NAME: Ray E. Boomhower
TITLE: Senior Editor FOR: Indiana Historical Society Press
SINCE? Started working at the Indiana Historical Society on May 26, 1987, as its public relations coordinator. Became editor of the IHS’s popular history magazine Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History in 1999. Before coming to the Society, I worked as a reporter at newspapers in Rensselaer and Anderson, Indiana. Left the daily grind of newspaper work for a PR job at the Indiana State Museum when it was located in the old Indianapolis city hall. Loved coming to work each morning and watching the pendulum do its work.
ORIGINALLY FROM? The Princess City, Mishawaka, Indiana, just five miles from the Golden Dome at the University of Notre Dame.
YOUR JOB DUTIES INCLUDE? My main responsibility at the IHS Press is handling all aspects of publishing for the four issues each year of Traces, which brings to its readers (IHS members) good narrative and analytical history about the nineteenth state in its broader contexts of region and nation. I am also responsible for the Press’s youth biography series examining notable Hoosiers for junior high/high school readers and adult biographies. In addition, I write articles for Traces and have written books for the Press.
YOU WORK HOW MANY HOURS WEEKLY? A typical 40-hour work week, but that does not include the time I spend speaking on Hoosier topics to groups around the state—libraries, historical associations, book clubs, and service groups.
PROJECT/S YOU ARE MOST PROUD TO HAVE BEEN PART OF? I have been privileged to be part of Traces magazine since its beginning in 1989 under its first editor, J. Kent Calder, and its editorial assistant at the time, Megan McKee (we married in 1989; my top tip for writers—marry an editor!). Kent and Megan both encouraged me to write for the magazine and gave me a regular department, “Destination Indiana,” which highlighted historic sites open to the public in the state. My historical writing led me to go back to school and get a master’s degree in U.S. history from Indiana University–Purdue University at Indianapolis. In turn, my thesis on Indiana historian Jacob P. Dunn Jr. led to my first book, a biography of Dunn published by the IHS in 1997.
OTHER PROJECTS WE MIGHT RECOGNIZE? I have written biographies of such famous Hoosiers as World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle, astronaut Gus Grissom, Civil War general and author Lew Wallace, suffragette and peace activist May Wright Sewall, author and journalist Juliet Strauss, World War II photographer John A. Bushemi, and World War II navy fighter ace Alex Vraciu. Probably my most honored book has been Robert F. Kennedy and the 1968 Indiana Primary, which covered RFK’s time in Indiana trying to win the Democratic presidential primary over Governor Roger Branigin and fellow U.S. Senator Eugene McCarthy. My newest book, out this fall, is a biography of the late Indiana congressman and environmentalist Jim Jontz.
WHAT YOU LOVE ABOUT WHAT YOU DO? I love publishing and writing articles about little-known aspects of the state’s past. After reading an article in Traces, I want people to say to themselves, “Wow, I didn’t know that!” Dealing with authors can be problematic at times, but overall I have enjoyed my dealings with the historians, freelancers, journalists, and others who have written for the magazine. There’s a lot of satisfaction every time a new issue of Traces roll off the presses.
WORST PART OF WHAT YOU DO? Having to reject an author’s work is always the worst part of my job. I have found that the best way is to be straightforward and note that we have limited space and often articles of merit are turned down because of that.
HOW YOU DEFINE PERSONAL SUCCESS? I agree with John F. Kennedy’s observation that happiness or success is comes with the “full use of your powers along lines of excellence.”
ADVICE TO SOMEONE ELSE WHO WOULD LIKE TO DO WHAT YOU DO? Learn how to write. One of the skills my days as a reporter gave me was the ability to write well and quickly on a given topic to meet a deadline. I always try to live up to a quote from one of my reporter idols, A. J. Liebling of The New Yorker, who noted: “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.”
IF YOU WERE GRANTED ONE WISH RELATING TO YOUR JOB/CAREER/ORGANIZATION, WHAT WOULD IT BE? One of these days I would like to be able to just concentrate on writing; to come in and write about Indiana history full time without having to deal with the countless other job duties.
WOULDN’T HAVE MADE IT TO WHERE YOU ARE WITHOUT? The support and guidance of my parents, especially my late mother, Joyce, who used to take me and my brothers to the local library and encouraged my early love of reading. Also, my third-grade teacher, Patricia Swarm, who saw that I enjoyed reading about history and biography and let me explore those interests in the library at my school, Mary Phillips Elementary.
WHAT MOTIVATES YOU? A need to uncover the hidden story behind an individual’s life story. What makes history and biography so fascinating is the desire to find out what a person was like and why he or she did what they did with his or her life.
