Indiana’s Bicentennial celebration is underway. The state officially joined the Union on Dec. 11, 1816, and our recent 199th birthday party at the Statehouse launched a yearlong commemoration.
The Bicentennial Commission has worked hard for several years planning hundreds of projects involving all 92 counties, and now the festivities are set to begin.
A century ago, the state’s 100th birthday did not go unnoticed. As a matter of fact, the Indiana centennial was a huge event. The state’s progress after a hundred years was apparent to all, and Hoosiers took pride in what they saw. Still alive were a few who had lived the entire span. Born in the forest and raised in a land of bears and bison, they had lived long enough to see large cities, factories, newspapers and mass transit in the form of the interurban system.
The state turned 100 in the midst of what has become known as Indiana’s golden age of art and literature. The great painters of the “Hoosier Group,” including T. C. Steele, William Forsyth, Wayman Adams, Otto Stark and Carl Graf were all plying their colorful trade.
The great Hoosier writers, too, were practicing their craft in 1916. A little gem of a pamphlet from the Indiana archives provides a delightful sample of their work.
The booklet is titled “An Invitation to You and Your Folks from Jim and Some More of the Home Folks.” The “Jim” is Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley. Calling his audience “Hoosiers in Exile,” he explained that the publication’s purpose was to invite Indiana citizens back to their home state for the centennial celebration.
Riley wrote, “Hoosier in Exile, though his steps may roam, the earth’s remotest bounds, in truth his heart is ever home!”
Edited by well-known humorist George Ade from Newton County, the publication includes welcoming letters from Indiana Gov. Samuel Ralston, Vice President (and former governor) Thomas Marshall and former Vice President Charles W. Fairbanks.
The remaining pages constitute a 1916 “Who’s Who” of Indiana literature.
The Pulitzer Prize winner from Indianapolis, Booth Tarkington, welcomed former residents back to “the same old country of cricks and sycamores and corn fields and pleasant-smelling woods that you used to know.” He added that “it’s odd, nowadays, to see the touring cars standing in the town square on Saturdays.”
Kin Hubbard submitted comments from Brown County’s cracker barrel philosopher, Abe Martin, who urged Hoosiers to “come home to see the new cement work, the new verandas, the railroad at Helmsburg and the sideburns of your early playmates.”
Famed novelist Meredith Nicholson of Indianapolis urged fellow citizens to “come back to watch the interurbans whiz by, and see how much taller corn grows now that the boys have all been up to Purdue to learn book farmin’.”
Gene Stratton Porter penned a note from her Limberlost Cabin in Rome City, with an invitation to “come where the polecat’s perfuming, mingle with flower-scented air, come to our swamp in its glory, its joys we invite you to share.”
Journalist William Dudley Foulke in Richmond wrote: “We’ve straightened out our fences some to make the place look new, but the old barbed wire will bend a bit to let you scramble through.”
Author Juliet V. Strauss of Rockville reported that “the automobiles are as thick as hops, and electric lights and acetylene have long outshone the candlelight beacon that is luring you back to home and old times. But there are hearts here which have not changed through the long years.”
Historian J.P. Dunn in Indianapolis reminded Hoosiers that “this is probably the only centennial anniversary of Indiana that you will have an opportunity to participate in, and come while the coming is good.”
Dunn’s advice about the centennial will work just as well for the bicentennial.
In exile or not, Hoosiers should not miss it. To learn more, check out something they didn’t have the first time around: the website at indiana2016.org.
Mr. Riley would be proud.