Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Day 23: Where's Eugene?

Harmony to Terre Haute. 16.8 miles/329.1 total

I am leaving from in front of the post office in Harmony, going through Brazil and Seelyville, and will reach the east side of Terre Haute.

It's going to be raining all day. The temperature is about 42 at 10:30 a.m., and is expected to get up to about 50. Same thing for tomorrow.

I see a sign in front of a Pentecostal Church that says, "Get a life. Read John 3:16 KJV." Another reference to the King James Version of the bible. For these folks, none of those new-fangled communist-inspired modern translations to upset the delicate equilibrium of their beliefs. Give them the straight Jacobean stuff. I imagine this paranoia arises because some of the newer English translations--the Revised Standard Version from the early 20th century, and a few more modern ones--have taken some liberties with the cherished wording of the older version. Maybe some versions downplay the whole six day version of the creation, or make it more ambiguous. I heard a guy on the radio on the way down this morning who was preaching on the first chapter of Genesis, and he suggested that God might have faked the evidence, as it were, to present Adam with a fait accompli, a complete world. Or he might have miraculously sped up time to get it all done in six days. The audience applauded when he said that--it seemed to resolve the conflicts between the bible and science in a way that satisfied them. Interesting how the right wing protestant fringe can't lighten up and accept the idea that it's allegorical, or mythological, or whatever. It puts them in the same boat with the Taliban and other Muslim fundamentalists.

A little past Harmony I enter Brazil and go past the Wal-Mart where I have stayed for the last two nights. I appreciate the hospitality. There are a few Wal-Marts that don't allow overnight parking, but most do. In West Lafayette I saw a sign in the parking lot that said trucks and RVs weren't allowed to park overnight by city ordinance. But I didn't see that sign until after I'd stayed there two nights, so I guess they didn't care much.

Brazil is the county seat of Clay County, which is named after Henry Clay, senator from Kentucky and a quadrennial presidential also ran. And it's a good thing he never got elected, too, because he was the most consummately ugly guy in American politics. If he'd become president you'd have had young children frightened to look at history books. Clay was an early Whig, and very popular around here.

Brazil wasn't always the county seat. It replaced Bowling Green back in the 1870s, I believe, after their courthouse burned down (some say by arson). Brazil had incorporated in 1866, and was up and coming. Brazil was named after the country of Brazil, because that seemed like a good idea at the time. Back in the days when they were founding new towns all the time people sometimes came up with fanciful names, and no one much cared. Brazil's main claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of Jimmy Hoffa. And of Orville Redenbacher, a guy who was probably even uglier than Henry Clay. Today Brazil is a city of about 8000, unimpressive and a bit down at the heels.

I go by the Clay County courthouse and decide to go in. It's large, but not as impressive as some. It was built in 1912-14 out of limestone, and it has a nice stained-glass skylight in the center of the rotunda, with a bit of aTiffany flavor to it, and some granite columns and wainscoting and inlaid floors. Security isn't as tight as it is in most courthouses. No metal detectors, just a sign on the door that says not to bring any weapons inside. The honor system. That's okay with me, because I didn't have to empty all the crap out of my pockets into a little plastic dish--camera, telephone, recorder, pocket knife, and whatever else I've picked up on the road.

Now I'm in downtown Brazil, which stretches out for eight or ten blocks on U.S. 40. Mostly old storefronts, a few of which are crumbling and empty. Looks like they're trying to keep the downtown going, but they didn't have a hell of a lot to work with in the first place. I stop in at the Brazil Coffee Company, a little coffee shop, and get something to warm me up on this chilly day, and spend a few minutes reading the Terre Haute Tribune Star.

In front of the Brazil City Hall is a monument to Major Charles B. Hall, a Brazil native, and one of the Tuskegee Airmen. In 1943 he became the first African American to get official credit for shooting down an enemy plane, a German one, over Tunisia. By contrast, the white people I've seen in this town so far don't look like they could fight their way out of a paper bag, much less fly a plane and shoot down another one. I'm always mystified about why "country" people--hillbillies, crackers, red necks, whatever you want to call them--are always so proud to be what they are, even though it's so clearly not the way any rational person would choose to be. Scraggly haired, toothless, undereducated, dissipated-looking people.

I've managed to get this far without talking about the Covered Bridge Festival, which is an event that lasts a couple of weeks in October, during which people come to check out a number of covered bridges in this part of the state, and go to flea markets and antique shops and all that. Several times I've been asked whether I'm here for the festival.

Where U.S. 40 bypasses the western outskirts of Brazil, I stay on Indiana 340, which I think was the original highway, and will rejoin 40 in about 5 miles. I go into the Old Hill Cemetery, in which are buried some of the early Brazilians. John Hendrix and Eli Hendrix, and a bunch of people named Hill. So I guess the cemetery isn't called Old Hill because it's on a hill. I catch myself looking for the grave of Jimmy Hoffa, then I think, "wait a minute, he's buried in New Jersey."

