Every year, I try to visit the city of Evansville, Indiana for any reason I can find. I first visited about five years ago when I took my oldest daughter on a trip for Visit Indiana. Laura Libs of the Evansville Convention & Visitors Bureau (CVB) showed us around town, took us to a couple great spots to eat, and we went to an Evansville Otters game and saw the museum (which is now one of my favorites in the state).
I've been back every year since, giving presentations and visiting friends, and I try to learn something new. I realized it had been a few years since I had actually gone for an actual travel writing trip, so I got in touch with Laura to ask about another trip. This time I was taking my son, Ben, to make it the last leg of our Baseball Heritage Trail trip, which we had started in July, but stopped early, because there wasn't an Otters home game we could see. This time, we were going to revisit some old favorites, try some new places, and catch another Otters game.
Driving from Indianapolis to Evansville
Driving down from Indianapolis is a lot easier now, thanks to the new I-69 extension. In the past, it would take me three-and-a-half hours to get there, and now I can do it in less than three. The highway is still empty enough that there's hardly any traffic.
Make sure you have a full tank of gas though, because there are almost no roadside gas stations. We had to pull off for gas and go about two miles out of the way. As someone who loves chewing up the miles and hates delays, this was excruciating. It's a great way to see the state, but when I'm making good time, I'm often focused more on the "time" rather than the "good." (It's the destination, not the journey when you're trying to get to the place you most want to be.)
We met Laura at the CVB office, and she was going to show us around her city, to see what I've missed all the other times I've been there.
Germania Mannerchor Volksfest
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] Germania Mannerchor Our first stop, once we arrived, was the Germania Mannerchor Volksfest, the annual festival celebrating the region's German heritage. The festival is held in the Germania Mannerchor, the community hall on Fulton. Laura took us to lunch there, because at dinner time, the hall turns into a 21-and-over establishment with bands, beer, and dancing. We had bratwursts and pig knuckles to choose from, along with potatoes and sauerkraut. I always love German food, and these folks (volks?) certainly did it up right. The brats were made by a local butcher who minced the meat until it was super smooth, like a hotdog.
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] That's Laura Libs of the Evansville CVB on the left.
The German Mannerchor is the old lodge for anyone of German heritage to join. It's similar to the Athenaeum in Indianapolis, and because southeast Indiana has such strong German roots, the hall is still in operation, hosting the Germans (and friends) of the city and outlying regions.
World War II LST
After we were full from lunch, the next stop was the LST, one of the coolest attractions in the city. Whenever we said we were going/had gone to the LST, everyone said "Oooh, that's a cool ship." It was also one of Ben's and my favorite stops.
The LST, which stands for Landing Ship, Tank (or Last Ship There, because they were so slow), is a flat-bottomed boat that was used to transport equipment, vehicles, and men, during World War II and especially on D-Day. The ship would ram up onto the shore, the front end would drop, and the tanks and trucks would drive out. Once it had disgorged its load, it raised the front, backed up, and went back across the channel.
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] The LST 325 makes its home port in Evansville, Indiana. The ship, and many others like it, played a crucial role in the D-Day invasion.
When D-Day launched on the beaches of Normandy, the LSTs had traveled across the English Channel, offloaded its cargo, and then transported wounded men back across the channel. They would then take more cargo over, bring more men back, back and forth. The average number of trips for a single ship was 17, sailing back and forth across the channel, taking out, bringing back. And if a ship was lost, that was the potential for 67,000 men to be transported it when they needed it most.
You may have also seen pictures and film from World War II of smaller ships doing the same thing, ramming up, dropping the front, and soldiers racing out. Those were the Higgins boats, and they were tied to the side of the LST. Soldiers had to climb down twenty feet while the LST floated like a cork in choppy waters.
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] The interior of the LST. It held all the tanks and trucks, and everything and everyone would move out of the front of the ship (the bright area in the distance).
We saw the sleeping quarters, which were tiny, the mess, the cargo hold, the officers' quarters, the engine room, the communications room (which is the only air conditioned room on the ship, so be sure to spend some extra time there) and Ben even got to man one of the big guns on the deck. The Kentucky Air Force wasn't in the air at the time, so the guns went unfired. That day.
Evansville's LST is the last operating ship of its kind in the world, and it's kept clean and operational by a large group of dedicated volunteers. They fix, clean, and maintain the vessel, keeping it in proper working order. And occasionally, they'll even take her out to other ports to see other parts of the country. Even if World War II history isn't your thing, you'll still find yourself sucked into the history and traditions of the LST.
A good lunch and an hour spent in the August sun, and it was time for a nap. So I slept a little while in the car as Laura drove us to Angel Mounds state park. It was a short nap, though, because Angel Mounds is just right outside Evansville.
Angel Mounds State Park
After going back in history 70 years with the LST, it was time to go a little further back, to 1000 AD. Everyone knows we have a long history of Native Americans in this state, but I didn't know there was a mystery that went with it. If you like mysteries, you'll love the story of Angel Mounds and what happened to the people who lived there.
