Medium 9780253019042

IN Writing: Uncovering the Unexpected Hoosier State

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Fueled by an insider’s view of Indiana and the state’s often surprising connections to the larger world, IN Writing is revelatory. It is Indiana in all its glory: sacred and profane; saints and sinners; war and peace; small towns and big cities; art, architecture, poetry and victuals. It’s about Hoosier talent and Hoosier genius: the courageous farmer-soldiers who ardently try to win the hearts and minds of 21st century Afghan insurgents; the artisans whose work pulses with the aesthetics of far-away homelands; and the famous modernist poet who had to leave to make his mark. It’s about places that speak to a wider world: Columbus and its remarkable architecture; New Harmony and its enduring idealism; Indianapolis and its world-renowned Crown Hill cemetery. IN Writing makes visible the unexpected bonds between Indiana and the world at large.

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Part 1 Saints and Sinners

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Indiana-born entertainer Red Skelton left Vincennes in 1925 to join Doc Lewis’s Patent Medicine Show. From there he entertained people in tent shows, showboats, circuses, dance marathons, vaudeville, radio, movies, and television.

Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society, General Picture Collection, M 411.

RED SKELTON

IT WAS A BIG DEAL WHEN RED SKELTON CAME TO VISIT MY grandfather, Clarence Stout Sr., when I was a kid in Vincennes. There was not much going on down there in the mid-1950s, and Red was definitely the town celebrity. Red would show up in a vast car and disappear behind the pocket doors of my grandfather’s wainscoted office that was hung with hundreds of autographed publicity photos of show-business greats and not-so-greats from the 1920s to the 1940s.

Besides being a composer and impresario, my grandfather managed the old Vincennes vaudeville theater, the Pantheon, when Red was a penniless, rubber-faced kid with a penchant for falling off stages for laughs. He told him, “Get out of Vincennes, Red, you’ve got too much talent,” he later recounted as he puffed on his pipe.

 

Part 2 Complicated Places

ePub

Bennie Zebelle of Muncie, Indiana, poses with a basket of tomatoes in the Agriculture Building at the 1947 Indiana State Fair.

STATE FAIRS ARE THE CONFLUENCE OF THE GARISH AND THE profound, a carnivalesque celebration of life amidst the drive for recognized excellence. Regal princesses with tiaras pass through the neon-lit Midway throngs. Burly farmers herd Brobdingnagian boars. Kids nap beside their brushed and curried heifers who gaze with long lashes at their resting guardians. Barkers howl the wonders of the sideshow; ladies quite alluring give a desultory bump. A swain with his first sideburns wallops the carnival game, trying to win a stuffed bear for his admiring sweetheart. Trailed by her two apple-cheeked boys, a young mother proudly paces through the crowd with a blue ribbon carefully placed across her prize pie.

The smells of corndogs and elephant ears mingle with the electric scent of cotton candy. Wood smoke, sopped sauce, and cooking pork chops waft from the barbecue stands. An unmistakable tang announces the animal buildings.

 

Part 3 Culinary Delights

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Shapiro’s customers were often dazzled by the wide array of products offered for sale, including salmon, sardines, caviar, coffee, and kosher deli meats. According to Max Shapiro, over the years the American public had come to look at kosher deli food “just like pizza or Mexican food. I guess we helped educate them.”

THE SHAPIROS STORY

THE SOUTH MERIDIAN BUSINESS DISTRICT, THE BEATING heart of Indianapolis’s Jewish neighborhood, bustled on Sundays in 1915, revivified after Saturday Sabbath, when hundreds of Jewish immigrants walked past shuttered stores to the five synagogues clustered in the little enclave. Stretching south from Washington Street to Morris Street between Capitol Avenue and Union Street, the district was a densely populated city space that rang with the calls of Yiddish, the German-Hebrew language of the middle European Ashkenazi Jews, and murmurs of Ladino, the southern European Sephardic Jews’ ancient Spanish-Hebrew language, mixing with the argot and dialects of their German, Irish, and African American neighbors.

 

Part 4 Artists and their Craft

ePub

A winter vista of Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, from the 1900s reveals several prominent central-campus structures.

Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society, Indiana Postcard Collection, P 408.

EZRA POUND AT WABASH COLLEGE

THE WINTER OF 1908 BEGAN WITH STORMS HOWLING ACROSS the Indiana prairie, burying Crawfordsville’s stately Wabash College under swales of snow. Not long after yet another blizzard in early February, a distraught twenty-two-year-old professor of Romance languages (and aspiring poet) wrote a jangled letter about losing his job to his father back in Philadelphia:

Dear Dad

Have had a bust up. But come out with enough to take me to Europe. Home Saturday or Sunday. Dont let mother get excited.

Ez.

On the back, he scribbled,

I guess something that one does not see but something very big & white back of the destinies. Has the turning and the loading of things & this thing & I breath again.lovingly

 

Part 5 The Present Past

ePub

Famous pose of Indiana outlaw John Dillinger holding a Thompson machine gun in one hand and a pistol in the other, circa 1930s.

Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society, Bass Photo Company Collection, P 130.

BANK ROBBER JOHN DILLINGER CAME BACK TO CROWN HILL on Wednesday July 5, 1934, three days after he had died in a rain of bullets outside Chicago’s Biograph Theater. His killing ended a nearly yearlong escapade that had captured America’s imagination. During his rampage, he and his gang had stolen $300,000 in multiple bank robberies, including $21,000 from Indianapolis’s Massachusetts Avenue Bank on September 6, 1933. When casing banks and jails, Dillinger’s gang had been wily: posing as Indiana State Police, bank security alarm salesmen, and movie executives scouting for locations. Dillinger had escaped supposedly impregnable jails, once with a carved wooden gun. “See what I locked all of you monkeys up with,” he laughed at his disarmed jailers as he turned the key on them. For months Dillinger led hundreds of police officers and federal agents on a wild chase across four states. To some Great Depression-ravaged Americans who had lost farms and homes to voracious banks and felt abandoned by an uncaring government, Dillinger looked like a Hoosier Robin Hood. To the authorities who counted as many as twenty-three people killed by the gang, John Dillinger was Public Enemy Number 1.

 

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