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The Daviess County Museum: A Template for a Revitalized and Active Indiana History Center

On May 10 I had the pleasure of visiting Washington, Indiana, to speak at the Daviess County Museum. I had been asked to help the local community open a new exhibit: the newly found Civil War letters of one of the youngest members of the Fourteenth Indiana Regiment.

“Charlie Gibson: A Surprising Update on a southern Indiana Civil War Legend.” was my talk, based on a story in my book Gallant Fourteenth: The Story of an Indiana Civil War Regiment.

To summarize that story I’ll say that Charlie joined C Company of Martin County at the age of seventeen. My book followed him and his fellow schoolmates from Mt. Pleasant, Indiana, through the war to the Battle of Chancellorsville. There Charlie was killed leading his first charge as an officer: he had been named a second lieutenant a short time before.

The legend grew out of the fact that his friends, most of them officers now in the regiment in their own right, had to bury him after the battle and then—dig him up after four days again to send home at his father’s request. One can only imagine the horror that involved. No letters of Charlie were known to exist.

Last November, a set of five Civil War letters from Charlie was brought to the museum by a descendant of his sister’s from Arkansas—she wanted to see them preserved in his home territory. Accompanying Charlie’s letters was also a set of consolation letters to his parents from his friends in the Fourteenth—historically interesting and important to understanding the deep meaning and lessons of the Civil War for Indiana.

I will deal with that subject in a later blog.

But it is the site of the program that is my focus now. It was a surprising and gratifying experience to come to this older four-story building on Main Street in Washington and to find a full staffed and recently renovated and decorated museum which was utilizing the latest in museum protocols and practices. Something had happened here,  and I will let Becky Kremp from Washington, a leader among the volunteers who restored the museum, tell the story in her own words. It can stand as a model for struggling small museums around the state who wish to stay alive for the future—and there are several of them.

Here’s Becky:

Sometimes I have issues being “brief”!

For my part, about 3 years ago in the early summer of 2015, I read an article in the local paper stating the county commissioners were thinking of pulling the county funding of the Daviess County History Museum. The journey began at this point.  I called the then current paid director, and asked him if 2 or 3 interested citizens could meet with him to offer our help in order to fix whatever shortcomings the commissioners were unhappy with at the museum.

We met, we offered help cleaning what can only be described as a smelly, dirty crammed building. For months, 3 of us worked almost daily cleaning out cases that hadn’t been touched in years, moving them away from the walls to use bleach on the walls where we suspected more than just dirt, etc. These efforts began to pay off little by little, but cleaning simply wasn’t enough. I will leave out any comments on why the condition had deteriorated.

Eventually, we gathered a group of concerned citizens with the approval of the director to develop a business plan and take our case to the commissioners.

This was done, the visits made, and the commissioners agreed to give us time.

At that point, the decision was made to close the museum for several months as it was simply too huge to tackle otherwise.

One example: There were 400 plus dolls of vinyl and plastic from the 1960s and 70s that we eventually photographed and de-accessioned as one hazardous waste group. I happen to restore and collect composition dolls only, and was I ever tempted with some of the older clothing, but the state cautioned not to even attempt to wash them, as the black mold or the mold could contaminate the washing machine.

The “concerned citizens group” had invited the State Historical Society down for direction before the closing for renovation and they advised us. We began to gather more volunteers and attempted to inventory the collection. At some point the board, which could previously have been more active and personally responsible for our museum,  got committed and added a new member. The organization is now all-volunteer.

About 140 gallons of paint have been applied by volunteers, the community has embraced the cause, and we have developed programs for school field trips and welcomed any and all groups or clubs to hold meetings at the museum. During the winter months we have planned vital and interesting programs At this point, with county funding, we do not charge admission to the museum or to the programs as we want to be available to all regardless of economic status.

The above has been done with the help of workshops put on by the State Local History group for the historical society; we visited Dubois County several times and other initiatives developed as we tried to professionalize our approach to running and maintaining a museum.

It was a long but rewarding mission!

Nancy Baxter’s book Gallant Fourteenth: The Story of an Indiana Civil War Regiment has just been released as a paperback. Click back to see and get it!


Posted in civil war |

Adding to perceptions about Civil War heritage. . . a speaking tour brings insights

For many years I have been privileged to be a speaker at Indiana meetings: library gatherings, books clubs, I HS events, Civil War organizations like the Sons of Union Veterans and Round tables in southern Indiana, Anderson, Indianapolis—and even White Plains New York and Portland Maine.

The invitations came as a result of interest in my first historical book Gallant Fourteenth: The Story of an Indiana Civil War Regiment. It was praised when it came out in 1980 by its Civil War Times reviewer as one of the two best regimental histories in modern times. Of course there weren’t many at that point; since then many good histories of regiments have come out, but I am happy to say this book, about the human side of the war as well as battlefield strategies, still remains a classic, through six re-printings.

