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Why Kat Von D Moved To Indiana’s Weirdest Town

When celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D bought a mansion in Vevay last year, some were surprised that the L.A. counterculture queen would settle down in rural Indiana. But she’s not the only pandemic-weary city dweller who has been lured by the town’s eccentric charm. In a twist as strange as the place itself, Vevay seems primed for a revival.
a church in the southeastern Indiana town of Vevay

At Vevay’s Catholic church, the priest leads a short Sunday service called “The Quickie.”Photo by Tony Valainis

We’re on our way to a nudist Christmas party in Vevay, but first, my tour guide, Andrea Kappes, wants to show me the Amish discount store and check out the grave of the town’s beloved mascot, a dead goat named Fred. Jon Charles Smith, executive director of the Switzerland County Tourism office, has kept my itinerary packed tighter than the gift basket he left on my bed. It’s winter. Kappes and I are dressed in layers of down. We are pretty sure the nudists will keep their clothes on, but as everything in this tiny town in southeastern Indiana is what Smith calls “funky, artsy, quirky,” you never know.

Kappes points out the Catholic church, which holds Mass, oddly enough, on Saturday afternoons when a priest comes over from Madison. The service is big hit with locals.

“They call it ‘The Quickie,’” Kappes says. “He gets in and out in 45 minutes, and they can get back to watch basketball games.”

As we pull alongside an abandoned house, Kappes recounts the legend of Fred the Goat, a white, hornless, 4-H runaway with a Houdini-like talent for escaping fences. Fred climbed trees, licked salt off the road, befriended deer and horses. People admired his spunk. Some claimed he looked at them with mystical intensity. Postcards were made. Media picked up the story. Then, in fall 2013, the regulars at AJ’s Diner worried they hadn’t seen Fred around. A search party was dispatched and discovered his remains inside his favorite ramshackle house. There was talk of taxidermy, but instead, a concrete statue of a white goat was placed on his favorite hillside. Kappes takes a photo for me out her window. She tells me Fred’s Facebook page has more than 1,000 followers.

I remind her Fred is dead. Death, seemingly, is a larger obstacle to Facebook fame than being a goat.

“Fred lives on,” Kappes says. “We post about things going on in Vevay, post Fred the Goat festival pictures, other goat-related stuff. Sometimes I narrate it like I am Fred. It has kind of taken off.”

So has Vevay. This hamlet of 1,700 Hoosiers nestled along the Ohio River made national headlines last year when celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D announced she was leaving Los Angeles and moving here. Von D saw the town’s historic 35-room Schenck Mansion online, flew in, and purchased the Second Empire–style castle filled with antiques for $1.5 million.

“It’s official! Vevay, Indiana, here we come!” she posted on Instagram.

Later, Von D teased: “I wonder if Vevay, Indiana, would mind if I opened a little tattoo shop up here …”

a goat is part of the weird history

Fred the Goat was a beloved town mascot.Photo courtesy Switzerland County Tourism Office

AT FIRST BLUSH, the idea that the goth goddess from LA Ink who started a cosmetics line, a vegan shoe company, and just released her first album, was moving to a town with a single traffic light, where the sign outside Cuzz’s, Indiana’s second-oldest bar, reads, “Where the good ol boys and gals hang out,” seems, well, crazy.

But spend a little time in Vevay, even a whirlwind weekend, and you’ll see that Von D is joining a community as colorful as she is. Fueled by the energy and vision of newcomer Jon Charles Smith, an Indy native who oversaw historic preservation for the Department of the Interior for 16 years, and by a pandemic-induced awakening to the joys of small-town living, Vevay is experiencing a full-blown renaissance. Three new restaurants, an IndyCar museum, a bakery, and a botanical shop are all in the works for downtown. Real estate is being snapped up by outsiders drawn to the beauty of the Ohio River, affordable houses, and a community with a reverence for history and irreverence for most everything else. All weekend, I hear stories about prescient dreams, ghosts and mermaids, swingers and swindlers, FBI raids, art collections, and buried archaeological finds. It’s like an Indiana version of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Around every corner is an artist or expert like blacksmith Jerry Wallin, whose metalwork has been featured in movies; taxidermist Jim Day, whose bald eagles were once judged “Best in World;” and Donna Weaver, a wax portraitist, who designed and sculpted more than 40 coins and medals for the U.S. Mint. Though Switzerland County is 97 percent white, it has surprising cultural and religious diversity, from its three Amish communities to Whitewater Christian Service Camp to Camp Livingston, a Jewish summer gathering.

