Travel across Indiana by highway on a winter’s day and you’ll find no shortage of roadside attractions vying for your attention, many centered on sports.
There’s the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, in New Castle. There’s the gymnasium where the wonderful basketball movie “Hoosiers” was filmed, in Knightstown. There’s Plump’s Last Shot—a tavern-with-memorabilia founded by Bobby Plump, the high-school player on whom the fictional game-winning star in “Hoosiers” was modeled—in Indianapolis’s Broad Ripple Village. There’s the Mascot Hall of Fame, lauding such pro and college athletic mascots as the Phillie Phanatic, Bucky Badger and the Utah Jazz Bear, in Whiting.
With all of those competing to beckon a motorist off the main road, it’s easy to miss a spot commemorating valor of a different sort, this one in Marion County.
Yet if you should ever find yourself in that part of Indiana, the people who take care of the place would love for you to stop by, if only for a few minutes. It’s free.
The Indiana State Police Eternal Flame is near Post Road, just off Interstate 70 on Indianapolis’s east side. On three black granite tablets behind a grove of trees are the names of the 47 members of the state police who have died over the years while on duty.
“We mostly are visited by families of law enforcement,” said Lauren Baker, curator of the adjacent Indiana State Police Museum, housed in a pair of connecting pole barns. “But everyone is welcome.”
She knows that most people, when they think of state highway patrols, “picture officers writing tickets and pulling people over for speeding.” But state police officers, she said, also are hostage negotiators, members of SWAT teams, bomb-squad technicians, and men and women who perish while on the job and then are soon forgotten. If they serve and die in the middle of the Midwest, they may never be heard of at all in the wider world.
That is why the eternal flame burns 24 hours a day, waiting for someone to visit. On those granite slabs are the names of Trooper Herbert W. Smith, shot to death near Shelbyville in 1946; First Sgt. Marvin E. Walts, gunned down by a suspected bank robber in 1957; Trooper Earl L. Brown, killed by a hitchhiker he was interrogating in 1955; Trooper Robert O. Lietzan, shot down as he was trying to stop a man from firing at a family in a camping area in Franklin County in 1969. Near the flame are the words: “As we that are left behind grow old they shall not grow old. Age shall not weary them.”
The eternal flame and museum have an annual marketing budget of zero dollars. You have to know it’s there to find it. Ms. Baker said that during 2019, an average of 16 people a day came through the door.
It’s easy to zip right past that Post Road exit in central Indiana, and police officers around the country, especially when highly publicized incidents turn out badly, understand that their most diligent work will often go unnoticed and unappreciated. But Ms. Baker, ever hopeful and perpetually with an eye on the door, said, “We’re here. And you are always invited.”
Mr. Greene’s books include “Chevrolet Summers, Dairy Queen Nights.”