acclaimed people on his beat, those workaday, quietly heroic yet typical persons among us. Here, in The Nancy Jane Bridge And Other Stories, his 13th book, he presents more portraits of them as he saw them; forthright, honest, remarkable, admirable. Each story is told in the style that has made him one of south central Indiana’s popular writers.
As for the title of this book, the name Nancy Jane for a bridge was fascination enough to arouse Incollingo’s curiosity. What evolved from that is an engaging account of a covered wooden bridge, the woman for whom it was named, and it’s effects on the lives of those Hoosiers who crossed it.
This book is still available for a limited time. Contact me for details.
THE NANCY JANE BRIDGE
In the dark of one night long ago, a man named Sherman Hawkins was walking home from church through the Salt Creek bottoms in southeastern Monroe County, Indiana. He had been to a religious service at a church in the settlement of Allens Creek and his destination was the community of Sanders where he lived.
There was no moon to light his way through that primal country. But having walked that wagon-track gravel pathway on previous days and nights, Hawkins was confident he could find his way in the dark of this night. He also was certain he would have no trouble locating the wooden covered bridge that spanned the creek on that route.
There were at least five bridges in that general area that crossed the meandering Salt Creek in those days. One was the Fairfax Bridge, another was the Goodman Bridge, two others were the Cutright Bridge and, further south in Lawrence County, The Red Bridge. The fifth bridge which was a one hundred fifty-five foot long wooden, metal-roofed bridge was known as the Nancy Jane Bridge.
Hawkins hoped to cross the Nancy Jane that night. At least that was the route home, and having walked it several times before, in the darkness of this moonless night he instinctively had set his bearings in that direction.
It was a cold night and he was anxious to complete his journey. The longer he walked the more adjusted his eyes became to the dark, and when the silhouette of the covered bridge loomed before him he was certain that he recognized it for what it was. Darker than the moonless night was the interior of the covered bridge which was pitch black, and Hawkins was unable to see inside it.
There was nothing to fear. Although it had been rumored that the bridge was haunted by the ghost of a person found hanged inside the structure one time, it is not known if Hawkins was aware of this. What he was aware of was the lingering claim in those days that the Nancy Jane was so old and rickety that a dog running across its timber flooring would rattle its entire span.
The last time Hawkins had crossed the bridge before this night it was intact and safe. Besides that, automobiles, trucks and many farm wagons of that period had been crossing it daily without mishap. Secure in this thought, then, if he thought it at all, he strode up the ramp and entered the inky blackness inside.
Prior to the construction of Monroe Reservoir by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, farm homes and small rural communities dotted the 10,500 acre site of the big reservoir. Rich farmlands also were in abundance and, as farmlands go, farm animals also were there.
Whether it had ever happened before, or if it ever happened afterwards, is unknown. But on this cold, moonless night, a herd of black cattle had taken shelter and were lying quietly at rest and unseen in the coal-black interior of the bridge.
Unaware of the huge, living obstructions in his path, Hawkins, anxious as he was to get home, plunged on and into the bridge. Since there were no witnesses except Hawkins to what took place then, anyone who reads this must accept what happened on hearsay evidence or use his own imagination as to what transpired from this point on. However, to assist readers with that, a few words were offered many years later by the man’s son, Russell Stanley Hawkins of Bloomington. He had long and quietly savored the hand-me-down family account of that night and had conjured up his own mental picture of the surprise that awaited his unsuspecting father inside the pitch-black of the Nancy Jane.
“I can just see Dad,” he said laughing, “trying to walk across the backs of all those cows in the dark and wondering what in the world he’d gotten into.”
Arousing curiosity among those who hear it is this story recounted by Winfred Deckard about his parents Ora and Lizzy Deckard.
Lizzy had grown up on Chandler Road near Burgoon. She was the only girl in a family of seven boys. Lizzie fell in love with and married Ora Deckard who grew up on Allens Creek a couple of miles from the Nancy Jane Bridge. They were married in Monroe County then went by horse and buggy all the way to Nashville, Indiana to have their wedding picture taken by the renowned artist TC Steele.
The next morning they started out for Allens Creek where they would live for the rest of their lives. When they got to the Nancy Jane Bridge, Ora pulled inside the bridge and stopped the horse. Turning to Lizzy he asked a strange question. “Lizzy,” he said, “are you game to tear that up?” He meant the beautiful marriage license that Lizzy was clutching in her hands. She had plans to frame it when she got home.
Having grown up with seven brothers Lizzy could never pass up a dare. She sat for a minute and thought it over but the challenge got the best of her. She got out of the buggy, tore up the marriage license and pushed the pieces through some cracks in the floor of the Nancy Jane and watched them float away down Salt Creek.
There are other stories about the Nancy Jane Bridge. Some probably are still being told in staggered, fading anecdotes. Undoubtedly others have been lost in the contexts of divergent tales, and one or two probably have been immersed in the hidden collections of ancestral backgrounds. My interest in this bridge began one morning around a restaurant community breakfast table. During the narration of another story the name “Nancy Jane Bridge” was mentioned.
Nancy Jane? Bridge? It was the first time I had heard that name and while it may or may not have done anything for anyone else at the table, the mere sound of that name had stirred my curiosity and imagination. Not the George Washington Bridge, not the Golden Gate Bridge, not the Brooklyn Bridge, but the Nancy Jane Bridge in rural Monroe County, Indiana.
What an enchanting name for a bridge. Whimsical. Poetic. Romantic. And not in some far-off country or aging fictional tale. Of what else could it possibly have spoken to me that morning? History? Legend? Not completely ignoring those likely probabilities, I think now as I look back that I leaned more toward the whimsical, the poetic and the romantic.
As a newspaper reporter my work ethic has been one of seeking, finding and reporting. And in the case of the Nancy Jane Bridge I sought and I found some helpful people to whom I am indebted for all that I learned about it. In some cases the bridge’s story was duplicated, in others it was incomplete. But the ultimate result as I am reporting here seems to be what I had striven for. If I have missed an important aspect of the Nancy Jane, I apologize.
Many months passed after that morning when the name Nancy Jane Bridge was uttered at that breakfast table and after Russell Stanley Hawkins related the story about his father’s nocturnal experience in the bridge. Years, really, for I had an agenda I felt could not be compromised. But my interest remained intact. Responses to my curiosity continued, and then one Sunday evening my wife, Marion, and I were guests in the home of David Staver and his wife Georgiabel Hays Tidd-Staver in Bloomington. With us was Martha Alice Hays Stewart, also of Bloomington and sister to Georgiabel, both of whom were great granddaughters of Nancy Jane McDonald Chambers, the woman for whom the bridge was named. During a pleasant two-hour visit I was able to garner information enough to support and fill in the blank spaces of what data I already had and write the following story about the Nancy Jane Bridge.
Nancy Jane McDonald was an orphan girl who arrived in Indiana from Kentucky as the indentured servant of the owner of the inn and stage coach station at Fairfax, Indiana. The community is no longer existent, having been condemned and abandoned in the late 1950s or the early 1960’s with the beginning of construction of the Monroe Reservoir. Its site is at the bottom of what now is popularly and economically referred to as Lake Monroe, the largest man-made lake in Indiana.
In its halcyon days, Fairfax, situated near the banks of Salt Creek, was a thriving, self-sufficient colony. Basically a farming community, it nevertheless produced a variety of materials, including pork, whiskey, sorghum and native lumber, that were shipped aboard homemade flatboats and rafts to markets in Kentucky and further south. Once relieved of their cargoes, boats and rafts were dismantled, their lumber sold for whatever price it would bring, and their crews would return to Fairfax via overland routes.
No one, it seems, is certain of this, but it may have been in this way or manner that one day the orphan girl named Nancy Jane McDonald appeared in Fairfax, the servant girl under legal contract to the innkeeper of the Fairfax Inn and Stage Coach Station there. In any event, little, if anything, is known about how Nancy Jane McDonald got there, and less is known about her life at the Fairfax Inn. But at some point in the early 1840’s she met a Monroe County native there named John Wesley Chambers. It must have been love at first sight, and after the usual courtship of that period they married.
John Wesley Chambers , being the son of early Monroe County landed parents, David and Sara Meadows Chambers who had twelve children, received a wedding gift from them of a tract of land along Salt Creek. It was on this land, on a bluff overlooking the well-traveled Salt Creek ford, that John Wesley built for his bride what is stated in an early family writing as “a substantial log house.” There they lived, in what became popularly known as “The house on the hill,” for two decades, presumably happy, and rearing a family of seven children. They were Henry, David, James, Dugan, Rachel (Blackwell), Eliza (Cazee) and Alice (Smith).
