Monday, April 18, 2011

Columbus, Indiana

Friends: Indiana is The Land of Carnegies. It has more than any state, 167, nearly ten per cent of the 1,689 built in the US. Yet Indiana's welcome sign at the Ohio border I crossed at yesterday chose "Boyhood Home of Lincoln," to identify itself, cosying up to its neighbor to the west, "The Land of Lincoln."

I've been in the state less than 24 hours and have already visited three Carnegies, or sites where Carnegies once stood, as the Carnegie here in Columbus was torn down in 1969, replaced by a magnificent library designed by I.M. Pei, funded by the founder of Cummins Engines, located here in Columbus. But the Carnegie is well-remembered. The friendly reference librarian gave me a brochure with a photo of it and a history of the library. She didn't know how many libraries Pei designed, but she was very proud of hers. Pei was already a well established architect in his 40s when he designed this.

Brookville, ten miles into Indiana, offered the first Carnegie on my Indiana route. As I biked down the town's main street I passed quite a few banners celebrating the town's bicentennial in 2008. I suspected the Carnegie might have been built to celebrate its centennial, but the plaque out front said it was dedicated in 1912, starting with 600 books. It didn't say when the seamless addition behind it was added. The red brick building resided on a slight hill, allowing it to overlook a McDonald's across the street. Rather than advertising the fish sandwich special in honor of Easter that most of the McDonald's have been promoting in the 1,000 miles I have biked, this one mentioned that April 19 was National Hiring Day. Through Virginia the fish sandwiches were 99 cents. In North Carolina they were two for three dollars. In Ohio the price had risen to two for $3.33.

It was Sunday, so rather than taking my break inside the library, I sat on a bench out front dedicated to the memory of Herman "Whitey" Stivers. Bricks with various benefactors' names were inlaid in front of it. A tree across from the bench had a plaque "In memory of our friend Clair Ariens." Behind the tree was a gurgling brook cascading down from the well-manicured landscaping around the library. It was a most pleasant spot to spend half an hour eating and reading.

Before I saw any library signs as I closed in on the downtown of Greensburg I came upon a fire station with the firemen outside. They told me the Carnegie was just two blocks away, "the yellow building on the corner." It had been awhile though since it had served this large community as its library. It was the City Hall for a few years and is presently a private residence. It still had "Carnegie Public Library" chiseled into its front facade. Built in 1903 it had four pillars and a green dome and a pair of lamp fixtures along its staircase entry.

Before I left Ohio I added a couple more Carnegies to my list. The one in Wilmington was a modest yellow brick building with a red tile roof on a large enough plot of land several blocks from the city center to be able to add two wings more than doubling its length. They matched so perfectly I thought this was a rare Carnegie that was built with a bit of sprawl to it. Only when I saw the photo of the original Carnegie next to the standard Carnegie portrait of him holding an open book on his lap did I learn otherwise. A framed copy of Carnegie's letter granting Wilmington the funds for a library hung beside the photo and the portrait.

The Carnegie in Lebanon had a premium location on the corner across from the Town Hall. The dazzling soft yellow brick building acknowledged Carnegie with a chiseled "Carnegie's Gift MCMVI" above "Public Library" flanked by a pair of books embraced by wreaths carved into the stone. There had been space down the block for an addition with the same yellow bricks. Beyond the parking lot was a "Library Park" with a gazebo. This was a community that took great pride in its library.

If only the town of Hamilton, Ohio, named for Alexander, one of the Founding Fathers, had had a Carnegie, it would have been my favorite town of this trip. A grand boulevard passed through the town with various sculptures and a towering monument dedicated to those who have served in the military with a soldier atop across from the Visitor Center. There was a log cabin nearby and a bike bath along a river. A plaque paid tribute to preeminent author William Dean Howells who grew up in Hamilton before going on to write 35 novels while also serving as editor of "The Atlantic Monthly" and "Harper's." His autobiography, "A Boy's Town," was devoted to Hamilton. One could take a walking tour of Howells' sites.

All through this trip I have been asking myself. "Where are all the bicyclists." I haven't seen more than what I could count on two hands, and without needing my thumbs. But in Hamilton early on a Sunday morning I saw in the distance the great heart-warming site of a young girl on a bicycle with her father behind her just releasing her from his grip. She didn't seem to be moving though. And she wasn't. It was a realistic sculpture entitled "First Ride," at the start of the bike path. Both father and daughter had joyous smiles. Every town should have such a sculpture depicting that most momentous moment in everyone's life when they first learn to ride a bicycle.

Now I am closing in on Bloomington and long-time friend Dwight, my most ardent convert to bicycle touring. I introduced Dwight to the passion fifteen years ago on a two-week ride around the eastern end of Cuba. Dwight has kept at it, returning to Cuba with his bicycle and taking rides around the US and into Mexico and to Costa Rica and Ireland and Eastern Europe. The past two winters, since he retired from teaching computer science at Indiana University, he has spent bicycling Southeast Asia, mostly Thailand, but Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia as well.

I've been scavenging items along the road the past two days for Dwight. He lives on a former pig farm and has several acres under cultivation. I've gathered a few bungee cords, a box cutter, a strap with a winch, a girlie magazine, a few rags and hunks of metal he might be able to use in his workshop, balls for his dog, and two license plates. He has a couple of barns. I don't recall if he has the usual license plate collection that many barns have. If not, I'll be happy to keep the North Carolina plate I picked up yesterday, as it honors those bike mechanics, Wilbur and Orville, with the phrase "First in Flight." If taxidermy were among of Dwight's many talents, I could have harvested quite a few road kill pelts for him--deer, opossum, raccoon, dog, cat.

Later, George

1 comment:

Yonder Vittles said...

shame you could not find a use for the roadkill pelts. maybe we could take up taxidermy when you get back to town.