“Vevay has had a cool counterculture to it for a long time, and people are now starting to appreciate it more,” says Angie Priest, whose store, Vevay Vintage Prop & Shop, sells everything from midcentury barware to Holy Crap Fortune Cookies. “It is one of things that makes Vevay unique. It’s so welcoming to whoever or whatever you are.” 

Even scoundrels. The B&B where I am staying, the Pleasants Rose Mansion Inn, was formerly owned by “Medical Mafia” ringleader Howard Awand, who reinvented himself in Vevay as a Victorian innkeeper until the FBI tracked him down. The inn’s new owner, Mike Dean, is a colorful character. Literally. My first night, Dean heads off to a holiday party wearing a light-up candy cane blazer and red shoes he bought in Key West after doing shots with Kid Rock. Dean invites me to a costume party the following night at The Big Blue, a private home known for its banger parties. People in Vevay love costumes—except, the nudists, who don’t.

“The theme is ‘The Island of Misfit Toys,’” Dean says.   

And now Kat Von D is joining the toy box. Locals predict she’ll like Vevay as much as they do because people here are welcoming and value a quality rarely associated with Indiana: tolerance. It’s a small town that’s not small-minded, they say, a place where difference is celebrated and eccentricity met with a laugh.

“The Jews, the nudists, and the Christians, all within shouting distance of each other,” Kappes marvels as we drive past cornfields and pole barns. “It’s pretty funny.”

the Benjamin Franklin Schenck mansion

The Schenck Mansion is one of many spectacular old homes.Photo by Tony Valainis

A BIT OF HISTORY: Vevay, pronounced VEE-vee, was settled by the Swiss in the early 1800s, when Jean Jacques Dufour and 17 brave settlers established the country’s first commercial winery. Several barrels were taken by horseback to oenophile Thomas Jefferson who pronounced it “a very good claret.”

The second wave of immigrants included a young boy named Ulysses P. Schenck. A patented hay press allowed the industrious Schenck to ship hay down river to New Orleans on packet boats. Schenck built more than 200 hay barns in the county and made a fortune, earning the nickname the “Hay King.” He built a mansion overlooking the Ohio River, and his son, Benjamin Franklin Schenck, built an even bigger house on a hill, the one that Von D bought.

“It was the economic development that made the Vevay you see now,” says Martha Bladen, executive director of the Switzerland County Historical Society and an artist, who uses postage stamps to make charming quilt-like designs. “The old houses, the business district that has the older buildings, that was all the time when hay was king.”

Vevay was a stop on the Underground Railroad, but the actual train lines bypassed the town. Steamships were gradually phased out all the same. Still, Vevay remained lively into the 1960s with hardware, clothing shops, and confectionaries, Bladen says. But by the 1970s, with the advent of shopping malls, chain stores, and the highway system, Vevay’s Main Street, like so many across America, dwindled. The upside of the downturn was that Vevay’s housing stock remained largely untouched. The town is in the National Register of Historic Places, boasting 275 historic buildings on 100 acres.

Architecture lured Smith to Vevay, where he, too, is reinventing himself. The Wabash College grad explains over lunch that his job with the Department of the Interior was stressful. In D.C., he was mugged three times, the last time violently. “I developed epilepsy and had six grand mal seizures and was in Johns Hopkins for seven weeks,” he says. “I lost the use of the right side of my body and didn’t know if it was ever coming back. I knew I had to make a change.”

Online, he saw that the Frederick Grisard House, designed by Indiana architect Francis Costigan, was for sale in Vevay. When Smith was well enough to travel, he visited and was blown away by what he saw. A Greek Revival masterpiece with a three-story spiral staircase, wavy glass windows, antique hardware—all perfectly intact. “It was the cost of a closet in D.C.,” he says. He has since bought two other historic buildings, the George Knox House and Odd Fellows Lodge, and a house in need of TLC. Since the pandemic began, the Vevay housing market has surged, and tourism is up more than 250 percent.

“If we had eight B&Bs, we could fill them,” Smith says. “The demand here is explosive.”

Teresa Bovard Lyons, a Realtor in Vevay for 35 years, agrees. “There is very limited inventory, very limited. A lot of properties sell immediately before they even go public.”

