“It Should Never Float Over American Soil”

During my master’s thesis research on the Grand Army of the Republic in Indiana I relied heavily on a Union Civil War veterans’ newspaper called The American Tribune. The paper was printed out of Indianapolis from roughly 1888 to 1906 and was edited by active members of the Indiana GAR during the postwar years. The paper is extremely hard to find on microfilm today and I was really lucky to have the Indiana State Library–one of the only places in the country where you can find it–within walking distance of my house to aid my research. Just for the fun of it I’ve been going back through some of my files and came across some interesting commentaries from the paper’s editorial page on the Confederate flag. Here are a few samples:

On May 29, 1890, a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was unveiled in Richmond, Virginia, along what is now called “Monument Avenue.” When reports suggested that Confederate flags were waved during the ceremonies, the John A. Logan Post No. 199 of the Indiana GAR issued an angry resolution condemning these actions as “disloyal and treasonable.” The Tribune gleefully republished the Logan Post’s resolution in full on June 27:

WHEREAS: The rebel flag was unfurled and displayed on housetops and in line of march, and used for the purposes of decorating in remembrance of the same principles that it represented during the years of 1861 to 1865, and

WHEREAS, The principles taught the rising generation by such acts are as wrong as that principle taught by anarchists and communists in carrying the red flag, which this government forbids. Therefore be it

RESOLVED, That we heartily endorse the sentiment of Gen [Daniel] Sickles on last Memorial Day unmoved by any rancor or spirit of hatred, God forbid, but we say as Union soldiers and the love that we bear for the stars and stripes that there is but one flag for the Americans, the flag of Bunker Hill, of Saratoga, of Yorktown, of Lundy’s Lane, of New Orleans, the flag of Washington, Scott, Perry, Jackson, Lincoln, Hancock, Grant, Hooker, and the flag carried victorious by Billy Sherman to the sea. The only flag that represents the right, and in charity we will not forget the difference between right and wrong.

RESOLVED, That in this country there is but one flag which represents the fundamental principles of a free government known and acknowledged by all nations of the earth, and while we respect the pride that animates the hearts of ex-confederate soldiers in historic valor displayed on many battlefields of the war and the sentiment which endears them to each other, and keeps alive in their memories the many scenes of hardships which they shared together, we sincerely condemn any attempt to resurrect from the buried past the emblem which represents a bad and lost cause.

RESOLVED, That the stars and stripes represent loyalty and the stars and bars represent treason, the same to-day as they did from ’61 to ’65, and we deem it the duty of the authorities at Washington, irrespective of political parties, to forbid the display of the stars and bars on any occasion, and this we do in memory of those who so heroically gave their lives that the Nation might live.

From an editorial entitled “Our Flag is There” on January 7, 1892:

When Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant at Appomattox, the latter would not accept Gen. Lee’s sword, and he included within that surrender a provision that all the Rebel officers should retain their side-arms. That courtesy of Gen. Grant expressed exactly the feeling of the great generous heart of the North toward the defeated and conquered South. Southern poets have written ballads and Southern women have sung of the sword of Robert Lee. This is all as it should be. But when Gen. Lee surrendered to Gen. Grant there was no provision made that the flag of slavery and secession should ever be retained, either as a souvenir or standard. It represented something that cost this country a million of men and many millions of money, and at Appomattox its bloody folds should have been furled forever. War relic or no war relic, it should never float over American soil.

A month later the paper lamented how many Northerners (and Democrats in particular) embraced what the paper called a “forgive and forget” sentiment that accepted the continued flying of the Confederate flag (“Still Pandering to Rebels,” February 4, 1892):

The Northern Dough-faces and the “forgive and forget” sentimentalists are largely responsible for the manner in which the “relics of the lost cause” are nursing emblems of their treason and are still laboring to make the same respectable. In poor old Missouri they have societies called “Daughters of the Confederacy” whose invitations to their balls and receptions have a Confederate flag printed in colors on one corner; and the principal of the leading military school in that State [Alexander Frederick Fleet, Sr. of the Missouri Military Academy]…advertises the advantages of his school with the picture of a late major-general of the Rebel army in the uniform of a rebel, and this officer was a graduate of West Point, resigned from U.S. Army in 1861 and fought for the Confederacy.

This sort of thing is becoming too common and the President should call a halt and order the officer now on duty there to his regiment, and require the arms to be turned over to the ordnance officer at Jefferson Barracks. It is high time there was a law forbidding the Government of the United States from furnishing teachers’ ordnance, or in any way aiding any institution of learning which seeks to perpetuate the principles of or honor the so-called Confederate Government.

All these comments make you wonder what these guys would think about our debate over the Confederate flag 120 years later.

Cheers

How Much Would You Pay to Visit Your Local Art Museum?

Visitor Use Statistics for the Indianapolis Museum of Art from December 9 to December 22, 2014.
Visitor Use Statistics for the Indianapolis Museum of Art from December 9 to December 22, 2014.

The Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) is a good art museum, staffed by friendly people and located on beautiful grounds. Some of the employees and interns there are my friends, and I was on a research team that conducted an evaluation study at the museum earlier this year. I visited the museum at least a half dozen times while I lived in Indianapolis and think the institution is an important civic destination for the entire city.

