TERRE HAUTE —
When an outside spotlight shines on Terre Haute, the results sometimes aren’t sweet.
Sure, this city has enjoyed some glorious publicity — the NCAA tournament run by Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores in 1979, native sons Max Carey and Tommy John starring in baseball’s World Series, the Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts training here for 11 summers, and presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama courting local voters in 2008. But even in those instances, some rough edges were exposed. Sports Illustrated stories about Bird and the then-unbeaten Sycamores included home-life tragedies and ego clashes that irritated the team.
And, of course, there was the Feb. 11, 1961, edition of the Saturday Evening Post.
The Post’s lead story became part of Terre Haute lore. The promo on the magazine’s cover read: “The Sad Case of Terre Haute!” Inside, the headlines above a grim, three-page story called Terre Haute “Indiana’s Delinquent City,” adding that, “In shabby Terre Haute, progress is dead, vice flourishes, and the citizens don’t seem to care.” The piece cemented, for years to come, the town’s old “Sin City” reputation as a gambling and prostitution haven built in the 1920s, ’30s and ’40s.
Sometimes, the spotlight leaves mixed results. In 2001, when Oklahoma City bombing terrorist Timothy McVeigh was executed at the Federal Correctional Complex here, locals wondered if the world would now know Terre Haute for its death row. In reality, the community drew praise for its handling of the influx of global media and protesters, and the city is a footnote in McVeigh’s heinous saga.
The real Terre Haute is a little bit of all those things, along with beer brewing, the old Four-Cornered race track, the minor-league baseball team, the General Strike, Steve Martin’s “Nowhere USA” comment, the Blues at the Crossroads festival, the Seventh Street Arts Corridor, poet Max Ehrmann, author Theodore Dreiser and his songwriter brother, Paul Dresser, activist Eugene Debs, Tony Hulman, the Coke bottle, factories, churches and five colleges.
John Winninger and the staff at WTIU will try to sum it all up in a one-hour documentary, “Our Town: Terre Haute.” The show airs at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 30, on WTIU, a Public Broadcasting television station based in Bloomington. Terre Haute is the seventh Indiana community featured in WTIU’s “Our Town” series, following Spencer, Bedford, Seymour, Greencastle, Martinsville and Monroe County.
“The whole gist of the thing is to look back at the history — the warm and fuzzy stuff, and the things that are not so warm and fuzzy,” said Winninger, senior producer and director of educational services at WTIU, where he’s worked since 1968. “We try to get the big gray elephants in the room out of the room.”
In the segment on Martinsville, “Our Town” delved into perceptions of that central Indiana city as a Ku Klux Klan stronghold, and largely dispelled those claims, Winninger said.
As WTIU began studying Terre Haute, surprisingly few local folks mentioned the town’s infamous smell, Winninger said. Thus, the odor problem, which has become less diverse because of plant closings, won’t be highlighted. But …
“Of course, Terre Haute has the ‘Sin City’ thing, which we touch on,” Winninger said.
On the flipside, the show also will dwell heavily on the higher education community, which includes Indiana State University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, Ivy Tech and Harrison College.
Once WTIU’s focus is complete, Winninger thinks Hauteans will like what they’ve seen, just as residents of the other “Our Town” cities have enjoyed their 60 minutes of statewide fame.
“It should be a good reflection on the city,” he said.
The mere ability of Terre Haute to produce “a good reflection” marks a significant step forward from the Saturday Evening Post exposé 49 years ago.
That story — written by the late Peter Wyden, a noted journalist who also served as a Washington correspondent for Newsweek — described a local Chamber of Commerce officer who tried to open residents’ eyes with a series of three commentaries aired on a Terre Haute TV station. According to the story, he asked viewers, “Why do we have to be among the last to get on the band wagon of urban renewal? Why do we have no underpasses at our key railroad crossings? Why did 20,000 of our 36,000 registered voters in the city stay away from the polls last May 5th? Why have we been so long in getting started on an adequate sewer system? Why do we have one of the highest tax rates in the state and so little to show for it? Why no enforcement of our smoke-abatement ordinance? Why do our young people leave this city?”
Obviously, some of those problems remain on our town’s résumé. The difference now is that Terre Haute has an energetic corps of people determined to give residents good reasons to stay. The proof of that momentum can be found in the new downtown hotels, the Arts Corridor, the Blues at the Crossroads festival, the Riverscape project, the new Terre Haute Rex baseball team and the new stadium that houses them, Bob Warn Field at Sycamore Stadium.
Winninger found residents anxious to talk positively about this place. During the “Our Town” episode, Winninger gives them that chance. “I said, ‘Why Terre Haute? Why do you love your city so much?’ And they said, ‘Because it’s home. It’s where we raised our family.’”
Whether or not that sentiment sticks with the outside world, it’s a reputation worth keeping.
Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TERRE HAUTE —
When an outside spotlight shines on Terre Haute, the results sometimes aren’t sweet.
- Mark Bennett Opinion
Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river
At 96 feet wide and 2 stories tall, the power, impact and value of the Wabash will be evident.
MARK BENNETT: Life at face value: Mom’s simple advice still presents a valuable daily challenge
Most moms don’t base their advice on scientific research.
(Unless, of course, your mother is a scientific researcher. If so, carry a No. 2 pencil and take good notes.)
MARK BENNETT: Should I stay or should I go?
