Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays at noon on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

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Oct. 13 show

If a town is on the state map, he's been there

An old grain elevator in Plymouth, Ind., appeared in After the Harvest, one of photographer John Bower’s Indiana books.On state maps of Indiana, there are about 2,099 cities and towns, according to a count by John Bower, an award-winning photographer.

He has counted them because John, who specializes in black-and-white photography, has an unusual distinction: He has visited every city and town. With his artist wife Lynn, he owns Studio Indiana near Bloomington, the base for their travels.

His photos - which often, as he puts it, depict "the ignored, forgotten or cast aside" - have been collected in several books, each with a different focus.

Nearly two years ago, John was Nelson's guest to share insights and anecdotes from his journeys. They have included stops to photograph courthouse attics, barn roofs with advertising, historic jails, monasteries, abandoned lodges and houses of worship in cities like South Bend in northern Indiana, as well as towns like Vevay on the Ohio River.

Now John will return to share more stories, which he and Lynn (who often writes the text) recount in photo books such as The Common Good (2010). Not only does that book include photos of historic jails in Nashville and Vevay, it includes a close-up image of "Old Sparky," a onetime electric chair at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City.

This image of “Old Sparky,” the electric chair at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City, appears in photographer John Bower’s book The Common Good. Photo by John Bower."It was constructed of worn, dark wood that had been carefully crafted, with dovetail joints used in some places," John writes. "A small sign explained that the wood had been salvaged from Indiana's old gallows. ... Overall, it was an eerie combination of antique, mundane and grisly."

Other photos are evocative for far different reasons. His book 2nd Stories (2005), which explores "what's upstairs, on top and overhead," includes photos of the attics in the Hancock County Courthouse in Greenfield and the Monroe County Courthouse in Bloomington.

It also features several photos of the the Monastery Immaculate Conception in Ferdinand, known as the "Castle on the Hill." Built between 1915 and 1924 (work was suspended during World War I) and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the monastery is the home of the Sisters of St. Benedict. John and Lynn Bower visited during an extensive renovation designed to give the monastery, as a nun explained to them, a "feminine feel."

He also photographed an abandoned synagogue in South Bend that was built in 1901, as well as a massive vacant Knights of the Pythias Lodge in Shelbyville. (Its first floor once had been occupied by a Murphy's Dime Store.) John and Lynn were struck by the "once majestic" Lodge Ballroom on an upper floor.

"While our society values the newest, the costliest and the flashiest, I'm motivated to rediscover that which has been ignored, forgotten or cast aside," John says. "By using the inherent drama of black-and-white photography, I'm able to capture the essence - the élan vital - of these subjects."

John Bower, photographer, with photographic equipment.John and Lynn Bower will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary next month. The couple met when they were teachers in Kendallville. After school, they often would hop into a car and travel an unfamiliar route.

On their journeys, John has taken photos of barns with "billboard" advertising on their roofs in Orange County and Martin County. And his book After the Harvest (2007) focuses on historic grain elevators and feed mills.

Some notes from their journeys:

  • In Cloverdale, John photographed a historic retail shop described as "the oldest continually operating hardware store in Indiana." Founded in 1887, the Cloverdale Hardware Store is featured in 2nd Stories.
  • According to The Common Good, the historic electric chair at the Indiana State Prison was used 62 times to administer the death penalty, beginning in 1914. Last used in 1994, the chair is a museum piece and today sits in the prison's Indiana Room.
  • In addition to feed mills, After the Harvest features photos of their "ancestors": grist mills. According to the book, Indiana had more than 700 grist mills in 1860. The Bowers call them a "powerful civilizing force" because grinding grain was so important to early Hoosiers that trails were created between farms and the mills. Then pioneers began forming towns near the grist mills.

History Mystery

In his travels around the Hoosier state, John Bower of Studio Indiana has taken countless photos of distinctive barns. For many decades, Indiana had more of one kind of barn - round barns - than any other state. In fact, one of Indiana's 92 counties promoted itself as the "Round Barn Capital of the World."

The Edward May True-Circular Barn, just east of Columbus, Ind., was built in 1903 and razed in 1976 to make way for widening of the highway. Pictured are Edward May and his daughter, Martha May, circa 1910. Image and caption courtesy Charles Snyder and Heritage Photo & Research Services.Round barns were said to be efficient in many ways, including saving farmers steps when feeding their livestock because all of the animals faced the same direction.

However, round barns fell out of favor for several reasons, including the inability of modern tractors and agricultural machinery to fit through their doors. In Indiana, the last round barn apparently was built in 1936.

Even so, they still are celebrated in the county known as the "Round Barn Capital of the World."

Question: What is the Indiana county?