At some time during the early days of the Civil War, John Wesley Chambers, perhaps lured by reports of richer farmlands there, decided to move his wife and family from the banks of Salt Creek near Fairfax to the State of Illinois. Piling his family and their belongings into a covered wagon they spent six weeks on the trail from Fairfax, Indiana, to Urbana, Illinois. Sometime after their arrival, John Wesley bought a farm there and settled down to farming. Unfortunately for the newcomers, a tornado struck their home one night and scattered their belongings over the prairie. Frightened and disheartened, the next morning they moved into some rooms over a store in the city of Urbana.
For a personal account of the Illinois venture, I turned to the1981 journal of Agnes Blackwell Hays, the mother of Georgiabel Hays Tidd-Staver and Martha Alice Hays Stewart. Mrs. Hays also was (the daughter of Rachel Chambers Blackwell and) the granddaughter to John Wesley and Nancy Jane Chambers.
“John Wesley,” she wrote, “was thinking that the Union must be saved and he wanted to help. President Lincoln appealed for volunteers (and) he answered the call. Colorfully dressed militia with throbbing drums and lilting fifes marched down the streets of Urbana. John Wesley, waving farewell to his family, who were watching the parade, marched away to the Union Army Training ground in Tennessee. They never saw him again.”
With her husband gone out of her life leaving her alone with her family, Nancy Jane set out to return to the only home she ever knew––the house her husband had built for her in Indiana. Sadly, there is no written record, no surviving hand-me-down elaboration of that harrowing overland covered wagon ordeal with her family from Urbana, Illinois , back to their home on the hill above Salt Creek near Fairfax, Indiana. That the trip was completed at all, not to mention completed safely, speaks highly of the courage and determination of the former indentured servant girl, Nancy Jane McDonald.
With the help of her family she farmed the land. Wild game was plentiful. Deer and game fowl were shot near the house for food. Hogs roamed at large and were well fattened by butchering time. Combined with the yield from the land they apparently fared well. It is also noted in the family history that Nancy Jane served the area as midwife, and that she rode a horse side-saddle to distant neighbors when her services were required. At some point during this time two of Nancy Jane’s sons enlisted in the Union Army and went off to fight in the continuing Civil War and to search for their father.
In her journal, Agnes Blackwell Hays had written, “While he (John Wesley) was serving in the Union Army he wrote regularly to Nancy Jane. He urged the children to help their mother and to attend school. Nancy Jane sent the children to (a school at) Mt. Ebal when the weather was suitable.”
When spring rains overflowed Salt Creek flooding the ford and the surrounding bottom lands, farmers and travelers were stymied. Obstructed as they were from their destinations by high water, they were forced to delay their work or their travels. It is not clear when or how it began, but one day a strange thing appeared on the creek bank below the log house on the hill, a “canoe” tied to a tree. Although it seems more likely that it was a flat boat or ferry boat of some kind instead of a canoe, one thing was certain. Nancy Jane Chambers had begun ferrying people across Salt Creek. At high water travelers called up to her and she would descend the bluff and row them across the swollen creek. Sometimes she sent one of her children to do the honors.
During part of this time Nancy Jane and her soldier husband corresponded regularly. In her journal, Mrs. Hays wrote: “One time when a photographer visited the Army camp he had a picture made to send home, saying, ‘I had my likeness made and prices are very dear down here, it cost $1.50.’ He wrote to Nancy Jane that there was going to be a big battle at Vicksburg. Preparations had been going on for some time.
“My grandfather wrote beautiful letters to Nancy Jane, still legible in ink,” Mrs. Hays’ account continues. “Always addressing her as ‘My Dear Wife’ and closing all with ‘Your affectionate husband until death do us part.’”
John Wesley Chambers became ill while serving with the Union Army at Vicksburg and died there of pneumonia.
To repeat, Agnes Blackwell Hays was the daughter of Thomas and Rachel Blackwell, Rachel being the daughter of Nancy Jane Chambers. After her family was gone and she had aged, Nancy Jane was assisted by Thomas and Rachel who, with their children, lived with her in the Chambers house on the hill and cared for her until her death in 1880. After Nancy Jane’s death the Blackwells bought the house from the other Chambers heirs. Their children included Jane Turner, Leafy (Johns), Lola (Buchanan), twins Tonnie (Wooden) and Frank, Clarence, Annie (Earl) and Agnes ( Mrs. Hays).
During Nancy Jane’s last years, travel across Salt Creek below her house had increased to a point that petitions were being made to county commissioners for the construction of a bridge there. Construction was begun some time after Nancy Jane’s death and it was opened to traffic in 1885. In her journal Mrs. Hays noted that “A relative of the Chambers family designed and constructed (the bridge’s) huge beams in the rainbow arch style. It was a very strong bridge and one of the longest bridges in Monroe County.”
History records that the bridge was first called or was intended to be named the Musserman Bridge. But because the widow who lived in the house on the hill above the Salt Creek ford had done so much for her neighbors and travelers, it was agreed that the bridge should be named in her memory: consequently the name Nancy Jane Bridge.
As a girl Nancy Jane’s granddaughter, Agnes Blackwell Hays, and some of her siblings attended Allens Creek School, which was roughly two miles north across the Nancy Jane Bridge in the community of Allens Creek. It is noted that on the way to school Agnes, during high water, was carried piggy-back across the creek by her brothers, Frank and Clarence. Years later, after becoming a teacher, she taught at that same school and daily rode a horse to and from her teaching responsibilities there.
Forbidden by her father to ride astraddle of the horse because it was improper for a woman to do so in those days, she was forced to ride side-saddle. But being a strong-willed woman, Agnes soon tired of the side saddle. She purchased some fabric and made herself a split skirt, and appareled in that manner she was able to ride properly astraddle of the horse. This arrangement apparently was agreeable with her father.
There are indications that she was a well-liked teacher. For example, when she arrived at the school in the morning, the boys in her one-room class would out-do each other to unsaddle, feed and pasture her horse. Later, after school, they would vie for the privilege to re-saddle the animal for her ride home.
The Nancy Jane Bridge became a county landmark and served the public at large until the early 1960s. “Then,” a pained and grieving Agnes Blackwell Hays wrote, “came the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Nancy Jane Bridge was pushed into the water at each end. It hung there in shame. Finally they burned it. . . . This was all the work of the (sic) Army Engineering Corps.”
In a moving nostalgic view, Mrs. Hays had written: It (The Nancy Jane Bridge) was a haven for travelers who took refuge under its roof when caught in a storm. It was a place to stop and let the horses rest while occupants (of wagons and buggies) refreshed themselves with a cold drink of spring water. Just a few yards down the banks of Salt Creek a gourd dipper hung on a (tree) limb. The spring filled a basin, no doubt cut from the blue colored rock by John Wesley (Chambers). There was always plenty of water flowing from a cave-like opening in the bank. The bridge and the ‘ole swimming hole’ was the recreation center in the summertime for all the young farm boys in the neighborhood. They first gathered for a swim. After a while the boys would play in the bridge, climbing the arches, and some of the venturesome ones climbed on top of the bridge from trees and walked the ridge pole.
“Our news media’ was the Nancy Jane Bridge,” she continued. “We could tell (from the sounds made on the bridge’s wood floor) whether a horseman was clip-clopping or trotting his animal. A loaded wagon rumbled heavily. The horse and buggy didn’t make much noise. Two horses hitched to a buggy carrying two sailor-hatted drummers (salesmen) ran fast through the bridge. These drummers took orders from the country stores at Allens’ Creek, Chapel Hill, Fairfax and Smithville. If the noise (inside the bridge) receded we knew that the travelers were going to town. If the noise got louder we knew to look from the windows and see who it was, and to speculate on where they were going.”
It is noted that Agnes Blackwell Hays was assisted in the compilation or her written account by Martha Alice Hays Stewart, her daughter, and typed by Nancy Whitlow Davidson, great granddaughter of Rachel Chambers Blackwell, and great great granddaughter of Nancy Jane Chambers.
Agnes Blackwell Hays ended her family account with these words: “Now I bid farewell to Nancy Jane who died in 1880 and was buried on Chambers land. In 1964 (because all burial sites were moved to make room for the lake) her dust was moved to the new Allens Creek Cemetery.”
