Monticello author-historian Bill Madden likes to know about the beginnings of things, about the how and why a place, an organization or a person came to be. Looking to the past in reference to the present, said Madden, 59, reveals uniqueness, character and sparks curiosity - all of which he hopes captures readers who partake of his new book Monticello, which hits stores July 30.
Having already authored more than 20 books, most of which take a biographical or historical approach to people and places, Madden said this will be the first in a series of books he plans to write highlighting the White County seat. Monticello is part of the Arcadia Publishing series entitled Images of America, and as such Madden hopes it will not only conjure memories of the city but serve as an additional historic text for anyone with a connection to or interest in Monticello.
The book takes a photographic tour of Monticello from its beginnings - a drawing of the first plot of the city made in 1834 the introductory image shared in the 128-page tome - including details of 19th century happenings such as a railcar tragedy in 1878 and the exchanges between settlers and members of the Potawatomi tribe that lived along the Tippecanoe River.
Many photographs featured in the book come courtesy of the White County Historical Museum and feature storefronts from the 1900s, the first fire chief and mayor, schools, churches, parks and interesting traditions such as the annual awarding of a city key to fishermen on the opening day of fishing season. The impact of the 1974 tornado and Indiana Beach are also traced through Madden's research and the accompanying black and white photos.
Finding the little-seen or regarded particulars of the city's start is Madden's delight; documenting his arrival into the writing world offers a similarly interesting glimpse of the past.
"I started out as a reporter for newspapers in the Air Force in 1976," said Madden, seated in a home office lined with bookshelves carrying volumes about sports and various writing methods and techniques.
A Chicago native who moved to Monticello last year after spending two decades of summers in the area, Madden worked as a sports writer then news editor at England Air Force Base in Louisiana before taking an editing position at Thule Air Base, Greenland.
Madden joined the Air Force in 1966 and considers himself "one of the lucky ones" who didn't have to go to Vietnam. Instead, he spent a handful of years in Germany and it was there his love of writing began to develop.
"I just started writing," he said, "and I've never had writers block. I just write anything."
A self-proclaimed "inspired writer," Madden said he started writing his first book in 1993 in part because the baseball-biography theme allowed him to draw on personal experience as a former player, coach and enthusiast. Topics that have not been thoroughly covered, or covered from a historical-biographical perspective, are those that draw the writer.
"The first rule they tell you: write what you know. And I've always been a writer trying to fill a need. I want to write about something that's never been written about. Now there have been many books on the women's league," he said, referencing his book The Women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League: A Biographical Dictionary, "but not biographies."
As he researched content that would become Monticello, which was written last winter, Madden said he discovered few related texts of any kind in print. A 1913 White County history book and an anniversary publication for the 1974 tornado were about as exhaustive as it got, said Madden.
"I saw a need. I've always been a writer trying to fill a need, to write something in a way that's never been written about. I like to look for things that aren't normally read about, so
I look for tidbits of information that make it more personal, more emotional. I hope that's what it (Monticello) does."
Thirty-year Monticello resident Katie Wolf said she appreciates Madden's attempt to create an enduring piece of city history.
"It's extremely important for our children, for the young people to realize what this community is really all about and how it will come together. It's a good place to live; it's a good place for them to continue to consider living in Monticello. I take a look at the many, many people who go to Florida (to retire) and they decide, 'I want to come back home.' That's a good sign."
Madden won't spend much time basking in the release of Monticello; he's already hard at work researching material for his next Monticello-subjected book, a biographical look at the city cemetery off St. Mary's Avenue where burials are no longer permitted.
Other titles in the series may exhibit the upcoming mark of 100 years of Monticello mayors, the city's sesquicentennial and the 175th anniversary of White County's founding said Madden.