Some have their Bill Clinton-era Cavalier packed (with the trunk bungee-ed shut), apartment cleaned (except for the fridge), and iPhone GPS locked onto the fastest route out of Terre Haute. Others are staying — until they find a better job, or because they’re starting a career here, or because this town feels like home. In each case, a new stage of life begins today.
College Class of '13 gets a little extra advice
Local college grads will hear commencement speakers offer life and career advice this month. We’re offering them an extra dose here from folks who’ve found success in various vocations and regions of the nation. Many have Terre Haute roots.
MARK BENNETT: Spirited response to a rising river
The power within the Wabash revealed itself last week.
MARK BENNETT: Littered with irony: Why do people callously discard their trash, and who are they?
Though they aren’t acknowledged by the U.S. Census Bureau, there are basically two demographic groups of people … Those who would dump their old toilet on the banks of the Wabash River or a rural roadside. And those who wouldn’t.
MARK BENNETT: Performing under the radar: Toiling for years behind the scenes, Terre Haute native J.T. Corenflos finally earned a splash of musical recognition
People who diligently work to make others shine are a rare breed.
Season of Day 2s arrives
Calendars in Cincinnati contain one extra holiday — Opening Day, traditionally the first Monday in April.
MARK BENNETT: Amid tragedy and chaos, the hopeful smiles of youth could not be repressed
The image jars the viewer. On its own, the old photograph appears ordinary. Three smiling kids.
MARK BENNETT: A century later, ‘On the Banks of the Wabash’ still rises above Indiana politics
Music and politics share one commonality — people who like a style different from yours are nuts.
MARK BENNETT: Digit dialing a thing of the past, but telephoning is still a numbers game
You’ve heard of child prodigies who can play Mozart on piano or perform calculus at the age of 5.
That wasn’t me.
MARK BENNETT: After years of preparation, 60 immigrants will gather in Terre Haute on March 14 to pledge their allegiance to the United States of America
It will have been a long and difficult road, but it will be an emotional moment when they raise their right hands and begin the oath of citizenship
MARK BENNETT: The fall and rise of a ‘Young Titan’
Broken. Humiliated. Discarded. Finished.
Few of us think of Winston Churchill in such bleak terms.
MARK BENNETT: Trying to keep momentum of acceptance within the community a key part of Jeff Lorick’s job
Second-graders’ eyes and minds function differently.
They see the future unjaded. Their possibilities stand tall, not yet choked by the adult weeds of prejudice and bitterness.
MARK BENNETT: For Glenda Ritz, being educator, ‘not a politician’ still makes good political sense
Educator, not a politician.
Glenda Ritz emphasizes that distinction about herself.
MARK BENNETT: Falling short of the big prize will produce lessons nonetheless
This is a day for Roman numerals.
Americans seldom use them. And when we do, humility is not our purpose.
MARK BENNETT: Forgotten Message: Advice from ‘The Mick’ should be remembered in wake of Lance Armstrong’s troubles
The two comments were almost identical.
MARK BENNETT: A sense of Americana constant passenger as iconic Corvette motors through milestone birthday
On my last ride at the wheel of a ’Vette, I was a wide-eyed teenager, guiding my brother’s almost-new, orange 1976 model.
MARK BENNETT: Sculptor from North Carolina to capture image of Indiana’s first black state legislator
Well-meaning parents try to instill strong character in their kids.
“Don’t be afraid to stand up for your beliefs,” moms and dads will insist, “even if you stand alone.”
MARK BENNETT: Heart ailments, avoidable health issues affect high numbers of Vigo residents
Many folks in Vigo County will analyze digits on their bathroom scales this month. After all, January and fitness resolutions are traditional partners.
MARK BENNETT: For some people in the Wabash Valley, happy holidays require a little help
Picture yourself as a kid, not yet 5 years old, growing up in a small house in Terre Haute.
MARK BENNETT: Beware Ignorance and Want and reap the benefits of early education
Pretend that Charles Dickens is about to become Indiana’s next governor.
MARK BENNETT: In spirit of season, calculate your fiscal cliff impact, then argue
Envision “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”
MARK BENNETT: Members of Congress should be free to consider all sides of an issue
Attempting to trump the U.S. Constitution requires some nerve.
MARK BENNETT: An unbudging Congress standing on opposing sides accomplishes little
Sausage patties, hugging a scoop of scrambled eggs and a couple slices of toast on a plate, and chased with nearby steaming black coffee.
MARK BENNETT: Hoosier voters issue mandate on Bennett’s school reforms
Mike Pence, Mitch Daniels and Indiana legislators should respect the votes of 1,315,026 Hoosiers.
MARK BENNETT: Elections, governing would look a lot different if everybody voted
A raffle ticket purchase usually comes with a disclaimer — “you must be present to win.”
MARK BENNETT: On Election Day, as Vigo County goes, so goes the United States
Hempstead sounds like a fine place.
MARK BENNETT: Upcoming PBS documentary focuses on nation’s voting irregularities, through Hoosier eyes
As America prepares to choose its governmental leaders, voters are being relentlessly asked how much they trust elected officials.
MARK BENNETT: Quest for knowledge keeps going as Elliott Gould prepares to speak in Terre Haute
As our conversation began, Elliott Gould was in the midst of learning. He was reading a book.
- More Mark Bennett Opinion Headlines
- Mark Bennett: High-profile mural connects historical dots from city to river