My latest book is A Cabinet of Curiosities from the Civil war in Indiana: Important, Moving, and Sometimes Odd Stories from the Human Side of the War. Why did I focus on the human side: the women and children left behind, the Copperhead agitations, the unsung men from Indiana regiments stuck in the mud and swamps of the Mississippi valley instead of gathering glory at Gettysburg? There were 200,000 Hoosier men who went to the Civil War 1861-’65 and 20,000 didn’t come home. I’m spending time as I talk about the new book on real people, who had to fight that war (all of them), asking for people who hear me to help with heritage preservation for wartime documents and heritage. In a time where schools aren’t teaching much history and when it has been almost seventy years since the last veteran of the Civil War died, the memory of the sacrifices and lessons of the war are quite naturally fading.

My message is that the war achieved an amazing change in American society, a change which isn’t complete—the freeing of the slaves and the incorporation of them and their descendants into American society. The lesson that democracy such as ours needs to be guarded and even fought for by a unified society stood out then and stands out then, to be learned and learned again over and over.

When I spoke a short while ago to the Camp Tippecanoe Civil War Roundtable I found a very thoughtful and well informed group of men and women who listened with respect to readings from my book. They generally agreed with my arguments for collecting letters, diaries and journals which are in private collections in the state into archives, libraries and repositories before we forget what the conflict was all about. Time takes its toll; years pass and people’s care diminishes and dims. Already the new generation is asking “What was that 9/11 thing?”

After the presentation at Purdue University, when we entered into discussion on the subject, some people politely asked, “Why should we be preserving, revering and honoring the memory of the heroes of the Civil War? Theirs was a white society; many Indiana people are from another background and don’t have that same heritage. We are developing a multicultural society and there will be many backgrounds—so glorifying that heritage may not be useful.”

It was a little bit of a new perspective for me at one of these meetings. I was also recommending that a general history from Indiana be put in libraries around the state. It was from the Indiana Historical Society, and I immediately thought of their incentives to preserve the locations and history of the Underground Railroad, so I cited that as an example of preserving non-white history. I could have also mentioned more at I HS:  history of black industries and business leaders in Indiana and groups of freed slaves who settled in the state and colored Civil War units. The Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art is an active advocate for revering the American Indians in our midst—and in our history.

The point is right: we are getting to be an amalgam of many cultures. In Indianapolis exciting directions are happening, new educational institutions and initiatives, innovation in transportation and artificial intelligence and many different kinds of people, races and cultural groups, are bringing about the changes. Same for much of the rest of Indiana.

I don’t think the Purdue audience was calling for us to suspend the preservation of our Indiana history which, admittedly, has often been the story of white people. They were pointing to the celebration of the histories of all our people: Mexican Cinco De Mayo, African-American community roots and history of the Chinese contingent among us and Indian Hoosiers’ culture. And it isn’t all celebratory; we are still working on honest appraisal of racial antipathies and discrimination in post-Civil War Indiana, up to the present day.

Broad heritage study! Good idea.

By Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor at Hawthorne


Click back to order Nancy Baxter’s new book A Cabinet of Curiosities of the Civil War in Indiana

Posted in Books on Indiana, civil war |

Happy Birthday, Doris Day! From your former and loving secretary

Doris on her birthday in 1973Ever since I was a young teenager, April 3rd had a very special meaning for me.  Why, you ask?  It just happens to be the birthday of my childhood and lifetime idol.  On April 3rd legendary actress, DORIS DAY, will turn a youthful 96 years old.  Yes, it is hard to believe the “girl next door” is almost a centenarian, but thank God she is still alive and well.  I hope she will enjoy a glorious day and a happy and healthy year ahead.

I remember one of the surprise birthday parties we had for Doris when I was working for her in the early 1970s.  Doris never really enjoyed celebrating birthdays, because she said she just considered it another day.  But I and my friends who loved her, wanted to make April 3rd a special day for her.

Four of us in the local “Day Gang’”—Hilda, manager at Bailey’s Bakery which Doris frequented, along with Mary Kay, my roommate, and Linda, longtime friend and fan, and I invited Doris and her Mom, Alma, to a lovely dinner at a little bistro in Beverly Hills.  We had a nice meal with lots of conversation.  The cake we had specially made for her featured a large edible daisy on top.  In each of the 11 petals of the daisy were the names of Doris’s eleven doggies.  One of several cute nicknames Doris herself had was ‘Nora Neat’…in keeping with this, I remember giving Doris a broom and dust pan for her birthday that year with daisies painted all over them and she loved them…and better yet, she used them!

