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Column: History, ever-changing, brings new facts to light


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ONCE in a while I rescue items that have gathered in the inbox — also known as the in-basket in pre-electronic editing days — and put them to use in this space.

One was a copy of the newsletter called Exceptional Places, which is distributed by the History and National Register Programs at the Midwest Regional Office of the National Park Service. This particular issue (fall 2012) is of general interest to folks in Columbus and of particular interest to those of us at The Republic.

One item bringing it home to local folks is an article on the “cultural landscapes” designation applied to historic places that are accorded National Historic Landmark status by the Park Service. Illustrating the article was a photo of North Christian Church and the landscape created by internationally recognized designer Dan Kiley.

According to the article, “cultural landscapes reflect the myriad ways humans have adapted to, used, manipulated and transformed the natural environment.”

Ironically, North Christian might seem a strange illustration for a National Historic Landmark designation since it dates only to 1964.

It and five other contemporary Columbus buildings — First Christian Church, McDowell Adult Education Center, the former Irwin Union Bank and Trust Co. at Fifth and Washington streets, First Baptist Church and the J. Irwin and Xenia Miller home — were accorded National Historic Landmark status as a group in 2001.

They were joined by another contemporary Columbus building last year — The Republic — which was also given prominent mention in the issue of Exceptional Places. The structure designed by Myron Goldsmith of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in cooperation with Robert N. Brown, publisher of The Republic, was one of six honorees from the Midwest that received write-ups in the newsletter.

In an essay alongside a photo of the building, the editors wrote that the building is “nationally significant as an exceptional work of modern architecture. ... Completed in 1971, it was a small building for SOM, and few buildings of this size received so much attention by SOM.”

It should also be noted that we are in some special company. One of the other buildings granted National Historic Landmark status in 2012 was the Akron, Ohio, home of the late Dr. Robert Smith. He’s best known as “Dr. Bob,” one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Erasing history

One of the more intriguing stories that have crossed my desk was triggered by a clipping from a 1923 issue of The Evening Republican (forerunner of The Republic) that was sent to me by Betty Lane of Columbus. The article described the funeral rites for a local member of the Ku Klux Klan that were conducted at Newbern Methodist Church and Cemetery by fellow Klansmen — hoods, robes and all.

The ceremony for Bill Carter, who had been killed a few days earlier in an auto accident, was reported in straightforward fashion in the newspaper. Far from treating it as an extremely unusual event involving an organization that today is reviled for its racist history, the newspaper handled it with respect.

The treatment likely had to do with prevailing social attitudes in Columbus. The Klan was widespread in Bartholomew County at the time. It had a membership in this community alone of 1,200, and that was only a fraction of its followers since membership was limited to men.

In sending the clipping, Betty noted that she and other members of her family, which is descended from Carter, were ashamed of his involvement with the group but added in explaining the culture of the times, “If you wanted a good job, you had better be a member of the Klan.”

Carter was not only given a Klan funeral, but KKK was placed in raised letters on his headstone. The logo was a symbol of embarrassment to his descendants, and one warned that he was going to scrape it off the stone. Betty begged him not to take that action because it was still part of history.

Her desire to preserve history was not rewarded. When The Republic’s chief photographer Joe Harpring went to the Newbern Cemetery to take a photo of the headstone, the letters had been chiseled off.

After the article about the Klan funeral appeared, Betty made a copy and sent it to other family members. One was to her daughter, Jeannette Merrill, who now lives in Chattanooga, Tenn. She shared her mother’s embarrassment about the family’s connection and her desire to preserve history.

She also remembered a photo that had been taken on a visit to Bartholomew County in either 2005 and 2006 when she went to the Newbern Cemetery. It was Bill Carter’s headstone ... before someone had chiseled off the letters.

Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at harry@therepublic.com.

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