A touching memory to the Nancy Jane Bridge are the words of Marcella Frye Deckard, of Bloomington, who as a girl lived at Allens Creek and almost daily road through the structure. She wrote: “When I was a kid it was like when you went through the Nancy Jane we entered Never-Never Land. A land of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and neighbors you had known since you were born. Every day till I was sixteen, I went back and forth between Never-Never Land and the real world.”
She continued: “I was never afraid of the Nancy Jane Bridge. I never once thought of ghosts or that it might fall through and I would fall in the creek. But I did have one bus driver who made me very nervous. I was about eight years old and he ran off of a little bridge on Allens Creek. I was the last passenger and when he missed the bridge and we were hanging in what seemed to be mid air, I said, ‘Mr. Prince I think you have missed the bridge.’ He laughed about it for years. Forever after I didn’t quite trust him to make the entrance of the Nancy Jane.”
Her narration continued: “Coming home from school wasn’t so bad, but going to school down a huge hill and making a rather sharp turn into the bridge was always worrisome. Every time he made it I would breath a sigh of relief. When there was a big snow it was scarier. I had this plan where I always sat on the side of the bus that was next to the creek. I thought that if he missed the bridge the bus would roll completely over and I would end up on top farthest from the cold water. Says a lot for a kid’s logic doesn’t it?
“The bridge was always very cool in the hot summer. It was also very dusty. Thick dust lying on the boards worn very smooth with the passage of time. It was fun to walk through barefoot. You could wash your feet in the creek afterwards. Reading the writing on the walls was also fun. There wasn’t too much in the way of bad language back then. Mostly it was so and so loves somebody, initials in hearts, etc. Where else could a country kid write on walls or carve initials without getting into trouble.
“When I was sixteen we moved from Allens Creek to Cleve Butcher Road, which led to the bridge. Shortly after, my Uncle Omain Eads and his family moved also. My cousin Cozetta Eads Lucas went and walked through the bridge and took our pictures. That night we camped in our grandma’s old house on Allens Creek. Little did I know that would be the last night I would ever spend on Allens Creek, and it was also the last walk through the Nancy Jane.
“When I was twenty, Lake Monroe was becoming a reality and the end of the bridge was very near. They had offered the bridge to anyone who wanted to move it. I tried to talk my father into moving it to our place. I thought it would make a colorful, unique storage building. He didn’t think too much of my idea. I remember the year the last remains of the bridge were burnt. I was expecting my first child. That day many cars went past our house on the way to see the end of an era. In one of the cars was Rachel Peden. She later wrote an article for the newspaper saying goodbye.
“Myself, I watched the smoke rise up above the tree line from my yard. I was crying to think the Nancy Jane would never be seen again. I guess you could say the end of the Nancy Jane and my childhood came at the same time. Shortly after, I became a mother and childhood and the Nancy Jane was a lovely memory.”
The Nancy Jane Bridge became a lovely memory for many others, including Marcella Deckard’s aunt, Wanda Frye Deckard. As a girl Wanda also attended classes at Smithville. It was there that she met her future husband, Blaine Deckard. During their courtship they crossed the Nancy Jane numerous times in Blaine/s Model A Ford.
Vannie Meadows Hays also grew up at Allens Creek and crossed the Nancy Jane to attend classes at Smithville School. During the week she sometimes stayed with a sister, Addie Meadows Cazee, in Smithville, and on Fridays she walked home across the bridge. During inclement weather her brother, Argal, would ride horseback to meet her and give her a lift home. Vannie reportedly frequently walked from her home at Allens Creek to Smithville School and back. The exercise must have been beneficial for she reared seven children and lived to be one hundred and three years old. She died in the year 2000.
Army Corps of Engineers’ condemnation proceedings included with the bridge all of the Chambers property and the house on the hill. Frank Blackwell, Agnes Blackwell Hays’ brother, aware of the beautiful native yellow poplar board interior of the house, purchased it for fifty dollars, with the intention of dismantling the structure and moving the lumber to his home.
“Before he could do that,” said his eighty-one year old son, Frank Blackwell Jr. at his Bloomington home, “someone burned it down.”
Frank Blackwell Jr. remembered visits to the Chambers home. He especially enjoyed recounting rabbit hunting expeditions in the area of the Nancy Jane Bridge and family Thanksgiving Day dinners in the house on the bluff.
After her visit to the bridge site, the popular Hoosier Farm Wife, Mrs. R.F.D., on Sept. 2, 1964, did write a lengthy epitaph to the bridge in her Indianapolis Star column. In part, she said: “The Nancy Jane covered bridge was gone. The broken road gaped above the creek and was blocked at each end, for safety’s sake, by a bulldozer’s fistful of rocks, earth and roots. In the bed of the creek, exactly between the great piles of stones that had supported it since 1885, lay the charred and still smoke-fragrant remains of the Nancy Jane. It had been intentionally burned by engineers returned to finish the clearing preparatory to letting the Monroe County Reservoir fill.”
She went on to paint a vivid word memory of the remains of the span. “The narrow road originally came down a steep hill (Cleve Butcher Road) to a curve, and the bridge, in order to connect the two parts, had been built with a curve in its one hundred and fifty-five foot length. It was a graceful bridge, built with the truss arch made famous by Theodore Burr, covered bridge builder of renown in the 1880s. Even in its demise it had behaved with a kind of grace collapsing neatly into the creek, so that its heat-discolored metal roof gave a kind of privacy to its burned timbers . . .”
NOTES OF INTEREST:
In a letter about the bridge from Alice Smith, Ison Road, Bloomington, who was reared on Allens Creek, an anonymous speaker is quoted as saying, “We’ll go miles around and we’ll never cross the bridge again,” because it was alleged to be haunted.
A report of a tragic mishap came from Morris L. Souders of Unionville. Handed down by his grandparents, the account is of one Thomas Eri Sowder who, while working in the vicinity of the Nancy Jane Bridge, fell off a log wagon and was crushed to death.
Before entering the bridge from the south, from the direction of the Chambers home, the road made a ninety degree right turn before reaching the ramp leading into the bridge. To continue on the road after leaving the north end of the bridge also required a ninety degree left turn. It is a part of family lore that the turns into and out of the Nancy Jane Bridge were used by school teacher Agnes Blackwell Hays to demonstrate to her son and pupil Jack Hays the meaning of ninety-degree angles.
In a brief letter of not of reminiscences of the Nancy Jane Bridge, Jack Hays
“‘A bottle of pop and a big banana, I’m from Smithville, Indiana.’
“I first heard these words,” he went on to explain, “as my brother and I walked through the Nancy Jane Bridge long years ago. I smiled at the remark then and now as I recall the memory. The words were obviously meant to ease my fear of not being on solid ground. It was late summer of 1935 and I still recall the dust flopping out between my barefoot toes.
“Although I had passed through the bridge many times as the youngest child in the family, that day I was not the youngest. We were bringing the newest baby, my sister*, to visit our grandmother who lived in the house on the hill just above the bridge.
“The only grandmother I ever knew was my Mom’s mother, Rachel. She always wore a bonnet and had an apron. I remember her sitting on her back porch using an old fashioned churn to make butter. Her favorite chair in the house was behind the stove with her back to the wall. She would pull out her corn cob pipe, light up and puff away.
“Sitting on my grandmother’s front porch (Rachel’s) I still (hear) the sound of cars going through the bridge, almost like the rumble of a modern big truck, except for the clickety-clack of the wooden plank floor.”
*The newest baby to which Jack Hays referred was Georgiabel Hays Tidd-Staver, who with her sister Martha Alice Hays Stewart provided me with much of the information for this story.
LAKE MONROE INFORMATION
Location: Monroe, Brown and Jackson Counties. Total Acreage: 13,000 acres land and 10,750 acres water. Length of Lake: 19 miles. Width of lake: 2 miles at widest point.
Maximum depth: 65 feet. Average depth: 20 feet. Office: seven miles south of Bloomington on Ind. 446.
MAN FROM BACON
Had you been around to have seen the announcement of his birth in the newspaper that year, you also would have noticed that he made his world debut in the remote Hoosier hamlet of Bacon, and that Dr. Ed Lang of Marengo had delivered him.
Bacon is in Orange County, about five miles north of English, five miles southeast of Marengo, twelve miles south of Paoli, and one hundred and seventeen miles south of Indianapolis.
