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The International Writers Magazine:USA

Historic Indiana
Ari Kaufman

Explored as early as the 17th century, founded, territorially, in the 18th and becoming the 19th United State in the 19th (December, 1816), Indiana became my home in early July 2006.

The Hoosier State’s capital city of Indianapolis is often called “The Crossroads of America” due to its location near numerous major interstates, and it has a deep and impressive history. On my first full day in Indy during late May 2006, I observed and digested all of this, and decided to end my 11 months of searching for America’s most livable locale and settle in “Circle City.” Aside from the people, cost of living, sports, food, pride and other positive amenities, the history and culture of the Hoosier State attracted me to it like no other state, sans perhaps Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Tennessee. With the former three being too coastal and the latter too muggy in the summer, I wisely chose the state that gave the second highest percentage of its twenty-something men (nearly 205,000) to the ultimate challenge of President Lincoln to “preserve the Union” between 1861 and 1865.
Among all else, the history and the geography of Indiana attracted me. Its central location would enable me to take dozens of road trips to other major cities (Chicago, Cincinnati, Saint Louis, Nashville, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Columbus, numerous picturesque locales in Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin, et al), but also, Indianapolis. The state capital, where I found a downtown apartment with a view and a short commute to work, would serve as a natural spot for day or weekend sojourns to the numerous quaint towns, state parks and historic sites in the Hoosier State.
 I visited Corydon, a small town near the Ohio River, on a warm, late spring weekend as I celebrated my birthday. The first capital city of Indiana when it became a full state in December 1816, the courthouse square and war memorial sit under the shades of tall trees in Corydon's quaint square. We stopped to look around and eat dinner at a mom and pop place called Magdalena's on the Square. The food, ambience and service, perfectly capped off on a wonderfully long road trip back from a baseball game in Saint Louis to Indianapolis.
This all transpired after scouting out the former “Utopian” Community of New Harmony in the very southeast corner of the state near the Wabash and Ohio River confluence---and realizing that the yuppies had taken over and charged mass amounts of money to see anything---we matriculated east on Interstate 64 through the prettiest part of Southern Indiana that a convenient interstate passes through.
Before Corydon and after New Harmony though, our first detour was also a historical one.
About 60 miles due east of New Harmony and Indiana’s western terminus at the Wabash River---and nearly exactly halfway between New Harmony and Corydon---lies the town of Lincoln City. Situated in the proverbial hinterlands just west of the vast Hoosier National Forest, Lincoln City is part of the “Lincoln Region” of the state, which sweeps through parts of Southwest Indiana, often considered the prettiest part of the Hoosier State after the south central part which is engulfed by the Hoosier National Forest.
Upon arrival along the hills and train tracks, we walked about 500 feet through the woods to where the Lincoln Homestead is located. This is where Abe’s family finally settled after climbing (quite literally) from North Central Kentucky back in 1816---coincidentally the same year Indiana gained statehood. Our 16th president, often considered our finest, spent his formative years here, not necessarily going to school (Abe only completed a year and a half of education), but working, reading, learning and tending to his family, especially after his mother passed away.
Rumor has it that one of the reasons young Abe became so bitterly opposed to slavery was his experience as a teenager working along the Ohio River. One of his tasks was to drive a barge across the Ohio to neighboring Kentucky, a slave state. There young Lincoln saw the horrors and inequities of slavery up close, which clearly stuck with him decades later as president.
We looked around the log cabin, woods and farm/homestead where Abe spent nearly 15 years, before being accosted (not literally, though it was abrupt) by one of the “workers” who was interested in telling us about the land, all in character, of course.
He was great, and factual too. As we walked through the tall grass and humidity of a May day, the history was so thick I had to brush it away from my face, figuratively, of course. Plus, I'm a military historian, so I gather my fiancée and many others, would not have felt the same.
We then rolled along I-64 east to the aforementioned Corydon, before Maria surprised me by taking me to Louisville, Kentucky, just across the Ohio for a baseball game at Slugger Field. A great, convenient weekend--again---in America's Heartland. 


It’s no secret that after South Florida, the most boring part of my country (in my view) is the non Chicago/non Galena portion of the Prairie State of Illinois. The landscape is dull, the people are not cordial and pleasant like (Indiana) Hoosiers and the mid-sized towns are uninspiring. However, there is some history in Illinois, and I was out to find it as I drove to Des Moines to meet my buddy for the last leg to the CWS in Omaha.

