Tag Archives: kkk

Nostalgia & Novocaine

After high school I left Indiana, where I had lived my entire life. Soon afterwards, I discovered the books of Kurt Vonnegut, who was also from Indiana.

Vonnegut, who died four years ago this week, taught me many things in his writings, including that a body of water near the town where I grew up had the name Lake Maxinkuckee, and was not named Culver Lake like I had always believed. Vonnegut used to vacation at Lake Maxinkuckee as a kid.

Vonnegut, who was born into a prominent Indianapolis family in 1922, seemingly knew everything about the area he was born, and somehow worked Indianapolis into nearly every book.

I, on the other hand, knew next to nothing about my town, despite having lived there for 18 years.

This realization was brought home again to me last week as I was sitting in a dentist chair. While waitingfor the novocaine to take hold, I read from a book about Gene Autry called Public Cowboy No. 1 by Holly George-Warren and was shocked to see the town of North Judson, Indiana – my town – mentioned inside.

It turns out that at the height of the Depression, the singing cowboy came to the Gayble Theatre, our tiny movie house, and played a show that night before the featured film. 

It may not sound like a big deal, but I had never heard this story (or for that matter, had never seen my micro-community’s name in print). I would have thought this tale would have been regaled by at least one overalls-wearing old timer at every fish fry, high school basketball game, and tractor pull.

I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic since, and thanks to the web, I’ve learned more stories about North Judson this past week – both good and bad – than I did during all the years I lived there.

I found out that in 1889 a world lightweight boxing championship took place in an opera house in Judson. It ended in a draw after a match lasting over four hours and 64 rounds.

And on a darker note, I also learned that the KKK once marched down Main Street in 1923, and someone, presumably a Klan member, blew up the Catholic parsonage that same year.

It’s also triggered memories of the Gayble, which was a brick 488-seat Tudor Revivalist gem, where I saw my very first movies on screen.

One of my goals is to return to Indiana for an extended period of time so that I can make a documentary about the places that Kurt Vonnegut mentions in his books.

If this ever happens, I plan to make it back to North Judson, to find the site of the opera house (which I never knew existed), and to have my heart broken at the vacant lot where the Gayble once stood (it was demolished in 1999).

If it’s summer when I make it back there, I may even take a dip in Lake Maxinkuckee … now that I know it’s real name.

(Speaking of Gene Autry, I will be giving tours later this month at Melody Ranch, Gene Autry’s old film lot, for Santa Clarita’s Cowboy Festival.)

Written in Stone

Yesterday in Glendale, Elizabeth Taylor, who altered America’s cultural landscape, became the latest luminary to make the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Cemetery her permanent home.

Housed in the same building a few corridors away, one of her new neighbors made his mark by altering America’s physical landscape.

Gutzon Borglum was born to Danish immigrants in Idaho on this date in 1867. He showed artistic promise early and as a young man studied sculpture in Paris, where he was influenced by the creator of The Thinker, French sculptor Auguste Rodin. 

Back in America in 1908, Borglum was commissioned to create the statue of Union Gen. Philip Sheridan for Sheridan Square in Washington. President Theodore Roosevelt judged it “first rate,” which may have influenced Borglum’s later decision to include TR on the face of Mount Rushmore (proving yet again that “nice matters”).

Borglum was given an opportunity to create his first massive sculpture by carving the heroes of the Confederacy at Stone Mountain, Georgia. He was chosen for this commission partly based on his xenophobic and racist political beliefs, since the KKK was one of the major sponsors of the monument, and Borglum was a powerful member in the organization.

Borglum learned a great deal about creating large sculptures at Stone Mountain before leaving Georgia behind after clashing with the backers of the project.

His next assignment called for him to transform a mountain in South Dakota’s Black Hills into an American cultural landmark.

For fourteen years until his death, just over 70 years ago in 1941, Borglum and his son Lincoln supervised the carving of the 60-foot likenesses of Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a mountain known as Six Grandfathers to the native Sioux in the area.

The carving, while unquestionably majestic, still evokes controversy generations after its completion.

Many Native American groups consider the monument to be a glorification of the government-endorsed policy of greed known as “Manifest Destiny.” Some see the decision to place the statue on Indian land acquired through broken treaties, as a celebration of conquest, rather than of liberty.

Some critics view the sculpture as a defacement of the mountain’s natural beauty, while others decry the choice of commissioning a racist to create a national icon.

The example of Elizabeth Taylor and Gutzon Borglum proves that neighbors in death, as in life, can have nothing in common.