According to the Angel Mounds website:
Angel Mounds is the site of the largest settlement of its time in what is now known as Indiana. It was a fortified town serving as a social, political, and religious center for a much larger area of villages, hamlets, and farmsteads that ran 70 miles along the Ohio River, from the Wabash River to 35 miles east of Evansville. The town and surrounding settlements together constituted a chiefdom and were occupied from as early as A.D. 1000 to as late as A.D. 1450 by Native Americans whom archaeologists call Mississippians. The term "Mississippian" refers to an Indian culture, or way of life, which developed in the Mississippi River Valley about A.D. 800 and spread, with regional variations, across the southeastern United States to the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. This culture was characteristic of many different groups who spoke a variety of languages. We have no way of knowing what language the people who lived here spoke, what they called themselves, or what they called the town they built here. The town became known as Angel Mounds because it was part of a farm owned by the Angel family for over 100 years.
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] One of the mounds. The tan spot in the middle is where they were doing some work.
So, we don't know who they were, we don't know where they went. We know the town was fortified, which means it had walls. We know they traveled and traded with other cultures. And we know they just stopped being there one day. Did they go to another part of the world, or did they die off? Did they merge with another tribe, or did they just move to a different part of the state, and we know them by another name?
Mike Linderman showed us the different mounds and explained what they each were. He also told us a story about a possible haunting of the gift shop, which gave me a chill, despite the heat.
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] This is only a reproduction wall, not an actual wall, of the city.
I've often wondered what I'll do for a post-retirement job — if I ever actually do retire — and what kind of fun I could have. After this trip, I started dreaming about a master's in archaeology and continuing the investigation of who the Angel Mounds occupants were, and where they went.
Evansville Otters and Dinner at Turoni's Pizza
After we left Angel Mounds, Ben and I checked in at our hotel, the Hilton Garden Inn, on the east side of town. It's actually a little north of Angel Mounds, which makes it convenient. It's not near downtown, but downtown is easy to get to. Just hop on I-164 and follow it south and west, or take the Lloyd Expressway west.
We met Laura at the Evansville Otter stadium, Bosse Field (home of the Rockford Peaches in A League Of Their Own), but it started to rain. We had originally been scheduled to visit the LST and Angel Mounds the next day, but the forecast was calling for rain that day, so we moved all our indoor stuff to Friday and the outdoor stuff to today, just in case this happened. The rain started falling as predicted, so we sat with Laura in the stands, waiting for it to end.
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] It's raining hard at Bosse Field, and the grounds crew works hard on nights like this.
This was a double-header, thanks to a previous rainout between the Otters and the Joliet Slammers, so there was supposed to be a 5:30 start. Since a game takes roughly three hours, that meant an 8:30 end, and a 9:00 start for the next game. But with the way things were going, we weren't sure if they were going to play either game.
They were only calling a rain delay, and not a complete stoppage, so the three of us headed over to Turoni's for pizza. I'd written about Turoni's before, as part of a hypothetical beer trail for this site, so this was my chance to try it out. I ordered my standard beer in every craft brewer, the Belgian white. The Wit's Up has a nice crispy feel with a slight citrus taste to it, perfect for a muggy summer day or night.
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] These guys will give some of my Indianapolis favorites a run for their money.
The pizza was also outstanding, and it could give some of my Indianapolis favorites a good run for the money. Since none of us could really decide what to get, we each ordered a 9 inch pizza and shared a couple pieces to get an idea of what we were missing. We all liked what each other had gotten, but we liked our own better. This may be the way to go when dining at Turoni's if you can't decide on your toppings.
After dinner, we went back to the park to see whether the game was still on. It had stopped raining about 45 minutes before, and when we returned we saw that nearly everyone was still there. We found our seats again, and watched as the grounds crew cleaned up the field, rolling up the tarp, sweeping off the excess water (there are drains in the outfield), replacing the dirt. After another 45 minutes, the game was on.
[caption width="550" align="aligncenter"] A conference at the mound.
It was nearly 8:30 when it got started, which meant it was going to be a long night. We watched about four innings before Laura said she had to go home. It had been a long day for her. We usually stay up late at home, so Ben and I still had a couple of innings left in us. Still, by the 7th inning, we were pretty wiped out too, so we headed back to the hotel, showered, and got ready for bed. We listened to the game on the radio, until it ended at 11:50, Slammers taking that one, 3 – 1.
The Otters fans on Twitter kept talking about Frontier League rules, and whether the Otters could play after midnight, and what the city ordinance said. Ultimately, both games went on, and were completed that night. We both fell asleep before the second game even started, so we missed it. I heard later that it ended at nearly 2:00 a.m, where things went the Otters' way, and they won the second game, 7 – 5.
All told, our first day in Evansville had been busy and tiring. We slept deeply in our air conditioned room, recovering from our day, and getting ready for a second, hopefully less busy, one. On the docket for tomorrow was the Tropicana casino, the Evansville museum, and hopefully a coffee shop.
Photo credit: Erik Deckers