I was quite surprised a few days ago when I heard about the IMA’s recent decision to raise its admission fee from free to $18 ($10 for kids 6-17) starting in April 2015. Buried deep within an official December 12 announcement about a “new campus enhancement plan,” the IMA (beyond the usual desire to boost memberships and the “we need to guarantee long-term financial sustainability” argument) justifies the price hike on the basis of visitor convenience, asserting that “visitor research has shown that the IMA guests do not like paying for parking and key programs like exhibitions separately.” Elsewhere the IMA board chairman, Thomas Hiatt, further justifies the increase by arguing that the new admission fee is in line with other Indianapolis destinations like the Children’s Museum and the Zoo and cites the Huntington in Pasadena, California, as a model institution for instituting an admission fee to boost both visitor attendance and financial endowment.  Finally, a few supporters have argued–with some justification–that the new pricing model is actually cheaper for visitors.

Let’s take a deeper look into these claims and assess their validity.

Visitors want to pay one uniform fee: This claim is misleading at best, disingenuous at worst. The announcement never mentions that the museum is currently free to enter (except for optional special exhibits and parking), and it implies that visitors are okay with this price hike because it combines special exhibit and parking costs. So, rather than keeping the bulk of the museum free and keeping the special exhibits an optional expenditure for those interested, visitors allegedly want everyone to pay an admittance fee because it’s more convenient that way…

The way an evaluation question is framed can do much to shape the possible answers a visitor provides. My suspicion, which I feel pretty confident in, is that the evaluation question that provided this result was probably worded along the lines of “If the IMA were to institute an admission fee, what would you consider a fair pricing structure?” You can easily see how a question like that suddenly leads to an announcement that says “visitors think the new price model is more fair.”

The new pricing model is cheaper for visitors: There is some justification to this argument. The current pricing model stipulates that an adult weekend visitor to the IMA’s special exhibit would have to pay $20 plus a $5 parking fee, whereas the new model combines both fees into its $18 admittance price. But of course the visitor who only wants to visit the free permanent and temporary exhibits now has to pay $18 as well, so we could ask: what percentage of visitors pay the current fee to enter the special exhibits?

The IMA maintains limited visitor use data online here, including attendance over the most recent two weeks (which is pictured above). The chart also distinguishes between the number of visitors who went through the entrance and the number of visitors who visited the special exhibition gallery. For the period between Tuesday, December 9 and Monday, December 22, 2014, 5,805 visitors out of a total of 13,176 visitors (44%) visited the special exhibit, which means that more than half of all visitors chose not to visit the special exhibit.

This sample is limited in numerous regards, obviously requiring a necessary margin for error. Different seasons bring out different attendance numbers and visitation patters; some of these December visitors may have been school groups who may or may not have visited the special exhibits; and we don’t know how many visitors had memberships that allowed them access without paying an addition fee for the special exhibit (although another online statistic indicates that only 6.58% of all visitors in 2008 were IMA members). We can tentatively conclude, however, that it’s pretty close to 50/50 in terms of visitors getting a cheaper deal with the current and future pricing models.

The new pricing model is in line with admittance fees to other Indianapolis cultural institutions: The $18 admittance fee is on the higher end of Indianapolis cultural institutions that charge a fee, making it more expensive that the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum, the Eitlejorg Museum, the Indiana State Museum (but not the “Total Museum” experience that includes an IMAX film showing), and a number of other places. And yes, it is cheaper than the Children’s Museum and the Zoo. But I think it’s mistaken to compare the art museum’s fees with other cultural museums in Indy rather than other art museums throughout the country, especially the Midwest. Art museums are not the same as children’s museums, history museums or science museums. Art, in my opinion, is a public good. As this article helpfully points out, public goods are defined as goods that, if provided for one, are provided for all in an accessible manner that excludes no one. Consuming art is not like purchasing tickets for an Indiana Pacers basketball game through a market that limits access and excludes people from a given commodity. The other types of museums can be justified as public goods too, but I think we get a more precise understanding of the value of an art museum visit if we draw comparisons to other art museums. Let’s take a look at the new IMA admittance fee (for adult individuals) compared to other Midwest art museums:

The Art Institute of Chicago: $23
Cedar Rapids Museum of Art: $5
Cincinnati Art Museum: Free
Cleveland Museum of Art: Free
Columbus [OH] Museum of Art: $12
Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis: Free
Des Moines Art Center: Free
Detroit Institute of Arts: $8
Dubuque Museum of Art: $6
Indianapolis Museum of Art: $18
Milwaukee Art Museum: $14
Minneapolis Institute of Arts: Free
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago: $25
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit: $5 suggested donation
Museum of Wisconsin Art: $12
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: Free
Rockford Art Museum: $7
Springfield [IL] Art Museum: Free
St. Louis Art Museum: Free

It’s clear that IMA will be on the high end of admittance fees for larger Midwest art museums.

The Huntington is an appropriate “model” for the IMA’s new price model: William Poundstone points out several problems with the IMA using the Huntington as a model for their new admittance fee. While the Huntington tripled its attendance and endowment after instituting an admittance fee ($20 adults on weekdays and $23 on weekends), that fee was implemented in 1996, thus this increase gradually took place over 18 years. 3 million additional residents have moved to LA since then, and the Huntington has grown since that time to include several gardens, a conservator, a wing dedicated to the history of science, and its American art gallery has tripled in size. In sum, the Huntington in California is on a completely different scale than the IMA in Indiana. Poundstone minced no words, arguing that “to imply that the Huntington’s admission fee had anything to do with increasing attendance or endowment gifts is like saying the Obama administration is responsible for beards, food trucks, and Iggy Azalea. Correlation doesn’t prove causation.”

