TERRE HAUTE —
No “wish list” exists.
Still, the glittering sign in a framed photograph lit up the eyes of Marylee Hagan, as she narrated a tour of the Vigo County Historical Museum, where she serves as executive director. The picture, displayed in the upper-floor hallway of the facility, shows the long-gone Fountain Theatre. The small downtown venue showed popular movies from 1911 to 1953.
The building remains, but the marquee — who knows?
“Of course, we’d love to have that,” Hagan said, with a smile.
The museum already brims with artifacts, packed into the three floors of the structure, built in 1868 by a prosperous baker and candy store proprietor, William H. Sage. The Vigo County Historical Society, a nonprofit agency with one full-time staffer (Hagan) and three part-time employees, operates the museum, which drew 14,000 visitors in 2011. This year, the society marks its 90th anniversary, tracing its roots to a “rather eclectic collection” of organizers who first gathered in the Emeline Fairbanks Library in 1922.
The society functioned for 35 years without a formal home, as members stored its growing collection of items in their homes and the library. In 1958, the Hulman family foundation and public contributions allowed them to open a museum in the Sage home.
Fifty-four years later, each floor, closet and attic space overflows.
The site is picturesque and quiet, but sits more than a dozen blocks from downtown Terre Haute at 1411 S. Sixth St. Though dedicated to preserving the county’s heritage and past, the society has the future and the museum’s relevance at the forefront of its plans.
“Because of our location, we are out of the mainstream and out of space,” Hagan said, “and a move will allow us to be a greater contributor” to the community.
The society has a building downtown on Wabash Avenue “in mind” as a new, larger location for the museum, though Hagan said she could not yet disclose the precise spot. The current museum contains 15,000 square feet of space, while the prospective site would nearly triple that footage. Given the popularity of certain exhibits maintained permanently at the Sage museum, the flexibility to craft new displays is limited.
“We have thousands of stories to tell, and [a move] will allow us to tell more of those stories,” Hagan said.
The shift north would also place the museum along the historic National Road and inside the city’s core, “where the renaissance is happening,” Hagan added.
Exciting future, ‘renaissance’
A downtown renaissance took many years to gain momentum, but sped to a brisk pace in the 21st century. Along with new hotels, renovated storefronts, parking garages, Indiana State University ventures, the Terre Haute Children’s Museum, and the Max Ehrmann plaza at the Crossroads, the downtown also added its Arts Corridor along Seventh Street. The idea of the Vigo County Historical Museum exhibiting treasured items of the local culture in the midst of that activity excites Hagan and the museum staff, which includes her and three part-time employees.
“It’s going to be busy, and it’s going to be a challenge,” said Barbara Carney, assistant director, “but I think we can handle it.”
Hagan took on the job of executive director 18 years ago, after serving a decade on the society’s board. Carney became assistant director under Hagan’s predecessor, David Buchanan, in 1988 and has been at it ever since, saying, “I’ve enjoyed every single day.” Both look forward to continuing their roles for several years at a larger facility, an endeavor that will require fundraising. As a nonprofit, the society relies on memberships, an annual fall donor campaign, other contributions and a stipend from county funds.
The future, both near and long-term, guides their plans. Hagan wants new generations to inherit the passion for history and vitality for the museum.
“We’ll certainly need to have younger blood move through, and I’m hoping our move will stir motivation,” Hagan said.
The museum collection reflects many generations of Vigo County people, places and things. Many are donated, and Hagan said, “We always tell people, ‘Don’t throw anything away until you talk with us.’” Some pieces would surprise average Hauteans.
A statue of the mythological god Mercury adorns a hallway. Made of pig-iron, an industrious Indiana State University art student carefully restored the sculpture that once stood atop a bank roof at Sixth Street and Wabash, where Rogers Jewelers now stands. After its unveiling, bank officials nervously studied the naked figure “to make sure he didn’t offend anybody.” This Mercury wears a fig leaf.
A vast collection of antique drug store equipment and devices, donated from the old Bindley Pharmacy on North Fifth Street, fills an entire room. A massive, wooden carving of “Punch” from the famous 19th-century “Punch and Judy” puppet act stood in front of Biel’s Tobacco Store on Wabash from 1867-1957, and now resides in the museum. A nearly life-sized photograph of Terre Haute songwriter Paul Dresser occupies most of one wall. (“He was a big man,” Hagan said of the rotund legend.) The traveling trophies of high school rivalries rest behind glass, the Turkey (from Garfield-Wiley battles) and the Bell (from Gerstmeyer-Wiley duels), as well as the 1955 Babe Ruth World Series championship trophy won by a team of Terre Haute 15-year-olds.
