GREENFIELD — A new documentary on the life of the James Whitcomb Riley has put the spotlight on Hancock County — and has prompted a historical tour that will include a stop in Greenfield.
The film crew visited Greenfield earlier this year and several times last year, gathering information and interviewing local Riley experts, said Stacey Poe, coordinator of the boyhood home and museum. And the team’s experience has since sparked another idea to promote Riley’s contributions to American literature — a historical tour bringing poetry enthusiasts to see some of the most notable Riley locations in Central Indiana, including his boyhood home in Greenfield.
Talk of the upcoming documentary, which premieres at 8 p.m. Aug. 10 (found locally on Dish, Channel 30 on DirecTV or by live stream on facebook.com/wtiupublictv) and the follow-up tour, planned for next spring, shows local Riley supporters the partnership with PBS is doing just what they hoped — raising awareness of Greenfield’s native son and using his local connections to promote tourism in Hancock County.
Hostesses from the boyhood home and museum, who tell visitors about the poet’s life and share some of his most famous poems, have been part of the process start to finish. They welcomed film crews into the home for a detailed tour but also hit the road when they learned they could be of assistance elsewhere. At the tail end of the filming, they traveled to the Tivoli Theater in Spencer, serving as extras for a scene in which an actor portraying Riley gives a speech. Dressed in period clothing, the women can be seen in the front row of the theater, Poe said.
Filmmakers are spreading the word about the documentary’s release and reminding viewers of the number of ways to tune in — no matter where they’re watching from. Streaming the premiere is part of an effort by the station to increase the film’s visibility nationwide, said Laura Baich, station marketing director.
“There are a lot of people who are Riley enthusiasts both in the state and across the country,” Baich said.
Local Riley enthusiasts hope the documentary will create an interest and an understanding of the artist, orator and poet — and encourage those intrigued by his upbringing to considering a visit to Greenfield’s historic district downtown.
“He was really charismatic, and I think the person portraying Riley in the documentary shows that,” she said. “Riley was famous in his own time.”
The hostesses are planning a private viewing party, since — of course — there’s no cable TV at Riley’s home, which is kept just as it would have been when he lived there, Poe said.
Producer Ron Prickel said he couldn’t help but share a preview with county tourism director Brigette Cook Jones, a local Riley expert who gave the project a thumbs up.
“I came over and showed a rough cut to Brigette a couple weeks ago, and it passed her inspection, so I thought that was a good sign,” Prickel said.
After the documentary airs, WITU will turn its attention toward the historical tour, planned for its members on April 7. Stops on the tour are expected to include the boyhood home in Greenfield, Riley’s home on Lockerbie Street in Indianapolis and his grave site at the highest point of Crown Point Cemetery, Baich said.
Visit wtiu.org/events for ticket information.
Those who attend the day trip will also receive a free DVD copy of the documentary.