Conclusion

Using my knowledge of evaluation practices, available online data about IMA visitation, and comparing IMA’s new admittance fees to similar Midwest museums, I have attempted to point out inconsistencies in the IMA’s justification for their price jump while at the same time acknowledging that the $18 fee may be cheaper for a decent number of visitors who want to see the special exhibition galleries. I think the new model will lend itself to more people purchasing memberships, but am skeptical of IMA’s ability to bring in new audiences or even attain its yearly attendance numbers in recent years due to this price change. I understand that the IMA is reliant upon memberships to help offset costs, and I think it’s more than fair to charge some sort of admittance fee for that purpose. That said, the jump from free to $18 is high – probably too high. Why not charge in the $5-$12 range instead? Finally, based on comments from friends in the area and from this article online, it appears that the IMA failed to properly communicate this policy change to the public before making plans to implement the new fees in April. That is unfortunate, and it raises questions about IMA’s willingness to communicate with the local community in a shared endeavor towards building a museum that fits the needs of residents while also meeting the bottom line.

What do you think?

Cheers

National History Day: Who Participates, Who Doesn’t?

I spent yesterday morning volunteering some of my time as a judge at the National History Day competition, Central Indiana District. This is the second time I’ve volunteered to judge for National History Day and I very much enjoy the experience. Last year I judged high school-aged exhibit projects; this year I judged websites created by middle school students. With both years I saw some projects that were clearly last-minute concoctions that relied too much on questionable sources such as the History Channel’s website or interviews with family members. One student even commented in an interview with me that they felt they didn’t need to read any books about their subject because there were a couple websites that provided enough information. YIKES! Nevertheless, these submissions are often the exception to the rule. Most projects are excellent and reflect months of hard work and research. It is a pleasure to help all of these students on their learning journeys.

It’s safe to say there are plenty of young students who take a keen interest in history from a young age. Tens of thousands of American students participate in National History Day annually; in Indiana there were 4,600 students who participated this year, including roughly 500 from the Central Indiana Region.

While I am pleased to see these high numbers, it is striking to analyze who is participating in National History Day and who is not. With regards to Central Indiana I find it significant that the vast majority of participants are coming from mostly white middle class public and private schools in a suburban setting. Students in the Indianapolis Public School District–the ones who live closest to the IUPUI campus in downtown Indianapolis where the competition is held–are noticeably absent from the competition. The participants of National History Day in Central Indiana don’t reflect the actual community of students within the region, and I find that regrettable.

Having spoken to several organizers of National History Day within the state I know they are concerned about the lack of participants from impoverished and under-served areas. I am not sure of the extent of their efforts in promoting National History Day in these regions, but I wonder how we as a community can encourage all students to participate in the event. Are these discrepancies reflective of a lack of awareness, a lack of interest, a lack of accessibility, or a combination of all three? I don’t have any answers, but I would like to know about efforts in others parts of the United States towards making National History Day a more inclusive event.

What do you think?

Cheers

Building a Fortress for My Thesis Defense

The Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors Monument in 1898. Photo Credit: Wikipedia
The Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors Monument in 1898. Photo Credit: Wikipedia

I am feeling on top of the world at this very moment. This morning I submitted a draft of my master’s thesis to my committee in anticipation of my formal thesis defense on Tuesday, March 11. I still have a long way to go in the entire process, but I feel like a huge load of researching, writing, and editing has been lifted off my shoulders. The draft is longer than I anticipated–141 pages, which is almost double the minimum requirement for a history master’s thesis at IUPUI–but I honestly believe that every question I ask and every interpretation I provide has an important purpose within the study (of which I’ll have more information in future posts). I’ve been very fortunate to have a committee of professors who have taken an active interest in my topic and who have already read rough drafts of all my chapters multiple times. Having three different perspectives throughout the process has allowed for a wide range of questions and comments on revising my work, and their prompt attention to my research has given me ample time to craft what I hope will be an important addition to the study of Civil War memory in Indiana and the entire Grand Army of the Republic.

When I first started graduate school in August 2012 I hadn’t put much thought into my thesis topic. Indianapolis was a new city for me, and I didn’t know a whole lot about the history of the state, although I knew that I wanted to do something Civil War-related. Within days of moving to the city I visited the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in downtown Indianapolis, and this visit prompted within me questions about the nature of Civil War memory in the Hoosier state. What really struck me about the monument at the time was its location. The very definition of Indianapolis’s cardinal directions has been shaped by the monument’s location in the geographical center of the city. Everything west of the monument is western Indianapolis, everything east is eastern Indianapolis, so on and so forth. City designer Alexander Ralston platted a circle in the middle of the city in 1821 with the intention of placing the Governor’s mansion in this circle (the mansion was built poorly, however, and no governor ever lived there, ironically enough). My interpretation of this design is that Ralston aimed to place Indiana’s chief executive in the center of the capitol city as a way of reinforcing notions of good governance, “progress,” westward expansion, and American patriotism in the Hoosier state.