I pass a trailer park with the ambitious name of Northview Country Estates. And it's not even a nice trailer park, if there is such a thing. Just some beat up single wides, set close together in a row. One of them has a tarp on top with about a dozen tires holding it in place.

Past three cemeteries and a high school and a middle school, the houses become better looking and more expensive. This must be where the wealthy of Brazil reside.

Here's a fourth cemetery, the Billtown Cemetery, set high up on a hill. These are some really old graves. Yocum, Mingo, and a Senator James Townsend, 1786-1852. I don't think they're planting anybody here anymore. Don't know where the rest of Billtown is, but it's not here on Indiana 340.

At a little over nine miles I enter Cloverland. Nothing much to say about it. Just a bunch of houses, before 340 merges again with U.S. 40. And just after that I enter Vigo County. Vigo County was named after Francesco Vigo, an Italian who lived in St. Louis, under Spanish control, back in the early days of the U.S. He helped finance Clark, of Lewis and Clark, and did something against the British during the Revolutionary War.

Next comes Seelyville, incorporated 1907. On the west side of Seelyville is a factory where I think they make Kellogg's rice krispie squares. Anyway, the sign says Kellogg's Snacks, and there's a picture of Tony the Tiger and one of those little Snap Krackle Pop dudes.

A billboard greets me, saying, "Five Minutes to Terre Haute....the Home of Clabber Girl Baking Powder." And there's a clock on the billboard. Very retro and cool looking. Which makes me wonder, what is a clabber girl, anyway? Maybe like a milk maid.

So Terre Haute is the home of Clabber Girl. And it's been a center of manufacturing and processing a variety of things. Glass coke bottles were first made here by the Root Glass Company; there were coal mines and breweries and they made acetone here (how would you like to live next door to that factory). Terre Haute was known as a sort of wide open place, where you could gamble and have a good time. It had a thriving red light district. It was also known for political corruption. And unions. It's the birthplace of what became the AFL, and of course, the birthplace of Eugene V. Debs, labor leader and five-time Socialist candidate for president. Finally, Terre Haute is the site of a federal prison where they execute people. Timothy McVeigh was given the needle in Terre Haute in 2001.

Next I come to the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, a pretty good sized school, with a nice sculpture out front and a small football stadium, where their team, the Fighting Engineers, plays. Rose was a prominent local businessman, as was Hulman, whose company still makes Clabber Girl baking powder.

The other really famous resident of Terre Haute, besides Eugene V. Debs, was Theodore Dreiser, the novelist. His original last name was Dresser, and he was the younger brother of Paul Dresser, the New York songwriter who wrote what became the Indiana state song, "On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away." Not sure why Dreiser changed his name. Dreiser, like Debs, was a political leftist.

At 15.4 miles I enter Terre Haute city limits. Duke A. Bennett is the mayor. I'm still a few miles from the center of the city, and I won't reach it today, but I'll have more to say about Terre Haute tomorrow, when I'm in the middle of it.

Shortly after the city limits is Highland Lawn Cemetery, a huge place with a stone archway entrance with tall turrets. Lots of gigantic graves of prominent people. I make my way to section 3 to check out the Debs family plot. But my visit is a bust, because I can't find the individual grave of Eugene V. Debs himself. There are his parents, who came from Colmar, Alsace, France, and at least one of his siblings, a sister named Eugenie, and her husband and lots of other Debs relatives and inlaws, but no marker for Eugene that I can see. I spend about fifteen minutes making ever-widening circles around the large Debs family monument, looking for the grave, but finally I have to give up, disappointed, and walk back out of the cemetery, and make my way down into the city to my destination for today, in the parking lot in front of the Rural King store.


Anonymous said...

I was just reading your post in Brussels today and I dug out the last of a Special K mini breaks sample that was given to me at a train station in a different country two days ago. (99 calories for 24g! I will think twice about buying it.) The very fine print says this one was "Prodotto in UE-Fabricado en la UE-Hergestelt in der EU-Deutschland, England oder Spanien". It strikes me as weird that only the Germans are told that this snack was "made in the EU: Germany, England or Spain". The other citizens of the EU are just told "EU", as if the Germans had a different level of trust as to where their snacks should come from and needed to be reassured that these snacks weren't made in say Italy, or France, or one of the newer member states!

Michael Roberts said...

Dibs on Debs:

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Yeah, went to that website before going to the cemetery. It's incorrect/misleading. Says he's in section 3, which is where the large Debs family marker, with the figure on top, is located, and where the rest of the family is buried. But it turns out Eugene is in an entirely section, nearer the front.