The fall of 1914 was a bloody one in Europe. The British and German were winding down the First Battle of Ypres and would soon dig in to begin the long and futile period of trench warfare. On the other side of the
Atlantic Ocean, however, it was an election year. On
November 3 Hoosiers trooped to the polls and “for a time the war dropped into
the background as all Indiana
played the election game,” wrote Cedric C. Cummins in his book on public
opinion during World War I.
In addition to the usual candidates on the ballot, voters had the chance to register their opinions on two special issues: a convention to alter the state’s constitution and whether to celebrate the state’s centennial in 1916 by appropriating two million dollars for the construction of a memorial building to house the state library and other historical agencies. Both measures suffered defeat at the polls.
Democratic governor Samuel M. Ralston, who became a leading force behind the state’s eventual centennial observance, believed the memorial plan was rejected not because Hoosiers were against celebrating the event, but because they objected to the amount of money sought for the building.
Ralston was proven right; in just two years, backed by the efforts of the Indiana Historical Commission and thousands of volunteers,
residents would see the creation of state parks, the beginnings of an improved
statewide road system, the creation of permanent memorials in numerous
communities, and an overall awakening of interest in the nineteenth state’s
At Governor Ralston’s request, the 1915 Indiana General Assembly agreed to appropriate $25,000 and create a nine-member Indiana Historical Commission to promote the centennial celebration. The legislature’s financial support of the commission marked the first notable state commitment of funds to history in
Indiana. Of the $25,000, $20,000 was
earmarked for the promotion of centennial activities, while the remaining
amount went to collecting, editing, and publishing Indiana’s past.
The IHC first met on April 23 and 24, 1915, in Governor Ralston’s Statehouse office. An illustrious group joined Ralston on the commission, including James Woodburn of
Reverend John Cavanaugh of the University of Notre Dame, and Charity Dye, an Indianapolis
schoolteacher. The commission employed Professor Walter C. Woodward of to direct the centennial
celebration. Earlham College
The commission set out to educate the state’s citizens about the centennial. Special bulletins were sent to county school superintendents asking for their cooperation; direct appeals were made to teachers in the summer and fall of 1915; a weekly IHC newsletter began publication; and commission members addressed various clubs, civic organizations, churches, and historical societies (Dye alone gave 152 talks).
The IHC also turned to film to get its message across to the public. Realizing it had neither the necessary funds nor skills needed to undertake such an enterprise, the commission called upon the public for help. Citizens soon responded by forming the Inter-State Historical Pictures Corporation, which contracted with the Selig Polyscope Company of
produce a movie titled . The
seven-reel picture featured famed poet James Whitcomb Riley telling the story
of the state’s development to a group of children. Indiana
To encourage former
residents to return to the state for the centennial, the commission used the
services of noted humorist and author George Ade. Honored, or “burdened,” Ade
joked in speeches touting the centennial, with the chairmanship of the
committee to “sound the call and bring all the wandering Hoosiers back into the
fold,” he set about recruiting contributions from a veritable who’s who of
Hoosiers for a book.
Titled An Invitation to You and Your Folks from Jim and Some More of the Home Folks, the book, published by Bobbs-Merrill Company of
With it publicity campaign on its way to being a success, the commission had to turn its sights to how best to state the actual celebration; keeping in mind the lack of funds, it was clear that such events would have to be financed locally. The IHC turned to staging historical pageants. These dramas appealed strongly to the commission because they could both focus attention on
Indiana’s history and bring communities
The commission hired William Chauncy Langdon, former first president of the American Pageant Association, as the state pageant master. Langdon’s main duties were to write and direct three pageants, one at
University, another at the old state
capital of Corydon, and a final one at Indianapolis.
Historical studies were made, music was especially composed, and costumes were
designed “for the sole purpose of producing in the sequence of its various
scenes a clear, beautiful and inspiring drama and a truthful impression of the
development of the State of Indiana,”
These same ideas were used by local communities in developing their own pageants. The commission gave what help it could, securing centennial chairmen in all but three of
counties, with each responsible for selecting a county committee to plan the
work. The plan worked. Director Woodward reported that forty-five county or
local pageants presented in 1916 were seen by an estimated 250,000 people, and
anywhere from 30,000 to 40,000 Hoosiers participated in the performances.
Most counties used incidents from their past as the basis for the pageants.
for example, used the story of Frances Slocum, who was abducted at the age of
five from her home in Pennsylvania
by Delaware Indians. She was discovered by her family fifty years later in ,
the wife of an Indian chief. Titlted “Ma-con-a-quah,” the pageant opened with
the following: Miami County, Indiana
This name suggests! Here in years
A hundred past and more,
The red forebears of your possessions
Roamed the virgin wood, and called it Home.
Here, in primal glory, ere white man’s craft
Had fashioned this, your city, lived we, the
Along with the week-long pageant in
capital residents had the chance to hear from President Woodrow Wilson as part
of activities for Centennial Highway Day on October 12, 1916. Invited to speak
by Governor Ralston, a vigorous supporter of roadway improvements, Wilson arrived in the
city by presidential train (which was late). While in Indianapolis, the president reviewed an
automobile parade before delivering a speech on the need for good roads to
10,000 people at the Fairgrounds Coliseum.
Perhaps the commission’s crowning achievement came with the development of
Indiana’s first state
parks. The movement began in April 1915 when Governor Ralston received a letter
from Juliet V. Strauss, a nationally known writer living in Rockville,
Indiana, appealing for help in saving the
Turkey Run area in from being sold to
timber interests. The commission created a special parks committee with Richard
Lieber, who would become the first director of the Indiana Department of
Conservation, as chairman. Parke
While talks for purchasing the Turkey Run property for the state were under way, the commission learned of the opportunity to purchase the rugged area of McCormick’s Creek in
. A total of $5,250
was raised, one-fourth of which by Owen
County residents, and McCormick’s
Creek became Indiana’s
first state park. The commission later acquired the Turkey Run property.
When the last notes of music from the various pageants faded away and celebrants packed their costumes, the commission attempted to take advantage of the new opportunities presented by the centennial observance. Although a 1917 bill calling for the establishment of a permanent state agency for history failed, the commission was resurrected following World War I to organize a county-by-county war history. Since that time, Indiana has consistently funded a state historical agency (today known as the Indiana Historical Bureau).