We’re wondering if you remember Joe Palooka.
If you don’t, we’ll remind you that he’s an easygoing animated heavyweight prize fighter who starred in comic strips, radio shows, and movies from the 1920s to the 60s. We ask because you can see a famous statue of him in the little town of Oolitic Indiana.
A few miles north of US 50 on Indiana 37, it calls itself the limestone capital of the world. In addition to the statue, which sits out front of the town hall, there are a number of beautiful limestone buildings along the streets, though sadly several of them are sitting empty.
One of the most interesting is the town jail, which even has a limestone roof. The Indiana limestone company, in business here for more than 100 years, ships out thousands of tons of dressed stone each week for use in monuments, memorials, and building construction. They occasionally offer tours, so check in if you’re visiting the area.
The quarries are spread across adjoining counties, and beside one of them, where Indiana Route 37 dead ends into a rusted iron gate, Bill Cook’s grand dream is being overtaken by weeds.
Cook was, in the 1970s, a local entrepreneur who believed the area should have a tourist attraction to complement its prodigious industry. He drew up plans that included a replica of Cheops’ pyramid from Egypt and the great wall of China, set amid amusement rides, food stands, and a gift shop. With the promise of several hundred thousand dollars in federal funding, the first few courses of the pyramid were laid in place, and restrooms and a visitor center took shape.
Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, Wisconsin senator William Proxmire‘s fiscal conservation agenda was getting widespread support. When Cook’s project received a Golden Fleece award, the ensuing spotlight dried up federal funding and the project died in its tracks. Local residents complained bitterly that a Democrat senator from Wisconsin could have something to say about what was happening in this conservative southern Indiana town, but the belt-tightening mood of the country meant the show was over.
Pillars sit on either side of the gate that marks the end of the highway. One is topped by a small limestone pyramid. The other clearly had one too, once upon a time. Walk around the gate and along the crumbling asphalt, and what’s left of the park sprawls out along one side. On the other is a stunning view of a vast limestone quarry, still operating, with monolithic blocks lining the equipment roadways. Some dreams live on, and some flame out in a blaze of glory. This one died young, but you can still see the shape of it, out here off the beaten path.