With the end of the Civil War, however, calls were made to turn the circle into a commemorative monument to Indiana’s Civil War dead, and in 1887 the Grand Army of the Republic finally persuaded the Indiana General Assembly to appropriate $200,000 to build the monument. By placing the monument in the geographic center of the capitol city, Indiana now defined itself as a state whose very foundations were built on its collective remembrance of the past. Future legislation banning the construction of any buildings within the circle that were taller than the monument reinforced this idea by ensuring that future commercial developments would never overshadow the state’s memories of its past and its war dead.

Even though my thesis did not have enough space to address the construction of the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, this August visit to the monument sparked my interest in looking at the Indiana veterans who were so adamant about constructing a monument that reflected their memories of war.

Following this visit, I outlined my plan for researching, writing, and editing:

September 2012 – April 2013: In September I decided that the Indiana GAR was going to be my topic. For the next seven months I dedicated myself to doing research and developing research questions for the thesis. I also presented a few rough drafts of ideas I had at conferences at Ohio University and the University of Indianapolis, which gave me the opportunity to get some feedback from professors outside of IUPUI. Finally, I started blogging a bit about my research here at Exploring the Past (which is under the “Grand Army of the Republic” category to the right).

May 2013 – December 2013: Early in the process I made a vow to have all three chapters written by the end of 2013. In May I had a formal prospectus defense in which I outlined my ideas for each chapter and compiled a list of primary and secondary sources I intended to use throughout the study. This prospectus defense was successful, and I began writing shortly thereafter. Over the summer I wrote two chapters and continued to conduct research for my third chapter, which will be looking at the relationship between the Indiana GAR’s desire for “patriotic instruction” for young children and the rise of public education in the state during the 1890s and 1900s. I wrote the third chapter in my free time during the Fall semester and completed it in December.

January 2014 – Present: Since the turn of the new year I have focused on writing an introduction and conclusion while also making extensive edits to the entire document. Now that I’ve turned in a draft of the whole product, I will now focus on making edits, tying up loose ends, and preparing for my thesis defense. I am also presenting a paper about the Indiana GAR at the Indiana Association of Historians conference at Anderson University on March 8th. At some point in March or April I will have the thesis reviewed by an editor at the IUPUI graduate office, followed by the eventual publication of the study into book form. Thanks to IUPUI’s commitment to open access policies, my master’s thesis will also be available online to the whole world through the university library’s ScholarWorks Repository. Hopefully others will read it besides my family 🙂

What do you think about the process of writing a master’s thesis? Any recommendations for those looking to get a head start on their own studies? Be sure to leave a comment if you have ideas.

Cheers

Highlights from the National Trust for Historic Preservation Annual Conference

From October 29 to November 3 (today) the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been holding its annual conference right here in Indianapolis. I was able to secure a scholarship to attend the conference for free (thank you IUPUI!) and I tried to attend as many different sessions as possible while still making time for school work. I am not an expert on historic preservation, but wow, every session I attended was amazing. I met a lot of people from around the country and was quite impressed by the variety of jobs these historic preservationists held. I came out of the conference having a much better understanding of what historic preservationists do and I could definitely see myself working in this field if the opportunity arises. Ultimately, I learned that historic preservation is more than preserving buildings; it’s about the preservation of stories, people, and communities too.

Here are some highlights, thoughts, and interesting points I learned while at the conference. I still don’t know a lot of the lingo behind historic preservation, so please forgive me for speaking in rather general terms:

