Cover Story: Style and Loathing in Indiana

A tree grows in Greensburg, a train chugs in Metamora

Larry Gross

Elmo Seyberth regales Whitewater Valley Railroad Co. patrons with tales of trains, canals and otters.

Greg: We'd been warned about Metamora, Indiana.

Larry: "That's not your style," a friend told me. But I'm not sure exactly what my style is.

Greg: I'd somehow gotten the impression Metamora was a miniature Gatlinburg but without the mountains and the crowds.

Larry: If you like antique, gift and specialty shops, you should go to Metamora. It's less than an hour's drive up I-74. But if you're looking for liquor stores, bars and live music, man, did you take a wrong turn. I went into one gift shop. It was all I could take.

Greg: I liked the quirky historical markers outside the shops. One bears this stirring account: "Alfred Blacklidge was the original owner of this building. The original building burned in 1885.

In the early 1900s Blacklidge was extending credit to surrounding sharecroppers when bad times came, forcing many of the farmers to default on their debts, thus forcing him out of business."

Larry: In the center of the town sits the Whitewater Canal. Metamora has plenty of ducks, and for 50 cents I got to feed them. They weren't very hungry.

Greg: The ducks might have been very hungry indeed. But Larry kept throwing the corn into the canal, where it quickly sank to the bottom. This incident gave me some insight into Larry's style: He has a cruel streak.

Larry: I also have a watch. During our visit to Metamora, I found myself looking at my watch a lot. Greg couldn't, because his is in the shop for repairs.

Greg: It's not as though the attractions in Metamora require close attention to time. The Metamora Museum of Folk Art held promise as an interesting stop. But the sign listing the business hours had this notation: "When the 'open' sign is displayed." During our visit, the "open" sign was not displayed.

Larry: My club sandwich at the Duck Creek Palace was good. Greg said his chili with beans and onions tasted bland and that the joint wasn't a palace at all.

Greg: I did like the fact that every table had an ashtray, as well as a roll of paper towels. The pseudo-napkins were a perfect match for the paper bowl and plastic spoon accompanying my imitation chili.

Larry: The Whitewater Valley Railroad Co. purchased the canal in 1866 and laid tracks atop the old towpath. That old rail is still up and running. If you have $5 and 30 minutes to kill, you can take an eight-mile-an-hour train ride.

Greg: Neither of us had ever been on a train, and this was what had drawn us to Metamora in the first place.

Larry: Elmo Seyberth has been a volunteer train conductor for the railroad in Metamora since 1984. With his conductor's outfit, long white beard and weather-beaten face, he looked the part.

Greg: I thought Seyberth would regale us with train lore. The old gal we were riding was built in 1924 and saw service on the East Coast as a commuter train. Instead the conductor talked excitedly about the wildlife along the canal.

Larry: He beamed while telling the passengers on the train that, on the previous day, five robins tried to take a bath on a branch on the banks of the canal. But the ducks chased them off — not once, mind you, but twice.

Greg: And we were beginning to think Metamora was dull!

Larry: Seyberth also informed us that otters live on the banks of the canal but always hide when the train approaches. Sure enough, we saw no otters.

Greg: To be fair, Seyberth himself has never seen the otters. He did allow, however, that he once saw an otter's tail as the beast scurried away from the train. Where there are otter tails, there must be otters.

Larry: Seyberth meant well, but the 30-minute ride through the woods would have been more enjoyable if he would have shut up for a few minutes.

Greg: This observation gives further insight into Larry's style. He can be — what's the right word? — cranky.

Larry: Greg was fascinated by the Healing Cross of Metamora.

Greg: The crucifix is an ornate 5-foot-tall sculpture with inlaid pearl, showing various scenes from the Gospels.

Larry: I was more interested in the homemade signs in the tiny shrine containing the cross. One sign reminds visitors to take off their hats. Another sign, near a display of postcards and religious refrigerator magnets for sale, says, "Please leave money in donation box. Stealing is a sin. God is watching."

Greg: Funny about that reminder: "Stealing is a sin." I think we might have stumbled upon evidence of a war crime. A guidebook outside the shrine says, "Experts have dated the cross from the 1400s to the early 1800s." It apparently came to the United States through a process known as "war booty." Four American soldiers discovered the cross "in a cave behind a fake wall in eastern France in 1946." Does the Geneva Convention contain a provision establishing "finders, keepers" as legitimate?

Larry: Greg finally asked, "Are you ready to blow Metamora?" I replied enthusiastically, "Oh yeah!" We spent two nights in neighboring towns that I really liked. Nearby Batesville offered a little more diversion. We had drinks at The Woodwind bar and restaurant. Just 15 miles from there is Greensburg, famous for a tree growing on top of its courthouse. I took a few pictures and said, "I'll be darned." Then we went bar hopping.

Greg: Now you know Larry's style. ©

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