We returned back to Doris’s home which was laden with birthday cards and greetings from fans from all over the world.  Sometimes it took Doris a couple  of days to go through the stacks of birthday cards and gifts.  She had, and still has, a very devoted and faithful fan base and they always remember her on her special day.

These days, fans gather in Carmel, CA, to take part in special festivities planned for the birthday weekend.

In closing, I just want to say HAPPY, HAPPY BIRTHDAY dear Doris – thank you for the wonderful memories spent with you over the years.  God bless you and may your new year be filled with health and much happiness.

Mary Anne Barothy, author of Day at a Time: An Indiana Girl’s Sentimental Journey to Doris Day’s Hollywood and Beyond




Posted in Doris Day |

The Publishing World: Surprise! It has only now begun to change after 500 years of being about the same

A new book: Copernicus’ Secret: How the Scientific Revolution Began by Jack Repcheck, was surprising to me when I recently read it for a couple of reasons.

First, I did not know the details of the intense flaming of scientific inquiry in the mid-1500s in Prussia and Poland which eventually led to modern science. The book covers immediate predecessors of Nicolaus Copernicus in Wickenburg and other universities,  the rivalry to “be first” to enunciate some new theory, the fraternal interplay of minds in the academic world and the rush to publication of scientific treatises.

It is that facet of the book, the quick publication and circulation of books, that I found most fascinating. Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press 1468, which led to public circulation of books, had swept Europe and initiated a collective advance of ideas, theories, propositions, proofs and discussions on several fronts but particularly the scientific.

The author follows the development of Copernicus’ theory that the earth revolves around the sun not the sun around the earth, as Ptolemy had decreed. The scientist defended his theory with page after page of complicated proofs involving trigonometry and various solar movement charts. Though his friends urged, and finally succeeded in getting him to put out, an early version of the radical theory into book form, the full scientific proofs were not fully printed until after his death.

Why had Copernicus been so averse to publication and so careful when he did agree to having his theories put into books? He could hardly bear to put into the new public forum what he knew was the truth.  He realized that through the new distribution and trade system in Europe, books were going quickly from Germany to Russia, Italy and France, the northern counties and England for scholars to read—and inevitably challenge. He was aware that publication would rise a firestorm of controversy. His Heliocentric Theory would reflect on the new Protestant Reformation by challenging church doctrine, firm for hundreds of years in supporting Ptolemy.

The surprising aspect of the story to me was the rapidity with which book publishing had taken over the public mind and economy and how quickly it went into a predictable form. It was in this period that the system still present into our own day and age was firmly established.  Publishers, who were also printers, found investment money from entrepreneurs in the new post-Renaissance capitalistic economy to purchase the newest equipment in presses and for typesetting and binding. They advertised for authors and accepted submissions from agents who scoured the literate, in this case scientific, world, for new material. Editors edited, always an important part of the publishing process; expert readers checked. Proofers and the author corrected in the laborious pen and ink of the time and sent rapid couriers to the printers with Oks to publish. Books were generated as fast as could be expedited and put on trade ships in ports like Antwerp, Hamburg in northern Germany, Rotterdam, the Scandinavian countries and London and other English ports.

They were sold via posted broadside flyers and in newspapers and circulated even in the countryside towns. Books could be ordered directly or from bookstores which proliferated. How much did a book cost? Copernicus’ On the Revolutions cost about the equivalent of $150, as far as I can figure out (in Florins.) No wonder libraries also proliferated for borrowing. Books were precious. That was one of the few basics that did change over five hundred years: books became inexpensive enough for all to enjoy.

Today there is a second, less conspicuous revolution in book publishing. Although the venerable system of large publisher/printers still prints many books for the reading world, in America  and elsewhere also, many writers are skipping the middle part of the age-old publishing system. Instead of submitting to agents who then approach publishers who may farm out the printing in a process that may last two years or more, 40% of authors today choose to manage the process themselves. Digital printing has enabled  authors to  easily design and typeset and then through easy online publishing systems which may offer good (or poor) editing services, publish a book themselves. Or more likely, they will inexpensively hire a book to be digitally created—then copies ordered directly from the author, printed “on demand.” Broadside flyers  or newspaper announcements have been replaced by blogs, quickly sent releases, promotional schemes which include platform appearances, clever website book offers and all kinds of other creativity.

But ours is an age-old world, a world of publishing which has its impetus and origin in the oldest of all creative crafts, that of story-telling.

Nancy Niblack Baxter, Senior Editor at Hawthorne

Click back to the website to order Nancy Baxter’s newest book A Cabinet of Curiosities of the Civil War; Important, Moving and Sometimes Odd Stories from the Human Side of the War.


Posted in Book Publishing |