By Hannah Hayth
When I went to Heekin Park for the very first time, it wasn’t because of this research project. It was when I had just finished high school and was in that awkward space between high school and college where you sort of felt like an adult and also sort of still felt like a kid. I was 19 years old and had just had a really late night at my food service job, and some co-workers and I decided to head to Heekin Park to spend some time at the basketball courts.
I don’t talk to those people anymore, and I can’t say in earnest that I would probably ever go back to Heekin if it weren’t for this research project, but the absolute killer of a 3-pointer that I made is still one of my favorite memories.
The first time I went back to Heekin Park, it was two years later, and I was 21 and a sophomore at Ball State University. I had brought my male roommates at the request of my mom. She went to Southside High School, frequented Heekin Park probably more times than she can remember, and she still didn’t want me going there alone. She barely wanted me going there at all, but considering it was for this research project, I won that argument.
My name is Hannah Hayth. I am double majoring in anthropology and biochemistry. I went to Wes-Del throughout all my public-school years. I went to Ivy Tech to get my associate degree in Paralegal Studies, and now I am at Ball State. I was also born and raised in Muncie. I’ve been to many places all over Muncie. I went to elementary, middle, and high school here. I got my associate degree here. I’m getting my bachelor’s degree here, I work here, I live here. Muncie is my community. But when we got to Heekin Park and parked in the gravel off to the side of one of the roads going through the area, and starting walking around, it was the first time I had looked at any part of the community with an observant eye, and one that had to potentially be critical of some things in the park. Honestly, this research project drained me for that very reason. Having to take a place that was a part of the community I grew up in and loved was a harrowing process, and one that I sincerely hope I’ll never have to do again.
I remember the first thing I saw was this huge, dilapidated building next to the playground where kids were playing, and parents were idly chatting with each other as they watched on. This building was shut and closed off to the public, but down in the bottom of the door, in a little corner, there was a hole. And in this hole, I watched a cat poke its head out, see me standing there, and dart back inside to the safety of the building. I saw it again and again over the course of this research project, and I’m relatively sure it was the same cat. I wanted to know what this building was. There was no signage or anything that could give me some kind of clue. Instead, I went to the Ball State University Archives and looked at newspaper clippings from The Star Press in the 1980s, all relating to the development of the parks in Muncie, focusing specifically on Heekin, and I found that in August of 1980, there were plans for a swimming pool that were denied due to a lack of a master plan. The Parks Department tried for a swimming pool in 1981 as well, but it was also denied due to federal funding. The pool was never finished, again due to a lack of funding, and in September 1982, it was replaced by the current playground and picnic shelter area, and that’s what this lonely forgotten building was for.
As I walked farther into the park, I was able to notice the insane amount of noise pollution in the park. Heekin Park is a large area surrounded by the busy streets of Madison and Memorial, with a relatively heavy traffic Hackley Street cutting the park into the east and the west side. Firetrucks often cut through Heekin Park to avoid the traffic of these streets, which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t, as there’s a fire station located directly in the park, but it still contributes heavily to the amount of noise. Take this audio clip, for example, which I recorded by sitting on a bench near Hackley Street.
Obviously, more than just firetrucks cut through the park to cut down on their time on Madison and Memorial.
Across from where we parked is a small dog park. It’s two rectangular fields that are separated from each other by a fence, and also separated from the rest of the park by fences. The smaller field is for smaller dogs to keep them away from potentially bigger and more aggressive dogs.
In all my times visiting the park, I never saw enough people there to have to use the separate field. The one time I saw a big dog and a small dog in the park at the same time, they had the same owner and weren’t aggressive with each other. I noticed that there weren’t a lot of places for the owners to sit. If there was more than one person, it would be a pretty difficult place to be for an extended amount of time.
Several times when I visited Heekin, I noticed that people would simply park across from the dog park, let their dogs run around for a while, and then leave the park. All in all, the dog park seems well-used and well-loved.
On my first trip to Heekin Park, I didn’t make it over to the side of the park that included the cabins. About a month into my research, I came across a man who was washing his car parked alongside one of the roads in Heekin Park. He was playing loud music from his car but shut his door so he could hear me as soon as he saw me. He was parked outside of the cabins, so I decided to ask him about them.
Every time that he’s used the cabins, they’ve been very nice and clean, and just generally well-looked after. From the outside of the biggest cabin, Cabin Number Five, one could definitely tell that a lot of care went into them.
