Category Archives: Indiana

iPhoneography: Hartford City, Indiana

It’s time for another look at one of East Central Indiana’s cities as glimpsed through my iPhone.

Hartford City, county seat of Blackford County, was settled and platted in the mid-1800s, sent soldiers to fight and die in the Civil War and saw a growth spurt during the late 1800s natural gas boom.

Curiously, there’s not a lot of recognition of the gas boom in Hartford City – unlike Gas City, just to the north, where some street sign posts are shaped like natural gas wells – but the community’s remembrance of its sons’ Civil War service is very noticeable around the courthouse.

The top photo is a view of the Blackford County Courthouse’s 165-foot tower.

The courthouse was the county’s second, built 1893-95, as a historical marker helpfully tells us, and is an example of Richardsonian Romanesque style.

The tower is very eye-catching and helps the courthouse dominate the downtown square.

The courthouse square has war memorials on each corner. This is the Civil War memorial.

In Hartford City, they keep their cannon balls handy. And shiny.

Among the other memorials is one to World War I doughboys.

Inside the courthouse, this tin ceiling is a nice architectural detail.

Like many smaller cities and towns, Hartford City has struggled to keep its downtown alive. Hartford City has some truly impressive and historic buildings surrounding its courthouse square, though. One of them is the Tyner/Knights of Pythias building.

The Tyner building, built around 1900, was home to professional offices for decades and was, in the 1920s, home to the Ku Klux Klan. At the time, the KKK had a huge presence in Indiana and all but constituted a shadow government.

Then there’s the Hotel Ingram, which online sources date to 1893. It’s a beautiful building in Romanesque Revival style but has seen better days.

One of Hartford City’s grandest buildings surely was the Weiler’s Building, once home to a large department store. Weiler’s store was opened by four brothers from Germany. The town’s elders bragged that Weiler’s rivaled any big city department store.

Lastly, a look at a ghost sign. I enjoy finding these on the sides of downtown buildings. I’m posting this even though the sun’s rays really weren’t in the right spot for this shot. But there is a ghost sign there, believe me!






Movie magic: My favorite big-screen moments

How many times, while watching a movie, did you find yourself wearing a huge grin of appreciation, chuckling with approval or outright yelling “YES!” back at the screen?

If that sounds familiar, you’ve had some goosebump moments, scenes that connected on a visceral level with you as a moviegoer.

I’m a lifelong movie fan and I’ve had a lot of those moments. But these are some of the very best.

The head popping out of the boat in “Jaws.” When my friend Jim and I went to see “Jaws” for the first time, the showing was sold out. We decided to wait for the next one, hanging out in a nearby ice cream shop. As we sat there, incredulous, the clerks behind the counter – who had somehow already seen the movie – dissected the entire plot, scene by scene, including the moment when, as Richard Dreyfuss dives to investigate a wrecked boat, the head of Ben, the shark’s victim, floats out of a hole in the hull. Even though the ice cream shop kids spoiled the moment for us, it was still amazing to see.

“Star Wars” and the passing of the Imperial ship overhead. Just after the opening credits of the groundbreaking 1977 science fiction classic, the blockade runner ship carrying, as we will soon find out, Princess Leia, passes overhead. The model is impressively detailed and looks big. Then the Imperial cruiser carrying, as we will soon find out, Darth Vader, passes overhead. And passes. And passes. And passes. You think it’s done but – psyche! – it’s just the docking bay. So it goes on and on and on some more.

Muncie in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” I was born and raised in Muncie, Indiana, so it was particularly goosebump-inducing to see not only the onscreen subtitle for Indianapolis but my hometown of Muncie. So the portrayal of Muncie and its denizens wasn’t very flattering. It was our biggest big-screen moment.

The boulder in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” I didn’t know what to expect from Steven Spielberg’s homage to old movie serials, so the first 10 or 15 minutes of the movie – with a jungle trek, creepy spiders, double-crossing guides, skeletons on spikes and lots of whip action – had me nearly breathless with appreciation. Then Harrison Ford has to outrun a huge boulder. Holy crap!

Nick Fury shows up in “Iron Man.” I realized that my first four favorite moments were all from George Lucas or Steven Spielberg movies. My favorite modern-day movie moment just might be when Samuel L. Jackson shows up, eyepatch and all, at the end of Jon Favreau’s 2008 superhero movie that kicked off the Marvel cinematic universe. If “Iron Man” had bombed, the presence of Nick Fury wouldn’t have carried any more significance than the title of the ill-fated “Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.” (Hint: The adventure ended.) But “Iron Man” was a terrific movie and began the road to “The Avengers.”

