Story, Indiana: Where they elect the town idiot
When Mark Carmichael sawed through a live electrical wire while standing on the tin roof of the Story Inn, he took an important step toward fulfilling the prophecy of President Millard Fillmore back in 1851 when the President issued a land grant to Dr. George Story. Recognizing that the Story grant lay right on the Ten O’ Clock Treaty line in south central Indiana (see note below), Fillmore muttered something like “only an idiot would live out there.”
Carmichael’s feat, a month later, would see him elected Story’s Village Idiot, the only elected office of the village founded by Dr. Story, the man for whom it is named. Today’s owner of the town of Story, Rick Hofstetter, has turned the entire village into a rustic resort complex. He also established the Village Idiot office in 2002 because his family of six, the entire population of the village, had no town council or mayor.
Hofstetter, a historian and preservationist by nature, an attorney by profession, and an innkeeper by passion, swears there are documents certifying that Fillmore said most jurisdictions elect idiots. “Story,” Hofstetter said, “is the only place to admit it.”
The voters are visitors to the Story Still, the dimly-lit bar in the cellar beneath the old General Store. Today the building has become a full-service, white table-cloth gourmet restaurant where the Lexus-driving diners come from Bloomington, Indianapolis, Louisville – even Chicago and Cincinnati – to drink fine wine and sup on upscale country food (most of which is produced in or near the village).
The Still provides them a chance to mingle with the locals who come, on horseback, on motor cycle, or in pick up trucks, from the farms, out of the forests, away from their artisan trades and occupations to swap stories, enjoy a brew or two, and talk above the only satellite television set in the village (and tuned mostly to CNN unless the Colts are playing or NASCAR is racing). The Still is where Prada and bib overalls meet and where Idiots are made and revered. And ballots are available year round.
An Idiot’s term is one year, and while no one has ever been elected to a second term, Carmichael came close a year ago when he dangled a six foot copper head by its tail unaware that its head and fangs could and would coil back on him. For weeks his swollen hand bore marks that looked as if he had hammered an oversize staple into it.
Voters, however, turned their support to bartender Tom Dunn who, after closing down one night, drove his borrowed Volvo through the Brown County State Park horse camp. Stopped by a driving rain, he parked for the night, unaware he was in a flood plain. He was awakened at dawn and ticketed by a forest ranger for parking without a permit, in spite of waist deep water all around his car. The ranger, it must be said, also received a few votes.
Other Idiots include the lovely, blonde soprano from the Indiana School of Music who had been singing Italian arias in the main dining room and had stepped out a side door into six inches of freshly poured concrete doing untold damage to her spiked heels and formal gown as well as her dignity. That in itself might not have garnered enough votes, but she did the very same thing the following week. The Story Still electorate is very unforgiving.
Another Idiot had parked her husband’s brand new BMW in the path of the county trash dumpster whose driver was eager to get the Inn’s debris off the premises. Yes, including the new car. Then, there was the woman who was elected because she broke her leg while descending slippery stairs wearing very high heels, carrying her eleven-year-old daughter, and leading a dog on a leash.
Idiots garner a lot of press. They appear in wire service stories around the country, even in Europe. A newspaper in Lugano, Switzerland, for example, carried a photo of the Story Inn and an article about the election of Carmichael to the office.
The restaurant and the inn itself get their share of press. Papers far and wide praise the food, the ambiance, and the wine list. Television reporters love to aim their cameras at the old general store décor. The inn appears on several magazine covers every year, and overnight guests tell their associates of the calm, tranquil life in the Story “cottages,” the original village structures converted into hotel rooms where there is no cell phone signal or television receiver. Ghost hunters come periodically to test the “presence” of the Blue Lady, who appears often enough to convince staff she is real.
But it’s the regulars who keep the Idiots in office and provide the local color sought by visitors from afar. It’s the regular barfly whose cows occasionally stray into State Highway 135 or whose rusted dump truck accidentally dumps a load of manure in the middle of Main Street, in Nashville, seat of Brown County, 13 miles away. (Nashville, by the way, boasts the only three traffic lights in Brown County.)
For the offbeat traveler, it’s hard to beat the off-beatness of the Story Inn, located in “one inconvenient location since 1851.”
If You GoNote: In 1809, the local Native American Indians sold some of their land to the U.S. Government. Legend has it that the Native Americans did not trust the surveyors equipment, so a spear was thrown down at ten o'clock and the treaty line of demarcation followed the cast shadow.
Allen Dale Olson is a freelance writer, and host for the Bloomington (Indiana) Herald-Times wine website -- www.hoosierwinecellar.com. A wine consultant, Olson is known as the Pontiff of Palate at the Story Inn (Brown County, Indiana).