Letter From American History – October 2012

A True Place

Visitors are attracted to Columbus, Ind., by the architecture—buildings designed by famous architects who simply don’t design buildings for small towns like Columbus. Tourists take the tour bus from the Visitors Center, walk through a few of the buildings, and go home impressed. But the magic they take with them is not about the architecture, as amazing as that is. The magic is the town itself.
From the ice cream parlor that’s a perfect match for your dream of what an ice cream parlor should have been in 1950, to the baseball lots around town filled with kids and adults actually playing ball each evening, the place oozes Midwestern sensibility. One that is so perfect it can seem a bit spooky—as if you have entered The Twilight Zone.
In a 1960 Twilight Zone episode called “Elegy,” three astronauts low on fuel land on an asteroid and discover the perfect little Midwestern village. Columbus is a bigger place than the astronauts found in the Twilight Zone town, but it has the same mythical ethos—too good to be true.
A visitor to Columbus can easily imagine that none of the children there watch too much television, that Dad is always home in time for dinner, that no one gets divorced. All the rhythms of life seem somehow in sync. You sense it’s the perfect place to raise a family.
American life is rarely as dreamy or as innocent as we want it to be, but in Columbus, it’s easier to be a romantic, to imagine that wishes can be realized. Even if you’re a skeptic and wary of appearances, you leave town with a nag that something in Columbus is different.
The pity is that thousands of pictures and words are unlikely to communicate the wonder of this place. You can only get that by going there. We recommend the trip.


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