to bring Madisons history to life
hours of events will keep community busy
(June 2009) If youve been out and about in
Madison, Ind., recently, youve probably noticed the odd assortment
of historic-looking characters strolling around. While they didnt
step out of a time machine, they are a blast from the communitys
The 22 re-enactors are the Madison Bicentennial characters, a group
of local residents who portray just a fraction of the noteworthy people
throughout Madisons 200-year history.
Susan Brewer, a Madison Bicentennial Celebration Committee volunteer,
said the historic characters help tie the past to the present in a unique
way by literally bringing history to life.
by Kathy Chandler
Madison residents will be portraying famous people of the past
during the upcoming Madison Bicentennial celebration, June 6-14.
Some of the re-enactors appeared at a recent Art Jam event and
posed for this photo. They are (from left) Joyce Randles (as teacher
Lydia Middleton), Connie Partington (as poet Sarah Bolton), Sandie
Gooden (as Helen Spry), Ashley Roberts (as the fictional Betty
Roberts), Stephanie Hellman (in front as Delia Webster), Emily
Roberts (as Sadie Lankford), Bryce Worrell (as Lt. Col. Alois
Bachman), Brianna Worrell (as Harriet McGlasson), Brandilyn Worrell
(in the gray pinafore as Lillian Williams), Margo Watkins (in
the red dress as actress Irene Dunne) Wayne Engle (as newspaper
publisher Michael Garber), Jan Vetrhus (as Charlotte Sullivan),
Bob Fourhman (as Ohio Gov. John Brough), Betsey Vonderheide (as
Drusilla Lanier Cravens) and Bill Demaree (as Gen. Walter Krueger).
Historic houses and museums only do so much,
said Brewer, who helped organize all of the characters and their costumes.
Live people who walk and talk have much more impact; you will
remember them better because communication makes a more lasting impression.
Brewer, who moved to Madison a year ago and works at The Birdhouse retail
shop on Main Street, believes the historical representations of important
people in Madisons history also let young people in the community
know that Madison had an impact on the world.
Among the re-enactors are people who played vital roles in the nations
Underground Railroad movement to free slaves, a Hollywood movie star,
an educator, a governor and a soldier.
We have a little bit of everybody. Our representation cuts across
all levels, she said. We want our young people to understand
that just because you are from a small town doesnt mean you cant
make a contribution to the world.
Madison Bicentennial Celebration Committee chairwoman Jan Vetrhus happens
to be one of the Bicentennial characters, Charlotte Sullivan, the daughter
of Judge Jeremiah Sullivan. Vetrhus had several reasons why she chose
her character. Ive been a docent for years at the historic
Sullivan house, and I lived in Albuquerque, N.M., growing up, which
is a place where she also lived for awhile, she said. I
am just fascinated with her life.
She said research took her about a year to complete, and she got much
help from fellow history buff Gertrude Geraets. For Vetrhus, portraying
Sullivan has been a wonderful foray into the world of make believe.
She, along with former Madison Mayor Al Huntington and Betsey Vonderheide,
the former city special projects coordinator for his administration,
began planning the Madison Bicentennial in 2007.
A Bicentennial Celebration is a monumental mark for a community
said Vetrhus. I knew we needed to do something special for our
community because such a thing only happens once.
Vetrhus said she had the privilege of being in Long Island, N.Y., during
Americas Bicentennial in 1976. Being in an old community
and getting to participate was simply unforgettable, she said.
I wanted people here to have the same experience.
Although the planning was tough, the many volunteers that have helped
have been wonderful, she said.
We want young people to be excited about our community,
she said. This is one way to give them a chance to feel included
and have some fun. She also said the Madison Bicentennial Celebration
is a great way to show off the town and what it offers.
We want people to walk the riverfront, shop downtown and on the
hilltop, hike in the park, and just get to know Madison, she said.
Organizers have no idea how many people will come to the city for the
event, but are hopeful there will be big crowds.
There is an old saying that if nobody came to New Orleans, there
would still be a Mardi Gras. Well, if no one else shows up here, then
we will still have a spectacular birthday bash just for us, she
The Bicentennial characters have already made several appearances and
presentations throughout town, including schools and other facilities,
as well as in informal settings such as the May Art Jam in downtown
Because so many people in Madison are close to its history, the
captive audiences, particularly schoolchildren, seem to really love
the characters, said Brewer.
