Was Indiana Home to the Original Alternative Facts?

Was Indiana Home to the Original Alternative Facts?

Moument Circle and the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Indianapolis, Indiana. Car light trail in foreground.

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Why you should care

Because the ties that bind run through this Midwestern state.

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Driving into Indianapolis can be jarring. After passing the highways of grain intrinsic to Hoosier country, travelers come across a city of wide boulevards and the resplendent Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Far from an ode to Midwestern sensibilities, the monument serves as a lavish light at night for drunken sojourners who amble toward the 24-hour Steak ’n Shake, while in the daytime it acts as a compass pointing to the state Capitol.

National Road, the first major highway of the United States built in the early 1800s, used to pass straight through the Capitol building. And now, with former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence gracing the White House in faraway Washington, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that the crossroads of Indiana has become, as its slogan has long claimed, the “crossroads of America.” With that in mind, here’s our postcard to you, with a few stories to help make sense of the Hoosier State.

mike pence

Then Rep. Mike Pence in his Hill office in 2004.

Source Robert A. Reeder/The Washington Post/Getty Images

PENCE — BEFORE HE BECAME VICE PRESIDENT PENCE

Three years ago, the Indiana governor had his sights on the White House. At that time, though, he was flirting with the presidency. It made sense for the bona fide conservative, a silver-haired 50-something with a voting record beyond (conservative) reproach, and a gravitas modeled after Ronald Reagan’s. However, his position was precarious. Democrats came to revile him for his support of religious liberty and abortion-limiting bills, while Republicans wrung their hands over his decisions to accept Medicaid funds, adopt Common Core–like education standards and support immigration policies that, to them, reeked of amnesty. Pence’s fall from grace may have been a blessing, though: He avoided the attacks levied by Trump on presidential challengers like “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz and “Little Marco” Rubio, and became an unexpectedly savvy veep pick. Not everybody is thrilled: “When we said ‘Pence Must Go!’ we didn’t mean to the White House,” grumbles a patron late one night at Nicky Blaine’s, a well-known vintage cigar bar in downtown Indianapolis.

THE ORIGINAL ALTERNATIVE FACTS?

It was 1894 and Edward J. Goodwin, a doctor in the tiny town of Solitude, Indiana, was convinced he had derived pi. Claiming divine insight, the would-be groundbreaking mathematician persuaded a local legislator to introduce a bill in 1897 to verify the legitimacy of his claims … and codify them into law. The proposal, House Bill 246, was first unloaded on the finance committee, then suggested for the Committee on Canals (aka the Committee on Swamp Lands), before finally landing in the hands of the education committee. The bill passed 67-0 through the Indiana lower chamber.

Only problem? Goodwin was wrong, and a German-language daily in Indianapolis called him out. As Indiana became a national laughingstock, the bill was shifted ironically to the Senate Committee on Temperance and died a much-lampooned death soon after.

V.J. Beachem

V.J. Beachem dunks against the Duke Blue Devils during the championship of the ACC Basketball Tournament on March 11, 2017.

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WILL THIS HOOSIER BE GRACING THE NBA NEXT YEAR?

Sure, the NCAA Tournament is finished, and Notre Dame was unceremoniously booted out by West Virginia in the second round. But this probably isn’t the last you’ll hear of V.J. Beachem, the Fighting Irish’s do-it-all senior forward. With NBA-ready athleticism and an outside shot that makes scouts salivate, Beachem is the prototype stretch-three (or four) in today’s three-ball-friendly offenses. The only question? Whether the Fort Wayne–born-and-bred Hoosier can reach his potential consistently. After averaging a blistering 41.6 and 44 percent from deep as a sophomore and junior, Beachem shot just 36 percent this past year — and, admittedly, turned in humbling results during March Madness. A previously projected second-rounder, he could go undrafted … which has us betting Beachem becomes the next success story to emerge from international ball or the D-League.

A BRIDGE TO A SECRET MIDWESTERN MECCA

Long drives can bring out an irrational love for the odd piece of scenery that breaks up the monotony. That’s especially true for the trip from Indianapolis to Louisville, Kentucky, an eyelid-dropping route along Interstate 65 that is saved only by the Front Door Bridge. “Rising weedlike out of the asphalt,” as our writer puts it, the bridge is a bright-red overpass that pops against the local greenery, a visual bookmark signifying the halfway point of the two-hour journey. And despite its middle-of-nowhere feel, taking the exit off this bridge to Columbus, Indiana, leads to a city of buildings built by modernist masters, from I.M. Pei to Harry Weese and Richard Meier.

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