Growing up in Pendleton, I feel like I was lucky enough to be constantly surrounded by history and people who wanted to preserve it. I rode my streamer decorated bike down brick roads and creek stomped in old parks. We ate slices of Apple pie off vintage china, thumbed through 60-year-old school books from the library and listened to spring storms from a rescued porch swing.
I was in second grade when the town was added to the historic register and I remember it being conversation topic around the dinner table – that dinner table was located inside a historic home on Water Street my mother had spent more than a year restoring.
She slaved over that house, she cried and cooed until all of us kids understood how important it was for her to save the claw foot bathtub covered with rust and mud and the parlor walls that were caving in.
It was that radiating passion, noticeable even from a young age, that encouraged an ongoing appreciation for anything and everything that came before me and managed to survive.
But for all the beautiful things I found myself surrounded by in Pendleton, the first time I remember history being truly rad and seriously cool was in the French Lick area.
When I was younger, before millions of dollars had been dumped into the area and a new casino built, my family used the town as a secret retreat in the winter. It was cheap and just far enough away that it felt like a reclusive hideaway.
We would go skiing during the day, bowl at night and play in the hotel in between.
It was those early adventures in the French Lick Hotel that cemented that fascination with all things old.
On quiet nights, when my mom and stepdad would sit by the fire, I took flashlights and ventured through the dark, run-down hallways alone like an explorer. Outside there were springs covered by little follies, with peeling paint I imagined untouched since 1920. I found faded black-and-white photos of Chicago gangsters, Hollywood starlets and political powerhouses hidden in basements. In the hills, slightly off the beaten path, an abandoned swimming pool became my favorite secret hiding space.
During our week-long stays, I would hide at the bottom of the deep end with the dead leaves and stacks of pick-your-ending Goosebumps books.
Just down the road was West Baden, an even more run down, slightly collapsed historic gem. The beautifully intricate tiled floors were covered in dust, enough that I could use my finger to write my name.
Last week I wrote a column about my recent adventure into the Angel Room at West Baden (click here to read more), a tiny steel drum high above the atrium that’s lined with 100-plus-year-old angel paintings by an unknown artist. I explained that to get there I had to face my fears and mount the domed roof with rickety stairs and duct-taped ropes.
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