At the time of his birth there, Bacon was out in the boonies. It still is, for that matter. But the big difference between then and now is that then you could have bought a loaf of bread back then for nine cents, a gallon of milk for fifty-four cents, a new Ford automobile for two hundred and sixty-five dollars and your annual income probably would not have exceeded two thousand one hundred and ninety-six dollars. Oh yes. And Dr. Lang delivered him for a total cost of five dollars.
The year was 1924. Calvin Coolidge was president, the toe-tapping song of the time was “Fascinating Rhythm,” and the infant newcomer to Bacon was named Dale White. And although he is still there, with his pleasing wife Dorothy, in the same spot where he was born, he once did leave there long enough to carve a memorable notch for himself in the outside world.
While it was hardly a sight-seeing trip, Dale toured a portion of Europe with General George S. Patton’s famous conquering Third Army during World War II, he graduated from Oakland City University, and he taught history for seventeen years at Paoli High School in Orange County, and fourteen years under principal Elmer Wright at Needmore High School in Marshall Township in Lawrence County. During this latter time he had a room in the home of Metta Owens, which was across the street from U.S. Senator Bill Jenner’s house.
When we met, White’s memories of his teaching days were clear and bright. An abbreviated list of some of those past students he remembers include these from Needmore: Ansel and Peggy Deckard, Merlin and Kathryn Root, J.R. Holmes, Gary Holmes, Don Phillips, Jack Meadows, Jack Giles, Bob Evans, Jay and Judy Blackwell, the three children of Don and Rose Armstrong, the three sons of Gail Franklin, and Benny Chambers and Larry McPike.
A native of Orleans, and having been a telephone operator there all of her work years beginning with the “Number please” days, Dale’s wife, whose maiden name was Dorothy Toliver, would probably make an equally interesting story to tell. But, as her husband said, “She probably would tell things that you couldn’t put in print.”
Dorothy represents half the population of modern day Bacon. Dale is the other half. In their retirement the two of them operate Bacon Farms, a registered polled Hereford family owned business founded by Dale’s antecedents in 1824, and also a one hundred and fifty tree apple orchard.
When Dale enrolled at Oakland City University, in Oakland City, he followed in the footsteps of his parents, Glendon and Grace White, both of whom also taught school. A daughter of Dale and Dorothy’s, Karen, also graduated from that school. When Dale attended Oakland City it was a popular Indiana college. Students in surprising numbers came from Bedford, Mitchell, Orleans, Paoli, English, Tell City, Washington, and Vincennes and other Hoosier communities. Along with Karen, the Whites had her twin, Carol, and their brother, David. Like their father and his parents before him, they were all college educated and graduated.
Long before Dale was born, there were four stores in Bacon, a blacksmith shop, a church and a school, all indicative of a thriving early rural southern Indiana community. The population of Bacon at the time of my visit consisted of Dale, Dorothy, three dogs and one cat. At one time Bacon Farms was made up of six hundred and forty acres. Over the years portions of it were sold off until one hundred and twenty-five acres remained.
“When the children lived here they shared the work load. We were in the show ring and we had hogs, and we were pretty busy,” Dale began explaining the smaller size of Bacon Farms. “But we’ve reduced our workload. In 1999 I had my first helicopter ride which took me to Jewish Hospital in Louisville where they cut me from my ankles to my throat and did a triple bypass on me. That slowed me down. We used to run one hundred and five head of Hereford cattle here but now we have only twenty-six.”
Though space will not allow for much more of their full and interesting past, this much can be said for the future of the population of Bacon. Dale avows there is no need to make any radical changes, and Dorothy added that, “We’ll just take it one day at a time.”
THE NIGHT THE EARTH MOVED
When Hugh Lawson said the other day that he was almost a native of Norman Station in Jackson County because he was practically born there, it sounded strange that a man could make such a claim when he actually was born in Tennessee.
However, because he owns some property in and around Norman, and he gets some of his mail at the post office there, and he says the people of Norman are all good people, he probably qualifies as a native.
If he’s right about the people, there are, according to postmaster Ginger Axsom, probably eighty to one hundred of them living in Norman. Since there are no town lines or boundaries, however, that would depend on how far from the center of town you go with your counting. Most of these good folks get their mail in forty-eight post office. Another five-hundred and ten or more people who might also claim Norman as home are spread over two rural routes, one of eighty-three miles, delivered by Dwayne Fleshman, and the other of forty-eight miles, delivered by Odene Pruitt.
Like Hugh Lawson, Ginger Axsom was also practically born in Norman. Practically. Except that she in fact was born and reared in Bloomington. That will be explained. The daughter of Joseph and Sarah Burris, she was in the first class to graduate from Bloomington High School South in 1966.
While attending a revival at a church in Dellsville, south of Bloomington on Old State Road 37, she met Steve Axsom of Norman who was smitten with her. After Pastor Morris Garsnet spoke the words over them that made them man and wife, Steve brought her back to Norman to stay. She has now been there 32 years, and one might suppose that qualifies her for practically being born there. Why not?
A petite, attractive lady, Ginger went to work at the post office in 1970. She became postmaster in 1991, following postmaster Becky Heath who had succeeded the late postmaster Gene Davis. After having lived there so many years, Ginger now calls Norman home.
“It is home,” she said, leaving no doubt about her words. “And I like it here. Everybody in Norman is country folks. It is nice to go to town and it is always nice to come back to Norman. It is quiet here, and uneventful.”
Norman is definitely quiet and uneventful. Except, that is, for the night the earth shook there. No, it was not a quake. This happened one dark night when three of the world’s dumbest robbers backed a station wagon to the rear of the post office. Then silhouetted against the night sky, they crept around and eased the wagon’s tailgate down onto the loading dock. Quietly as possible, then, they approached the back door to the post office and, as silently as they could, they jimmied it and went inside. There they found the post office safe. Just what they had hoped to find.
That thing must weigh a ton. Maybe two. But they somehow managed to roll it, unobserved and without incident, out the door and across the loading dock and into the back end of the station wagon. When they were ready to make their escape with the loot, one of the men got behind the wheel and put the gear lever in drive, and the vehicle began to pull away from the loading dock. When the tailgate cleared the dock the peace and quiet of that dark night came to an end.
With springs and shocks and every bolt and nut in its body groaning and complaining under the weight of the heavy safe, the rear end of the station wagon crashed down, and like some wild steed the front end of the vehicle reared up until the station wagon was almost standing on its tail-end. At the same time, the heavy safe rolled out of the back of the wagon and hit the blacktop with earth-shaking force.
There was some confusion and more noise as the robbers scrambled around trying to lift the heavy safe back into the station wagon. Meanwhile, the late night ruckus had awakened neighbors. Observing from his porch what was taking place, and hearing the robbers say they could not lift the safe, that they needed to go get a pickup truck and return for it, one of the neighbors telephoned the postmaster at home, and the postmaster called police.
Just how those dummies planned to lift the heavy safe into a pickup truck will never be known. When they returned with the pickup truck, the cops were waiting for them. They were taken into custody and escorted to the Jackson County jailhouse.
Except for that single, entertaining, earth-shaking event, Norman probably is, as Ginger said, “quiet and uneventful.”
Born Too Late
Giving directions to strangers in Stinesville will never be as easy for townspeople as it once was. They will no longer be able to say, “Cross the tracks and turn right,” or “Cross the tracks and turn left.” Nor will they be able to use the tracks as any other kind of landmark.
After more than one hundred years, the tracks came up out of their cinder bed. Tracks, ties, bridges and whatever else, was pulled loose with them. And at least one person in the town was outspokenly saddened. Pam Bayne, an attractive black haired, brown-eyed lady, who lived across the tracks in a two story gray house on the corner with her husband, Tim, their son, Billy, and the family pet, a sad-eyed Bassett hound named Festus.
“It becomes a part of your life,” Pam said of having lived so close to the rails. “Over the years we got used to seeing the tankers, and freights carrying limestone, autos, coal, gravel, farm machinery and things. And when the Amtrak trains came by in the evening it was always nice to see the lights on in the dining car, the tables all set and people sitting and talking. There were flowers on the tables, too. It looked like a nice little restaurant on wheels.
“I like to travel and the railroad was always a reminder that there was something else out there,” she continued wistfully. “The trains came from someplace and they were going someplace else, and I could get a good feeling of nostalgia just thinking about where those places were.”
