It was 100 years ago this week that Bartholomew County officially celebrated the centennial for the state of Indiana. On Sept. 18, a newer version of Bartholomew County will officially mark the state’s bicentennial. Although separated by a century, the two events observed locally have a lot in common.
Back in the early 20th century the much smaller town of Columbus hosted a community-wide pageant. Townspeople recreated the first 100 years in a series of “dramatic episodes,” according to The Evening Republican, with local actors parading about in costume to give an authentic feel to the history that was traced to Native Americans and the fur trade and evolved through the pioneers, the farming economy and eventually the early years of the industrial age.
It was a pretty big show, and in some ways the 1916 observance set the stage for the 2016 show, which will take the form of a torch relay through the county on Sept. 18, ending on the Bartholomew County Public Library plaza.
A number of other events in the county will mark the occasion. Hartsville, for instance, will have its own two-day celebration on the town square Sept. 17 and 18 to showcase the town’s history, but there’s one potential activity that may or may not take place. That would be the opening of a time capsule containing Bartholomew County artifacts from the local observance of the state’s centennial in 1916.
At this writing, such a ceremony is an iffy proposition because there’s some uncertainty that there even is a time capsule, and if there is, there’s no one around who knows where it can be found.
This much is known. Local officials who planned the 1916 centennial approved a proposal to collect materials to be placed in storage for 100 years and reopened in 2016 in conjunction with a bicentennial celebration.
That information was unearthed by Rebecca Speaker, who came across an interesting news article from a 1916 issue of The Evening Republican while researching material for the Bartholomew County Genealogical Society newsletter.
Most of the article was about plans for the county to be represented in the centennial parade in Indianapolis by Jane McEwen, who played the role of Miss Bartholomew County in a local pageant earlier in the year. She and her counterparts from the state’s 91 other counties would ride on horseback along the parade route in the capital city.
While the information about McEwen was interesting, it was a subhead on the story that got Speaker’s attention: “Accounts to be read 100 years from now.” That was in the last two paragraphs of the story:
“The meeting of the committee this morning was attended by Mrs. R.E. Wilson, of Mt. Vernon, who told that at her town all papers and documents connected with the centennial celebration, together with all the names of the persons participating, had been put into a box and sealed, to be opened 100 years hence at the next centennial celebration.
“The plan impressed the committee, and it was decided to do likewise here. Mayor Volland agreed to furnish the box, and Frank Brockman agreed to secure a place to keep it for the next 100 years in the vaults of the Peoples Savings and Trust Company. In the box will be placed a copy of the pageant play that was written by Miss Vida Newsom, the names of all participating and newspaper accounts pertaining to the occasion. The matter will be taken up and further considered after the parade at Indianapolis.”
While the materials don’t have the romanticism of what might have been stored, for instance, in Al Capone’s Chicago vault, which was infamously opened by Geraldo Rivera a few years back, there is still a fascination with items that haven’t seen the light of day for decades.
Back in 2007, for instance, Bartholomew Consolidated School officials opened a time capsule that had been stored in the cornerstone of what was then Central Middle School for 102 years. The items would have been pretty uninspiring at the time they were stored, but in 2007 there was a certain quaintness about such things as the manual for city schools in 1895, a bread ticket from George Kitzinger’s bakery on Washington Street and a statement from the Peoples Savings and Trust Co.
It was the latter that connects the Central school capsule to the one that was supposed to have been prepared for the 1916 state centennial. There aren’t a lot of people today who are familiar with Peoples Savings and Trust Co., which was where Frank Brockman is said to have planned the placement of the centennial material.
There’s a good reason for that. The Peoples Savings and Trust hasn’t been around since 1922, when it was merged into Union Trust Co. Six years later, the consolidated firm was taken over by W.G. Irwin, president of Irwin’s Bank.
Lost in time as Peoples Savings and Trust Co. might be today, it was a major player in Bartholomew County history. Its chairman was M.O. Reeves, a partner in Reeves Pulley, which was the county’s leading employer at the time, and inventor of the Reeves Motocycle and other cars around the turn of the century. Ironically, the Motocycle will be on display at the library when the torch relay hits Columbus on Sept. 18.
Other members of the Peoples Board included M.O.’s brother, G.L. Reeves; Columbus businessman Charles Keller, whose estate was the basis for one of the county’s largest scholarship programs; downtown leader J.V. Hilger, who started the White House department store and was the father of the late Joe Hilger, prolific writer of letters to the editor in the 1970s and ’80s; and the aforementioned Brockman.
Given that Peoples Savings and Trust Co. was swallowed up by other banking concerns 90-some years ago, the likelihood of finding one of its safe deposit boxes would seem extremely remote. Actually, such a lock box, if it does indeed exist, would have gone through several hands of ownership. Its most recent owner would likely have been First Financial Bank, which took over the assets of Irwin Union Bank following its collapse in 2009.
Bank officials are looking through their records to see if a time capsule/safe deposit box still exists from 1916, but no one is holding their breath.
Perhaps no one got around to actually setting up a time capsule for Columbus’ observance of the state’s centennial. If someone did and it can be found, its opening would be a nice touch for the Sept. 18 torch relay.
Whether it’s found or not, this exercise proves a valuable lesson for the future: When preparing time capsules, make sure there’s some way to find it when it’s time to be opened.
Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.