Other items are well-known facets of local folklore, including the vast Coca-Cola display, commemorating the creation of the drink’s distinctive bottle here in this city, and the military room.
Stiffy Green, Madame Brown
The city’s notorious past — linked to its early free-wheeling, early-20th-century days of gambling, prostitution and circumventing Prohibition laws — draws much curiosity. A remnant of those days, a glass canopy that once covered the front door of Madame Edith Brown’s brothel, now shields a doorway inside the museum. Hagan frequently portrays Brown in a presentation along with Sister Ann Casper, who plays St. Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence. Their enactment is called, “The Madame and the Saint.”
The attention paid to that grittier side of Terre Haute sometimes draws irritated callers. “I always say to them, ‘Thank you for calling, and I have to tell you that we don’t make up history, we just report it,’” Hagan said, “and we have a very colorful history.”
Kids who visit on the many Vigo County School Corp. field trips to the museum routinely ask to see “Stiffy Green,” and the dog indeed stands watch inside a replica of the Highland Lawn Cemetery mausoleum he once occupied in the resting place of Terre Haute businessman John Heinl. Legend says the dog’s loyalty for Heinl continued after the man died and was interred, trudging off to the cemetery daily. When the dog died at the site, according to legend, the family had him stuffed and placed inside the mausoleum. For decades teenagers peered into the grave, and shined flashlights into Stiffy’s green eyes, until an armed vandal damaged the dog and it was moved to the museum.
(In reality, Stiffy Green is made of concrete, and sat on Heinl’s porch, but the tale is more fun.)
The dog and his legend endure. Last week, two young men passing through the city on their way to St. Louis found the Stiffy Green story online, called the museum and visited. “A lot of people focus in on Stiffy Green and that legend,” said Kim Smith, recently hired for the museum’s new curator role. “And it’s a good story.”
Another man, traveling from his hometown of Oklahoma City to Canada, stopped in this month to look at old city directories. His great-grandfather got married in Terre Haute, and he hoped to find clues about his life. “It’s pretty fun. You meet really, really interesting people,” Smith said. “For me, the draw is not only the history, but the interesting people you meet and the stories they tell.”
The intended and sometimes random paths that lead visitors to the museum reflect the arrivals of many local residents, including the museum staffers. Hagan and her husband moved their family to Terre Haute in 1962. Carney is a Terre Haute native. The 39-year-old Smith, originally from Danville, Ill., studied history and historic preservation at Illinois State University, and moved here in recent years.
“It’s a big job, to disseminate so many stories,” Hagan said, “and not just the notorious folks, but the common people, too.”
That comment triggered a thought in Hagan of late Terre Haute Mayor Pete Chalos, whose father — a Greek immigrant — got off a train here and wound up staying. As she descended the staircase from the museum’s upper floor, Hagan rattled off the various ethnic groups and nationalities that make up the fabric of the community.
“They each contributed to making this a good place to be,” Hagan said, as she continued down the stairs.
“So much to do, so little time, so little money,” she added.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Museum envisions a place in downtown ‘renaissance’
TERRE HAUTE —
No “wish list” exists.
Community Theatre to bring Tony Award-winning play to stage
Some call it a comedy, while others call it a drama. “God of Carnage” was the 2009 Tony Award winner for Best Play, and Community Theatre of Terre Haute will present it this Friday, Saturday and Sunday, as well as March 21-23.
New Leo Baxter Orchestra to entertain at Big Read Party
A Terre Haute tradition will be reborn when the New Leo Baxter Society Orchestra performs from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Indiana Theatre as part of the Big Party for the Wabash Valley Big Read.
With new Americana album, Chicago artist to play Verve
For years, Kevin Presbrey toured the country as the front man of Painkiller Hotel, a modern rock group inspired by guitar-fueled bands like Pearl Jam and Live. Now, he’s dialing back the clock with his solo debut, an Americana album that takes its cues from Jim Croce’s folk music, the Eagles’ country-tinged rock and Fleetwood Mac’s 1970s pop.
