Today I am thinking about our humanities council adventures in Washington County. You can easily reach the county seat, the city of Salem, from I-65 by turning west onto State Road 56, a pleasant and hilly drive in southern Indiana.
We were in Salem working on a project called “Produce for Victory,” a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit on the homefront in World War II. Most Americans over the age of 70 can recall their lives during that war, whether at home or overseas. So it was that I met a man named Ray Clark who showed me a scrapbook he kept about his experiences in WWII. As a 19-year-old GI, Ray helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp. He was still trying to educate people about what happened there and was eager to see our project come to Washington County. Anyone who doubts the history of the Holocaust should have had the opportunity to see Ray’s scrapbook and hear his stories. He was just an average rural Indiana boy when something unimaginable became part of his life and a powerful testament in his memory.
Salem, Indiana, is a good place for history, though. Its Stevens Memorial Museum has a renowned genealogical library, and a collection of nineteenth-century style buildings forming a small pioneer village. As A City Open for Business, however, Salem also takes a progressive attitude to the present and is currently renovating its municipal airport to attract corporate aircraft traffic.
(The Salem Middle School website has a gallery of photos of Chelsea Clinton’s visit this past spring, which drew quite a crowd. With a microphone in her hand, she looks a lot like her mother.)