WHO WERE/ARE YOUR MENTORS AND HOW DID THEY HELP? As I noted before, Kent and Megan encouraged me to starting writing about Indiana history for Traces magazine. Megan has been a part of each book I have written, reviewing and editing them and offering praise or criticism when need. I could not have accomplished what I have without her help.
WHAT SPARKED YOUR INTEREST IN HISTORY? Our school library at Mary Phillips had a row of books with orange covers that I devoured as a student–the Childhood of Famous Americans series published by the Bobbs-Merrill Company of Indianapolis. Today, more years later than I would like to admit, I can still recall details from those charming tomes, including Lou Gehrig hunting eels with his mother in New York, Andrew Jackson standing up to a British officer during the Revolutionary War, and Babe Ruth pitching for his team from Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys. Although the authors in the Childhood of Famous Americans series might have stretched the truth a bit when it came to their subjects, inventing dialogue and situations, the series did spark my lifelong interest in history and biography.
MOST INTERESTING BIT OF INDIANAPOLIS HISTORY YOU’VE ENCOUNTERED? I have always been interested in the hidden history of famous people. For example, the beloved Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, was behind a scheme to concoct a fake Edgar Allan Poe poem while working for an Anderson newspaper; he was fired from his job for his trickery. In the case of Indianapolis, not many people know that one of the city’s most famous writers, Booth Tarkington, had a political career. He ran and won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives. Although his candidacy was treated as a joke by many, he proved to be an effective legislator, even taking on and winning a political battle with the governor, Winfield T. Durbin.
YOU CAN HAVE DINNER WITH ANYONE FROM INDIANAPOLIS PAST? WHO & WHY? There are a lot of choices, but I would probably select lunch at the Propylaeum with May Wright Sewall, who during her life was responsible for helping create such local institutions as the Indianapolis Woman’s Club, the Art Association of Indiana, and the Propylaeum. I’d like to get from her some inside stories on her days associating with such activists in the suffragette movement as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and her days as a delegate on Henry Ford’s ill-fated peace ship expedition in the early days of World War I. I would also try to get the real story behind her dealings with spiritualism, which she recounted in her book Neither Dead nor Sleeping.
YOUR CAREER IN AN ALTERNATE LIFE? Astronaut, if I wasn’t fearful of heights and had any aptitude for math or science.
ANY INTERESTING FAMILY CONNECTIONS TO INDIANAPOLIS PAST? Not really. I grew up in northern Indiana, the Michiana area, and most of my family remained there.
FAVORITE VIEW IN THE CITY? The view from my office window at the Indiana History Center. Looking out my window I can see the downtown canal, the new addition to the Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, and the tower of the Scottish Rite Cathedral.
FAVORITE RESTAURANT IN INDIANAPOLIS? My wife and I are big fans of the steamed bagel sandwiches at the Ripple Bagel Deli in Broad Ripple. We were there when the deli opened in January 2003 and respect the job done by its owners, Ken and Susan Richman. One of my favorites is the Chip’s Special—turkey, colby and provolone cheeses, lettuce, sprouts, spicy mustard and mayonnaise on a bialy.
FAVORITE CITY BESIDES INDIANAPOLIS? I always like returning to my old haunts in Bloomington, Indiana, where I majored in journalism and political science and graduated in 1982. I love strolling around the downtown square and enjoying a shake from the Chocolate Moose.
FAVORITE HISTORY RELATED BOOK OR MOVIE? For inspiration I turn time and time again to A.J. Liebling’s The Road Back to Paris, his reporting of the early days of World War II for The New Yorker, and the work of another New Yorker writer, John McPhee, particularly his biographical works—A Sense of Where You Are and The Headmaster. As for a movie, Citizen Kane is still the king in my book. I am always moved by a quote from one of Kane’s colleagues, Mr. Bernstein, who tells the reporter investigating Kane’s life: “A fellow will remember a lot of things you wouldn’t think he’d remember. You take me. One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.”
ULTIMATE BEVERAGE? A bottle of Shiner Bock beer, preferably with a baseball game on the television (Cubs or Red Sox).
COLLECT ANYTHING? Books, books, and more books.
FAVORITE QUOTE? “Do good work!” Gus Grissom.
IF YOUR LIFE HAD A THEME SONG, IT’D BE? “It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine),” by R.E.M.
During his senior year our son rented an apartment about a block from the Chocolate Moose. We made up all kinds of excuses to visit him there. We still do, even though he lives in Chicago now.
Definitely need to stay in touch with these historic preservation heroes…