Riley Years
In 1898, Indianapolis publisher Bowen-Merrill Company reissued a collection of Riley poems as Riley Child-Rhymes. Vawter’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. 
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. 
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:
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). 
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 Kingdomof 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. 
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).  He made art for numerous other Indiana authors outside of Hancock County.  And by the turn of the twentieth century, his original book illustrations were exhibited around the country. 
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. 
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. 
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.”  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. 
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.” 
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:
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. 
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.  While his work gained popularity across the state, Vawter worked to enhance the art scene in Brown County.
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.  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. 
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. 
The Late-Blooming of Vawter
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.  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.”  On the other hand, Morehouse wrote: “Sometimes we wish they would paint new subjects or would interpret the old ones in a different angle.” 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.” 
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.  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. 
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. 
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.”  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:
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. 
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.  She concluded that Vawter’s 1938 exhibit “surpasses all previous showings by this gifted Hoosier painter of landscape.”  At 67 years old, Vawter was reaching his artistic peak.
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.
Notes: All newspapers accessed Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.
 Susan Stamberg, “This New York Gallery Has an Unusual Age Limit: No Artists Younger Than 60,” Morning Edition, January 11, 2018, NPR.
 The Long Run, MoMA, November 11, 2017-May 5, 2019.
 Stamberg, “This New York Gallery . . .,” NPR.
“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.
 (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, March 5, 1891, 1; (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, April 9, 1891, 1; “Notes of Newspaper Men,” Indianapolis News, December 5, 1891, 7.
 James Whitcomb Riley,“Armazindy: A Borned Soldier and Hero,” Indianapolis Journal, September 5, 1893, 13, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
 “That Girl Wuz, and Is, I know, A Borned Soldier and Hero,” Indianapolis Journal, August 30, 1893, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
 Advertisement, Indianapolis News, October 14, 1893, 9, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
“A Co-Worker with Riley,” Indianapolis News, reprinted (Greenfield) Hancock Democrat, December 8, 1898, 5.
 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.
 “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.
 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.
 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.
 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.”
 (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.
 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.
 “Little Stories of Daily Life,” Indianapolis News, May 3, 1917, 24, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
 “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.
 Ibid.; “Brown County Pictures,” Indianapolis News, September 17, 1919, 26, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.
 “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.
 “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.
 “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.
 “Miss Morehouse Dies; Ex-Art Critic,” Indianapolis Star, February 19, 1961, 27.
 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.
 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.
 Lucille E. Morehouse,”In The World of Art: Will Vawter’s Exhibition Tops Previous Shows,” Indianapolis Star, December 18, 1938, 69.
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.
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.”
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.’”
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.
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.
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.
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!
During these trying times, IHB is going to bring you stories of small kindnesses by Hoosiers throughout our history.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.  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.”  The order initially exempted factories, “business houses,” and restaurants, and limited confectionaries’ services.
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.”  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.”  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. 
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.”  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.”  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.
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.”  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.” 
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.”  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.  Nor could they worship together, as pastors across the city appealed to congregants to conduct services from their own homes. 
As the “enforced vacation” dragged on, Richmond children felt as if they “were having summer vacation once more.”  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.  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. 
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.”  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.
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.  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.”  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.”  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.
 “No Public Assemblages,” Princeton Daily Clarion, October 7, 1918, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.
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.
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!
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.
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, 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. 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. Turning his back on college, John signed an acting contract and left Garrett for rehearsals in Coldwater, Michigan in July, 1904.
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.” 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.  Many of his early performances came by way of his relationship with William A. Brady, a prolific producer of both stage and screen. Under his guidance, Bowers made his Broadway debut in Little Miss Brown on August 29, 1912.
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.
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. 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. Bowers’s first known credit appears in the short film The Baited Trap (1914), in which he played a criminal. 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. 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. 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. Years later, while making the film When a Man’s a Man (1924), he broke his leg trying to bull-dog a steer.
He was always athletic and believed that staying physically fit was essential to happiness. 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. 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. Sometime in the early 1920s, his friend Doc Wilson sailed it from New York to California in ninety days. Later, Bowers would take his Hollywood friends out for weeks at a time.
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. 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.
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. 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. 
His third wife Marguerite De la Motte was also a silent film star.  De la Motte and Bowers co-starred in the film What a WifeLearned (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. 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. 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.
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.  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. 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. His sister, with whom he was staying at the time, reported that he had recently become despondent.
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.
 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.
 “Local and Personal,” Garrett Clipper (Indiana), October 15, 1903, 5, Newspapers.com.
 “John Bowers Receives Contract for Royal Slave Company,” Huntington Herald (Indiana), May 20, 1904, 4, Newspapers.com.
 “John Bowers Receives Contract for Royal Slave Company,” Huntington Herald, May 20, 1904, 4, Newspapers.com.
 “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.
 “He Hasn’t Been Home Since,” Photoplay, August, 1919, 16: 3, 61, Internetarchive.org.
 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.
 David L. Smith, “John Bowers: A Tragedy That Became a Legend,” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Fall 2017, 4, Indiana Historical Society.
1920 Census, Los Angeles Assembly District 63, Los Angeles, California; Roll: T625_106; Page: 12B; Enumeration District 167, FamilySearch.org.
 “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.
 “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.
 “Yachts and Autos His Hobbyhorses,” Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1924, 48, Newspapers.com.
 “Hollywood’s Halls,” Los Angeles Times, May 15, 1927, 136, Newspapers.com.
 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.
 “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.
 “Mrs. Ida Bowers,” Garrett Clipper, July 16, 1936, 1, Newspapers.com.
 “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.
 “How Bowers Met Death,” Hammond Times (Indiana), November 19, 1936, 4, Newspapers.com.