Column: Things I didn’t know about Indiana

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I was pawing through some old files the other day when I found some notes about Indiana’s former Gov. Robert Orr. He left a strong legacy, of course, but something I hadn’t known was his wife, Josie Orr, was an Air Corps pilot and flew bombers and cargo planes during World War II.

That got me curious about things I didn’t know about other famous Hoosiers. The first complete indoor bathroom in Indianapolis was installed in the home of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley.

John Chapman – better known as Johnny Appleseed – is buried in Fort Wayne. Amelia Earhart was a teacher at Purdue University and Red Skelton was born and raised in Vincennes. Other native Hoosiers include Florence Henderson, John Mellencamp and the Jackson Five.

Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the mother of Abraham Lincoln, is buried in Posey County. She died when the future president was nine years old.

A few other Hoosier firsts: Wabash was the first town in the United States to have city-wide electricity. The main station in the fabled Underground Railroad was located in the Levi Coffin House in Fountain City. Hundreds of men, women and children escaped from slavery through the halls of this imposing brick home. The home today is a museum.

The world’s largest collection of orchids is at Ball State University in Muncie. Ball State created the Wheeler-Thanhauser Collection to conserve rare and endangered species of orchids. The greenhouse also has a collection of tropical poison arrow frogs.

Crown Hill Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the United States, Eagle Creek Park is the largest city park in the country, and the Indianapolis Children’s Museum is the largest museum devoted entirely to kids.

During World War II, London was besieged by German Buzz Bombs. The only one in the world now on public display is on the Putnam County courthouse lawn in Greencastle.

The first town in America to have a regulated speed limit was Kokomo. Early automobiles built there were restricted to driving no faster than 20 mph.  Kokomo was also the birthplace of the pneumatic rubber tire, stainless steel, sealed beam headlights, auto safety glass and the first push-button car radio.

And, oh yeah, Indiana still produces 90 percent of the world’s popcorn.


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