Posted on

Life’s tools change but not human characteristics

The outside of the green building sitting at 301 N. Capitol Ave. in Corydon looks pretty much as it has looked since 1847. Inside this building we call ‘The Corydon Democrat,’ it is a study in changing times.
Lew M. O’Bannon bought the newspaper in 1908 and practiced law and politics here until his son, Robert, became publisher in 1943.
Not being an attorney himself, Robert rented out offices to others, including his son, Frank, who hung out his shingle to practice in 1957. As law partners died through the years, their tools of the trade ‘ books, records, desks, chairs, etc. ‘ were shifted from center stage to cubbyholes and closets in the building. No one feels comfortable dumping records, photos and equipment.
Recently, the law firm of Simpson, Thompson & Colin bought their own historic building along Capitol Avenue. Thus came the huge move from the offices they had occupied for generations on the second and third floors of The Corydon Democrat building.
Oh, the names of the lawyers had changed through the years, but the ‘stuff’ of practicing law remained the same or was put out of sight in storage.
The second floor looked pretty sad after their move, with only trash bags and boxes of documents to be shredded left behind. By contrast, the third floor had, for years, been the haven for overflow. Shelves were added to house old law books and records. I put my kids’ memorabilia from their school days in a spare room along with vintage clothing I had collected. When Faith and Robert O’Bannon died, there were many mementos, mainly photos, that were treasured and needed to be saved. When Frank became governor, all of his personal records went from the active law office on the second floor and were put into the mix on the third. Who could or should part with political campaign files or records from his 31 years in public service!
When a building is partly empty, all the blemishes caused by age and use show up. The old building will need some fixing up before it is ready for its new life, thus the need to empty the third-floor storage.
I have spent time sorting through the remnants of some 100 years of living. It was a strange feeling to burn countless files that contained detailed work by loyal co-workers. Life before computers was spent compiling meticulous numerical records and beautifully hand-written memos and letters. At the time of their origin, they were important and meaningful. Now, they were crumpled to burn and disappeared with the rising smoke. I felt I should apologize to all those whose lives were filled with such dedicated work. Through their efforts, they had enabled a system of law and public service to operate for its citizens. They deserved a memorial with dignity and praise, not a simple bonfire.
There are still piles of photos, books, awards and records on the third floor. There are stories there to be told. Your families have led lives that also need to be remembered, praised and from which we can learn.
What do you do with the remnants of your ancestors’ lives?
Thank goodness we are planning to create a county museum. It will be a modern place to preserve and interpret the ongoing themes of our lives.
Times are changing, and The Democrat building needs to change to be a useful location in downtown Corydon. Our amazing courtyard square is in a time of flux. We have new needs and new opportunities, and we have an active Main Street program headed by Catherine Turcotte. What a great time to be alive and part of the action as we approach our state’s 200th birthday in 2016.
Our tools for living may be changing but our basic human characteristics are not. We all need a purpose in life, shelter, a way to take care of our health, means to feed our families, a good education in order to know how to think, reason and act, friendships and an awareness of a supreme being. These elements of life can become easier if we look to those who tackled them in the past and then apply our new technology and unique experiences and talents.
Among my findings in the storage were Faith and Robert’s sesquicentennial costumes. When I attended this countywide festival years ago, it was a new experience for me. I was a young city woman who had married a young lawyer from Harrison County. During the months that we all planned and prepared for the celebration, I grew to understand the bonds and beauty of a rural, small town. Those times came back to me as I looked through the clothing, photographs and program books of 50 years ago. The gift of being part of a gathered community awaits us as we look forward to our bicentennial celebration. I hope to have an excuse to wear Faith O’Bannon’s pageant dress and to feel her spirit within me as I stand in the doorway of The Corydon Democrat building that is bursting with new activity.