Classic TV: Paul Dixon and his show

Here’s one from the wayback machine for us Midwesterners: Cincinnati-based broadcaster Paul Dixon was the toast of the airwaves in the tri-state area in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Dixon’s show – which aired each morning on Channel 13 in Indianapolis – was a truly goofy local talk and variety show that revolved around Dixon, a self-styled dirty old man, and regulars like singers Bonnie Lou and Colleen Sharp.

One of the things that most appealed to me, as a kid and young adolescent, was just how naughty the Dixon show seemed.

As juvenile and silly as it was – and you can’t get much sillier than a wedding for rubber chickens or a middle-aged man parading around dressed like a baby – the show had a decidedly off-color edge.

Dixon would compliment his nearly-always-exclusively-female audience on their looks, following that up with checking out the miniskirt-wearing front row with a pair of binoculars and declaring himself the “mayor of Kneesville.”

He would then choose a “winner” – usually a  young Cincy housewife – and slip a garter onto her thigh, followed by a “knee tickler,” some faux jewel bauble that would hang below the hem of her skirt. Thus, tickling her knee.

The whole process involved as much good-natured groping of the audience member as was probably allowed on TV at the time.

Not to be forgotten: The T-shirt giveaway that entailed “Paul Baby” helping a woman into a tight shirt, donned over her clothes, that ended up looking like standing-up groping.

For a lot of us kids, watching on sick days or during the summer, it all seemed like forbidden stuff. It sure as heck wasn’t run-of-the-mill daytime TV.

Dixon’s show aired on WLW-TV in Cincinnati from 1955 until shortly following his death in December 1974.

While other local shows might have emulated Dixon’s oddball charm, it’s hard to imagine they duplicated it.

And Dixon’s shadow was long. David Letterman, who has traditionally been as gracious as can be about the type of pioneering Midwestern broadcasters who came before him, like Johnny Carson, spoke to the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1997 and cited Dixon’s influences on his offbeat comedic choices, repeatedly maintaining that Dixon was funnier than he was.

That’s not really the case. But Dixon was truly an original.


iPhoneography: 2012 Indiana State Fair

The Indiana State Fair brings summer to a close for hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers, who go back to school and jobs not long after the fair’s run.

The fair is also an opportunity for good iPhone photography.

The midway carnival rides are a natural photo subject. I’m pretty sure the Vertigo ride is new this year.

I haven’t found anything online that tells me how tall it is. I’m guessing … pretty tall.

The Freak Out is among the new traditional rides at fairs at the county and state level. It’s apparently a variation on a European ride called The Frisbee.

The Screamer is another new favorite.

If you’re more of  a traditionalist, the Ferris wheel is for you. The first was built for the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. The book “Devil in the White City” has some very interesting background on the Ferris wheel.

Sometimes traditional rides operate under a variety of  variations and names, including the Matterhorn, also known as the Flying Bobs.

The Firestorm is a traditional ride …

So is the Cliffhanger, or hang glider.

If you’re in need of a more sedate ride, the state fair offers shuttle trams pulled by tractor.

And lest we forget that 4-H competition is a big part of any fair …

Working at the cow wash. Get it?



‘Close Encounters’ and Muncie, my hometown

There’s been a long history between my hometown, Muncie, Indiana, and Hollywood.

Sometime I’ll do a fairly comprehensive look at the many mentions of Muncie in movies and TV shows ranging from the 1960s “Tom Slick” cartoons to “The X Files” and “Angel.”

In the meantime, though, I wanted to note the special relationship between Muncie and Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” the 1977 UFO thriller. The movie was airing on SyFy this afternoon and I got sucked into watching some of it.

The movie wasn’t filmed here in Muncie, although there was discussion of that happening. Local officials and Columbia Pictures apparently negotiated for a while and rumors swept through town that the city bought new police cars specifically to seal the deal. It didn’t happen, although the city got some publicity from having the first half of the move set locally.

If you haven’t seen it, Spielberg’s movie is about the the first meaningful contact between humans and aliens. The movie opens with a team of scientists, led by Lacombe (Francois Truffaut), discovering mint-condition World War II-era fighter planes in the Mexican desert.

The scene moves to Indiana as we see air traffic controllers in Indianapolis communicating with the pilots of two airliners that have near-misses with some unexplained object. Then we’re in Muncie – the on-screen title still gets me a little goose-bumpy – at a rural farmhouse where single mom Jillian runs into the woods to find her toddler son, Barry, who has happily followed something out of their house and into the dark.

In the suburban Muncie home of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a power company lineman, Neary is trying to persuade his kids to go to see “Pinocchio,” the re-issue of the Disney classic. They’re more interested in playing miniature golf, however.

