Official State Crap: Indiana

Last time we did Idaho, and now we move on to Indiana. For those of you shrieking “What happened to Illinois?” I remind you that we did Illinois early because legislative action appeared to be imminent. See Official State Crap Alert: Bill Would Abolish Most Official State Crap” (Apr. 17, 2017). (That bill didn’t pass, as it turned out, but you can’t be too careful.) Thus, we now proceed to Indiana.

  • Official state poem: “Indiana,” by Arthur Franklin Mapes (1913–1986). “God crowned her hills with beauty” and so forth.
  • Official state song: “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away,” by Paul Dresser (1857–1906). Dresser (the older brother of Theodore Dreiser) was a vaudeville entertainer who turned to songwriting, and for a while was remarkably successful, despite a penchant for what seem like thoroughly maudlin and depressing song titles like “The Letter That Never Came,” “The Pardon That Came Too Late,” and “See That No One Plucks the Flowers From My Grave.” But “On the Banks of the Wabash” was a ginormous hit, selling over half a million copies (of the sheet music) in 1897 alone. Dresser reportedly made $50,000 ($1.5 million today) that year, although he claimed to have made even more. The song sold well for years and Dresser wrote more than 150 others as well. But between his extremely generous nature and his habit of spending “vast sums at [New York City’s] brothels and saloons,” he still managed to die penniless. Say, that’s a good idea for a song….
  • Official state tree: the tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). One of the largest native trees of the eastern United States, tulip trees can be more than 50 meters tall. Its Latin name sounds quite lyrical and would probably be a good name for your next elf character in Dungeons & Dragons, nerd.
  • Official state flower: the peony, apparently any of the 30-40 species in the genus Paeonia (spelled “Paeonie” in the statute). According to the Indianapolis Star, the state has had some trouble settling on a state flower. It adopted the carnation in 1913, but replaced it in 1923, apparently because the carnation isn’t native to Indiana. Its replacement was Liriodendron tulipifera, which as you may remember isn’t a flower, but a tree. The sponsor of that bill may have meant the flower of the tulip tree, but that’s not what he said. In 1931, this was straightened out by making the state “flower” into the state tree and choosing a new state flower, the zinnia. Turns out the zinnia isn’t native to Indiana either—it grows in the Southwest and northern Mexico. This further outrage was not addressed until 1957. According to the Star, a Senate bill introduced that year would have adopted the tulip tree flower, but was amended to adopt the dogwood blossom instead. But when it got to the House, Rep. Laurence Baker got it amended yet again, this time in favor of the peony. Who cares? Baker did, possibly because he owned several large peony farms, but that might have been a remarkable coincidence. Oh, is the peony native to Indiana? Nope.
  • Official state bird: the cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). Perfectly good choice.
  • Official state stone: “The regal type rock ‘Limestone’ which is found and quarried in south and central Indiana from the geologic formation named the Salem Limestone.” This one makes sense because Indiana is a significant source of high-quality limestone, which is used all over the place.
  • Official state language: English. (Other languages make Mike Pence nervous.)
  • Official state river: the Wabash, the banks of which I can only assume are haunted by the ghost of Paul Dresser. “See that no one plucks the flowers from my grave!” it moans. “And can you point me to a brothel or saloon?”
  • Official state rifle: the “Grouseland Rifle” made by Col. John Small of Vincennes, Indiana, between 1803 and 1812. This refers not to a type but a specific rifle Small made (sometime between 1803 and 1812, it didn’t take him nine years to make), which is currently on display at “Grouseland,” the home of former president William Henry Harrison when he was governor of the Indiana Territory. So that rifle there is the official state rifle. Accept no substitutes.
  • Official state aircraft: the “P-47 Thunderbolt known as the Hoosier Spirit II.” Like the rifle, this refers to a specific plane, one that’s now located at the Evansville Wartime Museum. P-47 fighters were built at the Republic Aviation plant in Evansville during World War II, and the first one off the assembly line was named “Hoosier Spirit.” This is a different plane that was renamed “Hoosier Spirit II” when the museum acquired it in late 2020.
  • Official state insect: Say’s firefly (Pyractomena angulata). This is also a fairly recent addition, having been adopted in 2018. “Before that,” the state Department of Natural Resources points out, “Indiana was one of only three states that did not have a state insect.” That intolerable state of affairs was finally redressed at the urging of Ms. Samudio’s 2d-grade class at Cumberland Elementary, whose four-year project of letter writing, petition signing, and bill offering finally convinced the legislature either that Say’s firefly was a worthy candidate or that adopting it would be the only way to get these kids to leave them alone. In any event, Say’s firefly is native to Indiana and so was Thomas Say, the entomologist who discovered it (although he discovered it in Philadelphia).
  • Official state snack: popcorn, but only “popcorn grown in Indiana.” (The Spanish word for popcorn is palomitas, but if you use that in Indiana it won’t be official, I guess.)

Source: Indiana Code §§ 1-2-5 through 1-2-16.