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Second time around

Author Baker sees success
with Jefferson Proving Ground book

The book was reprinted after an initial run in 1991

By Amy Casebier
Contributing Writer

(July 2008) – There are few locals unfamiliar with the chain link-encased Jefferson Proving Ground situated over Jefferson, Jennings and Ripley counties in southern Indiana. However, there are few people familiar with the locals who inhabited the JPG before the U.S. Army bought their properties in 1940.
Sue Baker of Greenfield, Ind., knows those people. Some of them were her ancestors, settling in the region in the 1840s.

Sue Baker

Photo submitted by Mike Moore

Author Sue Baker of Greenfield, Ind.,
signs a copy of her book for Madison
resident Louis Munier, who once
lived on a farm taken over by the
Jefferson Proving Ground.

Baker first published a book in 1991 about the proving ground’s history. It was called “For Defense of Our Country: Echoes of Jefferson Proving Ground.”
“I’ve always loved history and genealogy,” she said. “I began to write stories I’ve always been told.”
Baker began taking some courses on writing and then took the plunge into beginning the book.
“I decided, ‘I think I can do this,’ ” she said. “I pretty much call this my small project that got out of hand.”
Three months ago, Mike Moore of the JPG Heritage Partnership asked Baker’s permission to reprint her book. Baker found a box of original prints from the 1991 printing of her book, Moore said. Using the original prints meant that the publisher did not have to create new ones. That helped reduce reprint costs.
Since then, around 100 books have been sold.
“Everybody seems absolutely delighted with it,” said Baker, 75. “It’s a very heartwarming thing to do.”
She added that there was not any of the 1991 book left, so people seemed to be happy just to get a new copy.
Baker said she enjoyed the research process when she wrote the original 1991 book.
“In research, you keep digging and digging until you find what you want,” Baker said.
She unearthed a wealth of insight into the area before it became the proving ground when she spoke with retired schoolteacher Opal Wildman. Wildman had a scrapbook full of photographs of places and buildings before 1941, when the proving ground opened.
Baker spoke with many people who had to move from the area in 1941. That often became a bittersweet experience.
“I would ask one question, ‘Tell me about when you moved out of the proving ground,’ ” she said. “It would bring up so many memories, and many people would almost start crying. They were heartbroken even after all these years.”
Although they loved their homes, the people were patriotic to move away, Baker added.
“They knew it was for their country,” she said.
Moore manages the marketing for the JPG Heritage Partnership, an organization concerned for the preservation of the proving ground’s history. Profits that the partnership earns from book sales go toward publishing other out-of-print books. The Jefferson County (Ind.) Historical Society offers Baker’s reprinted book at their gift shop, while Mailboxes & Parcel Depot in Madison also sells copies. Another one of Moore’s responsibilities is to ensure that these two businesses do not run out of both signed and unsigned copies of Baker’s books.
Moore can also be counted among Baker’s fans.
“I like the way she reads,” Moore said of the book. “There’s nothing to compare it to. It’s the only one like it. It’d be hard to beat it.”
Moore said his favorite part of the book was all of the historical photographs of the communities before people had to move.
“I like thinking about people walking to the store, not having to drive,” Moore said.
“It’s a timely book because very shortly after she wrote it, the proving ground closed,” he added. “It was a focal point of news stories, if they were going to clean it up.”
Jefferson Proving Ground occupies 55,625 acres that sprawl across parts of Jefferson, Jennings and Ripley counties. The Army purchased the land, which included people’s homes and farms in 1940, and munitions testing began in 1941. In 1989, the government identified the proving ground to be closed, although the area did not close officially until 1995. In that same year, parts of the area began to be redeveloped for civilian use and occupation. However, 51,000 acres of the northern portion of the proving ground remains contaminated from testing.
Baker has also published several other books for and about her native Hancock County in addition to the one about the proving grounds. These other books include one about the 92 different cemeteries that can be found in the county, as well as another about civil war soldiers of the county.
“That was a labor of love,” Baker said.
She has also worked with court records and written for the historical society.
“My husband’s always been my right hand man,” Baker added. “I couldn’t do anything without him.”

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