DANA, Ind. — A group fighting to preserve an Indiana museum dedicated to World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle is looking for ways to transfer the now-closed historical site into private hands.
Budget cuts and low attendance prompted the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to announce in December that it intended to close the Ernie Pyle State Historic Site. The exhibits would be removed to the Indiana State Museum in downtown Indianapolis.
Artifacts from the Pyle museum include state-of-the-art audio and video stations and authentic World War II uniforms, weapons and gear.
The museum commemorates the birthplace and career of Pyle, a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist who was killed during a Japanese attack on Le-Shima on April 18, 1945.
The organization, Friends of Ernie Pyle, has been working ever since to find a way to acquire the property.
The state has set an Aug. 1 deadline for the group to come up with a plan. Otherwise, the state will proceed with its plan to move the exhibits and sell the property this fall.
Friends spokesman Phil Hess said the group is weighing all options, including making the site a federal museum and eventually returning the museum to the state historic site system when the economy improves.
He said one option that he finds unacceptable is allowing the state to take the exhibits and dispose of the real estate.
“We can’t allow that,” he told the Tribune-Star in Terre Haute.
The group appealed the state’s decision to close the site but lost. The state Department of Natural Resources said the site with Pyle’s boyhood home draws about 1,500 people a year.
David Pippen, general counsel to Gov. Mitch Daniels, and state policy director Doug Huntsinger told the group in May that attendance does not justify continued state funding.
The Friends group has enough money to run the site for a few years and is discussing ways to operate it, which could possibly involve a group of volunteers or interns, Hess said.
The museum would be open from April 1 to mid-October.
Evelyn Hobson has been the museum’s curator for 20 years and helped gather many of the artifacts and exhibits. Hobson said she hopes the Friends’ efforts to save the museum succeed.
“I can’t believe they (the state) could do what they are doing,” she said. “Ernie Pyle is a hero of all of the veterans of World War II because he cared about them. He dug a foxhole right alongside the boys.”