2020 Road Trip Photos #7: Palookaville

Joe Palooka!

The other day I tried explaining Joe Palooka to someone, then realized I was actually describing Bazooka Joe. It’s just as well because they probably didn’t know him, either.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Then came 2020 A.D.

Even in an ordinary average year, sometimes you really need to get away from it all. In a year like this, escape is more important than ever if you can find yourself one — no matter how short it lasts, no matter how limited your boundaries are. Anne and I had two choices: either skip our tradition for 2020 and resign ourselves to a week-long staycation that looks and feels exactly like our typical weekend quarantines; or see how much we could accomplish within my prescribed limitations. We decided to expand on that and check out points of interest in multiple Indiana towns in assorted directions. We’d visited many towns over the years, but not all of them yet.

In addition to our usual personal rules, we had two simple additions in light of All This: don’t get killed, and don’t get others killed…

DAY TWO: Monday, July 6th.

Overly analytical readers may notice a discrepancy in dates between this entry and the start of Day One. We had already planned to spend July 4th and 5th at home because we’re big fans of relaxing holiday weekends. After the way things ended on Friday, we also needed it for medical recovery. Anne’s pains had displayed themselves in media res and took the better part of that weekend to subside. My aches waited till Saturday morning to manifest and made me feel like a boot camp victim for much of the same time span. By Monday we were ready to hit the road again.

After a stop for breakfast (more about that in a future chapter) we headed south from Indianapolis along entirely familiar roads. I have family down in southern Indiana that we visit from time to time — well, used to before The Virus, anyway — driving the exact same interstates and highways every time. We pass the same towns each time as well. We’ve hardly ever stopped at any of them. For Day Two we thought maybe it was time to jump off the main straightaways and see what we’d been missing.

Our sense of mild, momentary misadventure led us to the town of Oolitic, proud owners of one (1) roadside attraction: a limestone statue of once-famous fictional boxer Joe Palooka.

Joe Palooka!

TIRED: The Rocky statue in Philadelphia. WIRED: The Joe Palooka statue in Oolitic.

Joe Palooka was the star of a popular comic strip created in 1930 by cartoonist Ham Fisher, straightforward tales of heroism about a kindhearted pugilist who fought bravely and did his best and so forth. In addition to winning championship bouts, Joe also punched Nazis, which is all the Kids These Days really need to know. Fisher sadly committed suicide in 1955, but other hands kept the strip going until its cancellation in 1984 due to dwindling circulation. In his prime he was a household name and had merchandise and transmedia adaptations. Comic books! Radio! Movies! Toys! Ads to buy war bonds in WWII! And more!

Joe Plaques!

The plaque on the right is a specific tribute to Joe’s exemplary work as a role model to budding Nazi punchers throughout the war.

Joe’s statue was sculpted in 1948 from local limestone. For years he stood on a hill next to State Road 37, but in 1984 was moved next to Oolitic Town Hall, where he remains proudly to this day. I won’t pretend I’m a Joe Palooka superfan, but I liked the idea of saying hi to Joe because hey, comic strips. Comics-based sightseeing opportunities are far rarer than they should be, in my opinion as a 40-year collector.

Oolitic Town Hall!

Joe to the left of Town Hall, the sheriff’s car to the right of it.

Oolitic is several miles south of Bedford, a city frequently billed as the Limestone Capital of the World. Oolitic is so much into limestone, they’re actually named after the kind of limestone the town was built upon. That very substance, oolitic limestone, was in fact used in the construction of the Empire State Building, from a place up the road that was later renamed Empire Quarry in honor.

Oolitic history!

A historic marker proclaims Oolitic’s 180-plus years of history as a major source of limestone for architectural greatness nationwide.

Wikipedia places the quarry closer to Bedford. Atlas Obscura says it’s near Bloomington. In front of Town Hall we talked to an Oolitic man old enough to remember back when Joe used to stand up on that hill by the highway. He spoke out against those posers up in Bedford, asserted Oolitic is in fact the Real Limestone Capital of the World, and seemed to claim Empire Quarry as being more theirs than any other town’s.

Oolitic Antique Mall Park!

A park across the street from Town Hall wasn’t quite large enough for our exercise needs.

The three of us were outdoors and maskless. He noticed we were politely but consciously distancing, so naturally talk turned to The Virus for just a brief spell. He respected where we were coming from, expressed skepticism about the whole thing, and began to segue into his tangential concern about a New World Order before we bade him a kindly farewell and headed farther south.

Joe Palooka fist!

Joe Palooka’s bandaged fist, reminding me of the Arthur Fist Meme.

To be continued!

* * * * *

[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email sign-up for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my faint signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]

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