ANDERSON — There were no roads. When Madison County pioneer settler Conrad Crosley set out from his home to get tea for an ailing neighbor in the 1820s, he wound up riding 120 miles on horseback on little more than paths.
Today, all that’s left to mark Crosley’s act of generosity, and indeed, the whole of his vibrant life, is the stone that marks his grave.
Anderson resident Chet Green tracked down Crosley’s gravestone, along with those of a number of other local pioneers, for his recently released film, “Stories in Stone.” It tells the fascinating stories of individuals, like Crosley, who lived on the then-untamed Indiana frontier, fraught with hardship.
“These people weren’t famous. They were just normal, every day folk like you and I. They were ordinary people that it was mainly through their death that they gained any notoriety in life,” said Green. “The only thing that’s left are the stones in the cemetery. … This is the only thing that’s left that lets us know these people walked the earth.”
Green spent two years researching the stories, tracking down gravesites, writing a script and recording it, performing and producing music, filming and editing. The result is an intriguing hour-long documentary that looks into our past with a thoughtful eye, and one that searches out beauty in the telling. It was filmed entirely in Madison County, telling the stories through narration and local visual imagery where the pioneers once trod.
Among the lives that Green explores are two bankers who had a shootout in downtown Anderson, a joyful 18-year-old girl on the cusp of marriage whose life was tragically touched by an all-too-common experience of the times, another young woman whose birth and death were both surrounded by mystery.
“The people of this area that lived their lives were really no different from you and I,” observed Green. “They had the same emotions, the same dreams and goals that people possess today.”
Madison County Historian Stephen Jackson was an important resource to Green during the research. Jackson said the film is accurate, and he gives it a very favorable review.
“It’s a wonderful contribution to understanding our past through the lives of the people he depicts,” said Jackson. He also noted, “The photography is wonderful. It’s just a first-class film.”
Green is no stranger behind the lens. He was a telecom major at Ball State and Indiana universities. He was videographer for Indiana Community Action Association, creating training films and PSAs for that organization, and he continues to freelance.
Green, a prolific reader, was inspired to make “Stories in Stone” after he delved into *Historical Sketches and Reminiscences of Madison County, Indiana" by John Forkner and Byron Dyson. The more-than-1,000-pages tome dates to 1897. Green started digging deeper on certain stories he found in the book.
“It was like doing detective work,” said Green. He became a regular in the Indiana Room at the Anderson Public Library, where he was able to study actual newspaper stories with help from librarian Beth Oljace.
Finally, Green tracked down the actual gravesites of the individuals he had researched. Madison County Cemetery Commission’s website, www.cemeteries-madison-co-in.com, was very helpful in this endeavor.
Madison County Historical Society trustee Melody Hull, who developed the website, said that according to the state of Indiana, a pioneer cemetery is any cemetery that was started before 1850. For the purposes of the Madison County Cemetery Commission, it is any cemetery started by an early settler or pioneer.
Hull said that there are more than 90 pioneer cemeteries still existing in the county. That’s down from the 123 sites the county used to have.
“Some were destroyed by farmers in the early 20th century,” said Hull.
She recalled one such farmer who not only plowed up the cemetery, but used the stones for a patio. Another pioneer cemetery was used as a junkyard.
In addition to researching the stories, writing the narrative, and filming, Green wrote and performed his own soundtrack. While the appealing music sounds like a mix of instruments, the inventive Green came up with a special method to create the soundtrack.
“It’s a method that I use for recording that was inspired by the work of two musicians Brian Eno and Robert Fripp,” said Green. He did some of that work with Shawn Neal at Neal’s Anderson recording studio. Although you’d never know it, Green said, “All the music you hear on the soundtrack is guitar.”
Green plans to enter the film in several film festivals; after that, he hopes that public television will pick the film up.
Get the DVD "Stories in Stone" is available at the Madison County Historical Society, 15 West 11th St., Anderson, at a cost of $20. The society may be hosting a screening in the future, so stay tuned. Green will also mail a DVD to you at a cost of $23. Email Green at firstname.lastname@example.org.