Throughout the June 6-14 200-Hour Party of the Madison Bicentennial
Celebration, characters will appear at a variety of places. Several
of them will give presentations at the Bicentennials week-long
Old-Fashioned Chautauqua Tent, located at the Broadway Fountain.
In days past, the Chautauqua Circuit Tents provided speakers and performers
a chance to contribute to the communitys cultural life for a few
days each summer. For the 200-hour Party, a variety of demonstrators
and speakers will make presentations. Book authors, a belly dancer,
Tae Kwon Do demonstrators, a Chinese dancer, historians, fitness trainers,
artists and others are among the people who will perform during the
Bicentennial Old-Fashioned Chautauqua Tent.
The characters will also be present at the Community Picnic during the
200-hour Party Parks Day on Tuesday, June 9. From 5 p.m.
to 9 p.m., visitors are invited to Clifty Falls State Park for an all-community
picnic. People are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and picnic foods.
The Bicentennial Band and Soundz of Dixieland will provide musical entertainment.
The gathering point in the park will be the North Lawn, near the State
Road Hwy 62 park entrance. There is free admission to the park all that
After the 200-hour Party, the Bicentennial Celebration will
continue with events throughout the year. In October, Bicentennial Characters
will be on the Historic Railroad Excursion Train. During the event,
passengers will meet at the Venture Out Business Center for a two-hour
ride to Middle Fork Bridge and Back. The ride will feature souvenir
tickets and handbills and costumed re-enactors. The Jefferson County
Historical Society and the Madison Railroad worked together for more
than a year to plan this historical learning experience.
We have secrets and surprises also planned, said Georgie
Kelly, one of the events organizers. People are going to
simply love this adventure.
Tickets for five excursions on Oct. 17-18 will be available June 1 at
the Jefferson County Historical Society Heritage Center, 615 W. First
St. The cost will be $20, but seating is limited to 48 people in the
passenger car and 20 riders in the caboose. The ride is not handicapped
accessible and there are no restrooms on the train.
Brewer is hoping to be one of the costumed conductors for the excursion.
Brewer said each of the Bicentennial characters did their own research,
including the five home-schooled children who are also portraying Madisonians.
The volunteers all did a great job. Many have worked for more
than a year on their research, and I simply cant thank them enough,
Joyce Randles, of Hanover, Ind., is Lydia Middleton, an early Madison
education who later had a downtown school named after her. She became
fascinated with the teacher as she did her research for her character.
The fact that she was an old maid school teacher who truly loved
to teacher and dedicated her live to others children is just inspiring,
she said. Her moral character and her devotion to her work are
qualities that would make her a great role model today.
Betsey Vonderheide, who now works for Southeast Indiana Solid Waste
District, plays Drusilla Lanier Cravens. She had an opportunity to gather
her research on Cravens in a unique way. I actually knew her,
she said. I was a child and she was really old. Vonderheide
found her interesting and thought it would be fun to portray her.
Bob Fourhman, who portrays Madison Railroads John Brough, has
been doing research and presentations on his character for six years.
Clifty Falls State Park naturalist Dick Davis had asked Fourhman to
do historical interpretations for visitors at the park.
In the park, Broughs Folly, as it came to be known, was intended
to replace the Madison Railroads steep incline.
As president of Madison and Indianapolis Railroad, Rough John
Brough as he was called, began to notch out the east face of Clifty
Canyon, tunneling through the canyon wall twice, and bridging Hoffman
Branch. The job involved 700 men cost $300,000. The project went bankrupt
and was never completed. The bridge abutments are still there, as is
one of the tunnels.
I have had so much fun doing this, said Fourhman. His character
portrayal of Brough includes the period when he was governor of Ohio
from 1864-1865. That way, I can really bring his full character
to life, he said.
Brewer said, When people see one of the characters at the Bicentennial
events, we want them to engage them and talk to them. They will be pleasantly
surprised at what they might learn, and they will have fun in the process.
Back to the Bicentennial Article Archive.
the official Madison Bicentennial website.