21 Terre Haute Sightseeing

I started at the obvious place: "The Crossroads of America," the brass sign at Wabash Avenue and Seventh Street. Circling outward from that, I learned that Terre Haute was home to two theaters Hopper would have loved: the 1922 Indiana and the 1914 Hippodrome--the oldest surviving vaudeville theater in the U.S. I also discovered half-numbered streets (7½, 10½) and Square Donuts, which actually serves square donuts.

Terre Haute's unique museums included one devoted to the child victims of Nazi doctor experiments and one honoring the hometown author of Indiana's state song "On the Banks of the Wabash," Paul Dresser. Dresser's brother Theodore Dreiser never Americanized his name or attitudes and wrote epic novels detailing the perversions of capitalism. Hopper read Dreiser's books and called them "a little too Midwestern" but later said they were "all right."

Dreiser's fellow enemy of capitalism, Socialist Eugene V. Debs, lived in a tiny white-sided farmhouse here that was now a museum bristling beneath the towering rust-marked concrete dorms of Indiana State University.
As this typographically challenged sign notes, Debs ran the activist railroad union, and he refused to support World War I. But that didn't hurt his candidacy in the next election of 1920, when he garnered nearly a million votes while jailed for those pacifist activities.

After passing the factory where
is made (founded by Herman Hulman, whose largesse earned him co-billing at Rose-Hulman), I parked downtown and wandered the streets, deserted on a Sunday morning. Everywhere stood examples of the adaptability of America's small towns. Lawyers worked out of old restaurant spaces. A former retail storefront had been converted to a bookstore in whose display case rested a book of Hopper reproductions, as if a mysterious hand had foreseen my visit. I headed to the Swope and the Hopper that had drawn me here.

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