Sunday, December 6, 2015

A century ago, just last year

Fabled author James Whitcomb Riley delighting
children with stories of Indiana history.
In 1915, the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation aimed at preserving the state's history, a year ahead of the centennial.

A state Historical Society book published in 1919 endeavored to explore how the state prepared to mark its 100th year, and how that was actually effected:

"The act of the Indiana General Assembly signed by Gov. Samuel Ralston on March 8, 1915, creating the Indiana Historical Commission, assigned to that body as one of its duties to collect and publish documentary and other materials on the history of Indiana. The law provides that these volumes should be printed and bound at the expense of the State, and be made available to the public."

The book, edited by Harlow Lindley, goes into some detail about how the various counties celebrated that 100th anniversary. Much of that is pomp and gratuitous fluff, but it's interesting in its own right. It's also scathing in its criticism of those who didn't pick up the banner and run with it.

More to the point, the celebration itself appeared to be genuinely uninteresting to Hoosiers.

The publication's main aim is to explore how the state came to care about its centennial.

Medallion designed by Janet Scudder.
Scudder was born in Terre Haute.
From 1915:

"The immediate problem confronting the Commission on its organization was one of publicity in its widest sense. The people of Indiana as a whole knew little and therefore cared little about the Centennial anniversary and its proper celebration. There was the usual amount of inertia to overcome, the ever-present demands of business life to meet, and an unusually active political campaign with which to compete for the attention of citizens. It was therefore no little task to educate and to arouse the State over the comparatively unexciting and unremunerative subject of Centennial observance. Many and various were the means applied toward this end."

As time went on, Lindley wrote in describing the events of 1915-16, public opinion began to change and the centennial itself started to gain traction thanks in part to an outreach that involved key public officials in the various counties.

As state government officials became more enlightened, notable Hoosiers were enlisted to bolster the story. A state park system was set up to promote Indiana's vast natural resources and beauty. Permanent memorials were located and marked.

"State parks would not only be a splendid present day expression of appreciation of what the Hoosier forefathers wrought, but they would have a high civic value, both in the present and in the future. Through the state parks should come a strengthening of the common bonds of citizenship and neighborly association, for in these parks the people will meet upon common ground."


Inevitably, the historical group took advantage of the technology of the day to get its message into the schools. After that, the project took root.

"The extent to which the history of the state was seriously undertaken in the schools was dependent largely upon the capacity and alertness of the school authorities in the counties as well as upon the ability and fitness of teachers. It would be idle to claim that such study was nearly universal, but we do confidently assert that such an interest in Indiana and her history has been awakened in all our educational institutions, as has never been known and such as will mean much to our future citizenship. In fact, the Commission looks upon this as one of the most permanent and beneficial phases of its work."

Along the way, the state developed a model for presenting the state's history in dramatic form. It was known as The Pageant.

Pageants were local productions that focused on telling the story of a particular region through dramatic presentation. The art of producing a pageant was begun as a curriculum project at Indiana University in Bloomington and soon gained wide acceptance. William C. Langdon is credited with inspiring that.

"In the early stages of preparation, the one great problem which presented itself to the various communities was that of authorship and direction. So serious it was that for a time it seemed probable that relatively few pageants would be attempted. Professional pageant masters were not at hand, and imported ones constituted a luxury that few places could afford, even had they been available.

"But Hoosiers are nothing if not resourceful and versatile, particularly when a pad and pencil are involved. In short they were quick to catch on, with the result that pageant writing was soon in progress by the home product route, from the Ohio northward. In all, some 45 pageants were presented in Indiana in 1916."

Meanwhile, the 92 counties all took separate approaches to marking the centennial and it met with extremely mixed success. Lindley pulled no punches.

Franklin County: With beautiful, historic Brookville as its center, Franklin County was almost foreordained to have a good celebration. In 1898 the town had a home coming and in 1908 celebrated its own Centennial and went in determined to outdo both in the observance of 1916.

Fayette County: One of the early counties in the State to effect Centennial organization and perfect its plans, was Fayette. This came partly from having a thorough business man as leader in E. P. Hawkins, president of the Connersville Commercial Club, and a dominant figure in city and county affairs. Supported by a corps of enthusiastic workers, he had the work well outlined and preparations under way before the first of the year.

Union County: The combination of Union and Liberty was all but unbeatable as a Centennial challenge. And, although one of the smallest counties in the State, it seemed to realize that it carried an extra burden of responsibility and extended itself accordingly. It held one of the early celebrations of the year and one of the most praiseworthy.

Switzerland County: It is a real regret that nothing can be recorded from picturesque little Switzerland County and Vevay, rich in historical and literary associations so dear to the loyal Hoosier.

Starke County: Practically no interest in the Centennial was manifested by the people of Starke County. The Chairman, Hon. Chester A. McCormick, editor of the North Judson News, did not take up his responsibilities in a convincing manner and made little impression upon his county.

Ohio County: The smallest county in the State hid its Centennial talent in a napkin. In 1914 Ohio County celebrated its own Centennial anniversary, but made no effort to observe that of the state.

No comments:

Post a Comment