Carrying a torch for Bartholomew County history

An Indiana Bicentennial Torch bearer who originally planned to be a history teacher became something of a history maker Sunday as he carried the symbolic flame into the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza to applause before a crowd of about 1,000 people Sunday.

Library director Jason Hatton, also an officer with the Bartholomew County Historical Society, brought the Olympic-inspired flame the final 1.5 miles to the area’s biggest of three celebrations. The gathering came complete with music, dignitaries, displays of the county’s heritage and overflowing pride.

“It was so great to see all those smiling faces,” Hatton said.

The 55-mile circuitous route from the Decatur-Bartholomew County line to the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza passed schools, neighborhoods old and new, and some spectators along the way.

The 3,200-mile journey will pass through all 92 counties. The relay is patterned after the Olympic torch relay and is designed to connect Hoosiers across the state with Indiana’s heritage, according to organizers.

The procession began Sept. 9 in Corydon, the state’s first capitol. The relay will culminate Oct. 15 in Indianapolis at the statehouse.

Torch bearers rest today, but begin anew the journey toward Brown County on Tuesday.

Locally, honorees included business and community leaders, educators, volunteers and retirees. They ranged in age from 10 to 93, and hailed from communities throughout Bartholomew County.

As the torch came into the county after 5 p.m., the community of Hartsville became Heartsville, so to speak — such was the love for all things Hoosier.

Youngsters tried their hand at old-fashioned games and tasks, such as walking on wooden stilts. A small ensemble offered live music. And Hauser Junior Senior High School social studies teacher Carrie Harris prepared for her role as a torch bearer.

“The fact that my students nominated me is what really makes this special,” Harris said, before climbing into a Chrysler Sebring convertible to bring the flame westward to Columbus.

“Go, Carrie, go!” a few onlookers shouted as her car pulled away.

On the north side of Columbus, Shirley Darling, wife of torch bearer and former longtime Azalia Friends Church Pastor Fred Darling, waited at the Columbus Municipal Airport to see him go past in a van. Daughter Amy Darling said she would have come out for such an occasion rain or shine.

“My son ran cross-country,” Amy Darling said. “So I’m used to the rain.”

A few people sat in portable chairs along Arnold Drive as the torch caravan headed closer to the Columbus city limits.

Some 30 minutes later, on the north end of Washington Street, Bill Stultz, Columbus North High School band director, took the torch. At one point, Sound of North band boosters hoped to have student musicians lining the street for serenading the state. A parent hatched the idea a few days ago for the students to toot Indiana’s horn.

But, alas, the plan never materialized.

Nearby, at 20th and Washington streets, the Lagoons neighborhood staged an ice cream social. Resident Marilyn Brackney, who spearheaded several Bicentennial Legacy projects highlighting the state celebration, explained with a chuckle why it was important for her to see the torch pass by.

“Because I won’t be around in the next 100 years,” she said.

A small but enthusiastic crowd already mingled on the plaza when the Columbus event began at 2 p.m. With the temperature already in the 80s by then, ice cream became a favorite treat as people browsed among exhibits that included antique, local Reeves-Pulley engines and a Cummins diesel engine in a white, classy 1934 Auburn, made in Indiana.

“Obviously, they’ve changed a lot since then,” said onlooker Steve Chapple. “But this vehicle is just gorgeous.”

History buff Jim Gillespie mentioned that the displays impressed him.

“I’m thrilled just walking around to see the impact — that big role — that Columbus Indiana played in the overall automotive development,” Gillespie said.

Among those considering all the history was Central Middle School eighth-grader Shelby Morrow, attending for extra credit for her social studies class. She walked from exhibit to exhibit making notations in a notebook.

“So far, I really like the engines,” Morrow said.

She and others also enjoyed colorful, bookend balloon sculptures of the torch decorating the library entryway.

After the torch arrived at the plaza, Bartholomew County Commissioner Rick Flohr read a proclamation about the relay, and the warmth that the flame generated. Just before he spoke, Hatton’s torch lit a small cauldron erected on the plaza.

“Every day, Hoosiers from all walks of life and every corner of our great state embrace the important symbolism represented by the Indiana Bicentennial Torch Relay,” Flohr read. “The bonds among people, between communities and across generations takes on new significance.

“As another day comes to a close, we extinguish the torch but preserve the flame in this cauldron.”

Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.