What is it about Bloomington, Indiana?


What is it about Bloomington, Indiana?

Like so many people who love that town, I first moved there when I was 18 as an incoming freshman at Indiana University. The place was a revelation. It was the hometown I wished I had - the hometown I wasn’t actually from.

Bloomington, with its offbeat people, its many restaurants and shops, its singular music and arts scene - it makes one hell of a first impression. This is all of the stuff that was missing from own, real humdrum hometown.

Plenty of folks can relate to that giddy adolescent puppy love, I’m sure. For many people, Bloomington is an important transitional scene in the montage that is their life - it’s where they went from kid to adult, where they fell in love with a girl, a guy, or a career… It’s a place of experimentation, both in the science labs on campus and in the many bungalows nearby. It’s a place of self-discovery.

The luckiest among us got a chance to dig deeper. The luckiest among us don’t live in a Bloomington frozen in time - we developed an ongoing relationship, becoming townies ourselves. We discovered that the town had continuity - a storyline and heritage that was running long before our parents dropped us off at the dorm. And learning about that past only enhances the mystique of Bloomington, Indiana - it’s a real place for us, not just a halcyon college ideal.

Let’s focus on just one year in that glorious small town past - 1962, the same year that the first season of our podcast Flashback to Never fictionalizes.

In 1962:

Bloomington appointed its first female mayor, Mary Alice Dunlop, to finish the term of long time but departing mayor Tom Lemon, he who had the town’s police cars painted lemon yellow and offered all of Bloomington’s children free lemonhead candies from a jar on his office desk.

Ain’t that a slice of America nearly as sweet as apple pie? Feel good, down home, and progressive all in one long sentence.

WIUS student radio began as WQAD in Indiana University’s Wright Quadrangle, bringing college radio - bringing all the hippest pop, jazz, and what-have-you to Bloomington’s AM airwaves.

October saw one of the first truly divisive political protests of the decade as a few dozen members of the Ad Hoc Committee to Oppose U.S. Aggression in Cuba marched down Kirkwood Ave, demonstrating their opposition to Kennedy’s blockade of Cuba during the missile crisis. There were plenty more protestors out in support of Kennedy’s actions, and tensions rose quickly. An employee from a local pizza parlor expressed what most of the rest of the town was thinking, assaulting the anti-blockade protestors. Further violence broke out and the young pacifists retreated to the main library in search of safety.

Bloomington mainstay Cresent Donuts was in its first year of operation - serving actual crescent-shaped donuts and doing it well, even if they couldn’t spell.

East of town, construction on Lake Monroe was well underway, dramatically expanding the town’s water supply. Inaccurate estimates of elevation led the Army Corps of Engineers to believe that the town of Elkinsville would be submerged, but in 1962, residents were saying goodbye to their lifelong home.

Back in town, The Herald-Telephone turned seventy-five. A year later, Cook, Inc - the now giant medical supply company - would be founded in a small apartment on East 2nd Street. Bloomington Police Department was five years from hiring Charles Brown, its first African American officer.

Bloomington was different back then, for sure. But for all that - for those of us lucky enough to know - it’s still familiar.

Most of all it’s home.

All of us who know and love Bloomington are a kind of family.

Come on down, catch up with Flashback to Never.

Thomas Kenning