He brought up that the park office is located directly in the park. “If there’s ever been a problem, I’m able to get my money back,” he says as it’s a little difficult to hear him over the loud muffled music still coming from his car. “The Parks Department is available, and they’ll be able to fix any problems you have if you just ask.”
There are several memorials scattered across the park, often for veterans in various wars. There’s even a time capsule buried and to be opened in 41 years.
I did enjoy getting to walk around and see what the various monuments were for. Heekin Park has a Walk of Fame, a ¼ mile long trail that features posts describing the accomplishments of African Americans in Muncie, Indiana. I had no idea that this part of Heekin even existed until I started this research project.
There is one of the plaques that is broken off, and as you walk along the trail, there is trees fallen into the path, and some overgrown shrubbery where it’s shady and dark along the path. I only walked along this trail once when it was starting to get darker, and it was almost spooky, for lack of a better word. Still, throughout my research, I noticed several people using the trail for running, or just to get some walking in their day as they chat with friends. There is some seating along the trail as well, which makes for a good place to sit down in the park.
The available seating in Heekin Park made it a difficult experience for me while I was conducting participant observation in the parks. There is a picnic shelter near the playground and dog park, and there a few benches scattered here and there.
There’s even one bench practically right next to Hackley Street, which is where I recorded the audio clip of the cars passing by and causing noise pollution. There’s some seating at pretty much all of the memorials as well. There are tree stumps pretty much everywhere, which could be used as seating, but it’s not really ideal for the park, as that just means more and more trees are being cut down and isn’t really a positive thing.
Plus, I was never really able to sit on the ground. There are crab apples on the ground, pretty much everywhere, that make it difficult to walk and take away green space that people could be using to sit, such as myself.
One day, when I went to go sit at the Vietnam Veteran Memorial, I noticed the Grace Keiser Maring Library for the first time. I used to work at Muncie Public Library, and one of the branches was called Maring-Hunt Library, so I was definitely interested to find out what the building was.
As I got closer, I realized that the building was empty, and essentially abandoned. From the outside, it was an incredibly beautiful building. I can see how it would be too small for a library, especially knowing how big Maring-Hunt Library is.
I decided to look in Ball State University’s Archives to see if I could find out more. The building seems like it could be such a useful space to use for potentially renting out for events, or even some sort of building for the Boys and Girls Club right next door to the building. Still, The Grace Keiser Maring Library remains unused, despite a letter I found in Ball State University’s Archives detailing a petition of 3,500 people who wanted the library in Heekin Park specifically and addressed it to Mr. Ball. It really makes me wonder what happened to that want for a library.
The very first time I had to use the bathroom in Heekin Park, I was absolutely floored by the state of them. First, there’s only two bathrooms in the entire park, one for men and one for women, and they could be heavily improved. As I was only able to go into the women’s restroom, I can’t really speak for the men’s restroom. But in the women’s, there are no stalls, and it often smells bad and is dirty as well. The rest of my research group have observed several people arriving at Heekin Park simply to use the bathroom, and then leaving. Because of this alone, they could be exponentially improved.
The Monday after Ball State’s homecoming weekend, I went to Heekin Park to conduct some participant observation. It was the worst I had ever seen the litter problem in Heekin Park. This wasn’t too much of a surprise for me. The trash cans are spaced improperly throughout the park, and as a result, there is litter everywhere. On this particular visit, the trash cans were spaced out like normal, and they were all pretty much completely full, with some bags stacked next to the trash cans as well. Not to mention various plastic bottles, snack bags, and even toilet paper scattered in spots in the grass.
One other thing that I noticed in particular is that there are several brand new trees that have been planted, but they can hardly be planted fast enough to keep up with how many trees get cut down in Heekin Park. Trees are dead all over the place, and the stumps everywhere show where there used to be dead trees. In my research, I found that the City of Muncie posted on Twitter on April 8th, 2021, “We had a special visit from Congressman Greg Pence this week in support of the Mayor’s 1000 trees in 1000 days project. Three trees were planted at Heekin Park on the corner of Heekin and 9th street. We Are happy to have the support of our Congressman and his team!”
Despite this, more and more trees have a spray painted “X” on them to be cut down next. The lack of green space all over Heekin and the lack of seating coupled together make it a difficult place for someone to want to spend their time.
