NEW RICHMOND, Ind. — Every so often, a visitor will roll through this town of 333 on the northern edge of Montgomery County with a question. Roger Kunkel, a lifelong New Richmond resident, knows what’s coming:
“Where is the school?”
There is no school here. Kunkel, 74, knows as well as anyone. The basement of his home sits in the exact spot where New Richmond kids in the 1920s and ’30s played basketball in the tiny gym in the basement of the school.
But the occasional sightseers aren’t here for that school. They come for the Hickory Huskers. Jimmy Chitwood. Ollie. Norman Dale. You know, the guys from “Hoosiers.” For a few days, 30 years ago, New Richmond was their home.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime deal,” Kunkel said. “The funny thing is that we didn’t even know really what the movie was about until we saw it. We just knew it was about basketball in the state of Indiana.”
On Saturday, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Hoosiers,” director David Anspaugh and producer Angelo Pizzo, along with six of the players from the movie and others, are expected in Knightstown for an autograph session, roundtable discussion and more at the “Hoosier Gym,” the team’s home court in the movie.
While the gym gives Knightstown a more tangible connection to the movie, New Richmond still has a claim as the fictional home of Hickory. There are reminders everywhere, from the blue signs at each entrance to the town — “Welcome to New Richmond, AKA ‘Hickory,’, movie Hoosiers filmed here 1985” — to the Hickory Café on the main drag to the Old Hickory Church a few blocks east of downtown. Then there’s the post office window, which reads “Hickory, Ind.” in white letters.
Wilma Lewellyn was working at the post office as the newly-hired postmaster in 1985 when the movie was filmed. New Richmond was selected as the “downtown” of Hickory, in part, because of its seclusion. Located 4½ miles west of U.S. 231 and five miles east of Ind. 25, there is no “through” traffic in New Richmond.
In other words, you’re either trying to get here or you’re lost.
“That’s one of the reasons they liked making the movie here,” Lewellyn said. “They didn’t have to stop any traffic because there was nobody coming through.”
That’s not entirely true. The filming dates — three or four days in October — fell during harvest season. A few farmers grumbled about being rerouted through town, Kunkel said. But for the most part, after some initial trepidation over the content of the movie, New Richmond residents welcomed the unlikely opportunity.
Lewellyn, a native of tiny Gilboa in Benton County, began working at the post office in 1981. She remembers a town meeting after New Richmond had been selected as a filming location in September 1985.
“I said, ‘We need to see what kind of movie this is before we tell them they can use our town,’ ” Lewellyn said. “Then everybody in town thought I didn’t want it. I just wanted to make sure it was something we were going to be proud of to represent our town. (Pizzo and Anspaugh) said we’d be proud of it.”
New Richmond has a prominent role in several scenes. When Gene Hackman drives into town for the first time as the new coach, he enters New Richmond from a two-lane highway from the north. Seconds later, Hackman’s car pulls into the school parking lot, a cause for confusion for some who visit New Richmond. The school, which has since burned down, was located in Nineveh (now part of the Indian Creek school district).
“When (Hackman) comes into town and turns left, everybody thinks the school is there,” Kunkel said with a laugh. “But there’s no school here.”
Kunkel, who runs the Kunkel Plumbing and Heating business his father started in 1945, had a part in the movie. In the opening scene, as Hackman’s car drives in the darkness, it is actually Kunkel at the wheel. He’s also in the scene at Hinkle Fieldhouse as fans rush the court after Chitwood’s game-winning shot, based on Bobby Plump’s winning shot for Milan in the 1954 state championship.
Kunkel’s father, Ralph, was one of several New Richmond extras in the barber shop scene when Hackman first meets many of the Hickory residents. The barber shop was actually an empty building in 1985 that had once housed a tavern and a hardware store.
“They shot that (barber shop) scene in early December and it was about 10 degrees above zero and spitting snow,” Kunkel said. “My job was to keep the furnace going the night before the (crew) got to town. I got in there and took some pictures of it set up as a barber shop. I’m glad I did because they took it all out the night after it was shot.”
That building is now the Hickory Café. The Corner Café, which was open at the time, was where a dinner scene featuring Hackman and Dennis Hopper was filmed. According to Gayle Johnson, author of the book, “The Making of Hoosiers,” there were more than 80 New Richmond residents with a role in the movie.
“It’s kind of sad to see the barber shop scene now,” Lewellyn said. “Many of the men who were in that have died. But it was a neat way to get them in the movie.”
Five miles south of New Richmond, along a lonely gravel road, is a bright red peg barn with a new green roof. The barn, built around 1900, was part of the montage when Hickory fans caravan to a tournament game. As the school bus drove past, “Go Huskers” was in the process of getting painted on the side.
The barn is still there. “Go Huskers” is not.
“They didn’t take it off, but it gradually faded away,” said Frank Allhands Jr., whose father Frank Allhands owned the house and barn at the time of the filming. “It probably lasted about three years. I don’t know how many people have come by over the years and asked, ‘Is that the barn?’ They ask if they can come take a picture. It doesn’t bother me. Go ahead.”
Allhands, 79, splits his time between New Richmond and Arizona with his wife, Jackie. His father was a teacher and basketball coach at New Richmond and later the athletic director at Coal Creek Central, a 1953 consolidation of New Richmond and Wingate. He received $25 for the use of his barn in the movie.
“Dad was proud to have it in there,” Allhands said. “The movie depicted basketball at that time really well.”
There isn’t a lot to New Richmond these days, though the Hickory Café stays busy during the lunch and dinner hours. The general store across the street closed this summer. There have been festivals and reunions in New Richmond to celebrate its “Hollywood” history, though nothing recently. The Indiana Pacers honored the town at a game last season at one of the games when it wore Hickory replica uniforms.
Inside the Hickory Café, where Lewellyn now works part-time, there are many photos on the walls from the filming of the New Richmond scenes in the movie. After all of these years, it’s a movie Lewellyn is proud to have been associated with. She’s brought to tears recalling seeing “Hoosiers” for the first time.
“We watched the opening of the movie in Indianapolis and came back to the Columbia Club for a reception,” she said. “David Anspaugh was right in front of me and I said, ‘You guys did such a wonderful job.’ He gave me a big hug and said, ‘We couldn’t have done it without you guys.’ They were Indiana boys.”
Source: Indianapolis Star, http://indy.st/2cYfWmG
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by the Indianapolis Star.