It wasn’t always that way. When the Baynes first moved into the big gray house the railroad was an invasion of Pam’s peace of mind.
“Our house was close to the railroad, three steps and I’m on the tracks,” she said. “Our bedroom is on the second floor and at night the trains seemed noisier up there. The dinger on the grade crossing in front of our house would wake me when a train was coming. Then the train sounded like it was coming inside our bedroom. But I got used to it. And when the dinger wasn’t working and I’d hear a train coming I’d always pray for the safety of anyone driving a car out there, that they would see the flashing crossing lights.”
One time when she heard a crash Pam rushed out of the house to witness a scene of horror. A train had struck a car and she saw human body parts strewn over the ground on both sides of the tracks. She screamed, and struggling against fainting, she managed to run back into the house to telephone for help. Back outside she learned that the impact had popped open the trunk of the car and what she thought were body parts were items of a man’s clothing that had been dumped out. The driver of the car was not seriouisly hurt.
But the railroad did bring a tragic moment into the lives of the Baynes. Hubert Horatio lost his life on the tracks.
“He had a fever when he was born,” Pam recalled sentimentally. “And he was slow, both in his head and on his feet. He’d run into things and just fall over. But he’d run after sticks when we threw them. He was missing for six or seven hours one day and when Tim came home from work he went looking for him. When he found him Hubert Horatio was lying on both sides of the tracks. He was such a nice Bassett hound. I cried for days. I felt it was my fault. He was like a baby and I should have been watching him a little closer.”
It might have been worse. Some workers one day knocked on her door to inquire if a train had recently passed there. She was so used to trains by this time she couldn’t be sure, but she told the workman she believed one had. No sooner had they set up their equipment on the tracks then they had to rush about taking it down–a train was coming.
“They could have all got squooshed,” she said seriously. Then she added, “They didn’t ask me anymore.”
The railroad brought other pleasures.
“We always walked the railroad after supper in the summertime,” said Pam. “Every holiday that was how you walked off your dinner. We used to put pennies on the tracks to have a passing train flatten them. On a nice day a couple weeks ago Tim, Billy, and Festus and I walked the railroad, crossing three bridges from Ellettsville to our house. It took about three and a half hours. But we were real poky, and we took some pictures along the way. And I was looking for wild turkeys.”
To further bind the tie between her and the railroad, Pam’s grandfather, G. Thomas Mitchner, affectionately called “Grand Trunk,” was a railroad locomotive engineer and tooted past her house often. From him and other sources she learned much history of the railroad, and especially how it had contributed to the growth of the south central Indiana limestone industry and the town of Stinesville.
“We always thought there would be some point in time when they’d start re-utilizing it and bring Stinesville back into the scheme of things,” she said longingly. “We hoped they’d start carving stone around here again, or that there’d be another passenger train through here again. The railroad was here two years before the town and it’s been a big part of our history.”
Pam believed she was born several years too late. She liked to sit and talk, she said. Although she was born on Curry Pike, in Bloomington, and has lived only locally, she likes to travel.
“I always thought that someday I’d be on that train going someplace,” she said dreamily. Looking down at her lace-up, high-top shoes she’d bought at a yard sale, she added, “I was born too late. I should have been born in the 1800s.”
THE WOODEN INDIAN
And The Freight Train
When the mammoth diesel locomotives charge through the small town of Shoals, Indiana, pulling their long trains of freight cars, a visitor to Main Street might instinctively look for something to hold on to. The rumbling boom and roar of their passing is like unleashed thunder, causing the very ground under the soles of one’s sneakers to tremble, while the shrill screech of their earsplitting whistles just about blasts one out of his socks.
This happens daily and, while most people who live in that Martin County town probably are used to it, the monumental thundering, trumpeting sound is enough to catch this casual visitor off guard every time, and I instinctively shrink from it. The vibration and noise are enough to startle the dead, which may not be exactly true, but there is strong evidence of such a possibility.
During a visit to popular Indiana tourist town Nashville in Brown County one day, Shoals resident Lynette Bauer saw the wooden Indian for sale in a store and thinking it would make a nice souvenir she bought it. When she arrived home she stood it on the television set where it would be most visible to her. Were one to hold a hand palm up about waist high and the other hand palm down some twelve to fifteen inches above that (Lynette’s measurement) one would have a pretty good idea of its height. But according to Lynette, it looks good on the television and she likes it there.
At this time Lynette was the postmaster at the Shoals Post Office. She went to work there as a part-timer after graduating from high school, and other than being a wife and mother she has never held another job. After thirty-four years, and reaching the pinnacle of success there, she still was enjoying her work.
There was a time when she knew almost all the postal patrons by their first names. It’s not like that anymore. Even in a rural town of a few thousand like Shoals, people leave, people come, they move around. And though Lynette still knew some of them by their first names she didnn’t know many others by any name.
When one goes to counting them individually there probably were too many people in and out of the post office for anyone to remember. Three rural delivery routes out of there covered three hundred miles daily. Add the people who lived on those routes to the six hundred and seventy families who rented post office boxes and remembering names could have been a problem.
Even though the roaring sound of passing diesel locomotives and the thunder of following freight cars sounded like the end of the world descending on Shoals, Lynette had a warm spot in her heart for railroads. The reason: Her father, Russell Pruitt, she said, was a railroader. Besides that she’d always liked railroads and every Christmas a miniature railroad complete with locomotive and box cars circled the base of the family Christmas tree.
While a visitor to the post office may hear and feel the trains pass through Shoals from there, Lynette didn’t. She claimed she was that used to them. For the past eleven years she had lived in a house within walking distance of the post office. It was also near the railroad right of way that cuts through Shoals, and even being that close Lynette said she was rarely affected by passing freights.
One evening when she got home soon after she had bought it, the wooden Indian was not exactly where she had left it. Oh, it was still on the television set all right, but it was facing to one side. Her immediate thought was that someone had broken into the house while she was at her job at the post office and moved it. Since the wooden Indian was all that was disturbed, she tried not to worry about it. Next evening, however, when she got home the wooden Indian again was facing to one side. Now she really was worried.
After confiding her concern to a neighbor she was reminded of the nearby railroad tracks and the earth-shaking freight trains that run on them. A moment’s thought and she came up with the following revelation.
Although the earsplitting noise of passing trains in Shoals have yet to startle the dead, one thing is certain. Lynette’s wooden Indian comes to life just long enough to turn its back to the thundering sound.
THE COMMUNITY WINDOW
In The Floral Shop
While walking west from the hardware store situated in the triangle of downtown Worthington, Indiana one day, my attention was attracted to a sign. An eye-catcher, considering its message, it stood in one of two show windows flanking the entrance of the Forget-Me-Not Floral Shop. Hand-printed black letters on a white background were as easy to read as the sign itself was easy to see.
“Nick Hutcherson passed away,” it began its brief message. “Calling hours,” it continued, “1-4 Tuesday, Welch and Cornett, Worthington.”
Inside the floral shop then owner Carolyn Murdock explained:
“Years ago The Worthington Times used to hang signs like that in its window on Main Street. When they moved away I felt that I should carry on the tradition,” she said.
A sudden recollection brought dimming visions of passersby craning their necks to read the daily developing news announcements hanging in the windows of The World-Telephone newspaper on South College Avenue in downtown Bloomington, and in the window of the Warren and Barrington Gazette in my home town of Warren, R.I.
With the passing of newspaper offices from Main Street or downtown, and the arrival of computer technology, the custom has been all but forgotten, except, perhaps, as in the case of Worthington and possibly some other small towns.
In Worthington, where the local newspaper office is well away from Main Street and downtown, this method of informing the public not only still worked, it had been working at the floral shop for at least seventeen years. And people expected it. When a death occurred, town funeral director Vern Spoor, at Welch and Cornett Funeral Home, telephoned the information to Mrs. Murdock and she hand printed a sign and put it in the window.
“You’ll see people walk over to read it, and others drive up in their cars to check that window,” Mrs. Murdock said.
Forget-Me-Not had two side by side show windows which faced the sidewalk and street. The window to the east was for shop displays. The window to the west was reserved for such announcements as the Nick Hutcherson passing.
“That window is for the community,” Mrs. Murdock said. “Nothing else goes on that window but these notices. That way when people drive up or pass by and they see a sign on that window they know without question what it means. They know that it is someone’s obituary. And they come close enough to read it.”
