The Indiana Historical Society (IHS)’s newest exhibit, From Indiana with Love: Photos and Stories from Cold War Indiana, opens June 11 at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center, located at 450 W. Ohio St. in downtown Indianapolis.
The exhibit, located in the Lanham Gallery, will explore documents and photos that portray Indiana’s role during the Cold War. Several documents that will be displayed are the Indianapolis and Marion County evacuation plan pamphlet and antiwar posters. Visitors will be able to look at photos that tell the story of the ways Indiana was vitally involved in the Cold War.
The rise of 24/7 surveillance of the skies and civil defense programs reflect the deep fear and unrest Americans felt during the Cold War. In 1949, when the United States reestablished the Ground Observer Corps, a civil defense program which had been discontinued after World War II, Indiana officials quickly established observer posts throughout the state. The watchtower located in Cairo, Indiana, commissioned by the U.S. Air Force on August 16, 1952, was constructed by community volunteers, and about 90 people maintained the watchtower 24/7 by alternating shifts. In addition to watchtowers, civilians volunteered in civil defense programs that educated people on evacuation plans, using fallout shelters and other ways to protect themselves from nuclear attacks.
Indiana’s involvement with the United States’ efforts to engage in the fight for technological advancements was crucial. In Indiana, facilities such as the Naval Avionics Facility and the Nike C-47 site ramped up military production and fortification. The Naval Avionics Facility in Indianapolis joined the national efforts to produce weaponry as it developed avionic technology used in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. Likewise, the Nike C-47 site in Porter County was part of a nationwide attempt to fortify target cities.
A national initiative that Indiana played a key role in during the Cold War was the Space Race. Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, a Hoosier native, was one of the first American astronauts appointed to go to space. He was born in Mitchell, Indiana, in 1926, and he earned a degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. Grissom was the second American astronaut in space when he piloted Liberty Bell 7 in 1961. In addition to Grissom, Purdue University also educated astronauts Neil A. Armstrong (first American astronaut to land on the moon), Eugene A. Cernan (participant of the Gemini and Apollo missions) and Roger B. Chafee (a pilot of the Apollo 1 mission).
The Cold War also ignited social unrest and political unease. As the Cold War progressed, fear about the spread of communism peaked when Republican U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy held investigations on alleged Communist spies and the U.S. engaged in proxy wars — most notably Korea and Vietnam — to prevent communist governments from populating around the world. These social issues led student-led groups and churches to organize protest movements. A small group of students at Indiana University in Bloomington created the Green Feather Movement as a reaction to the Indiana Textbook Commission’s attempt to ban Robin Hood from appearing in schools. Although short-lived, the movement gained traction at campuses across the nation in 1953 and 1954.
Church groups also voiced their opposition to the Vietnam War and the use of nuclear warfare through marches, public programs and petitions. One of the most visible movements in Indianapolis was the Church Women United’s involvement with the Peace Ribbon Project, which was a nationally-organized protest in 1982 to promote peace and social justice.
From Indiana With Love: Photos and Stories from Cold War Indiana opens to the public on June 11 and will run through October 29, 2022. It was made possible with support from the Emerson B. and Jane H. Houck Endowment for Hoosier Photography.
For more information about these exhibits and other IHS offerings, call (317) 232-1882 or visit www.indianahistory.org.