The thing I love about history is that it’s everywhere. Growing up, I was convinced that I lived in the single most boring spot in America: southern Indiana. My parents were quick to correct me of this gross inaccuracy and then proceeded to haul me all over the state over the next few years, pointing out that I was, in fact, from a very interesting area. There was the house just down the road, built of Indiana limestone and with nicks in the rocks from an American Indian raid in the early 1800s. As a child in Madison, I was regaled with stories of Civil War hospitals, escaped slaves, and clandestine stops on the Underground Railroad. I saw the site of the Battle of Corydon,where General Morgan attacked during Morgan’s Raid in 1863. I’ve stood at the first state capital building in Corydon, before Indianapolis snatched up the title in 1825. We visited (and eventually became volunteers) at the site where Abraham Lincoln and his family lived from 1816 to 1830 in what is now Lincoln City, Indiana. I’ve stood at the grave of his mother in Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial and at his sister’s grave just across the road in Lincoln State Park.
As I grew older, I became fascinated with World War II history and as it turns out, there was plenty of that around, too. The most visible site was the old Indiana Army Ammunition Plant, which stretched for miles along Highway 62 between Charlestown and Jeffersonville. The place looked abandoned, forgotten, like everybody just packed up one day and never came back. The old buildings, with their cracked windows and crumbling glass, used to send chills down my spine. Even still, I was wide-eyed at the history of the place. Opened in 1940, it was a major producer of munitions during World War II and employed over 27k people.
Once I became a college student majoring in history, I learned even more. The great Falls of the Ohio (in Clarksville) was a captivating place because it was where Lewis and Clark, with their Corps of Discovery, set off to explore the west in 1803. Then there were places such as Rose Island, which was on a piece of land where Fourteen Mile Creek empties into the Ohio River. An amusement park reminiscent of Coney Island, it was a great attraction for residents on both sides of the Ohio River in the 1920s and 1930s. Steamboats from Louisville and Madison would drop patrons off daily for a ride on the Ferris wheel, a trip around the wooden coaster, a swim in the pool, or a spin around the roller rink. The Great Flood of 1937 destroyed this park and it was never rebuilt.
Now that I’m writing a war-era novel and I’ve decided to set it in my old stomping grounds, I’m indebted to my parents and professors for making the rolling hills of southern Indiana come alive with history. What seems like nothing more than abandoned buildings, decrepit homes, and forgotten railroad tracks are, in fact, fascinating places. There’s a story to be told behind every door and I hope, through my novel, to bring some of those stories to life again.