August 8, 2014 — Greensburg Daily News– GREENSBURG – Nearly a century ago, an intrepid group of Decatur Countians set out to prepare a celebration befitting the pomp and circumstance associated with a 100th birthday.
The year was 1916 and the Hoosier State was in the midst of a centennial celebration that prompted jubilant gatherings from Gary to Evansville and everywhere in-between.
Not at all to be outdone, a parade and a pageant looking back on 100 years of Hoosier history were organized in Greensburg, slated to take place that October, about two months prior to the official anniversary of Indiana’s acceptance into the Union.The city’s Centennial parade went off without a hitch — other than running too long — and then the rains came.
Showers continued off and on for days, meaning the pageant –which was set to feature live animals, among other activities that necessitated it being outdoors – couldn’t be performed. As is so often the case in the Hoosier Heartland, the rains quickly turned to that all-too-familiar Indiana autumn chill and the pageant was permanently shelved, tucked away within the foggy mists of long-forgotten local history.
With preparations now in progress for the state’s upcoming bicentennial celebration in 2016, a local group is planning to resurrect the pageant that never was a century after the ill-fated production exited the stage seemingly forever.
Decatur County Visitor and Recreation Director and Bicentennial Coordinator Melanie Maxwell is part of a group planning local activities to mark the 200th anniversary celebration. Chief among the list is a production slated for that year that will involve students of Greensburg Junior High School and Greensburg Community High School standing in for the original crew of performers who never had the opportunity to make the pageant a reality.
The project also involves the work of GCHS History teacher John Pratt and GJHS social studies teacher Justin Tucker, and will be recorded and subsequently made available to the public. Tickets will be sold to see the one-of-a-kind show in person, and funds collected will fill the coffer of a history fund in developing the Greensburg Community Schools Foundation.
The group recently received the go-ahead for the proposal from the Indiana Bicentennial Commission, chaired by former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman and retired U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton. All 92 counties of the Hoosier State are anticipated to create local events honoring the milestone in their own ways.
The distinctly Decatur County lost pageant project was one of 26 Bicentennial Legacy Project Endorsement Applications that were accepted by the Commission last month.
Imbued with the status of being an official Legacy Project, efforts are ramping up to finally let the mysterious show see the light of day.
“It will be interesting,” Pratt said of his involvement in the project. “Let’s just say it involves live animals.”
The GCHS history teacher said he and others associated with the pageant are working on costumes, settings, backdrops, the aforementioned wildlife and other details that will need to be hashed out. Casting, Pratt said, is expected to take place around September 2015.
“It’s a very interesting pageant of what life was like in 1816,” Pratt said of the lost work. “It’s cool that it exists and I’m so pleased Melanie thought of us to do it. She’s such a professional.”
With history as its natural point of reference, the pageant appears to dovetail nicely with the project for which Pratt is best known locally: the Chautauqua.
“We thought, ‘wouldn’t this be cool to coincide it with Chautauqua?’” Pratt remarked. “And this is exactly what we’re doing. The game plan would be to have a Chautauqua theme of ‘Hoosier Greatness.’ We hope to bring in some really interesting people from the great State of Indiana.”
Pratt’s enthusiasm for the project is equaled by Maxwell, who discovered the fabled pageant through Daily News columnist – and local historian – Pat Smith.
An original copy of the elaborate, 60-page work is currently on display at the Decatur County Historical Museum. The art was created by St. Paul native Harry Ballard, who was Superintendent of Indianapolis’ Printing Arts Company at the time the pageant was written. The cover features a covered wagon driven by pioneers, a Native American drifting along in a canoe, an Army soldier, and of course, the Decatur County Courthouse Tower Tree.
Maxwell said the production had been rehearsed and, for all intents and purposes, was ready to hit the stage.
The perfect storm of lackluster autumn weather and a production on a scale so massive it remains difficult to produce to this day led to the play’s cancellation.
With any luck, today’s crew of organizers will have better success in taking the well-worn pages of the playbook and turning them into a 21st century show to remember.
“The good news is we’ve got better than two years [to prepare],” Pratt laughed. “It’ll be fun; we’ll spice it up.”
Putting a modern-day spin on an old fashioned theme appears to be a connective thread among the other counties who have been approved for bicentennial projects.
Benton County plans to conduct a “living history day” concentrated on the 19th century. They’re also holding an “1816 Christmas Village” that intends to capture not only the spirit of the holidays but also the excitement of earning recognition as a state.
Carroll County will offer hundreds of thousands of scanned images of vintage newspapers, while Madison will celebrate its heritage of steam engines. There’s apparently no wrong way to celebrate, and creativity seems to be in abundance.
Decatur County, for its part, hopes to add a quilt and barn tour as well as an oral history of the county as told by those who lived it. Maxwell said those interviews will be recorded and saved for future generations.
Taken as a whole, the Legacy Project is opening windows to the past statewide, many of which have been shut for decades or longer. The key to keeping them open is communicating project ideas to the Bicentennial Commission.
“The key to the Legacy Project success is to get the word out,” Commission Member Judge Sarah Evans Barker said in a press release. “People need to know about this opportunity to get the Bicentennial Commission’s ‘stamp of approval.’” The website dedicated to the projects is www.indiana2016.org.
More information about Decatur County’s bicentennial projects can be found on Facebook at Decatur County 2016.
Contact: Brent Brown 812-663-3111 x7056; email@example.com
By Brent Brown Daily News