Guiding Star: Inspired by family, Terre Haute native rallies famous names to fund cancer research
Famous people filled the Riviera Country Club, a scenic golf resort in affluent Pacific Palisades, Calif.
A city block away, Sunset Boulevard runs toward the Pacific Ocean. The Santa Monica Mountains overlook it all. Inside the Riviera, during a 2009 fundraising dinner, Terre Haute attorney Tony Tanoos found himself surrounded by a who’s who of celebrities — actors such as Ray Romano, Mark Wahlberg, Don Cheadle and others, and golfing greats like Gary Player, Johnny Miller and Rocco Mediate. Soon, the crowd of notables heard the words of main speaker Lisa Paulsen, the president of the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
MIKE LUNSFORD: The long goodbye to winter
I have no idea what the weather is to bring to us on the morning this story runs, but on the day I write most of it, the sun is shining, and we have just come off a weekend of pleasant warmth and cloudless skies.
Making Waves: Woman devotes part of rural Vigo County home to museum on hairstyling
Some studies show that women spend more than $50,000 in a lifetime and more than one month of their entire life at a beauty salon, trying to get and keep their hair just the right style. How they have accomplished this through the ages has been a fascination for local hairstylist Brenda Ellis for more than 50 years.
Heaven on Earth: Writer gets lost — both figuratively and literally — at Acadia National Park
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day hiking the Atlantic shoreline and the trails of Maine’s Acadia National Park.
Rock of Ages: Hulman Center stage has been entertaining crowds since 1974
As the stage lights came on, Sam Wellington and his cohorts gazed out at an audience of 8,060 Midwesterners.
The scene was familiar for him. Wellington and his country music quartet, The Four Guys, opened shows night after night for fellow RCA Records artists Ronnie Millsap and headliner Charley Pride on tours across North America.
Wearing a Legacy: Inspired by Debs, a variety of places and things beyond Terre Haute — from a town to beers — bear his name
A town and a school. Two styles of beer. A radio station, a street, a township, and a house for college students. Even a parade.
Any of those places or things named in honor of legendary labor and social activist Eugene V. Debs could theoretically exist in Terre Haute. Alas, none do.
Flowing forward: As Riverscape leader retires, he sees great things ahead for the Wabash River
An iconic photo of Harry Truman hangs in John Mutchner’s office.
The walls of that room and others inside Mutchner’s scenic eastside home offer glimpses of his interests, from auto racing to basketball to political history. The famous picture of a triumphant Truman, hoisting an erroneous “Dewey Defeats Truman” Chicago Tribune headline, rests neatly framed alongside a 1952 campaign button and an autographed notecard from the former president.
Hope Awakened: On a floating hospital, Terre Haute nurse sees lives of needy transformed
The woman was 24 years old. She weighed 70 pounds.
She had young children and, for a long time, a heavy burden. A tumor, large as her head, engulfed her jaw. Eating and breathing became all but impossible for her. Undoubtedly, she’d been ostracized because of it, too. Such cases are rare in the Western world, but they occur frequently in the Republic of Congo. The coastal African nation has just one doctor for every 20,000 people.
Rock Collector: Indiana Coal Council president loves rocks, fossils and 4-H
You might say Bruce Stevens grew up with lots of pet rocks.
Scavenging for rocks and fossils as a boy near his home at Coalmont launched Stevens’ fascination with geology. His love of all things sedimentary led him to a successful career in hydrology, reclamation and the coal industry.
‘Afternoon on a Hill’: The formal poet who led an informal life — Edna St. Vincent Millay
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of an afternoon exploring the rural gardens and home of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay near Austerlitz, N.Y. Join Lunsford in February for the sixth installment of this series as he wanders along the wooded shorelines of Jordan Pond in Acadia National Park.
No Intermission: Character meets demise on ‘Walking Dead,’ but lively acting career continues for Terre Haute’s Jose Pablo Cantillo
Characters often make dramatic exits from television shows.
Few could top Terre Haute-raised actor Jose Pablo Cantillo’s departure last month from AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”
The scene occurred in the fourth season of cable TV’s most popular drama series ever.
Telling stories in song
Pieces of Terre Haute’s infamous past gather dust in the town’s metaphorical attic. Closed-up, old baggage — forever linked, like it or not, to the historical record.
Real people lived through those times, but as generations pass, memories of those characters fade and disappear.
Effort under way to restore Civil War monument to original grandeur; ‘Soldier of the West’ unique in state of Indiana
“How sleep the brave, who sink to rest with all their country’s wishes blest.”
