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The saddest ghost towns

July 8th, 2016 ·1 Comment

Approximately a month ago, I was in Barnes & Noble, a store that I like for its atmosphere and because it usually has a small section that focuses on Indiana history – not the super academic variety, but the personal experience of daily life.

I used to visit this section regularly because I would select a Christmas present for my father from the shelves. The first one I just happened upon, sort of like I happened upon the section on Indiana history. It was Indiana Temples and was a photographic enhanced history of well-known basketball gymnasiums. Yes, to a lot of non-Hoosiers that seems weird, but to the generations of young boys (and girls) who had no video games, not much TV and went to small high schools that did not consolidate until the 60’s and 70’s, the hoop over the garage door was where you spent a lot of time.

And in the spring, there was no class basketball; every school had a shot at the state title. A lot of people outside Indiana know this without being aware of knowing it because the watched Hoosiers and maybe remember a recovering alcoholic played by Dennis Hopper jumping up and down on his his rebab bed yelling, “No school this small has ever been . .. ”

However, back to the books I gave my dad each Christmas. I thought about that last months as I looked at the Indiana History section and saw the cover photo of empty storefronts in small little towns: dusty windows, paint worn off the wooden facade, faded bits of signs remaining. I knew I would not be buying that book, not because Daddy has been dead so many years now, but because I think it would have been too sad to see in digital clearness. Better those main streets be remembered through the fog of memory and before they said good-bye to the Saturday night shoppers and the old bandstands where music actually was performed by townsfolk. My grandfather was in a barbershop quartet; you can still see such groups at special events, but not regularly and maybe in an impromptu gathering on a hot summer evening.

People still live in these towns, but they are different people and different towns. Many family names are the same and the towns appear the same on the map, yet ghosts are everywhere. I think it would be very sad to be an elderly man looking at those empty pictures and seeing those ghosts younger people can’t.

Maybe I didn’t buy the book because Daddy is dead and one of those ghosts; maybe I didn’t buy it because I can hear his voice telling tales of those days and I can imagine the look on his face as he looked at those pictures, stripped of the the life that once bustled there.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Ron // Jul 24, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    I grew up in a bustling river town of 17,000 people. The power plant at the local dam supplied cheap power to the local industries (carbide plants, steel plants, rubber plants, corn products, etc.) that produced products carried away on a never ending stream of rail cars, barges and trucks. It also supplied the local farmers with goods and services. You were never further than 10 minutes from a corn field. The power plant was purchased by Union Electric who promptly jacked up the price of power. The factories closed down and the jobs went away. The shift from family farms to corporate farms decimated the rural population and with it all the support jobs. The town has shrunk to less than half its size and is now smaller than it was during the Civil War. There is nothing on Main Street but second hand shops and bars. The town is now officially recognized as the “poorest” in the state. I don’t care to go back there. The people I would like to see are either dead or gone. I much prefer my memories to the current reality.

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