Quincy Ice House

Each time I have driven to and from Saint Louis (to Chicago, Indy, KC, whatever), I have bypassed the state capital of Springfield for the slightly quicker route through Effingham on I-57/I-70. But Springfield is a capital, thus has history, specifically Lincoln history. Abe is, as you may know, huge in the KY/IN/IL region, even though he IS a Hoosier to me by virtue of his formative years being spent in gorgeous, bucolic southwestern Indiana. Though all the state's entrance signs fight over him (Welcome to Kentucky: Birthplace of Lincoln. Welcome to Indiana: Lincoln’s Boyhood Home. Welcome to Illinois: Land of Lincoln).
As a state/ military historian, simply trust me, ok?
I’ll give Kentucky their due since he was born there and I like the Bluegrass State a good deal, but since I am biased against my neighbors in Illinois, the fact that they furtively take credit for Lincoln since he began his legal and political career there irks me.
In any event, long before Barack Obama used the capitol building in the Central Illinois city to launch his now-fading presidential campaign of platitudes and naiveté in the winter of 2007, Abraham Lincoln reigned supreme here----after he came of age in Indiana, of course.
Springfield is a fairly ordinary Midwestern city of a shade more than 100,000 denizens. It’s flat, lying on a plain that encompasses much of the surrounding countryside. A large man-made lake owned by a local public utility company, supplies the city with recreation and drinking water. No river borders the city, which accounts for its dullness unlike other midwestern cities or even nearby Illinois cities like Peoria, Quincy and Moline.
But Springfield has history, thanks to Honest Abe.
When Mr. Lincoln was 21, he crossed into Illinois via the Wabash River at the historic Western Indiana town of Vincennes, the same spot where George Rogers Clark had opened the Northwest territory (eventually the midwest) for the United States 52 years prior in 1779 at Fort Sackville when he cleverly defeated the British.
Upon entering the heart of Springfield, numerous signs point you to “Lincoln Areas.” These areas, some of which I explored, range from the pedestrian and tacky (Abe’s law office and concrete-infested tomb) to the intriguing and inspiring (state park, library & museum, house, and old state capitol). Overall, after a drive by the aforementioned, as well as the current capitol building, I fed the meter a quarter and took a free 30 minute tour of the Old State Capitol, tastefully mainatained to its mid 19th century form.
For the record, it was in the OSC that Lincoln served his final term as a state lawmaker, beginning in 1840. As a lawyer, he pleaded cases before the state supreme court from 1841-60 in this building right in the center square of town. It was inside this Illinois House chamber, that he made the famously prescient “Lincoln's House Divided Speech,” which warned against the dangers of disunion over the issue of slavery. Historians rank this as Lincoln’s second or third best-known speech after the Gettysburg Address and perhaps his Second Inaugural Address, a month before the end of the Civil war.
Illinoisans did not listen though, electing Stephen Douglas, the Democrat. Lincoln’s sentient warnings seemingly had fallen on too many deaf ears, and fewer than three years later, The War Between the States commenced.
By this point, the nation had rallied around the idea of preserving the union and abolishing the practice of slavery that Democratic president James Buchanan and his predecessor, Franklin Pierce, also a Democrat, had somehow allowed to persist. Lincoln, a Republican, was now thankfully as Commander in Chief (of the Union).
{And lastly, it was to the same chamber, in May 1865, that his body was returned from Washington, D.C. prior to final burial in Springfield's Oak Ridge Cemetery}
The capitol was moved down the street to a newer, more austere building in 1876. For the next 90 years, the ersthwile capitol building became the Sangamon County Courthouse. And then I moved west, crossing the Mississippi at the antiquated town of Quincy, home of the 6th senatorial debate between Mr. Lincoln and the diminutive Democrat Senator, Stephen Douglas.
Douglas was author of the tragically misguided legislation known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which any honest historian like me will tell you led directly to the Civil War; not to mention “Bleeding Kansas” where the ignorance of such a vague “Act” led to four years of civil unrest, guerilla violence between bordering states and the unnecessary deaths of nearly 60 people. We can easily blame Douglas and the weak presidential leadership of Pierce and Buchanan, but it all started with a naive Democrat Illinois Senator with a law background. I hope Barack Obama is reading.  And Douglas had 20 years more experience in politics than Mr. Obama.