  • On Wednesday, October 30 I had the opportunity to work with my friends at the Indiana State House (where I used to work) and help run a field session/tour that started at the Birch Bayh Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse and eventually made its way to the State House. The Federal Building was completed in 1905 and was also the main post office of Indianapolis when first completed. In 1974 the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Amidst the Great Recession of 2008 federal stimulus money was used to renovate the building, which provided employment to many laborers in and around the area who had either been laid off or had their hours cut.
  • When the field session moved to the Indiana State House, we heard former Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard speak about efforts to preserve the Indiana Supreme Court Room back to its original design. Starting around 2002 (if I remember correctly) federal funds were given to the state to undertake this work. Shepard talked about some of the challenges associated with the restoration, especially the strict scrutiny given to the project by some taxpayers. Sometimes preservation efforts are not readily appreciated by the public, who would rather see tax funds spent for other purposes. Being clear about the project’s purpose and the potential benefits of such work, argued Shepard, is integral to teaching the public about the importance of preservation.
  • On Thursday, October 31 I attended a rainy field session on reviving urban neighborhood centers. We traveled to various parts of Indianapolis, including Fountain Square, Irvington, 10th Street, and Massachusetts Avenue. Throughout the tour I was continually struck by the devastating impact of de-industrialization in Indianapolis, which started in the 1970s and has continued to this day. For example, a Ford automotive plant and a factory that made Duracell Batteries on East Washington Street have both shut their doors in recent years, leading to the loss of more than 10,000 jobs on this street alone. East Indianapolis has also suffered from some of the worst rates of foreclosure in the country thanks to de-industrialization, predatory lending, and the 2008 Great Recession. The best way to preserve a historic building is to find new tenants for it, but developing new uses for these buildings  has been a challenge for preservationists in the area. Thankfully, a program called the Super Bowl Legacy Initiative brought some much needed funds following the 2012 Super Bowl, and it appears as if these funds are being used for good purposes.
  • I was also struck by the number of abandoned theaters throughout the city that I saw on the tour. During the twentieth century, Indianapolis was actually well-known for its theaters. However, as the jobs went, so did the theaters. Some of these theaters have been restored as music venues (see, for example, the Murat Theater), but many are still completely abandoned. I would be really interested to read a historical study that analyzed changes in theater and fine arts in conjunction with changes in the built landscapes of the surrounding communities of these theaters.
  • I attended three sessions on Friday, October 1 and live-tweeted so many interesting points to #PresConf that my phone ran out of juice before the end of the day. All three sessions were excellent, but the first one (“preservation as a meaningful tool for addressing community change”) was really striking. Matt Cole and Jason Berry of Chicago and Michael Allen of St. Louis did a great job of reinforcing the importance of moving the historic preservation discussion from districts, tax codes, and the history of neighborhood creators to discussions about the people who currently live in these historic neighborhoods, which are often riddled with crime and poverty. Jason Berry summed this up by stating, “I love good windows, but things happen.” The job of Historic Preservationists is to help local communities handle change and address questions that are important to the community, not to act as community spokespersons or deciders of the future.
  • Another session entitled “Cocktails, Coloring Books, and Cyber Space” provided new strategies for educating local communities about historic preservation efforts. Members of the Landmark Society of Western New York outlined three innovative ideas they are experimenting with to try and raise awareness in Rochester, New York, and the surrounding areas. One (“Cocktails”) involves using drink coasters with QR codes at local historic drinking establishments that lead to LSWNY’s website. The others (“Coloring Books” and “Cyber Space”) are geared towards children and families. “The Littlest Preservationist” is a coloring book addressed for children, while the computer game “Historical Friction” challenges students to envision preservation efforts from the perspectives of both preservationists and developers. The site will be up and running in the spring of 2014. While LSWNY acknowledged that these initiatives are in their experimental phase and that the takeaways and outcomes from these educational initiatives is a bit murky, the goal at this point is to get kids looking around and thinking more about the built environment in their local area. I think these ideas are great and I look forward to seeing how these initiatives work out in the future.

Click on the gallery below to see some pictures I took during the conference.

Reflections on Sports and Identity

Picture Credit: https://twitter.com/Cardinals/status/391549372577501184
Picture Credit: https://twitter.com/Cardinals/status/391549372577501184

For better or worse, many historical topics are discussed here at Exploring the Past. Some blogs have a fairly strict boundaries for what gets discussed, but I’ve always wanted to create a blog with a broad theme, one that has many different topics and strands of discussion. I’d like to broaden that theme a bit further and explore some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head lately about sports and identity. There are several reasons why this particular topic interests me: 1. I’m an unabashed sports fan (St. Louis sports, to be exact), 2. I’ve lived in two cities with two almost completely different “sports cultures” (St. Louis and Indianapolis), and 3. I think sports can tell us a lot about a particular city and its residents.

Both Indianapolis and St. Louis became centers for sporting events during the Gilded Age. Advancements in industrialization provided money, free time, and leisurely opportunities for America’s middle and upper classes, who frequently resorted to sporting events for entertainment. The St. Louis Brown Stockings began playing baseball in 1882 (later joining the National League in 1892 and becoming the “Cardinals” in 1900). Indianapolis has hosted a baseball team since 1887, and in 1902 the Indianapolis Indians–now a triple A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates–were formed, making them one of the oldest existing minor league baseball teams.

In Indianapolis, however, the real turning point in sports history was the creation of the Indianapolis 500 race. Track founders Carl G. Fisher, James Allison, Arthur Newby, and Frank Wheeler had originally conceived the racetrack in 1909 as hosting a series of races over Labor Day weekend. Following the races on Labor Day weekend in 1910, however, Fisher announced that there would be one 500 mile race hosted on Memorial Day in 1911. Historians of the racetrack such as D. Bruce Scott and Ralph Kramer and Carl Fisher’s biographer Mark S. Foster have all failed to explain why Memorial Day was selected as the race day, but this decision requires serious inquiry and explanation. Since 1868, Civil War veterans, religious groups, and many other residents in Indianapolis had utilized Memorial Day as a day of remembrance and commemoration for Indiana soldiers who had lost their lives in the Civil War. Fisher’s decision to switch the race to Memorial Day received strong condemnation from veterans and religious groups, but by the start of World War I, the race was annually attended by more than 100,000 spectators from all parts of the United States.  Fisher and other business leaders in Indianapolis celebrated the race as a demonstration of American ingenuity and Indiana’s strong automobile industry. By hosting the race on Memorial Day, the holiday’s meaning transformed itself in Indianapolis.

What is interesting about this transformation is the changing rhetoric of patriotism that attached itself to the race. An editorial from the Indianapolis Star on May 31, 1913 captures the idea perfectly. Memorial Day, according to the Star, should still be a day of commemoration for Indiana’s Civil War dead, even though the race was being held on the same day. However, “the men and women [who attend the race] are of the twentieth century; they are looking forward, not back as it is the nature of each generation to do.” Additionally, “at the Speedway they celebrate the triumph of invention and industry that of itself was made possible by the services of the veterans.” By looking forward–rather than the past–Hoosiers were allegedly expressing patriotic sentiments and thanking their veterans by attending this annual sporting event.