Despite all of this, people love using the parks. One person I spoke to said that they took their niece and nephew to the playgrounds, and that they both have a really great time. I’ve seen everything from baby showers, birthday parties, gender reveals, to even the more mundane, such as reading a book while sitting on a merry-go-round, or watching dogs play with each other in the park, or even watching couples walk around the park hand in hand, like it was the prefect date spot.
However, Heekin seems to have sort of a bad reputation. I personally never felt unsafe, but I know that others in my research group have stated that they have felt unsafe in the park, and that they have talked to others who felt a little uncomfortable. I decided to look into this a little to see if all the negative things I were hearing about Heekin Park had any sort of merit. On April 27th, 2021, a man was arrested in Heekin Park after a high-speed police chase. Also, on June 22nd, 2021, there was a shooting in Heekin Park that ended with the victim dying of their injuries. In addition, as recently as November 5th, 2021, there was a fatal shooting within walking distance of Heekin Park. According to CBS 4 Indy, those in leadership at the Muncie Unity Center, which shares its space with Heekin Park, have worked to maintain a safe place for students to go for after school programs. To quote Carl Malone, the Parks Superintendent, from a Star Press article in 2016: “We’re just trying to figure out a way to continue to make this particular neighborhood safe, especially the area surrounding the community center and boys and girls club. Our kids get on the bus here, 7:00 it gets dark, so just making sure they get to and from home.” Everything that I could find happened in this year. I know that crime happens in Muncie. I carry pepper spray on my backpack and have a whistle on my keys for this reason, but to think that a place like a park where people can take their kids to play, where people can take their dogs to get out energy, and where people can hold important life events could have such a negative history is upsetting to me.
Heekin Park is on Muncie’s “South Side”, which also, from both my personal experiences and observations of our research group, has a somewhat bad reputation, especially when compared to the “North Side”. My college rental house is on the South Side, and I will admit that I am definitely more vigilant about the locking of doors when compared to living with my parents in the suburbs of the North Side. I believe that this sort of thinking even goes towards college students at Ball State that only stay on campus. It’s way easier and convenient to be on the north side of town when you’re on campus. For example, the back-to-school rush that happens every time the Ball State students come back each fall doesn’t even touch the Walmart located on the South Side. Living here, I have my own biases as well. Continuing with the Walmart example, I rarely, if ever, go to the south Walmart because they check items that are not in bags at a much higher frequency than north Walmart, and it’s even worse if you use reusable bags. That no doubt stems from the bad reputation of those living on the South Side, and those sorts of stereotypes that are expected of Muncie’s “other side”.
Muncie is a very culturally diverse city, especially if one is to factor in the hustle and bustle of over 20,000 college students for about nine months out of the year. I couldn’t find any statistics relating to how many people attending Ball State were from Muncie, but I can say from personal experience that in my entire time at Ball State so far, I have only come across one person who was even remotely familiar with Muncie, and she was still from Yorktown. The parks in Muncie, including Heekin Park, need to be made for not just those college students, but also the Muncie locals – or “Mocals”, as I learned was a term for people like me when I started at Ball State last year.
Some say that people from the North Side distance themselves from people on the South Side. Ball State alumni Maren Orchard, who has written for the Everyday Life in Middletown website, says, “I’ve noticed that it’s popular on campus to speak disparagingly about Muncie […] I once told a friend at Ball State that I was from Muncie, and he was thoroughly comforted when I explained to him that my parent’s house is north of campus, near the mall. ‘Oh!’ he exclaimed in relief, ‘when you said you were from Muncie, I thought you meant like the Southside. It makes sense you’re from northern Muncie.’ I chose to pick my battles. I didn’t explain that my mother grew up on the Southside and that several of my family members still reside there. I found it offensive to dismiss an entire region of the city without acknowledging its residents as real people who live, work, and experience everyday life in an area exposed to economic struggle.” Based on this, there seems to be a sort of inherent fear that people on Ball State campus and people on the North Side have about their safety while being on the South Side.
According to the book “Rethinking Urban Parks”, urban parks are facing issues that relate to both the design and management of parks by the Parks Department. Those issues “reduce social and cultural diversity”. I think that in the case of Heekin Park, it would be a lack of upkeep on the park. It is somewhat of a self-fulfilling prophecy where the park is not well-maintained because people don’t use it and people don’t use it because the park is not well-maintained.