A lone soldier sits atop Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle. He is seated with his foot on a cannon of long ago, looking westward, perhaps toward the future he fought for. “He” is a stone memorial, rising nearly 30 feet in the historic cemetery. He represents all the men, young and old, from Putnam County who fought and died in the Civil War, and he is aptly titled “Soldier of the West.”
Walk of a Lifetime: Writer discovers views fit for a painting while walking the cliffs of Prout’s Neck, home to famous artist Winslow Homer’s seaside studio
Editor’s Note: Today, we continue the New England Journal as Mike Lunsford writes of a day walking the Maine seacoast in search of the great artist, Winslow Homer. Join Mike in January for the fifth installment of this series as he visits Edna St. Vincent Millay’s rural New York farm, Steepletop.
Heightened Sense of Place: Educators’ efforts helped put geography back on map in schools
Geography transcends dots on a map.
Teachers traveling abroad alongside Terre Haute geographer Dorothy Drummond have experienced the real-life cultures, atmosphere and people existing within those dots. An educator herself, Drummond has organized affordable geography tours of foreign lands for Wabash Valley schoolteachers for many years. The journeys involved more than sight-seeing.
Fade to Black: A few local theaters among last to part with century-old 35-mm film
The projectionist behind the first movie shown in the Indiana Theatre nearly 92 years ago would likely feel right at home in that same booth today.
HEALING WATERS: Team River Runner offers inspiration, opens doors for wounded veterans
Some people say the fun of boating on the Wabash is dealing with unexpected challenges such a big body of water can present on certain days; others delight in the wild beauty at Terre Haute’s doorstep, from bald eagles soaring above trees lining the banks of the Wabash to the panorama of the river itself as it curls through woodland in many places reminiscent of primeval splendor seen hundreds of years ago.
Country singer/songwriter from Illinois to perform at The Verve
Up-and-coming country singer/songwriter Troy Stone of Paris, Ill., will perform from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. March 14 in The Verve at 677 Wabash Ave.
Gallery presents ‘Halcyon Days’ exhibit
Halcyon Art Gallery is presenting the regional juried exhibition, “Halcyon Days 2014,” on view from Friday until March 28. The opening reception will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday. This is the ninth in a series of juried exhibitions showcasing the best of contemporary art in all media.
See dinosaurs, Dr. Seuss characters at Children's Museum
On Sunday, March 9, Terre Haute Children’s Museum guests will be in for a special treat. Prehistoric creatures from Erth’s “Dinosaur Zoo” will be roving the museum, and Dr. Seuss characters will come to life when the Children’s Theatre of Terre Haute presents “Seussical Jr.”
GRAPE SENSE: News from the world’s wine regions can affect future prices
News from the world’s wine regions can affect even the average wine drinker. There is a lot going on, particularly in California, which can affect future wine prices.
TRIED ’N’ TRUE: The easiest ham loaf I’ve ever made
I have been asked for a good ham loaf recipe. This is really good. It comes from a friend of mine in Morton, Ill. Eileen Knapp makes this for her kids and grandkids — we all enjoyed it.
Party New Orleans-style at Swope Mardi Gras celebration
The Swope Art Museum’s fifth annual Mardi Gras celebration is this weekend. Enjoy a visit to the Big Easy on the museum’s third floor from 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday.
‘A complete meal of classical music’ at Central Presbyterian
Beethoven composed his masterpieces nearly two centuries ago. George Gershwin wrote “Rhapsody in Blue” a few years after World War I.
Final Fridays: Lunes Domingo at Verve
Lunes Domingo returns to the Verve this Friday with special guests The Brown James.
The show starts at 10 p.m. Admission is $3.
TRIED ‘N’ TRUE: No need to knead dough much for these rolls
I know we all like homemade bread. These rolls are great.
When we used to have Christmas with Gene’s family, his uncle Bob Beard’s daughter made these Oatmeal Rolls.
YOUR GREEN VALLEY: We can help save the manatees, right here in the heartland
The year 2013 was the deadliest on record for manatees with about 829 reported deaths. This was a major jump from the 392 in 2012 and the record of 766 in 2010. While the cold weather played a role, one major attributing factor has been toxic red tide events caused by algal blooms.
- More Features Headlines
- Community Theatre to bring Tony Award-winning play to stage