50 States in 50 Days: Indiana – The Crossroads of America

Posted by: Daniel Cisek, Deputy Press Attaché

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Indiana corn fields
Indiana corn fields

Capitol: Indianapolis

Although I’m from Chicago in the neighboring state of Illinois, I’ve spent lots of time in Indiana. My mother was born and raised there, and when I was growing up, we would pack up the family car and visit my grandmother every month in the tiny farming town of Fowler, Indiana. Later I went to graduate school at Indiana University in Bloomington, a beautiful, quirky, and always-interesting college town.

Indiana farmland evening. Photographer: Yooperann
Indiana farmland evening. Photographer: Yooperann

Indiana has larger cities and industry in the north, but is mostly known as an agricultural state. My own memories involve driving along highways surrounded by huge fields of corn and soybeans, and spending hot, hot summer days trying to cool off at the local pool in Fowler. At night, the heavy air would be lit up by lightning bugs, with the hum of insects all around. Indiana is lush and humid in the summertime, and it’s an unforgettable experience to roll down the highway with the windows open on a peaceful summer evening, listening to the crickets chirp and feeling the breeze from the warm moist air that nourishes the crops bursting from the ground. Although Ukraine lacks the humidity of Indiana, both places enjoy rich soil that provides an abundant harvest.

Hoosiers!

Indiana is in the Great Lakes area of the Midwest and borders Lake Michigan to the north. Indiana literally means “the land of the Indians,” although most of the Native American population was removed from the state almost 200 years ago and pushed west by the influx of European settlers. The state’s motto – “Crossroads of America” – highlights its central position along the country’s highways and railroads. The traditional nickname for people from Indiana is “Hoosier.” Debate continues as to the origin of the name, but the evidence suggests that it originally meant “woodsmen” or “rough hill people.” Other theories say that it comes from an old term for the local boatmen who rode on flat rafts, or from a black preacher named Harry Hoosier who traveled the region in the early 1800s. Regardless of its origin, Indiana residents use the term with pride.

Hoosiers love basketball. A popular movie (“Hoosiers”) from the 1980s illustrates the state’s love affair with the sport, as it follows a group of underdogs from a small town high school who manage to win the state basketball championship against all odds. Indiana boasts its own professional basketball team, the Indianapolis Pacers. It also has a professional American Football team, the Indianapolis Colts.

Indiana hosts the Indianapolis 500, a 500 mile auto race that takes place annually over the Memorial Day weekend (the last full weekend in May), at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis. The event, billed as The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, is considered one of the three most significant motorsports events in the world, and up to 400,000 attend each year.

 Michael Jackson. Photographer: Anonymous
Michael Jackson. Photographer: Anonymous

Famous People

Perhaps the most famous Hoosier was pop superstar Michael Jackson, who was born in the gritty industrial town of Gary and had his first success there as a performer with his brothers and sisters in the group The Jackson 5. Other notable Hoosiers include: actors James Dean and Steve McQueen; musicians John Mellencamp, Axl Rose, and Cole Porter; writers Theodore Dreiser and Kurt Vonnegut; and basketball great Larry Bird.

Notre Dame University Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Photographer: Michael Fernandes
Notre Dame University Basilica of the Sacred Heart. Photographer: Michael Fernandes

Education

Indiana has several universities ranked among the best in the country, including Purdue University (known for its strong engineering programs), Indiana University, and the University of Notre Dame (famous for both the toughness and spirit of its legendary football team and its strong academic programs). Other notable universities are Butler University, Valparaiso University, Ball State University, and the University of Evansville. There are many private colleges and community colleges that offer opportunities to students from all academic backgrounds.

Landscape and Parks

In the north, Indiana is mostly flat grassland and farmland. Farther south near Bloomington, the landscape changes to rolling hills and forests. One of the state’s major natural attractions is the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which extends along 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan. If you ever find yourself in Chicago in the summertime, it’s an easy train ride to visit the Dunes on the South Shore Line. Visitors come to enjoy scouting for rare species of birds, flying kites on the sandy beach, or just enjoying the sun and sand. Hikers can enjoy 45 miles of trails over rugged dunes, mysterious wetlands, sunny prairies, meandering rivers, and peaceful forests.

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