From my observations, people want to use the parks. They do use the parks. There were people there no matter the time of day, and no matter the weather. They were only people by themselves or groups of 2 or 3, or the rare occasional party taking place in the cabins, but people are there. On one particular rainy day, there were cars parked all along the road in Heekin, finding a place to rest, but staying in their cars to keep safe from the rain. In another instance, a teenager using the swings at the playgrounds was asked by another woman’s kids if she wanted to play with them, and after asking their mom for permission, they played together on the playground.
Speaking from my own personal experiences, the biggest complaint I have ever heard about Muncie is that there’s absolutely nothing to do here, and Muncie is boring. Knowing what I know and seeing what I’ve seen, I know that Heekin could be a great place for the surrounding Industry neighborhood and for the community of Muncie as a whole. It definitely has plenty of potential, which the Parks Department was even able to notice in the past as well. According to newspaper clippings found in Ball State University’s Archives on the plans for Heekin Park, there were several great things for the community that simply just never happened. For example, there was going to be a bicycle motocross track back in October of 1992. Not to mention the whole swimming pool funding fiasco that I mentioned earlier.
The ideas of “place-making” and “place-keeping” can help explain this. According to Nicola Dempsey and Mel Burton of Urban Forestry & Urban Greening, place-making is when funds are put into a park to help create a space, but there is a lack of priority given to place-keeping, which is the long-term care and upkeep of a public space or park. Essentially, people are willing to put in money to create a space, but it typically isn’t kept up as vandalism and overgrown areas take over instead, which makes people either uncomfortable, or not wanting to use the public space anymore.
A lot of this could potentially have to do with the Parks Department. I went to the Indiana Parks and Recreation Association Conference at the Horizon Convention Center on November 4th, 2021, and I attended an education session on the Parks and Recreation Department of other cities around Muncie. From what I learned, there seems to be a lack of funding and staffing for these departments statewide, and that’s what is causing the issues in the parks that we are seeing. There is also an issue of needing a body to fill a position, so sometimes the best person for that job isn’t realistic, so performance could suffer. The audience members in this education session I attended all seemed to agree that working in the Parks Department was a very thankless job, which could potentially contribute to the lack of staffing that, again, causes these issues.
As I said earlier, I didn’t like any part of this research process that involved looking at this part of my community with somewhat of a critical eye. A big part of the methods of anthropology have been historically based on the idea of an outsider coming into an environment that they are unfamiliar with and becomes familiar with that society and the aspects of the social life of that community. According to an article centered around the idea of Native Anthropology, by Abby Forster of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, this outsider is able to see the cultural patterns of the everyday life of this community that the natives would not be able to see themselves. However, there is also the idea of “native anthropology” in which someone belonging to a community is the one who studies it. To quote, “supporters of native anthropology argued that their status as a member would lead them to blend in and not alter social situations in a way that a foreign person may”, but then on the other side of that argument, “critics, however, asserted that an insider could never detach enough from their own cultural understandings to see the underlying patterns that are taken for granted in everyday interaction”. A lot of this opposition was based on potential bias in the research. But today, the debate is more centered on what a study of someone’s own community would mean to them and to the research. But as pointed out in this article, native anthropologists may not even actually be considered insiders, even if they’re a part of the community that they’re studying.
This is what I think was the most difficult part of this research project for me, and I believe that this, in some degree, relates to the community I was studying as well. I’ve spent my entire life being a part of this community that I am studying. When I was growing up, and my brother began to sort of understand a bit more about the social issues in Muncie, more specifically the north side vs. the south side, he would bring these things up to my parents, and he was always met with a form of hostility. Not to say that they were mean to him, but they felt defensive about the place where they decided to lay down roots and build a family, and that definitely showed. I believe that, to some extent, I carried this with me to this research project. It was easy to talk about the things that were wrong with Heekin Park, and how those tend to deal with things that were wrong with Muncie as a whole. But when I heard negatives being discussed by those in my research group and by those in my class, it struck a chord with me. I didn’t like being a native anthropologist, and I didn’t like having things that I held so dear to my upbringing and generally who I was as a person being examined in such a way that I didn’t particularly know how to comprehend, or that I even really had a word for. It was hard to separate the “Oh, that’s just how Muncie is,” from the “Muncie doesn’t have to be that way,” in a way that I believe heavily influenced the direction of the research project,
I felt that by being an insider, I had very specifically become an outsider when conducting this research in Heekin Park. It was like I was separate from the people I was talking to and observing, even though we were all members of this community. When I think of “Everyday Heekin”, I don’t see myself. I see all the people I observed, all the people I talked to. I see the graffiti leaving someone’s mark permanently. I see the dogs running around in the dog park. I see the honored African Americans of Muncie on the Walk of Fame. I see the firefighters at the fire station. I see people, and if I wasn’t a part of this research project, I’m not sure I would have actually been “people” anyway. I think that this research project reignited the love that I have for my hometown and its community and helped me realize what I know that it can be.
