'Hidden Hoosiers' uses historic phone booths to share stories of little-known Hoosiers

Within every university are countless individuals who go unrecognized for their hard work, long hours and dedication that keep the university standing. To honor such unsung heroes, the Indiana Memorial Union and the Indiana University Office of the Bicentennial are presenting "Hidden Hoosiers," an interactive exhibition featuring 10 such individuals.

The exhibition, on the main floor of the IMU, makes use of the historic phone booths to tell the stories of "Hidden Hoosiers" who helped build IU into the institution it is today.

Hidden Hoosiers phone booths in the IMUView print quality image
The "Hidden Hoosiers" exhibition is in old phone booths in the Indiana Memorial Union at IU Bloomington. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

Junior Alex Ruschman, an intern with the IU Office of the Bicentennial, partnered with the Union Board to create "Hidden Hoosiers."

"We have a pretty diverse selection of people that we've chosen for these exhibits, " she said.

Ruschman said she took over the research of former intern and IU alumna Kayla McCarthy who was instrumental in conceptualizing the project, working on initial research for it, and getting it launched. When Ruschman became involved, she spent many hours in the archive room or in basements shuffling through file cabinets and assorted photographs from IU's history. 

Henry Hammond's Hidden Hoosier boothView print quality image
Henry Hammond's "Hidden Hoosiers" booth in the IMU. Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

"It was almost like a treasure hunt looking for stories," she said. "It was a cool aspect to kind of uncover these things and find out about these people."

Sara Perry, a Union Board advisor who helped Ruschman with the project, said the "Hidden Hoosiers" exhibition required more planning than just uncovering old stories.

Ruschman started her research in August 2018. After selecting Hoosiers to feature, she wrote scripts from their perspective and recruited Jacobs School of Music students, fellow Union Board directors and IMU staff to record three-minute voiceovers for each Hoosier. Perry partnered with WIUX, which provided free recording and editing of the tapes.

The five phone booths installed in 1959 as part of the hotel sit across from the Tree Suites hallway. Each booth was updated with fans, vents and lights that flick on when the door opens. They now house a bright red telephone, a boom box and posters with information about the "Hidden Hoosier."

People who find themselves in this area are free to sit in the booths, each one containing a different Hoosier, and listen to the stories.

The exhibit will be up for a year and will swap out stories next semester. For this semester, the booths have the stories of:

  • Helen Whitfield: IMU Food Department manager from 1942 to 1948, who served over 100,000 people in one year.
  • Henry Hammond: Employed in several fraternities and became an honorary member of Sigma Chi.
  • Cecilia Wahl: An IU graduate of the English and theater schools and promoter of women's involvement in the community.
  • Eugene Fletchall: Director of the Union Board from 1933 to 1934, created a scholarship in his name for a student representing and carrying out the values and goals of the Union Board.
  • Emerson Elkins: An IMU page who wrote a letter that was found in the wall 70 years after he wrote it.

After over a year of thorough research and creativity, Ruschman and Perry have seen their long hours of treasure hunting materialize into an exhibition they're proud of.

"The project itself is very important to recognize people from IU's history that haven't been able to be recognized," Ruschman said. "They deserve it."