Indiana's 'Plain People' Discover a Simpler Life among the Amish

Article excerpt

Byline: Frederick Karst Daily Herald Correspondent

The crowd gathered around the auctioneer hangs attentively on his staccato chant. A man in bib overalls raises his hand repeatedly to bid on old tools in the particular lot at auction. Soon a city woman who had been biding her time all morning joins the bidding for an antique brass lamp that she has had her eyes on.

Other buyers in the simple clothes worn by Amish bid on items not as collectibles, but as the things they need in everyday life.

Every Tuesday and Wednesday during the warmer months of the year, thousands of shoppers converge on Shipshewana, a picturesque town in northern Indiana's Amish country. Estimates place the number as high as 30,000 on a busy summer day.

If you drive south from the Indiana Toll Road (I-80/90) into Elkhart or La Grange County, you will notice tidy white farmhouses not served by electric wires. You also might see a black buggy in a lane or bright flowers in a garden beside the road.

You might feel you've entered a time warp, an earlier, slower and more peaceful world. Actually, you're discovering northern Indiana's Amish country, the second largest Amish community anywhere.

Many visitors go to Amish country to shop. They probably never think about looking at merchandise that would appeal to Amish buyers. However, if you stop in stores catering to the Amish, you will find things you probably thought were no longer manufactured: wood-burning kitchen ranges, kerosene lamps and hand-operated food grinders.

Although Amish are the most conspicuous "plain people," they are not the only ones in Amish country. They share with Mennonites a Christian tradition dating back to the Reformation of the 16th century, when their forebears in Europe were called Anabaptists.

Other plain people in Elkhart and La Grange counties belong to the Brethren tradition, also of Pennsylvania Dutch background. More conservative members of this group, as well as some Mennonites, are plain and resemble Amish to outsiders.

Amish and other Pennsylvania Dutch pioneers began to move into Indiana early in the 19th century. You still hear Amish speaking the Pennsylvania Dutch German dialect, as well as English, and they use High German in worship. Most Old Order Amish are "house Amish." They worship every other Sunday in homes, not in a church.

Today's Amish make various accommodations to modern life while keeping their traditions. They don't have electricity, but they often use gas-powered refrigerators, for example. Work clothes have buttons or zippers, although men's dress clothing fastens with traditional hooks and eyes.

Amish men wear hats, which define them as Amish and their role in Amish society. Mature men wear beards. Every Amish woman wears a prayer cap or "kapp." A distinctive article of women's clothing is the cape or "halsduch," a triangular piece of cloth about 30 inches long, worn over the bodice. Women also wear aprons.

Amish Acres in Nappanee, Ind., preserves a traditional Amish farmstead that illustrates the old ways, which even Amish might consider a bit old-fashioned. You can tour Amish Acres in a horse- drawn buggy and walk through the 19th-century Stahly-Nissley-Kuhns farmhouse. The play "Plain and Fancy," in its 16th season at Amish Acres, aims to capture "the joy of community, the music of the ages and the connection among people of all origins, backgrounds and faiths."

Auctions are popular throughout Amish country. The Shipshewana Flea Market & Auction, just south of town on Indiana Route 5, opens its flea market at 7 a.m. on Tuesdays and Wednesdays starting this Tuesday and running through October. Its antique auction begins at 8 a.m. Wednesdays year-round, except holidays. A livestock auction also takes place Wednesdays at 11 a.m., and a horse auction on Fridays at 9 a.m. …