An atrocity occurred in a quiet, out of the way field nestled in Daviess County’s agricultural heart. You’ll never read of the obscenity in a history book. You’ll never see it on the Discovery or History Channel. And no one in government or the lamestream press will mention it in public because the modern Republican Party was born in blood and horror in a quiet cornfield a few miles north of Washington, Indiana.
Homer Capehart started his career as a jukebox salesman. He developed the automatic record turner and sold it to Wurlitzer. After making his millions, he turned to politics. Roosevelt’s New Deal had broken the back of the GOP. For some reason desperate, unemployed people don’t vote for plutocrats who would have them starve in the gutter. Republicans knew those millions of dollars flowing into the pockets of poor people would better serve America by flowing into undocumented offshore accounts instead.
So in August, 1938, Capehart hosted a conference of Republican luminaries on his farm. The purpose was to develop a strategy to revitalize the party and defeat the New Deal. And enjoy some fine barbecue as they plotted.
Beginning the evening of August 25, black funeral trains arrived carrying the dignitaries. By day, the trains sat silent under the sweltering sun, baking in the heat with black curtains drawn. The passengers could emerge only after the cleansing light had faded.
Area oldtimers still marvel at how fast the indigent population cleared out when the conference got underway. “They even cleaned out the county farm,” they say. Hoboes camped on a sandbar on the White River, a scant two miles from Capehart’s farm. The sandbar was only a mile from where freight trains on the B&O line pulled out of the trainyard on the west side of Washington. It was easy to catch express freights bound for St. Louis and points west. Orvel Wininger, 86, shakes his head at the memory. “After that conference,” he says, “we never saw another hobo on the B&O again. I don’t know how they did it, but they really cleaned out this town.”
Because the ghouls of the GOP couldn’t go out into the sunlight, Capehart hired contractors to build a network of underground tunnels that allowed the conference attendees to travel freely during daylight hours. The roofs of these tunnels had all collapsed by the 1950s. The remains of the tunnels are now used as agricultural drainage ditches.
Capehart erected four kitchen tents in this field. Huge charcoal pits burned day and night. Attendees feasted on the flesh of hoboes, tramps, indigents, and the poor for two awful days in the summer of 1938. Ten thousand conferees consumed an estimated 3500 homeless and destitute men, women, and children from hundreds of communities across six midwestern states. The drag marks made by these unfortunates as they were dragged into the kitchen tents for butchering deepened into furrows, and those furrows are still visible to this day.
Over 75 years later, bone shards and gnawed fragments litter the ground at the site. They crunch underfoot as one inspects the grounds. A farm road leading deeper into the field is covered in fragments. Though the day was warm, I felt a chill as I snapped these photos. The horror of those two days has long faded, but the scars remain.