Meet the artist: Paul Hoffman

MEDIUM: WRITING

You might figure that a book with a colorfully loaded title such as “Wicked Columbus Indiana” could be great fodder for a country song.

Author and Columbus resident Paul Hoffman figures maybe.

“There’s a David Allan Coe song that alleges that the perfect country song includes the following topics: mama, trains, trucks, prison and getting drunk. This book has all that, except perhaps the trucks,” Hoffman said. “But it does have racehorses, buggies and a mule, so maybe we made up for the lack of trucks.”

Hoffman, special publications editor for the Franklin-based Daily Journal newspaper, a sister publication of The Republic, releases the volume, his second published work, Monday. He will speak about the book at a program at 6:30 p.m. June 26 at the Bartholomew County Public Library. For the record, Hoffman clearly appreciates the city’s more celebrated points — so much so that he highlights the local architecture, for instance, just three paragraphs in.

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And then comes the kicker that forms the basis for the 137-page volume and The History Press series: “All cities have had their ups and downs, their unsavory citizens and challenging issues.”

The book includes a literal street fight between the editor of The Evening Republican newspaper and the Columbus mayor in 1877, the poisoning of a then-Bartholomew County Hospital surgeon in 1977 and the shadowy presence of the Ku Klux Klan.

Hoffman, who published his first book, “Murder in Wauwatosa: The Mysterious Death of Buddy Schumacher,” in 2012, agreed to tackle a few questions on the new effort.

Q: How did you know what to look for to round out the topics?

Some of the topics are ubiquitous. What American city didn’t have people trying to skirt alcohol laws during Prohibition or have its houses of ill repute at some point? Many of the other topics I found out about from former newspaperman and Columbus native William Marsh’s book “I Discover Columbus.”

I did use newspapers.com for a lot of the research after picking topics.

Q: The most surprising “wickedness” you found, in your opinion?

One of the things I found difficult to believe was how long it took the city to do something about Death Valley, a section of town at the west ends of Fourth and Fifth streets where Mill Race Park now stands. The area was flood-prone, had substandard housing and was infested with rats.

As early as 1937, relief and governmental agencies made cleaning up Death Valley a priority. It wasn’t until 1963 that words finally turned to action.

Q: Anything too unsavory you had to exclude?

There were events too recent to include due to their darkness. There were plenty of other stories out there that just didn’t make the cut due to space limitations.

Q: Ideally, what would you like readers to take away from this book?

A better understanding of how and why “wicked” things happen and how to correct those things efficiently and effectively. Bad things happen; we have a choice in how we react to them. We, as a society, can make the situation better or we can make it worse.

Paperback writer

Who: Paul Hoffman

Field: Nonfiction author

Lives: In Columbus

Get the book: arcadiapublishing.com and a variety of stores or online sites

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.