EYE ON THE PIE: Making money by neutering history

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I drove north last week from the Caesar’s gambling facility in Harrison County. Instead of taking the usual roads, I twisted up the cliffside overlooking the Ohio River via Doolittle Road. Then I went through New Middleton to Corydon before I joined the state highway system. It was a delightful drive that I never would have known about from anything on the state’s tourism Web site.

Yes, I can hear the usual lament: “Wait, we’re working on improving our materials. You know we don’t have enough money.” I’ve heard that story more than 30 years. It no longer compels any sympathy.

To my surprise, twice I saw relatively new signs marking the route taken by John Hunt Morgan as he and his rebel followers raided in Indiana during July 1863. The signs encourage the driver to follow the “John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail.” What is this “heritage” that commemorates the adventures of a traitor to the United States?

Morgan was a rogue who disobeyed the orders of his commanding officer when he crossed the Ohio River to invade Indiana-to disrupt Union supply lines, steal provisions from ordinary families, cut telegraph lines, and burn bridges. Now a group identified as Historic Hoosier Hills Resource Conservation and Development Inc. is calling attention to Morgan and his 2,000 or so treasonous followers.

In a state where roads are so poorly marked, this group has the money to put up signs that glorify criminal behavior. The signage on our highways is grossly inadequate. There are no signs of adequate size nor any containing sufficient content to direct motorists to the excellent visitors’ welcoming center in Hammond.

Often, drivers on our streets and highways are expected to merge without any signs or lane markers. Frequently, you get to the intersection before knowing you are in a lane restricted to turning traffic.

In some cases, the inadequacy is the fault of the Indiana Department of Transportation; in other cases, it is a failing of the local street authorities. No matter who is at fault, Hoosiers and our visitors are endangered.

But there is money to lay out the route of vandalizing rebels from 140 years ago. Where is this money coming from? A notfor-profit organization representing nine southeastern Indiana counties. Although one cannot tell with certainty, there is a suggestion that federal and local tax funds are being used by this Hoosier Hills organization to further its purposes.

The Hoosier Hills Web site treats Morgan’s raid as something about which schoolchildren should learn. The presentation of Morgan’s detailed activities is almost totally nonjudgmental. Although the men are described as “unruly” and “freebooters,” I doubt that children or uneducated adults would understand the egregious nature of their actions. No doubt a similar set of maps, CDs, videos and coloring books could be distributed in Europe to show the progress of Hitler’s armies or in China to depict Japanese actions in that country.

I presume the Indiana Department of Transportation and other governmental agencies have cooperated with the Hoosier Hills folks by allowing them to post their signs along state highways and county roads. I know some people in southern Indiana have never conceded the defeat of the Confederacy. The rebel flag has a certain defiant meaning for too many of our fellow citizens. But is Morgan’s raid to be honored by Indiana? Or is this just a localized, crass attempt to attract some tourism dollars from Civil War buffs?

Marcus taught economics more than 30 years at Indiana University and is the former director of IU’s Business Research Center. His column appears weekly. To comment on this column, send e-mail to mortonjmarcus@yahoo.com.

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