There’s plenty to be discovered about the 19th U.S. state. Indiana, from its significance to the Underground Railroad, to the first Major League Baseball Game, is home to some pretty important pieces of history. Here are 15 little secrets about our state that span from historical, to fun, to just plain interesting.
Four interstate highways and at least a dozen Indiana highways connect within the circle of I-465, which gives Indianapolis its nickname as the Circle City. From within this circle, you can get anywhere in the country. Also, if you're starting at one end of the country and going to the other, you can get there by the connections in Indianapolis.
The north of the state is flat as can be, but the south of the state feels almost like the foothills of the Smokies! No, mankind isn't responsible for leveling one half of the state's terrain. You can thank the Ice Age for that! Glaciers that made their way southward filed down the hills that once textured the entire region, but began to melt and recede about halfway down the state.
Thirteen Native American tribes from at least two different nations called Indiana home over her long history (Misnomer alert! A nation is not a tribe. A tribe is a smaller segment of a Native American nation. The more you know!). While the Miami nation and at least one tribe thereof called Indiana their principle home, satellite settlements of Delaware and Shawnee are also well-known names from Indiana's native roots.
In 1816, President James Madison affixed his signature to a document that awarded the Indiana Territory official statehood, and gave the United States of America her nineteenth state. Last year, volunteers from all 92 counties participated in a torch relay lasting 36 days.
Indiana is the home of a handful of famous figures, historical and modern. Indiana provided the ninth President of the United States William Henry Harrison, survived by his campaign phrase “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too!” referring to Harrison's victory at the Battle of Tippecanoe. Although the sixteenth President, Abraham Lincoln, was born in Kentucky, he spent his childhood from age seven to 17 in Indiana before moving to Illinois, earning Indiana the status as Lincoln's Boyhood Home. More modern Indiana figures are the original rebel without a cause James Dean, timelessly funny Red Skelton, Bruce “Boss” Springsteen, David Letterman of “Late Show” fame, and Indianapolis native, American Idol season eight runner-up (can you believe it?), and multi-million-record-selling singer/songwriter/stage actor Adam Lambert.
It's a household phrase that peppers United States history books during the slavery/abolition and Civil War chapters. A trail from the slave-owning South to free Canada, the Underground Railroad was composed of abolitionist homes who would shelter escaping slaves from capture and extradition. Part of the railroad ran through Indiana, which was part of the Abolitionist North in the Civil War. While most of the stops have been destroyed, reclaimed, or simply lost to time, at least two houses that were part of the Underground Railroad still stand as National Historic Landmarks. The Levi Coffin House in Fountain City (extreme east) and the Alexander Taylor Rankin House in Fort Wayne (northeast) are extant reminders of Indiana's role in the abolition of slavery and the North's victory over ownership of human beings.
In addition to celebrities and one past president (two if you count Lincoln's boyhood), Indiana has also been the birthplace of United States vice presidents as well. Schuyler Colfax (Ulysses S. Grant), Thomas A. Hendricks (Grover Cleveland), Charles W. Fairbanks (Theodore Roosevelt), Thomas Marshall (Woodrow Wilson), Dan Quayle (George H. W. Bush), and Michael R. Pence (Donald Trump) have been born in Indiana. Thanks to this, Indiana is now called the Mother of Vice Presidents.
So, you've just listened to “On the Banks of the Wabash Far Away” … sound familiar? The state song written by Paul Dresser inspired MacDonald and Hanley's song racing fans hear every Memorial Day weekend, “Back Home Again in Indiana,” annually sung until 2014 by Jim Nabors, better known as Gomer Pyle! After that year, the Alabama-born actor retired to his pineapple farm in Hawaii, but the tradition of singing the state anthem's sister song continues.
In 1831, Nancy Kerlin Barnett was buried in her favorite spot near Sugar Creek on the western side of the state. First a road, then a bridge threatened to uproot Nancy's grave just as it did all the smaller cemeteries nearby. Her grave would have been moved if not for her son, then later her grandson, who refused to allow imminent domain to disturb their matriarch. In 1912, the grave was granted historical standing and the permanent marker to go with it. Thanks to her descendants' dedication to letting her body rest in peace, the road was rerouted to go around it.
In Indiana, state law prohibits “spiteful gossip” and “talking behind a person's back.” Not sure how that law can be enforced, but there you have it, folks. Hoosiers aren't allowed to gossip.
Picture it. Peru, Indiana, June 1972. Lowell Elliot was tending his farm when it started to rain … cash! Elliot recovered the bundle of half a million dollars after a thief dropped it during his big escape via parachute (“You had one job.”) Sadly, no finder's fee for Elliot, even after he turned in the “gift from above” to the authorities. Oh well … no good deed goes unpunished, right?
Lewis and Clarke, peas and carrots, macaroni and cheese, salt and pepper. Fort Vincennes is where it all started. From the fort in the south of the state, America's most famous expedition crew journeyed westward on their legendary quest to the northwest corner of what would eventually become the final map of the United States of America (a hundred or so years later).
For generation after generation, one doll remains ageless in the arms of little girls across the nation. Raggedy Ann was “born” in 1914 when Indianapolis resident and children's author Johnny Gruelle found a faceless rag doll in his parents' attic, and then later gave the doll a face and a personality once he and his wife saw their daughter Marcella take a special interest in dolls. Raggedy Ann's name is purported to be a combination of Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley's poems “The Raggedy Man” and “Little Orphant Annie,” and stories of the red-yarn-haired doll and her brother Raggedy Andy have warmed hearts since 1920.
America's Pastime, the grand old game of baseball, saw its first Major League game played May 4, 1871 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The Kekiongas would have beaten the Cleveland Forest Citys two to zero had the game not been rained out.
Indiana sits on the world's most concentrated area of limestone (although Michigan can claim the world's largest limestone quarry). The Hoosier State has supplied the very stones that compose such world-famous architectural gems as “New York City's Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center as well as the Pentagon, the U.S. Treasury, a dozen other government buildings in Washington D.C. as well as 14 state capitols around the nation.” Southern Indiana is also purported to be an intensely haunted region, prompting dozens of paranormal investigations. Paranormal teams have concluded that a large number of paranormal sightings and experiences are due to the easily-imprinted limestone, which plays back “recordings” of energy impressions left by people in the past. In essence, limestone is like a giant cassette tape! So be careful you don't break the “No Gossiping” law mentioned above, because the very ground has ears!