But what’s there to do in Switzerland County? A lot, locals say. Fish, bowl, bird watch. Boat on the river. Gamble at Belterra Casino Resort. Road trip for Amish doughnuts. Shoot pool or shoot deer. Coon hunt, a nocturnal endeavor where you head into the woods with headlamps and dogs, chase a raccoon up tree, and either let it go or shoot it for its pelt or maybe even supper. Vevay has four small museums where, on holidays, reenactors in costume serve pumpkin pie baked in a Dutch oven. Over at Cuzz’s, there’s live music. People dance. There’s volunteering to be done at the two foundations, and performances at the Historic Hoosier Theater, which hosts a free screening of The Polar Express around Christmas and kids wear pajamas. The arts center downtown offers yoga and ceramics classes. Kappes’s favorite thing to do is take a leisurely drive through the rolling countryside and stop at a gas station for fried chicken. People argue over who has the best. You can golf at Rising Sun, 20 minutes away. Should you crave pad thai, Vevay is an hour from Cincinnati and Louisville, two hours from Indy, and 20 miles from Madison, where the music scene is hopping. Smith and Lyons recently road-tripped to Milton, Kentucky, for a drag brunch. Or you can find a bench in the sunshine and watch the Ohio River drift by.

“Who would have thought that in this sleepy little town there would be so much going on? You can’t do it all,” says Susie Dean, Mike’s wife. “I’ve lived in other small towns, and there was nothing going on.”

wonderfully weird Kat Von D outside Benjamin Franklin Schenck mansion

Kat Von D bought the Schenck Mansion last year and has been renovating it since.Photo courtesy Stacey Craig

FEW PEOPLE HAVE more going on than Von D. Before selling her idiosyncratic house in L.A., she made a documentary about it, while she closed her High Voltage Tattoo shop and auctioned off its contents, while she released her first album, Love Made Me Do It, while she launched her “starry eyes” AR filter, which lets you take a selfie with Kat Von D–esque black stars sparkling around your left eye, while she directed renovation of the Schenck Mansion and raised her 3-year-old son, Leafar Von Drachenberg Reyes, with her husband, Rafael Reyes. (“Leafar” is “Rafael” spelled backward.) All this before she began a month-long U.S. music tour, which stops in Indy on March 15. In May, she will tour 23 cities in Europe.

“It’s like one thing after another,” her personal assistant says. “I fear she may be overworked.”

Katherine Von Drachenberg was born in Montemorelos, Mexico, in 1982, the daughter of Seventh-day Adventist missionaries. When she was 6, her family moved to Loma Linda, California. Inspired by the rebelliousness of punk rock, Von D was only 14 when she used a jerry-built tattoo gun to give her first tat, a Misfits skull. She dropped out of high school and tattooed full time. In 2005, she joined the TV show Miami Ink, which led to her own show, LA Ink. From there, she launched a cosmetics line, three books, a shoe company, and now an album.

Her rise to stardom has not been without controversy. She broke off engagements to Sandra Bullock’s ex, Jesse James, and to Canadian DJ Deadmau5, who proposed on Twitter. His engagement ring was a black diamond flanked by skulls. Von D married and divorced tattoo celeb Oliver Peck, and had a falling out with pink-haired YouTube star Jeffree Star. People have taken issue with the names of her lipsticks: Underage Red, Celebutard, and Selektion, the word Nazis used to select which Jews would be executed. She faced more blowback for initially saying she wouldn’t vaccinate her baby and for the swastika tattooed on her husband’s neck. Von D took to YouTube to set the record straight. “I am NOT a Nazi. I am NOT anti-vax.”

Reyes, a Mexican native with Native American and Jewish ancestry, says the notion that he is anti-Semitic is insulting and absurd. The swastika was a holy symbol for Navajos, Mayans, and Buddhists, long before it was corrupted by the Nazis. “It’s a symbol of the sun. It’s also used as a compass,” the Cholo goth musician told the Latino media outlet, Remezcla. “It means so many powerful things and it’s ancient. I hate how it got stolen and turned into a symbol of hate and negativity.”

Von D’s Instagram feed mixes Goth with sweetness. Witchy pole dancers jumpcut to the G-rated Christmas wonderland she created outside her L.A. home, which has a red swimming pool, a floor tiled in pennies, and purple candle wax melted over the fireplace hearth like Dr. Seuss-ian goo.

Lisa Fisher likes Von D a lot. At one time, the Fishers owned both Schenck mansions in Vevay and they were thrilled to sell the larger one, which Fisher ran as a B&B, to Von D. They’ve since become friends. Von D’s contractor is living in Fisher’s basement apartment and Fisher collects her packages.