When this semester is over, some people in this class will go home to their respective places and might not ever consider Muncie the way that they have for this research project ever again. But I am already home. I have been this whole time, and I can’t help but see what potential Muncie has to be what we think it is. The public parks inside Muncie are just a little sliver of this, and Heekin Park is an even smaller sliver. Parks, and public spaces in general, have a space in Muncie. They build community, and they build memories. This park in particular needs more attention from the Parks Department to really reach that sort of impact. Overall, Heekin Park could be a great space that would help the community tremendously, if the work was put into making it reach its potential.
City of Muncie (@CityofMuncie). 2021. “We had a special visit from Congressman Greg Pence this week in support of the Mayor’s 1000 trees in 1000 days project. Three trees were planted at Heekin Park on the corner of Heekin and 9th street. We Are happy to have the support of our Congressman and his team!” Twitter, April 8, 2021, 11:30AM. https://twitter.com/CityofMuncie/status/1380181138828824576.
Dempsey, Nicola, and Mel Burton. “Defining Place-Keeping: The Long-Term Management of Public Spaces.” Urban Forestry & Urban Greening 11, no. 1 (2012): 11–20. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ufug.2011.09.005.
Forster, Abby. “We Are All Insider-Outsiders: A Review of Debates Surrounding Native Anthropology.” Student Anthropologist 3, no. 1 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1002/sda2.v3.1.
Houser, Shannon. “Swat Raids, Drug Arrests, the Latest in Series of Crime in Muncie Neighborhood.” WTTV CBS4Indy. WTTV CBS4Indy, August 22, 2016. https://cbs4indy.com/news/swat-raids-drug-arrests-the-latest-in-series-of-crime-in-muncie-neighborhood/.
“Improvements Get OK at Heekin Park.” The Start Press. September 22, 1982.
Low, Setha M., Dana Taplin, and Suzanne Scheld. Rethinking Urban Parks: Public Space and Cultural Diversity. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2005.
Orchard, Maren. “I Am a Mocal.” Everyday Life in Middletown, April 26, 2016. https://edlmiddletown.com/2016/04/18/i-am-a-mocal/.
Various Petitioners. Letter to Mr. Ball. “Information for Mr. Ball.” Muncie, Indiana, 1930.
Walker, Douglas. “Muncie Man Arrested in Heekin Park after Leading Police on High-Speed Chase.” The Star Press. Muncie Star Press, April 27, 2021. https://www.thestarpress.com/story/news/crime/2021/04/27/muncie-man-arrested-after-leading-police-high-speed-chase/4854400001/.
Walker, Douglas. “Muncie Police Release Name of City’s Latest Homicide Victim.” Yahoo! News. Yahoo!, November 6, 2021. https://news.yahoo.com/muncie-police-release-name-citys-161009759.html.
Walker, Douglas. “Young Man Found Shot in Heekin Park.” The Star Press. Muncie Star Press, June 23, 2021. https://www.thestarpress.com/story/news/crime/2021/06/23/young-man-found-shot-heekin-park/5322773001/.
Wilcox, Sue Ellen. “New City Parks, Renovations Hoped to Improve System.” The Muncie Evening Press, August 13, 1981.
Yencer, Rick. “City Halts Heekin Bike Track, Looks to Prairie Creek Park.” The Star Press. December 16, 1992.
Yencer, Rick. “Feds Deny Heekin Pool Money.” The Star Press. November 17, 1981.
Yencer, Rick. “Heekin Park Pool Plan Headed for Scrap Heap.” The Star Press. March 11, 1982.
Yencer, Rick. “Heekin Park to Be New Home of Bicycle Motocross Track.” The Star Press. October 21, 1992.