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Being interviewed by your old hometown newspaper sure feels like a big deal. Both “Boone County, Images of America” and “The State of Boone” release next month. I sat down last week with Elizabeth Pearl of The Lebanon Reporter at the “Tornado Starbucks” for a chat. Here’s the article she wrote from our 30 minute convo–clearly I yack as verbosely as I write
When Kassie Ritman was a senior in high school, she and a group of friends decided to sneak out one night and paint graffiti on the Lebanon water tower.
The girls asked a group of guys to come climb the ladder and paint “79” — their graduating year — over the “Friendly City” logo emblazoned across the water tank.
But the guys never showed up, so around one in the morning Ritman and her friends gave up and went home.
Years later, while researching a forthcoming book about Boone County, Ritman learned a disturbing truth about the land the water tower stood over. Beneath the grass and soil lay the unmarked graves of Lebanon’s earliest citizens.
“We had no idea,” Ritman said, “but we were standing over a thousand of bodies.”
Ritman was born at Witham Hospital in 1960, and grew up in what she calls “the last house in Boone County” before the Hendricks County line. She attended Lebanon schools and was a 4-H member. Until she started working on the book, titled “Boone County,” she thought she knew all the legends about the area.
She quickly found out that she was wrong.
“I would challenge anyone to see if some of the things in there don’t surprise them,” Ritman said. “Because a lot of it threw me for a loop.”
Ritman has lived in Indianapolis for most of her adult life, but she still comes to Boone County for the annual fair, and to get her hair cut by a high school classmate. She feels a strong bond with the place where she was raised and where she still has many friends, she said.
So when the opportunity came to write a book about the area, she leapt at the chance. Ritman, who worked as an interior decorator and owned a coffee shop in Broad Ripple, has always loved to write and explore family history and genealogy. Last year she approached Arcadia Publishing about a historic house in Indianapolis.
The publisher said no, but told Ritman about a few other projects they needed someone to work on. Ritman quickly agreed when they mentioned her home county.
“I told them I grew up in Boone, and I’d love to do it,” she said.
The book, which will be released Aug. 15, is part of the ubiquitous “Images in America” series, which publishes works on small towns and special topics across the country. Until now, the series includes 117 books on Indiana, none of which covered Boone County or any of the towns within it.
Ritman began working on the book, which will be largely pictorial, in September. Over the course of her research she visited the Heritage centers and libraries in Lebanon, Thorntown and Jamestown and spoke with longtime area families who knew the legends and had photos of the county.
“This has been several months in the works,” said Phyllis Myers, genealogy and local history librarian at the Thorntown Public Library. “We went through all the photos we have and the written documents in the library. A lot of that stuff has not been included in a book before or anything like this.”
The book includes more than 200 photos and covers the years 1840 to the 1980s, Ritman said. In it, people can find information on many facets of life in Boone, including details about famous and interesting graves and the history of medical care in the county. One early hospital shown in the book refused to treat “the insane or contagious.”
The story behind the lost cemetery beneath the water tower is also included in the book. The cemetery, called Cedar Hill, was opened in the 1830s. By the end of the Civil War, it was overflowing and unkempt, and eventually abandoned after the opening of Oak Hill Cemetery in 1872.
In 1954, the James Hill chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution took over the cemetery and removed the grave markers, most of which were broken, lost or illegible. The gravestones were available for the public to take, and those unclaimed were taken to the dump. By most accounts, 1,000 of Boone County’s earliest residents were buried in the old cemetery, Ritman said.
Ritman’s book — which she is publishing with a companion piece, “State of Boone,” that focuses on stories rather than photos — comes at a good time for the county, said Eric Spall, local history specialist at the Lebanon Public Library’s Heritage Center. The last book about the county was published in 1984.
“We told her it was definitely time for a history book,” Spall, who helped Ritman with the library’s vast archives, said. “There should be a lot of interest in the county on history of this type, with that local flavor. You won’t find the more detailed stuff on people’s lives in histories of the whole state.”
One of the things Ritman enjoyed about researching Boone was the amount of unique information and people to come out of it. She herself grew up surrounded by that history, and most of the time didn’t know she was surrounded by it. As a child, she remembers finding Native American arrowheads in fields and showing them to her friends.
“We traded arrowheads like town kids traded marbles,” she said. “We had no idea these were from 5,000 years before Christ.”
For Ritman, part of the fun of writing a book like this is that she gets to learn about the place where she was born, and in the process hopefully teach current residents about their home. The book is on-order at the Thorntown and Lebanon libraries, and Ritman said it will likely be available other places around the county as well. She plans to do signings and events around the county a few weeks after the book is released.
“This is such a unique place. People from Lebanon are different from people from Zionsville, who are different than people from Jamestown,” she said. “To play on what Vonnegut said, everywhere you go there is a Hoosier doing something. It’s the same for Boone County. Everywhere you go there is a someone from Boone County doing something, usually something really cool.”