By Janie McKirgan
The most common question we get asked at the museum is “Did Jimmy ever come back to Indiana?” Our answer is yes, many times! Jimmy Stewart always said that he had a “great love and pride for Indiana.” He mentioned his hometown in many interviews he did. While his parents were still alive Jimmy came back quite often even flying his own plane back here. In the early days, he used the railroad tracks to navigate back home by. When his father was still living, Jimmy came back with his wife Gloria in September 1959 for the dedication of our local airport to be renamed in his honor. Indiana County Jimmy Stewart Airport dedication was a big honor for Stewart. His love for aviation goes back to when he was a child. His senior thesis at Princeton University was a design for an airport. Our local airport even has his refurbished personal 1961 Cessna 310F and will have it on display in mid to late 2020.
Jimmy Stewart also came back to Indiana, PA in September 1974 to receive the esteemed Honorary Degree of Letters from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Jimmy Stewart stated that he always had a “sense of belonging” to Indiana. During his speech at George P. Miller Stadium it started to pour rain and Jimmy had to scrap his speech as the ink began to run on the paper and he winged the rest of it. He was extremely proud of this degree from his hometown.
The last time he came back to Indiana was for his 75th Birthday Celebration. This is the subject of our latest exhibit in our rotating gallery. There are numerous pictures and stories about the last visit home. Jimmy held a press conference, had a parade in his honor, a dinner dance, a statue dedication, an air show and a boy scout jamboree among other events. During the parade in his honor there were two Air Force jets that did a fly over Philadelphia Street that runs through downtown. His good friend President Ronald Reagan ordered the flyover in his honor. He also called Jimmy while he was speaking at the podium to wish him Happy Birthday. Local state senator Patrick Stapleton unfurled a banner over main street that read “Jimmy Stewart for President”. To that gesture Jimmy quipped “I don’t talk fast enough to be a politician.”
The whole weekend celebration lasted three days and Jimmy Stewart was humbled by the whole tribute. The highlight of the weekend was the dedication of a statue in Stewart’s likeness that was placed in the front of the courthouse. The cast version of this same statue is on display in The Jimmy Stewart Museum. Little do people know that there is an extra signature on the back of the statue base by his good friend Harvey. You will have to search for it the next time you visit the statue or the museum.
Our new exhibit Back Home in Indiana has highlights, pictures and stories about this wonderful last trip home by our Hometown Hero. Thousands of people can to see him and show him some hometown love. He stated in a speech at the dinner dance “You’ve made me feel that I still belong her and I’m proud of that.”
Jimmy Stewart credited growing up in this small town as giving him morals and was of tremendous importance in his life. This final quote about Indiana sums up Stewarts feelings about the place he grew up in. “Every place I’ve ever been, I’ve always known there were kind decent folk in Indiana. Folks who get out of bed every morning and do a full days work and live their lives in a way that reflect well on our country…It’s the character of Indiana, the character for which all of us fortunate enough to live here take a sample and keep it with us where ever we go. I belong her. It’s a good feeling and I’m grateful for it”.
We are grateful to be able to claim Jimmy Stewart as one of our own. I am always proud to tell people that I live in the hometown of Jimmy Stewart. No matter where I go in life, I know I will take a little bit of Jimmy and Indiana with me. It’s sure is a wonderful life in Indiana, PA!
We invite you to come and see our newest exhibit. Back Home in Indiana will be on display through mid-November. After that, we will be celebrating the holidays in style with an expanded “It’s A Wonderful Life” exhibit that will be up through the end of January 2021. We are continuing to create new and interesting exhibits to give you a reason to come back and see us. Stay tuned to our website for the latest news on exhibits, events and matinees and more!