The Who2 Blog

Shirkieville or Terre Haute?

Our new profile of Indiana Senator Evan Bayh lists his place of birth as Terre Haute, Indiana.

We’re swimming against the tide there. Most sources, including his official Senate website and the Indianapolis Star, say he was born in 1955 in Shirkieville, Indiana.

[Editor’s Note: As of October 2008, The Star has updated its page to agree with us. See their comment at the end of this blog post.]

Shirkieville is the small town where Bayh’s family had a farm from 1952 until 1957. The Associated Press even ran a recent story (excerpted here) on how Shirkieville is “pumped up” about Bayh maybe being the vice-presidential pick of Barack Obama.

But! When we checked Bayh’s 2003 autobiography, From Father to Son, we found a different story. There Bayh says, on page 49:

“After [father Birch Bayh] served his first session, he and my mother decided to have a baby, a fortunate decision since it turned out she was already pregnant. I was born later that year in Terre Haute’s Union Hospital, on the day after Christmas.”

As Google Maps shows, Shirkieville is a crossroads near the Illinois border. It’s too small to have its own hospital, and Terre Haute is the county seat about 15 miles away.

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It’s hard to imagine why Bayh would specify a particular hospital in Terre Haute if he was actually born on the farm or elsewhere in Shirkieville.

It seems more likely that he normally shorthands the truth a wee bit, giving his hometown as his place of birth, to emphasize that he grew up in small-town, farm-town Indiana. (We presume that’s an advantage in Indiana politics.)

That shorthand would be more of a fudge than a major lie, after all.

Still, we’re taking Bayh’s word for it as stated in his autobiography: Shirkieville for home town, but Terre Haute for place of birth.

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