But the signs are considerably more than announcements. They say something about the closeness of inhabitants of small towns that one cannot effectively repeat, not to mention how they sometimes, quite painfully, can strike home.
“Many have been the times I’ve had to make signs for my classmates, and even for relatives, who have passed on,” remembered Mrs. Murdock. “That saddens me so. Many have been the tears I have shed over the signs I’ve made for them, and over the floral sprays I’ve made for them.“
A native of the area, Mrs. Murdock graduated with thirty classmates from Worthington-Jefferson High School in 1961.
“I’ve lived here many years,” she said. “I know so many people here and I know their families. So just about every time I make a sign and put it in the window, it’s for someone I know. And I think of the loved ones who have been left behind, and how sad it is for them. When I make up the flowers too. There is a great deal of sadness in flowers; every piece becomes a personal thing because I know who it is for.”
The mother of two sons and a daughter, it was particularly difficult to make up the sign that announced the accidental death of one Worthington girl.
“She was a classmate of one of my sons. It was Thanksgiving time and she was on her way home from college for the holiday when she got into a traffic accident,” Mrs. Murdock recalled. “It was so sad. Everybody was saddened by her loss. Then you think, ‘That could have been my child.’ It made everybody think.”
In the space of a few short months, she unhappily had to make signs informing the public of the deaths of a father, mother, and son.
There have been times when communications between the funeral home and the floral shop have been unavoidably slow.
“Then,” Mrs. Murdock smiled whimsically, “someone will stop in and say, ‘So and So passed away. Why haven’t you put the sign in the window yet?’ Occasionally someone will see a sign and come inside to tell me, ‘I think you have the name misspelled.’ The town keeps me on my toes.”
The floral shop is not all sadness. There are happier times there, too. Mother’s Day, for example. And birthdays and Valentine’s Day, and new babies, graduations, and proms. Weddings, too, and anniversaries. There are so many happier times, and while they represent a lot of hard work it is a pleasure making up floral pieces for them, said Mrs. Murdock.
Whatever the occasion, the people of Worthington now have to look elsewhere for Mrs. Murdock’s shop. She is in the process of moving Forget-Me-Not to another location.
“Back home,” she said of a store building a few steps west across the street where the floral shop used to be years ago. “This shop is small and compact and has done me well, but I need more room. But I just want to move the shop back home. And it will give me twice the space I have here.”
Show windows there are larger too, and a sign in either one of them will be more readily viewable.
Back Home Again
Some people surely must have wondered what he carried in the shopping basket hooked over one arm like that. They’d see him about anyplace on the streets of Orleans. Him and his dog, a mutt he called “Junior.”
Other people probably didn’t care. Maybe some knew. At least one is now willing to wager he was toting a supply of half pints of whiskey in that basket..
That’s not a harsh memory of him. By his own admission Noble “Zip” Keedy was at least a drinker. Perhaps even more than that. He often was heard to say with a degree of dignity, “I’ve been drunk for three days straight, yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
Maybe he was afflicted with alcoholism. Maybe not. But it wasn’t the popular disease then that it is today anyway, and people couldn’t be sure. And since I haven’t had that much practice at boozing I can’t say. However, as a doctor said soothingly to me one time after an appendectomy when I was a kid and anxious to be up and running too soon, “Everything in good time, son. Everything in good time.” So maybe it’s not my time yet to hit the bottle.
Those who didn’t know always wondered where he blew into Orleans from. They would say. “He just blew in here one day.” But old Zip was a native of Orleans. And he ws the last of his family when he died.
Those who remember him have kind. They say, “He was a good old boy. Problem was there was no demand in his time for good old boys. But he never hurt a soul, not anyone but himself.”
Well, old Zip’s drinking days have been over for a long time now and what’s left of him is interred someplace around Orleans. Probably in Liberty Cemetery where his parents are buried. God rest his soul wherever he is. He left nothing behind in the way of an estate. Nothing. Except Junior. And that mutt is also gone now. Gone to that place where dogs go when they give up the ghost.
A dog-lover friend of mine used to argue while pointing skyward, “To Mars, that’s where dogs go when they die.” And she was as serious about that as she was of her own soul going to heaven. . “Baloney,” I used to retort. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if Zip and Junior are together someplace. Like maybe just around a corner. Watching over my shoulder as I write this?
It is nothing tangible but, when I think about him, like now, it occurs to me that old Zip did leave something behind besides Junior. It’s a treasure of sorts. Happened during the war that is called “The Big War.” The first World War. Come to think of it, that is maybe where he took up the fine art of boozing. He may have seen terrible things over there which drove him to pleading with the Genie in the bottle. That happened to numerous doughboys. If that is true it sure would help some people to forgive him that fault.
Anyway, as the story was told to me, Zip was a soldier chugging along on an Army troop train in France when he looked out a window and saw a sign identifying the city they were approaching,
There in big bold letters was the name, “ORLEANS.”
And thousands of miles from Orleans, Indiana, as he was, Zip, as the story is told, leaned back in his seat, smiled and observed, “Hmmm, back home again.”
I’ve been on this job a long, long time. I’ve written about more people than I can count, and I have been rewarded with scores of friends. In Monroe, Lawrence, Greene, Owen, Morgan, Brown, Jackson, Washington, Duboise, Orange, Martin, and counties more distant than those. The towns I’ve been in and have come to love are numerous, including Orleans, Indiana.
Like old Zip, I too see the signs as I approach , and I, too, like old Zip, get a similar feeling of nostalgia. And the treasure he left behind jumps to the forefront of my mind and I also say to myself, “Hmmm, back home again.”
THE BRICK YARD
There was a time that when you approached Bloomfield from the east on State Road 54 you could look north from the bridge over the Illinois Central railroad tracks and see smoke rising from the tall chimney of a productive brickyard.
That was long ago. So long ago was it that brick was even then the choice masonry building material. Although they were few, some sidewalks and streets were still being constructed of bricks at that time. In the case of Bloomfield, bricks supported a way of life. The brickyard was one of two major industries there.
Even today you may hear one of the town’s elders say something like, “There was a time when almost everybody in Bloomfield worked at the brickyard.”
One of those employees was a man named Ira Corwin who worked there on the second shift firing kilns. Bricks were formed much the same way they were in the Middle East in 6000 B.C. At the Bloomfield brick yard they then were placed on small rail cars and rolled into the ovens, or kilns, until they were baked hard enough for use.
Brickyard work, much like limestone quarry work in those days, was hardly easy. And Ira Corwin worked hard. He was born just a short distance from there in the rural community of Tulip which also was on the Illinois Central line. He weighed only three pounds when he was born and to keep him alive his ingenious mother, Bertha Smith, devised a substitute for an incubator. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and kept him in a basket on the open oven door of the coal wood range. And Ira thrived.
At the time Ira was employed at the brickyard, he lived with his wife, Maymie, and their two daughters, Hazel and Marjorie, in a small house west across the IC tracks from the old Greene County Poor Farm Home east of Bloomfield. When he left home to go to his job Ira, as did many other brickyard employees, walked the tracks. Anyone passing over the highway bridge that spanned the tracks was privy to such early sights.
Those were good days. They were not easy. But they were good. Maymie often took her girls on greens-picking jaunts, and she sometimes took them picnicking. She’d pack some raw potatoes and crackers in a bag, pick up a paring knife on the way through the kitchen, and off they’d go. When hunger caught up with them they’d find a place to sit and Maymie would cut up the raw potatoes and pass the pieces around with crackers. When the girls got thirsty Maymie would lead them to a sparkling creek and they’d drink their fill from it.
Farmers, hunters, fishermen and picnickers were able to drink safely from creeks in those days. They wouldn’t dare do that today. Not with all the sewage, PCBs and other junk that is carelessly dumped into streams. But Maymie and her kids were able to do that. And after that Maymie would search for greens for supper and cut them out of the ground with the paring knife.
One time when the three of them were knee-deep in a farm pond cutting watercress, the farmer came out of his house and fired a shotgun into the air above his head and angrily shouted at them to, “Get out of my pond or I’ll shoot you.” Of course they left there, but Maymie, not to be outwitted by a mere threat, kept cutting watercress all the way out.
When such memories are recounted in my presence I am charmed so by them that listening is like taking a priceless sightseeing trip to another world. . The innocence and simplicity of earlier days speak strongly to me of family, of old-time values and of the warmth of sodality. There was time, then. Time to walk to in a meadow or to a hill top for a picnic, and also time to walk along the IC tracks to little Tulip and grandma’s house.