Even politically correct, wikipedia notes:
The {Kansas-Nebraska} act established that settlers could decide for themselves whether to allow slavery, in the name of "popular sovereignty" or rule of the people. Opponents denounced the law as a concession to the Slave Power of the South. The act and the subsequent civil war in Bleeding Kansas was a major step on the way to the American Civil War.
In the end, the protest movement against this inane idea became the Republican Party.
The happy ending is, of course, the Union victory in the Civil War, and the freeing of the slaves. Linclon may have lost the senatorial race, but he won the war. With Douglas’s policies or an 1864 Presidential victory by Democrat and failed Union General George McClellan, "peace" with the confederacy would have occurred, and the horrific practice of slavery would have existed far longer in America's south. There’s a reason the Democrat Party website has a huge gap in their history from 1840-1900 and a reason today's university profs ignore this portion of history.
As for Quincy, due to its riverfront locale, the Civil War did bring increasing prosperity to Quincy. It also brought Mormons crossing the river on their long voyage to freedom in Utah. Additionally, slaves used Quincy as “Station Number One” on the Underground Railroad to freedom in Chicago. Cool, eh? (The National Museum is in Cincinnati between Paul Brown Stadium and the Great American Ballpark along the Ohio Riverfront.)
The Mormons had been driven from their homes in Missouri, and went through Quincy, then continued 40 miles north to the town of Nauvoo (founded by Mormon leader Joseph Smith and named from the Hebrew word for “beautiful”), before crossing west over the Mighty Miss.
Geographically, Quincy, Illinois, lies on the bluffs along the Mississippi River about 100 miles north of Saint Louis and is the westernmost city in the state. Located between Keokuk, Iowa and Hannibal, Missouri, Quincy is the largest anchor city of the Quincy-Hannibal Micropolitan Area. (And no, after driving through the construction of that area on a hot Friday afternoon, it seems more “metro” or “macro” than “micro.” Not that I know the difference, mind you. I just bought a bottle of orange crème soda, and was parched for two hours after guzzling it all too quickly, and not realizing how long it would be until I hit an Iowa town for an early dinner.)
Lastly, and not a moment too soon, Quincy has a strong connection to the 19th century river city nostalgia popularized by celebrated author Mark Twain's books and fictional characters "Tom Sawyer" and "Huckleberry Finn". Twain’s tales mostly, as I recall, occurred in the Sister City of Hannibal, Missouri, 25 miles south---where they don’t like Mormons as much either, I’d now bet.
After finally arriving in Iowa, I detoured, and hopped on the Iowa Scenic Byway, which is Highway 2 along the southern border of the state, through many small villages, Amish Country, and across a the easternmost part of the Des Moines River. Finally, I began my final trek into the setting sun by heading northwest on highway 63 toward Ottumwa and Oskaloosa, two spectacularly quaint towns nestled in the hills overlooking the river.
I hit Des Moines, and my friend’s place, around sunset in the Hawkeye State’s Capital City on a warm early summer evening.
My 2007 College World Series experience, an endeavor of 1200 miles in a three-day period (followed by a ten-hour round trip roadie from Indy to Milwaukee (600 miles) later that week for baseball viewing with a friend in town from New York), was a one-day affair, Saturday June 16, 2007. I deemed it “West Coast Day” as the games pitted UC Irvine, Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton and defending champion, Oregon State.
Like 2004, it was oppressively hot in Omaha, and my new friend, Tom, and I roasted in our bleacher seats as we enjoyed a day of baseball amongst rowdy collegians, representing all corners of our great nation. (North Carolina, Mississippi State, Louisville and Rice were the other teams whose fans were also in Eastern Nebraska for the festivities.)
Arizona State and Oregon State---the latter went on to win the whole thing for the second straight year---were victorious, and we enjoyed the atmosphere in and out of Rosenblatt Stadium, on the bluffs above the Missouri River. As we trekked back east on 80 toward Tom’s place in downtown Des Moines, passing signs for John Wayne’s birthplace (Winterset, 45 minutes southwest of DM) and the Bob Feller Museum/Birthplace (Van Meter, 25 minutes southwest of DM), it was another “successful” summer sojourn in The Heartland.
© Ari Kaufman November 2007
You can order Ari's book here

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