In 1957, an annual parade around Indianapolis the day before the race was inaugurated (the date of the parade now varies). According to the Parade’s website, “the committee [in charge of organizing the parade] felt the project should be a civic-oriented, annual activity keyed to the 500-Mile Race.” John Bodnar argues in Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century that this annual parade “emphasized not commemoration [of the soldier dead] but fantasy and escape rather than the serious matter of life” (91). Entertainment was (and still remains) an important part of these parades. For example, parade organizers of the bicentennial celebration of 1976 arranged patriotic floats that included an infant with an Uncle Sam hat and a colonial soldier playing flute with a bear that strummed a guitar (93). Nevertheless, there were messages of American patriotism and civic pride in Indianapolis that attempted to portray the city as a center of “uncontested patriotism” thanks to its annual race.

In St. Louis, Cardinals baseball has dominated the sporting landscape. When the Cardinals win, the city’s residents (and those like myself who support the team from afar) feel good about themselves. We often assert ownership in our teams and our city (“that’s my team!”, “Our city is the best sports city in America!”, etc.) and frame these victories as a reflection of the good people who live in that area. Yet this recent month of Cardinals playoff baseball has me asking why such expressions are made. None of the Cardinals players or coaches except for David Freese were either born, raised, and/or trained for their professional careers in St. Louis. Team owner Bill DeWitt Jr. was born and raised in St. Louis, but moved away from the area long ago and now resides in Ohio (the same questions should be asked of the Indy 500, which is now dominated by racers born outside the U.S.). Sure, the people of St. Louis buy tickets and support the team through thick and thin (I think), but the success of the team on the field really has little to do with anything local St. Louisians have done.

Furthermore, while it’s perfectly normal to take civic pride in a local team through its successes on the field, such success does little in actually assessing the health of a city, as St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan argues. Detroit has had relatively decent sports teams for years, but their city is bankrupt. What does that say about the priorities of the city’s leadership, team owners, and citizenry?

I’m no sports historian, but it’s clear to me that the creation of individual and civic identity and the popularity of sports are intertwined in ways that demonstrate that sports are far more than just games or races. In 1983, Benedict Anderson famously asked in Imagined Communities“What makes people love and die for nations?” The more I think about and understand the power of sports in popular culture, I find myself asking, “What makes people love and die with sports teams?”

Cheers

GAR Veterans Remember the Civil War

Children at the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument on Memorial Day, 1901. I took this poor-quality image from a microfilm reader at the Indiana State Library.
Children at the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument on Memorial Day, 1901. I took this image from a microfilm reader.

Leo Rassieur woke up early on the morning of May 30, 1901. It was Memorial Day and the Missouri native had a train to catch. While he had frequently stayed in Missouri for Memorial Day commemorations, this year would be different. Rassieur would soon be leaving from Union Station in St. Louis to attend this year’s Memorial Day services in Indianapolis.

Forty years ago, Rassieur had enlisted for service as a Second Sergeant with the Union Army in the 1st Regiment, U.S. Reserve Corps, Missouri Infantry, in St. Louis. After the regiment’s one year term concluded, Rassieur returned to St. Louis and reenlisted with the 30th Regiment of the Missouri Infantry, which fought in the Trans-Mississippi theater of the war, including the battle of Chickasaw Bayou, the Siege of Vicksburg, and the assault and capture of Fort Blakely. Rassieur was a Captain by the time the 30th was mustered out of service on August 31, 1865.

In the years after the Civil War, Rassieur became an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic, Department of Missouri. When the National Encampment of the GAR came to St. Louis in 1887, Rassieur was elected as a representative of the Department of Missouri and selected by Department Commander Nelson Cole to join a committee that was instructed “to take charge of and arrange everything that will be necessary for the proper care of the National Encampment.” In 1900, Rassieur was elected to a one year term as the Grand Army of the Republic’s National Commander-in-Chief. As Commander-in-Chief, Rassieur traveled around the country attending state Encampments, meeting with GAR members, and encouraging Union veterans who had not already joined the GAR to do so. In anticipation of Memorial Day, the Indiana GAR arranged to have Rassieur make the keynote speech for Memorial Day services at Crown Hill Cemetery, the third largest non-government cemetery in the United States today.

The Indianapolis News took great interest in Rassieur’s arrival and provided a detailed description of the day’s events in an article entitled “In Memory of the Dead” in an evening edition of that day’s paper. Rassieur arrived at Indianapolis Union Station at 8:30AM and was greeted by Indiana GAR leadership. Rassieur and company made their way to the nearly-completed Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument (the formal dedication ceremonies took place in May 1902), where children in local schools throughout Indianapolis were decorating the monument with flowers. To instill a sense of patriotism within these students, the Superintendent of public schools had called off school for the day, and the News estimated that roughly 1,500 children were present to lead the parade from the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument to Crown Hill Cemetery.