Hazel has been Mrs. Bill Crays of Bloomfield for many years. Her sister is Marjorie Jones, also of Bloomfield. As kids they took their baths in a tin tub in the kitchen of their little house. But on hot summer evenings they were given a treat. In the company of their mother they’d walk the railroad tracks to the brickyard and deliver Ira’s supper to him. Then Ira would direct the two girls to the brickyard’s employee shower room. Having the whole place to themselves at that time of day, the girls would indulge in the simple pleasure of sudsing and showering to their hearts’ content.
When crossing the bridge on SR 54 over the railroad tracks east of Bloomfield, look north. See the smoking brickyard chimney, see Ira firing the kilns, and Maymie and her little girls picnicking on raw potatoes and crackers. See how your head fills up with your own sweet memories.
WHERE ARE THE KILLERS
Of These Stilled Voices?
Has the world forgotten these names, and what do these names have in common? Recognize any of them: Carol Marie Jenkins, Vicki Lynn Harrell, Cheryl Ann Bolin, Nick Maichel, Margaret Ann Hayes, Janice Sheppard?
They were victims of the most heinous crime of one human toward another. Murder. And except perhaps for one of them, their brutal deaths have gone unsolved.
Worse, it seems that much of their home state of Indiana and the world without has forgotten that they were deprived of their most precious possession, life, by fiends who have yet to be brought to justice.
Though many years have passed since they were slain their voices still cry out from unquiet graves, “WHY?”
Carol Marie Jenkins was a mere twenty-one years of age the night she died on a rainswept street in Martinsville. A petite black girl from Rushville, she’d been selling books door to door when she became frightened of two men harassing her from a car. As she hurried toward a rendezvous with her sales crew someone plunged a screw driver into her heart with such force her breastbone was crushed.
In 2002, thirty years after she was slain, a suspect in the death of Carol Marie was arrested. Before he could be brought to trial he was overtaken by death and that has seemingly ended the case. However, early in the investigation it was reported that two men in an automobile were seen following Carol Marie that rainy night and harassing her. If in fact one of those two men was her murderer, and he is now dead and beyond the arm of the law, who, then, was his companion in the car that awful night? Has death also overtaken him? Is he still enjoying his freedom, his life?
Twenty-five year old Vicki Lynn Harrell left her small child with a friend in her Bloomington apartment to go to College Mall on a Saturday night. The following Monday afternoon, Aug. 14, 1972, her nude body was found in an Owen County ditch at the east edge of McCormick’s Creek State Park. She had been strangled and sexually brutalized, and the letters “KN” had been carved into her abdominal flesh.
State, Bloomington, and Monroe and Owen county police were baffled. The prime suspect was said to be untouchable because he was in a mental institution. Considering the condition of her body, it was also theorized, but never made clear, that Vicki Lynn may have been the victim of more than one person seeking revenge, or perhaps even a cult. Only one fact has emerged in her case: her killer has never been found.
Vicki Lynn was a native of Lawrence County who, at the time of her death, lived and worked in Bloomington. Until her body was found that Monday in 1972, she was unknown except among a small circle of acquaintances and friends.
At least one investigator believed Vicki Lynn’s death could have been the result of a cult ritual. Some weirdo, he speculated, was given a murder assignment of an unwed mother. An assignment he executed in exchange for a merit badge, and that the initials KN were his, and were dutifully and fiendishly applied.
Another theory, just as blood chilling as the above, was that Vicki Lynn was taken against her will by a group of toughs who drugged her and handcuffed her, probably to a bed. “And when she got out of hand they beat her and killed her and then dumped her,” the policeman said.
The most prevalent theory was that on the Saturday night she went to College Mall, Vicki Lynn was picked up by someone she knew. “He is a mean bastard,“ a policeman said, “and the initials KN are his. “
A state police official once said of the Vicki Lynn Harrell murder, “Very often good police work relies on a lot of luck. We’re hoping for a lucky break in this case. We’ll always be looking for one.”
On Sunday, Aug. 17, 1975, Cheryl Ann Bolin told her father, mother and sister, “Daddy is my pal.” Then turning to Jim Bolin, Cheryl said, “We’re buddies, aren’t we Daddy.”
Two days later, Cheryl Ann was on her way home after spending the night with a friend. She was last seen walking her bike along Lake Valley Road, near Monrovia, less than a mile from home. She was due home at 1:30. When she failed to arrive her parents, Jim and Loretta, Bolin went in search of her. At 2:45 they called police. Cheryl’s bicycle was found in a bosky area bordering the road. She was nowhere to be found. On March 2, 1976, Cheryl’s remains were discovered under a brush outgrowth on a farm twelve miles south or Terre Haute. Her kidnapper-killer has never been apprehended. Cheryl was eleven years old.
Wednesday morning, Jan. 21, 1976, Monroe County police said prospects appeared “good’ for learning the identity of the killer of a Bloomington hairdresser whose body was found the previous night on a snow-covered lane leading to an abandoned stone quarry.
The dead man, Nicholas W. Maichel, 32, was found by fox hunters, where it lay in the snow. He was dead from five gunshot wounds. Police speculated Maichel was lured to his death by a woman. Within days more than a dozen persons were interrogated. But Maichel’s killer is no closer to a jail cell today than he or she was the day after his death.
At about 11 o’clock on the night of March 10, 1977, an attractive young woman left her Bloomington apartment and walked to a store where she bought a package of cigarettes. She walked out of the store into oblivion. Margaret Ann Hayes has never been seen again.
Friends said she was weighted with decisions concerning her future. She had not enrolled at Indiana University for that semester. Could she have simply walked away from it all? If so, Margaret Ann went away with only the clothes on her back and a pack of cigarettes. Everything else she owned, except her past semester ID card and contact lenses, was left behind. Nearsighted, she could wear her contacts only a few hours until they began irritating her eyes, and then she had to switch to glasses. Her glasses were in her room. She also left behind a father, mother and family whom she loved, and who loved her. What happened to Margaret Ann Hayes?
Is it possible that she had a date to meet someone after buying cigarettes that night? Did she happen to meet an acquaintance accept a ride from him? Did someone abduct her from a Bloomington street? Is whoever responsible for her disappearance still walking the streets with impunity?
Young mother of two, Janice Sheppard, 21, was stabbed and slashed to death on the night of April 22, 1978, in a mobile home on Bloomington’s north side. A male companion was wounded and was admitted to Bloomington Hospital in serious condition. The description of a suspected assailant appeared for a time to narrow the police search for the killer. But he was never found.
Lest we forget, these many years later the innocent victims listed here remain dead while their killers still elude police. If they are still alive these murderers have yet to be punished. If they are dead their memories live on someplace– unfortunately untainted by the crimes they have committed.
In Kurtz Indiana
Composition shingles on the northeast corner of the roof of Martha Jane Murphy’s house in the old hamlet of Kurtz, Indiana, had been blown away, and old wood shingles they covered were now exposed.
When it rained, water found its way through the old wood and into the room below that corner of the roof.
“It only leaks when it rains, and in that one corner,” Martha Jane Murphy said seemingly unconcerned and with a smile. “I don’t mind. I just keep firewood in that room, and a couple of old wash tubs.”
The old wash tubs were for catching the leaking rain water.
It was an old house that Martha Jane lived in, in that small community that lay mostly on the north side of a blacktop roadway travelers know as Ind. 58. Its two front windows flanking the door resembled old-time store windows, and the narrow porch with its narrow roof accented that probability.
“My children bought it for me, for five hundred dollars,” she nodded at the house. “And I spend the summers here. They come and get me for the winter.”
Martha Jane had spent many winters in that small community too. “Oh,” she exclaimed at the memory of having lived there before. “This was the awfullest business town! Far as you could look there was ties – railroad ties. My man worked making those ties.”
There was nop longer any industry in Kurtz. Those people who lived there and worked for a living commuted to Columbus, Bedford and Bloomington, and points beyond and in between.
Marion and Eva Fleetwood operated a small grocery in Kurtz, as did Ancil and Norma Hillenburg who combined theirs with the Kurtz Post Office, and a small restaurant.
“We have a lot of hunters,” Ancil explained the restaurant. Bow season already was bringing in a crop of hungry deer hunters.
