Peter and I are just back from our “U.S. 41 Cruise,” which took us from Northwest Indiana just south of Lake Michigan to Evansville on the Ohio River. I was able to show my Amsterdammer friend some of the best of Indiana just by driving down my hometown’s 7th Street to the other end of the state.
(U.S. 41 is Lake Shore Drive in Chicago; talk about magnificent miles!)
Our first destination was Turkey Run State Park, Indiana’s most popular.
We stayed at the Inn, as I’d wanted to do since my parents took us camping there when I was a kid. Back then I thought rich people got to enjoy Turkey Run without all the work of camping, pitching a tent, cooking your own meals over a campfire; now that I’ve stayed at the inn, I think camping is just as good. Dinner at the restaurant was a bargain buffet at $12, but breakfast for $8 wasn’t worth the money. Like all Hoosier breakfast places they sell biscuits and sausage gravy, but the gravy comes out of a box and has no flavor at all.
At the New Harmony Inn a little further south, they use the same gravy mix and cut up a sausage link on top. Not the least bit authentic; tomorrow I’ll make Peter some real biscuits and gravy.
New Harmony, Indiana is one of my favorite places. It’s the site of two 19th century Utopian communities; the Rappites were celibate socialists convinced that Jesus’ 2nd Coming was just around the corner. After a few years, when Jesus declined to appear on cue, they sold their 30,000 acres to a Scottish reformer named Robert Owen, who banned money and private property in a futile attempt to abolish class distinctions. It was a nice idea but it didn’t work; the people couldn’t figure out how to govern themselves and their society descended into chaos. Owen finally skipped town, but many of his descendants stayed. Among their many achievements, artistic, spiritual and intellectual, they established the United States Geological Survey, which for many years was located in New Harmony. They also helped establish the Smithsonian Institution.
Generations later, a woman named Jane Owen married into the family, which by then had gotten rich off the oil in Texas; geology can be useful that way. She loved her husband, learned about the family legacy in New Harmony, and bought up all the log cabins in town, preserving them for posterity, promoting the deep if utopian spirituality, with its attendant artistic and intellectual impulses. One of the old man’s projects was called the Working Man’s Institute, a kind of college for those who work with their hands but think with their minds. It’s survived and prospered all these years later.
It is a fabulous thing to find a whole town (pop. 1000) intent on living a spiritual, artistic and intellectual life. New Harmony is off the beaten path, right on the Wabash River, but find it and stay as long as you can; God is there.
Of course God is everywhere, but you get my drift.
I bought a handmade lighting fixture/sculpture, and a piece of pottery for my kitchen, at a little shop next door to the Episcopal church. The parish is very small but dear to Episcopalians, who administer a nearby facility called the Roofless Church—a blocklong, enclosed park for all faiths.
The 20th century theologian Paul Tillich often visited New Harmony, and his ashes were scattered at another park named for him. When is the last time you found a park named for a theologian?
At the Red Geranium restaurant, connected with the New Harmony Inn, I saw photos of Tillich, Henry Luce, the founder of Time, Inc., and my late beloved Bishop John Pares Craine of Indianapolis, who confirmed and commissioned me. He is the one who made this diocese progressive, and I cherish his memory.
We also visited Vincennes, an old French fort and fur-trading center on the Wabash, dating back to the early 18th century; this small city became the capital of the old Northwest Territory after the Revolution. The USA carved six states out of the Northwest: Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois and part of Minnesota. William Henry Harrison was the territorial governor, and he set the boundary between Indiana and Illinois to run through his living room. South of his house, called Grouseland, the Wabash River is the boundary; north of his house, the boundary is a straight line all the way to Lake Michigan, which gave Indiana the southernmost tip of the lake. The DAR and a small foundation have restored Harrison’s house to suitable grandeur without government funds; the executive director is an Episcopal priest in nearby Washington, Indiana, a guy named Dennis who commented on my T-shirt, THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH *STILL* WELCOMES YOU. I got it from St. Luke’s in the Fields in Greenwich Village for LGBT Pride Day two years ago, but there we were in Vincennes, yapping about The Dumbest. President. Ever. (He gave an hour-long Inauguration speech amidst freezing rain in 1841 and promptly dropped dead. Didn’t wear an overcoat to prove he was a Macho Man.)
Down by Evansville on the Ohio River, Peter and I made a quick stop at Angel Mounds State Park, a fortified Shawnee city with great religious, commercial and military significance. We toured the museum and got to see the burial/lookout mounds from a distance.
From there we drove to the Abraham Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial in Spencer County. This is the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth, and he is rightly revered in this place as the greatest American who ever lived. We caught the world premiere of a new outdoor play, simply called Lincoln, and I got to pose with one of the actors who portrayed a Union soldier, a bluecoat with big tall boots who stayed in character while we solemnly shook hands for the camera across the generations. The play I’d give mixed reviews (too much bouncing back and forth between time periods, too much carrying of props on and offstage), but the special effects are dramatic and the performers are professional. The playwright made several wise choices, including a look-forward to the results of Lincoln’s career , with Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Iwo Jima, John F. Kennedy and President Obama, who hopes to be a worthy successor to the Great One.
The French Lick Hotel and Resort, “8th Wonder of the World,” has contempt for its customers and should be avoided. Yes, it’s a grand place, but expect to pay $250 a night for the décor. I hated it.
We made a stop in Bedford, Indiana, home of the famous limestone that built the Empire State Building and other landmarks, because my Bro, Steve Moore, is buried there. I got to see his grave for the first time. I preached his funeral in 2001, but he wasn’t buried immediately for some reason, and I’d never been back to pay my respects and love and gratitude. Now I have been. From the cemetery we drove to his house and visited his best friends next door, Kirk and Terri. That was very special; I found out all that happened since.
Then we headed back north to Crawfordsville, hometown of my fictional hero Kent Kessler (Murder at Willow Slough). We stayed at a very nice, laidback bed and breakfast called Thelma’s House ($89/a night!) and were delighted with the setting, the amenities and the company. I pulled some weeds out of Doug’s wonderful landscaping.
The next day we met a friend, retired cop Quentin Robinson, for brunch in Lafayette, and made an appointment to view some of his landscape photographs come Wednesday. Peter and I are both planning to buy a print or two; Quentin is very good with rural scenes that show my home country.
This land was Lincoln’s; it was Owen’s; it was Harrison’s and the Sieur de Vincennes. I am deeply pleased to have shown Peter where I’m from.++
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