Hint: It is not the county where the Edward May barn (pictured) was located.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

This week's prize is a gift certificate for a 10-pack of tickets to Heartland Film Festival, courtesy of Heartland, and a pair of tickets to a public tour of Crown Hill Cemetery, given by the Crown Hill Heritage Foundation, courtesy of Visit Indy.

Roadtrip: Parke County Covered Bridge Fest through Oct. 21

The Narrows Covered Bridge across Sugar Creek in Indiana’s Turkey Run State Park was built in 1882.  Roadtripper Chris Gahl of Visit Indy suggests that we head west from Indianapolis to the always fabulous fall foliage on display at the Parke County Covered Bridge Festival, which is going on now and runs through Oct. 21. With a total of 31 covered bridges, Parke County promotes itself as the "Covered Bridge Capital of the World".

This countywide festival first started in 1957 and is headquartered around the courthouse lawn in Rockville. You'll find plenty of food booths, crafters and antiques around the courthouse square, as well as maps for self-guided tours throughout the county to check out all those great bridges and little towns!

Don't want to drive or bike yourself? Bus tours leave the courthouse lawn daily during the festival at 10:45 a.m. and 2:15 p.m. ET. All tickets are $15 per person, and tours will travel to either the northwest or southwest part of the county. Bus-tour information is at (765) 569-5226, or email info@coveredbridges.com to reserve your seat.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo and Research Services, Conner Prairie, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

Oct. 20 show

Landmarks and lyrics across Indiana

A beloved, now-vacant diner in Plainfield, a vaudeville theater in Vincennes and the historic Colgate Palmolive plant and clock near Jeffersonville are among nearly two dozen landmarks across Indiana that have become the muse for Hoosier poets.

The Colgate Clock in Clarksville, Ind., can be seen from downtown Louisville, across the Ohio River. It has a diameter of 40 feet and was first illuminated in 1924. Image courtesy Joyce Brinkman.How can you wax poetic about the Plainfield Diner, which was placed a few years ago on the "10 Most Endangered Places" list by Indiana Landmarks, the historic preservation organization? Well, members of Brick Street Poetry, inspired by the diner and other landmarks, will share insights about the well-known sites - and a sampling of the poetry that has resulted - when they join Nelson in studio.

His guests will include Joyce Brinkman, Indiana's former poet laureate. Although she lives in Indianapolis today, Joyce grew up along the Ohio River and has chosen to write about the Colgate Palmolive plant, which opened in 1924, and its clock, which is the largest in the state and visible for miles. She is a board member of Brick Street Poetry, a statewide group based in Zionsville that publishes the Tipton Poetry Journal and hosts a monthly reading series, Poetry on Brick Street.

Also as part of "Landmark Lyrics", a partnership between Indiana Landmarks and Brick Street, award-winning poet J.L. Kato of Beech Grove has written about the Plainfield Diner on the National Road/U.S. 40. Considered a rare surviving example in the Hoosier state of the Streamline Moderne style, the Plainfield Diner opened in 1954, still has its original interior and inspired a Facebook crusade to spare it from possible demolition.

The Pantheon Theatre on the corner of 5th and Main streets in Vincennes, Ind., opened in 1921, with a capacity of 1,200. Image courtesy Indiana Landmarks.Hoosier History Live! focused on the Plainfield Diner's fate - which remains uncertain - during a "Diners Across Indiana" show in 2010. J.L. Kato, who will join Nelson and Joyce in studio, says he drew on boyhood memories of learning to drink coffee in a diner for his poem, "Coffee, High and Dry", which uses diner and trucker lingo.

Nelson's guests also will include Laurel Smith, an English professor at Vincennes University who has written a poem about the Pantheon Theatre, which is on the current "10 Most Endangered" list.

Built from 1919 through 1921, the theater hosted vaudeville shows, early performances by Vincennes native Red Skelton and touring productions from Broadway. According to Indiana Landmarks, the now-vacant theater is deteriorating to such an extent its decorative interior is threatened - and the historic theater could be auctioned at a tax sale.

Laurel says her poem inspired by the Pantheon, Talking Snapshots, is intended "to suggest the spirit of a family scrapbook; in this case, the family is the whole community."

"Landmark Lyrics" also includes poems about the Randolph County Courthouse; Bush Stadium, the former home of the Indianapolis Indians; Beck's Mill in Salem and the Frankfort Roundhouse, a vacant turn-around terminal for trains in Frankfort.

The partnership between Brick Street Poetry and Indiana Landmarks will culminate Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. with a visual presentation and poetry reading at Indiana Landmarks Center, 1201 Central Ave. in Indianapolis. After the program, a selection of the visuals and poetry will be published in the Tipton Poetry Journal.

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