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People In Once-Proud Paris Make No Fuss Over Bastille Day

July 14, 1989

PARIS, Ind. (AP) _ They weren’t celebrating Bastille Day in Paris, Ind. As a matter of fact, some folks wouldn’t have known what to celebrate.

″No, I wasn’t made known of it,″ said Brack Feltner, who lives at the only intersection in this southern Indiana town.

Reiner Assmann, the native West German who runs the Paris Crossing Market a few miles down the road, had some idea about France’s Independence Day.

″I know what that is because in Paris, they got the Bastille. That’s a prison, isn’t it? It had something to do with the revolution, didn’t it?″ Assmann said.

World leaders were gathered in Paris, France, for Friday’s 200th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille. The July 14, 1789, takeover of the prison and symbol of oppression under Louis XVI galvanized a spirit of freedom and marked the start of the French Revolution.

That doesn’t get much notice in Paris, Ind., however, where questions about what was being done to mark the occasion drew blank stares. By noon Friday, not even a television camera had showed up to mark the day.

It was much the same story for Parisians in Arkansas, Idaho and Illinois, who also largely shrugged off the holiday.

″Do what? Bastille Day? Not that I know of,″ said City Clerk Bill Rhineheart in Paris, Ark.

″It’s too bad we don’t have a celebration for the Bastille Day,″ said Tim Toland, the mayor of Paris, Idaho, which as it happens is named for a fellow named Perris. ″But we’re a Mormon community and this year is the 100th anniversary of our tabernacle.″

A bit more was planned in Paris, Texas, which became slightly famous when an arty movie was made with that name some years back. They planned a community spaghetti dinner and a production of ″Macbeth″ Friday night, as well as a French-style bicycle race on Saturday.

Why Shakespeare and spaghetti? Spaghetti because it’s full of carbohydrates for the bicyclists, and ″Macbeth″ because the community theater season happened to include that play for July 14, said Mal Watson, an organizer of the weekend’s events.

Paris, Ind., with a population of 25 or 30, is about 40 miles southwest of Versailles (pronounced ver-SAYLES). It was once a thriving community but now is just a clump of houses overshadowed by its neighbor to the west, Paris Crossing, or, as it is known locally, New Paris.

How did Paris, Ind., get its name? If anyone would know, it probably would be Ethel Deputy, 92, a former schoolteacher who lives with her sister, Cora Dodd, 98, a few doors down from the store.

″I asked my mother the same thing, and she was 87 when I asked her, and she couldn’t tell,″ Miss Deputy said. ″But her family came from Paris, Kentucky.″

No one in Paris can speak French, residents say, nor can any recall anyone ever visiting their European namesake. But a few years ago, a group of French Parisians came to the Jennings County town.

″Some time back they came, some fellows from France, and they was visiting all the places named Paris, taking pictures and getting some history,″ Feltner said.

Paris has a proud history. Back in the ’20s - the 1820s - it received the votes of two delegates in the election to choose a new state capital. (Indianapolis won.) Its tailors were famous for their suits, and men that wore them turned heads when they ventured into nearby Madison. People would say, ″There’s a man with a suit from Paris,″ Feltner says.

But Paris’ fate was sealed when it was bypassed by the railroad. Now, from Feltner’s front yard, you can see only about a dozen homes and as many outbuildings. Across the street is an empty lot with lawn ornaments.

″There was a grocery store here where that deer is, and it caught fire,″ Feltner said. Now, if you want groceries, the nearest place to buy them is Assmann’s store, a little ways down the highway in New Paris, where about 200 people reside.

Assmann said he knew of no ceremonies that would mark Bastille Day in the community.

″But don’t let that fool you,″ he said. ″These quiet towns, they can get rattled up.″