Once the group arrived at Crown Hill, Rassieur addressed his audience. Similar to the thousands of Memorial Day addresses given by the GAR veterans all across the country, Rassieur attempted to use his memories of the Civil War to educate his audience (especially those who were not alive at the time of the conflict) about the meaning of the war, what the Union soldiers had died for, and why remembrance was essential to good citizenship and patriotism. Rassieur also reflected on the life of Indiana GAR member and former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, who had recently passed away. While Rassieur’s entire speech is too long for this post, a few select quotes can convey the central ideas of his speech:

The Union volunteer soldier and sailor, though serving in an [sic] humble capacity, was no ordinary citizen of the republic… His conception of duty… was grand and noble. It was a holy and pure patriotism that led him to tender his service to his imperiled country. He fully appreciated that the service involved a bloody contest with his fellow-citizens of the South. He had learned of their preparation for that contest. He knew how terribly in earnest was their desire for a separation and how strongly they believed in their imagined superiority over their brothers of the North and West… Our solider and sailor was not only great in the performance of every duty, and in the overcoming of every obstacle, he was also great in guarding himself against the perpetuating of such wrongs as are frequently indulged in by victorious armies… those that survived the struggle returned to their civic occupations with increased need for the upbuilding of our reunited country, and with an unbounded veneration for the civil laws of the land, which has been manifested by them on every occasion.

Rassuieur continued:

Not only did they make exemplary citizens as far as their own conduct was concerned, but in the furtherance of the best interest of our entire country these victorious soldiers and sailors of the republic forgave their opponents, the vanquished armies of the South, and unhesitatingly urged them to renew their allegiance to a reunited country and invited them to a free and equal participation in all the rights of American citizenship, the greatest of all earthly boons.

On the face of it, Rassuieur’s speech may not seem all that remarkable. However, we must remember that the process of remembering involves a subjective creation of memories. What is mentioned in a speech and what is left out can say a lot about how a person feels not only about the past but about the present as well, and Rassuier tells us a few things about his conception of the past and the present in these excerpts. Several notable points stuck out to me as I read this speech for the first time:

  • Rassieur rejects the idea that Confederates were engaging in treason when he refers to them as “fellow-citizens.” Forgiveness and reconciliation with former Confederates are central to Rassieur’s speech.
  • He believes Southerners were mistaken in their attempt to leave the Union. However, Union soldiers–through their voluntary service in the military–had demonstrated what Rassieur believed to be the most noble qualities of citizenship: dedication to duty, honor, and sacrifice to the nation. As exemplars of good citizenship, Union soldiers had allegedly “forgiven” their former enemies, returned to their “civic occupations” (without any issues, ostensibly), and followed the laws of the land. Even better, Union veterans had gladly invited their former adversaries to return to the Union and enjoy the greatest gift a people could ever receive: American Citizenship.
  • Rassieur hardly ever mentions the Union Dead (even though the Union Dead were the reason why Memorial Day was established), nor is there any mention of slavery or emancipation.

Were these sentiments shared by other veterans? How did other Union veterans feel about their former enemies? Did any Union veterans believe that former Confederates had engaged in treason, and were they deserving of American citizenship after the war? What about slavery and emancipation? Did white Union veterans ignore the legacy of emancipation in the years after the war?

These questions and many more in regards to Civil War Memory fascinate me, and historians–especially within the past twenty years–have begun to go through primary source documents like Rassieur’s speech to see how people remembered the Civil War in the years after the conflict. My thesis addresses some of these memory questions, but the focus of my thesis is centered on events in Indiana, so I haven’t really had the chance to explore the Union/Confederate dynamic very much. Over the next few weeks, I will analyze how Indiana GAR soldiers remembered the Civil War and how they viewed former Confederates. We’ll also look at how different historians have interpreted GAR veterans and Civil War Memory over time.

Have a great Labor Day. Thanks for reading.

News and Notes: June 9, 2013

The Bust of Richard Owen. The best looking bust at the Indiana State House, in my opinion. Picture credit: Historic Indianapolis http://historicindianapolis.com/friday-favorite-richard-dale-owen/
The Bust of Richard Owen. The best looking bust at the Indiana State House, in my opinion. Picture credit: Historic Indianapolis http://historicindianapolis.com/friday-favorite-richard-dale-owen/

It’s Sunday. The government is watching you and me. But this sounds like fun:

  • Marc-William Palen provides some neat insights into “The Great Civil War Lie.” The lie, of course, is that supporters of the Confederacy attempted to secede from the United States largely because of unfair tariffs waged by the federal government onto Southern businesses, more specifically the Morrill Tariff. At the time, British onlookers of the Civil War were fed a narrative that placed secession after the passage of the Morrill Tariff, but it was actually passed while James Buchanan was President, before secession occurred. Thanks to the blessings of digital technology, we can now see that at least one state that attempted to secede seemed to have something else on their collective minds.
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that people need to take ownership of their education. I find this article really refreshing. We hear so much about hard work, but it’s meaningless if we don’t have any dreams and aspirations or if the end goal is to simply pass a test.
  • Most students who attend community college with the intention of completing a four year degree fail to do so. Roughly 80% in fact. I never attended community college, but I know friends who did and ran into the same problems described in the article.
  • I have been reading content on Civil War Memory, Crossroads, and Dead Confederates for years. Leslie Madsen-Brooks has been following those blogs as well, and she creates an excellent bit of scholarship from the content of those websites that challenges historians in many way. In the digital age, who can call themselves a historian, and how do professional historians extend their scholarly endeavors to the broader public? Should historians focus on answering their own questions of the past, or should they be working harder to answer the questions lay audiences ask?
  • Tomorrow at the Indiana State House I will be playing my first musical gig of the year. One time not very long ago I was playing out almost every weekend with various groups, so it’s a bit weird not playing out live for six months. I’ve been practicing though. Anyway, on June 9, 1913, [I originally wrote June 13. My Bad!] the bust of Col. Richard Owen was dedicated at the State House. Tomorrow we are having a 100th anniversary re-dedication of the bust, and I was asked to play Civil War songs on upright bass. I’ve never done this before, but I think it will go fine. You can read more about the event here.

