Studies in Midwestern History

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The funeral of popular Indiana poet James Whitcomb Riley in July 1916 was more than a statewide event (before him, only Abraham Lincoln and a general who had fought in the Spanish-American War had been accorded the honor of having their body lie in state in the rotunda of the state capitol). It was a national commemoration, generating thousands of newspaper articles, editorials, and expressions of grief and appreciation. Eulogized as a secular saint for his cheerfulness, high-mindedness, insight, and generosity, he was beloved for the poems that he had written extolling the simple virtues and the hardy characters of the Midwestern rural, small-town people among whom he had lived. Dying just before the United States entered World War I and at a time of maximum cultural influence for the Midwest, Riley represented a way of life that would soon be overwhelmed by modern, industrialized, urban America.

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