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The Secret Thoughts of History Nerds – Part One

We all know what it's like to have a crush – romantic or otherwise – on a celebrity or fictional character. But many of the people who work at the Indiana Historical Society have picked up obsessions with historical figures. (Yup, this is a thing. We heart dead people.)

I first noticed this phenomenon at our all-staff meetings, especially when someone from the Library and Archives Department is presenting. Often, there is a glow about them when they talk about the collections they're working on.

Most recently, I realized  Susan Sutton, our director of digitization, was falling slowly in love with a photographer named Larry Foster, whose collection of photographs spans from the late 1930s to 1960. So I decided to ask the staff who their historical crushes are. "This is actually a little difficult for me," says Susan. "Do I go with my long-time love for Lew Wallace or my latest fling, Larry Foster?" She first "got to know" Lew Wallace as undergraduate when she wrote a paper on the Battle of Shiloh. "Our Wallace collection just made me more fascinated with him," she says. "However, the elusive Larry Foster is going to help us tell a lot of stories we haven't told before. Seems he's left a lot about other people, though, and nothing about himself.  I guess Larry is my man – he stayed behind the camera to tell everyone else's story."

"George P. Stewart, co-founder of the Indianapolis Recorder, is that one Indiana historical figure with whom I would like to spend some time," says Wilma Moore, senior archivist, African-American History.

"I like Paul McNutt [former governor of Indiana] because he believed in helping the common man in need and because he took one for the team in 1940 by declining the vice presidential nomination because FDR didn't like him," says Paul Brockman, director of manuscripts and visual collections. "Don't you dare put down it's because he had a hot wife." (Like I'd leave that out. Sorry, Paul.)

Ray Boomhower, author and interim senior director of IHS Press, picked Lew Wallace. "He is Indiana’s Renaissance Man," says Ray. "He dreamed of winning glory on the battlefield but had to be content as the author of one of the best-selling books in American literary history, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ."

It's Susan Wallace, however, who captured the heart of Teresa Baer, managing editor of IHS Press. "When I was an intern here in the mid-1990s, I processed the papers of Susan Wallace," Teresa says. "They were fascinating to me. I really grew to like her as a person. I am also in her debt, as she has taught me a lot about myself and all the women in my life. I think 'knowing' Susan Wallace has been an important part of my education as a historian and as a human being."

Project Archivist Maire Gurevitz was quick to name J. Irwin Miller of Cummins. "Hands down, no contest," she says. "Silver fox, brilliant mind, sweet sense of humor and a great philanthropist to cap it all off! He is forever the dreamiest."

"My historical crush is the schizophrenic watercolorist John Zwara," says Jordan Ryan, digitization assistant. "He painted many Indianapolis bridges, rivers and green spaces – including Central State Hospital – in the 1930s and 1940s."

Eric Mundell, director of collections management, had a difficult time deciding. (You can look forward to his other answers in Part Two.) But his Indiana crush? "Edith Blanche McCaughey, a Hoosier teen whose meticulous Victorian journals I transcribed and edited," he says. "She died the year I was born, and I wanted to teleport to the 1890s just to give her a hug."

Museum Theater actor Katie Berndt admits an obsession with the mysterious Diana of the Dunes, and I'll close with Karie Hon, our director of corporate relations, who simply says, "James Dean. Need I say more?"

Who is your historical crush?

Don't miss Part 2!


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