Until next time…

Public History: History for Everyone

The Indiana State House. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
The Indiana State House. Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

I had an interesting learning experience at work today. While giving a tour of the Indiana State House to a school group from a small, rural Indiana town, one of the teachers came up to me and thanked me for giving her students this tour. I got the impression that she was sort of thanking me for taking these rural kids seriously as learners and scholars, which makes me sad that others don’t. Most of these kids, she said, had never been outside the boundaries of their hometown, so this was a special experience for them. She then went on to explain that for some of the adult chaperones on the tour, this was their first time at the State House since the fourth grade. For others, it was their first time at this building, ever.

These comments really struck me. For one, I find it fascinating that despite our ability to travel almost anywhere on the globe within roughly 72 hours, many people spend their bulk of their lives–if not their entire life–in one area, town, or city. Much of this is undoubtedly due to economic constraints, but much of this is also due to personal choice.

Second, it provided a new insight for me about public history. In my graduate classes, we often speak of the need for public historians to address multiple audiences. Different audiences have different learning abilities, different questions, different perspectives, and different things they want to learn from public historians. But this tour was unique. Since many of the adults had never been to the State House, they were learning about the building alongside their fourth grade children. They had little prior knowledge of the building’s history, nor did they have much understanding of how state government functions, I’d assume. Everyone was sort of on an equal learning level, so it was a rare tour in which my “audiences” blended into one “audience.” One of the great things about public history is its potential to teach history to people of all ages, and with this tour it was a special experience in which adults and children learned about the past together. How often do adults and children get a chance to learn together, beyond watching something on TV? These sorts of moments are rare, but they are one reason why museums, National Parks, and other public spaces hold such an important place in our culture (I’d like to think so, at least).

When I first started working at the State House, there was definitely a “wow” factor that captivated my attention and excited me. As time has gone on, however, it has gotten easier for me to take the building (and my employment there) for granted. I’ve gotten used to coming to work at this building, and while its beauty and history continues to amaze me, my amazement has taken on a different meaning that is hard to explain in words. In sum, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to replicate the feelings I had when I first walked into the building and realized this was my workspace.

As a public historian, I must always remind myself that the people and audiences who take my tours are oftentimes experiencing the same feelings I had when I first started working at the State House. For them, this experience is new, unusual, and awe-striking. Additionally, this may be the final time these people will ever come to this building. Although I interpret a space that I interact with and experience on a frequent basis, I must capture the excitement and energy of my first-experience audiences and turn those feelings into constructive learning opportunities. Although I may sometimes tire of giving the same tour or be distracted by something not related to work, I must be mentally prepared to give my “A game” every time, because it’s the first time for the audience. It all reminds me of a touring rock band. Yes, you’ve played the same set repeatedly, but your audience is seeing it for the first time. What are you going to do to capture their attention?

The people who are taking my tours have entrusted me with a small amount of time in which to teach about and give meaning to the past, and that is extremely important to me. Seen in this light, we can see that public historians have an awesome responsibility to their audiences, a responsibility that challenges us to constantly brainstorm for the best ways to effectively engage our audiences and inspire them to learn more about the past on their own. It doesn’t really matter whether you work at a state capitol, the Gettysburg battlefield, or a small historic home. We owe it to our audiences to give them our best tours, which includes doing historical background research, experimenting and tweaking tour presentations, and asking our audiences the right questions.  These tours may be the only time our audiences visit these places. For adults, this may be the only post-education instance in which they learn about history.

When we blend good history with good storytelling and good presentation, we create history that has the potential to show our audiences the importance of the past in our daily lives.

“Exploring Indianapolis” is Now Live

After a semester of intense research, I am proud to announce that my final project for digital history has now gone live on the interwebs. If you have a few minutes, please check out the site, which is a walking tour/history of downtown Indianapolis entitled Exploring Indianapolis: Walking Tours of Canals, Trains & Cars at the Crossroads of America.

The requirements for our project can be found here. We used a WordPress platform to design the site and created digital maps of our walking tours that are viewable through Google Maps and Google Earth. Eager to learn more about the history of transportation in Indianapolis, each member of the project spent the semester analyzing one element of Indianapolis transit in a collective effort to better understand what it means to form a civic identity around the slogan “Crossroads of America,” a slogan the people of Indianapolis have proudly proclaimed for many years. My section of the website focuses on the National Road.

I would surmise that part of the group’s interest in transit stemmed from the heated debate at the Indiana State House regarding the possibility of a new and revamped public transit system in downtown Indianapolis. After much discussion during the recently concluded legislative session, the Indy Transit Bill continues to sit in limbo. Some legislators are calling for more studies to analyze how the bill will be funded, but others fear that continued “studies” will lead to bill’s eventual death. “Exploring Indianapolis” does not explicitly advocate for or against the Transit Bill, but we hope visitors to the site are able to see how transportation in Indianapolis has changed over time and how we got to be in the position we are now.

This project couldn’t have been done without the great work of Jenny Kalvaitis and Noah Goodling, who were my partners on the project. They are excellent public historians who I am also proud to call my friends.

Until next time…