The store owners agreed with Martha Jane; Kurtz was at one time a boomer of a town, supporting many families.
In the memory of each was a recollection of large stores, an undertaking parlor, saloons, a barber shop, doctors, and the many shops and small industries that breath life and sustenance into a town; a town now existing only in memory.
Although the boom was good for Kurtz town it was something less than that for Martha Jane.
“I had to take in washings and ironings to help support my family,” she recalled those days. “I did so many, ain’t no wonder I’m stoop-shouldered like I am.”
She was a tiny woman, indeed slsightly stooped, with gray hair and sparkling eyes. When she left sweeping leaves that had blown onto her sidewalk to join the talkers on an ancient, whittled bench in front of the Fleetwood Store, Martha Jane favored her right leg. It was wrapped between the knee and the ankle with in an Ace bandage.
When she sat down she carefully crossed one leg over the other. Taking the hem of her blue print dress where the buttons held it together, she daintily patted and pressed each side caressingly, until they lay evenly and dignified just below her crossed knees.
“You know,” she said, “I worked hard all my life. When we was old enough to know a weed from a stalk of corn we was put out in the fields.”
She said she’d been raised near Christiansburg, not too far from where she was born, near Pike’s Peak, in nearby Brown County.
“Poppie (her name for her father) had a huckster wagon and he’d go off into the hills, and Mommie would run the store,” she recalled. “Mommie had the post office in the store.”
Martha Jane married young–at sixteen. Her reason for doing so remained unspoken. But she was not to escape hard work.
“I did as many as two washings and ironings in a day, and them ironings was done with an iron that was heated on a hot stove,” she said. “I had to, to get my children raised.”
Seven of nine children born to her lived, and when she spoke of her children she remembered that, “Three of my children are buried in three different cemeteries,” only one of whom was buried where she herself expected to be interred.
She had reached an age in life–eighty-two–that had brought with it a measure of happiness. “I enjoy myself the way I am, and if I worry any it is because I can’t do the way I used to,” she commented.
Martha Jane still carried in her own firewood, and drinking water from the well. She
subsisted on two monthly checks. She explained their origins in this manner. “I get one from social security, every month, and I get another small one, from Lee Hamilton, every month.”
She did not explain the check she said she received from Lee Hamilton.
Kurtz is east of Heltonville on Indiana 58. Martha Jane is but one of the memories left there along the way of fleeting time. Another was an aging, long log cabin near there the sat deserted and rotting on a knoll where Leslie Pfenning left it. He’d moved two log cabins there to make the single long one.
“I was born in that middle room,” Pfenning’s daughter, Mrs. Ida Sitterding, motioned toward the cabin.
“And,” she added proudly, “I cost twenty-five dollars, for the doctor that came out here to deliver me.”
Unquestionably a Latin as his name implied, Tony Rio was a handsome man: dark-skinned, dark-eyed, and black wavy hair, showing signs of gray. He had a freshly-lighted cigar between the index and middle fingers of the hand he had extended when he said, “Now you can count them on the fingers of one hand.”
Using it as a bench, we were seated on the lower of a number of empty display shelves in Jim Magnus’s Grocery Store in Oolitic. Crouched as we were, our knees were almost as high as our chins and occasionally, during our conversation, we raised bottles from the floor in front of us from which we drank our favorite brand of cold soda.
Phillip Grecco was seated in a straight-backed chair to our right, and the owner of the store, aging Jim Magnus, was directly in front of us, seated in an overstuffed chair, his walker handy in front of him. Henry, his son stood in sight at the store’s checkout counter.
“That’s right,” Jim had agreed with Tony. “And at one time there must have been dozens of families living right down here in Reed Station.”
As he spoke, Jim had gestured over his shoulder in the direction of the newly built four lane highway that stretches north and south on Oolitic’s west side.
“I know, ’cause Dad told me,” Jim said.
“There were a few more,” Phil returned to Tony’s statement, “but that was before the new highway came in.”
The new road had already been there for some time. Phil and Tony and Jim tried to tally the number of Italian-American families displaced when it was built. The names sounded familiar: Ross, Delpha, Bellush, Granato, Annetti.
The truth was that even before new Indiana 37 was constructed there were precious few families remaining from the original number of Italian immigrants who had settled in Reed Station. They had moved to Oolitic, a short distance away. They began arriving there sometime after 1896, after the Bedford Quarries Company had platted the town and began quarrying the treasured mass of homogenous limestone that lay beneath it.
“I can’t remember when Dad came here,” Jim said of his deceased father, Pasquale “Poss” Magnus. “But I remember him saying many a time that he borrowed and begged to get over here to America after he’d heard about all the money they were making in the stone quarries in Indiana.”
Many Italian men were to do the same. Leaving wives and families in Italy, they ventured to the fabled America and Oolitic. And once arrived they labored as quarrymen, digging Indiana limestone out of the ground and sending for their families after they’d earned enough money to pay their passage to the U.S.
“Back then it took me four years to save two-hundred dollars,” one of those men once told me. “I worked ten hours a day for fifteen-cents an hour.”
Reed Station, where many of the Italian immigrants settled, was situated somewhat north of the Oolitic exit from Indiana 37.
“And just about where the blinker (traffic light) is at the intersection is where Dad opened a grocery store,” Jim Magnus said.
Although it took a long time to acquire two-hundred dollars, the immigrants nonetheless prospered. And as they prospered, so did old Poss Magnus’s Grocery Store. When the Great Depression descended on the limestone industry, many of the immigrant families moved away to larger, more lucrative cities, many of them settling in Chicago.
Tony’s father, Angelo, Phil’s father, Tom, and Poss, and several other Italian immigrants remained in and around Oolitic, becoming U. S. citizens there and rearing their families in the small town. Many of them had since died, and perhaps the oldest of those surviving at this time was Frank Paledino, a stocky, graying man of eighty-five.
It was a beautiful summer day when I visited him. The familiar aroma of an Italian treat – frying peppers – came through the screen door as I walked up onto the Paledino front porch at Second Street and Walsh Avenue. Lena, Frank’s wife, was preparing the noon meal. Because of this summertime aroma emanation from frying peppers in Italian immigrant kitchens a section of Oolitic was once dubbed as “Peppertown.”
It was Frank who told me of working for the paltry sum of fifteen cents an hour, and accumulating two hundred dollars after an unbelievable four years of saving. “My life was in the quarry,” Frank spoke clearly, yet in broken-English. “And when I first came here I lived in a company house.”
The population of all of Oolitic was just over one thousand when Frank arrived there in 1907. Four years later he was forced to return to Italy to serve in the Italian army when Italy seized colonies in Africa from Turkey. He was still in that country when Italy entered World War One, and he was retained in military service until after that war.
“I got home to Italy from Africa in 1919,” he recalled, “and I came back here in 1920.”
There were others in unknown numbers who will forever remain anonymous who had similar difficulties in their grand experience of settling in America, in Reed Station, in Oolitic.
“Dad’s store started with just a room in our house,” Jim had remembered during the group conversation in his own store that day. “He sold spaghetti, cheese, salami, and olive oil, and Italian bread my mother used to bake in a brick oven outside our back door in our yard.”
The store was later increased in size, and during the hey-day of the limestone industry Poss Magnus’s little Italian store flourished. When home-building stone gave the flailing industry a shot in the arm in the 1950’s, Jim’s enlarged store at that site also did well.
During the earlier years, while Poss was still operating a store there, it was a gathering place for the Italian immigrants. It was not unusual that some of them would play an occasional hand of a card game known as “Three Sevens.” Tony remembered the names of some of them: Poss, Jim Lotito, Tom Grecco, and Tony’s father Angelo Rio. “And you’d have thought they were going to kill each other, the way they argued over those hands,” Tony remembered nostalgically. “And they played only for a bottle of soda.”
When the Great Depression struck, Poss told his family, “We’ll eat what we have in the store,” and he closed it up, until the repeal of the 18th Amendment. Then he wisely obtained a license to sell liquor and opened a tavern there. When the Oolitic State Bank went bust, Poss bought the building, lock stock and barrel at auction, and moved his tavern into that building.
Customers in Jim’s store stopped and listened to the conversation of our group. Some remembered Poss and some of the other Italian immigrants, and they spoke wistfully of their passing and that an unrecoverable culture had passed with them.
And that is when Tony had extended one hand and said of the few Italian families then remaining in the Oolitic area, “Now you can count them on the fingers of one hand.”