Before long, Neary is sent to investigate the cause of a power outage and his truck is buzzed by low-flying UFOs. He gives chase along with half the Muncie police department. Thus begins his obsession. It is one he shares with dozens, maybe hundreds of others.

Some random thoughts, from a Muncie-centric perspective:

The Neary house, while looking like a shambles, has some authentic touches, including some Ball State University merchandise.

At one point, radio scanner traffic says Harper Valley. There’s no Harper Valley around Muncie. But if there was, they would have a dandy PTA, I bet.

There is a Cornbread Road – where Neary is sent to work on a power outage – and you can bet it was chosen for inclusion in the movie because of its quaint name.

The McDonald’s and Shell station look just right for the period.

The hillbillies – softly whistling “She’ll be coming around the mountain when she comes” as they wait for the UFOs to appear – are a nice touch but one that caused a lot of consternation at the time among local people who didn’t want to be represented onscreen by hill folk. Especially when one of them, played by character actor Roberts Blossom, says, “I saw Bigfoot once.”

There’s no toll road right outside Muncie, and certainly no nearby toll gate that divides Indiana and Ohio.

The movie got the police emblems on the patrol cars right, though.

There’s not much in the way of hillsides around Muncie, and certainly no mountainous overlook that cops and Neary could watch from, first as the UFOs fly over and then as lights come back on below.

The look of The Muncie Star wasn’t quite right, although its gargantuan size was. Holy crap, newspapers were big back then.

Neary’s “Ball U” T-shirt was a nice touch. I had one right about that time. They were a slightly naughty hit.

On the second night, when a newly fired Neary and a crowd of Muncie residents go back to the hill to wait for the alien ships to reappear, the collective mental seed that compels them to seek out the UFOs is destined to take them out of Muncie.

By the time Neary becomes obsessive about his encounter and begins building replicas of Devil’s Tower, Wyoming – scene of the ultimate Close Encounter – in his mashed potatoes and in a huge mound of dirt in his family room, his family bails on him and so, frankly, did I.

“Close Encounters” is a terrific movie that builds to a touching climax. I can’t help but be more interested, however, in the early scenes and what they indicate about my town.


iPhoneography: County fair carnival rides

What would summer be without a county fair? The fair gives us food that’s good and bad for us, carny games and carnival rides – and an opportunity for iPhone photos.

Here’s a look at this week’s Delaware County Fair, held in Muncie, Indiana.

The last couple of hours of daylight and the onset of twilight is my favorite time to take carnival pictures. You’ve got enough light to get some details but a strong source of light to make for dramatic backlighting. Then, within a few minutes, the sky darkens enough to create beautiful artificial lighting photos.

Here’s another shot of the Yo-Yo.


The Ferris wheel is always a favorite.


The Freak Out looks very different by day …

… and night.

Gotta love the games, including the ever-popular balloon-busting ones.

And the prizes. When I took this, a young woman operating the game said, “Are you taking a picture of my crabs?”

Night falls on the midway.


iPhoneography: Albany, Indiana

The town of Albany, Indiana, several miles north of Muncie, has remained surprisingly robust during its history. While other Indiana and Midwestern towns have withered on the vine, Albany has maintained a population of more than 2,000 people. It has a thriving downtown and local businesses.

Here’s a summer 2012 iPhone look at Albany.

For much of the 20th century, the McCormick Brothers company was the town’s biggest business. Founded in 1907 and lasting until the last quarter of the century, McCormick Brothers made a variety of metal products over the decades, beginning with washboards, moving into metal kitchen cabinets and then products for the war and interstate highway efforts.

While other businesses have occupied the sprawling McCormick Brothers plant, the most notable landmark remains its water tower, seen above.

Albany has a number of businesses in its downtown, including C.J.’s Hardware Store. C.J.’s is an old-fashioned hardware store with wooden floors, rolling ladders to help the store’s employees reach products on high shelves and the kind of  broad but selective inventory that makes old-fashioned hardware stores fun to walk around in.

Albany has a five-and-dime store. For many years, McCord’s Five and Ten offered bulk candy, nuts, household goods and some curious items. The sign is still on display inside the store. Under new ownership now, the store still has what might be the area’s biggest selection of hairnets.

The great old-school packaging makes the hairnets look like leftovers from the 1960s, but the store still sells hairnets to food service workers around the area.

Mood rings, anyone? They have ’em.

One of the town’s churches was getting a new roof the day I was there.

This “ghost sign” for Colonial Break decorates the end of a building.

I’ve seen this sign, on the side of a building, before but never understood it. Would it light up, ring and alert passersby and police if a burglar alarm had been tripped? I’d like to know more about it.

One of Albany’s most popular restaurants, the Dairy Dream.