Seen And Heard in Our Neighborhood
Tuesday - January 8, 1985
Last Update: 03-11-2018
Wouldn't it be nice to have a compilation of Indiana authors, their titles and a bit of human interest information? And wouldn't it be informative to have pictures of each author's home or scenes from their childhood?
Well, we will have a package of information on 35 Indiana authors because Esther Towns, Wapahani English teacher, is putting it together.
She agreed to research the information, travel to the authors' hometowns, take pictures and write
up whatever interesting information she found. So far, she has clocked 1,182 miles since beginning the project in September 1983. She plans to complete work in the fall of 1985.
The idea came from the executive board of the Indiana Council of Teachers of English.
"In deciding which authors to include," Towns said, "we started with the ICTE literary map and a questionnaire to members."
She said the easiest way to find exact addresses of livmg writers is to go to the police station. That's how she located Marilyn Durham's home an Evansville.
"You'd think that the logical place to call would be the library, but those in the library at South
Bend never heard of Kenneth Rexroth," she said.
When Towns is searching for a specific person, she doesn't pay much attention to anything else. In the case of Rexroth, author of "In Defence of the Earth", she knew the address of his birthplace but eventually discovered the house was gone.
She was searching in a run-down South Bend neighborhood with much broken glass and many boarded-up windows. Inside one building she was asked by a large man dressed in leather if she was from the South Bend Tribune.
She explained her business and the big man, apparently satisfied with her explanation, rejoined his gang. Towns had been oblivious to everything except the building and had failed to notice the motorcycle gang headquartered there.
Although Rexroth's birthplace was gone, she located a house on Park Avenue where he had lived. She talked with the owner who said Rexroth's old room still had the same wallpaper.
"The occupants knew much about the author and gave much information," Esther said.
Kurt Vonnegut's birthplace in Indianapolis was also hard to find. She didn't have the exact address and the house-numbering process had changed. Persistence paid off when she found a woman hanging clothes on the line at a house she suspected was the former Vonnegut residence.
Sure enough. The woman showed Towns into a back porch area with cement slab banisters at the entry way. In the cement were handprints of Vonnegut's mother, father, brother, sister and of Kurt himself. A leaded glass panel bore the parents' initials and the year the house was built. Towns took several pictures for her file.
Jean Shepherd of Hammond found the title of "In God We Trust; All Others Pay Cash" in a motto posted behind a bar he frequented. A Mr. Flick, the bartender, was asked If he planned to buy his friend's book since Shepherd esteemed the place enough to use its motto.
Flick said no; he had decided to wait for Jean to send him a copy.
Towns had the phone number of Shepherd's brother, Randy. She called and got directions to the house where the Shepherds had lived. Towns doubted she could follow them, however, so Randy
offered to meet her at a restaurant and take her there himself.
Towns thanked him and agreed to wait. Then she asked, "But how will I know you?"
"I'll be wearing a purple velour shirt and driving a white Rolls Royce," he answered.
She spotted him immediately and was impressed with his courtesy.
He took her to the home where he and Jean Shepherd had lived as boys and pointed out initials they'd carved in the attic.
Randy also took her to his home where his wife, Dorothy, was equally kind. She showed her a scrapbook filled with the author's clippings.
"Take it home with you," she was told, and she did. "I sent it back as soon as I could possibly get the needed information"
The movie, A Christmas Story, shown in Muncie several months ago, was based on a short story by Jean Shepherd.
As part of the project, ICTE will own the slides but Towns will get to keep a set and present programs if she chooses. Several details need to be worked out yet, such as fees and perhaps a taped reading available with the slides.
The result will be similar to a travel article with perhaps a map to show where the authors are from. She has chosen to omit street addresses.
"Most of the time if the borne is there, there's a plaque, too. Emily Kimbrough (Muncie) and Booth Tarkington (Indianapolis) have much available information." Lew Wallace's home in Crawfordsville has beautiful wooded grounds with a statue of Wallace.
Towns said, "Indiana does not do a very good job of commemorating its authors unless they're really famous."
Her work will help change that.
Ruth Hillman is a contributing writer to The Star's editorial page. ||
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