“She comes for dinner every time she comes in,” Fisher says. “Her shoes are weird, but I like her. I kind of ‘Mom’ her a little bit. She doesn’t seem to mind. She always comes back.”

Fisher had never heard of Von D before she showed up in a black cape, toured the mansion, and made an offer the next day. “I’m not a starstruck person,” she says. “If you’re not Clint Eastwood or Sam Elliott, I really don’t care.” She laughs. “I really like her husband, Rafael. I didn’t think I would because I got online and looked at some things, but who you are and how you are portrayed are two different things. He’s probably one of the nicest people I have ever met in my life. I understand why she married him.”

Goth is not exactly Fisher’s style. Her house is immaculately decorated with antiques, including an 1895 piano she’s thinking of giving to Von D. A Trump doormat welcomes guests. “Difference in people has never bothered me,” she says. “I like it. I even like people who are not nice because it makes you appreciate the people who are nice a whole lot more. Differences are very important. We learn from each other.”

Fisher predicts Von D will take to Vevay’s friendly hometown feel. Her son loved the playground. It’s unlikely Von D will be lonely. Her old friend, Roxy Morin, just moved to town.

a mural on the side of a building depicting creative women

On the side of a women’s clothing boutique in Vevay, a mural pays tribute to the writers and artists Anna and Harlan Hubbard, who lived in a shantyboat on the Ohio River.Photo by Tony Valainis

MORIN TRAVELED THE WORLD as a dressing room coordinator, merch slinger, and wardrobe mistress for performers such as Justin Timberlake, Ziggy Marley, Tiffany, and The Eagles before winding up in Salt Lake City where she ran a bar for eight years. Just before the pandemic, she decided to make a life change and spent time in L.A., where she visited her old friend Von D. “She’s like, ‘I’m going to get you to move to Indiana, and I said, ‘The fuck you are,’” Morin says. “I came out here once, saw this building, and said, ‘I guess I’m moving to Indiana.’”

The building that caught her eye was a 6,300-square-foot Italianate built in 1895, a former telephone company and, later, sushi restaurant, with an apartment on its third floor big enough to roller skate. Morin recently opened a Southern-style bar-restaurant serving champagne and gumbo. She has hung shimmery gold wallpaper. Overhead hangs a magnificent 6-foot amber chandelier, a gift from Von D.

“For years, we used to look at mansions and islands and stuff online,” Morin says. “You just go online and look. ‘What is the most remote place you can live?’ She has a castle in Spain that is very remote that she’ll probably never live in and get rid of, but this is more accessible.”

COVID-19 helped people realize they don’t need to be in big, busy places, Morin says. A friend of hers bought a mansion in an Illinois cornfield, where an episode of Fargo was filmed. Morin’s friends are flying in to visit. They’ve never been to Indiana and find it exotic. “I joke with my friends all the time,” Morin says with a laugh. “Move to the Midwest! Buy a mansion or a building! We can all have mansions for the price we’re paying in L.A. or Salt Lake.”

Morin is happy to leave behind the air pollution, traffic, and crime. She loves that she can walk to the post office, the store, the bar, the diner, and thinks Von D will enjoy small-town living. “We both know how to entertain ourselves really easily,” she says. “Everyone is always worried about me. ‘Are you okay? Aren’t you bored here?’ I’m not bored. I can entertain myself anywhere. Boring people get bored.”

Morin gives me a tour of her building, once owned by Terry King, who people described as a “very nice guy” until they learned his real name was John Roger Sherry and he was wanted by the FBI. The feds arrested Sherry in 2005 on drug charges after a six-year hunt. Sherry left some odd touches. A giant purple geode. A secret compartment where you can hide. Ghosts. “Everything is haunted here,” Morin says. She plays me a recording of her resident roof walker. “A loose shutter?” I suggest. Has she checked the roof?

“It’s flat,” she says. “There’s nothing.”

a yellow-painted drink shop in the southeastern town of Vevay

At the Kooky Kokonut most of the smoothies are organic.Photo by Tony Valainis

AROUND THE CORNER, Gary Trout stands surrounded by a fleet of racecars and spreads his arms wide. He is a big man with big ideas—and is bringing those big ideas to Vevay. After 40 years owning IndyCar teams, the Zionsville native is opening a car museum to showcase his 175 race and vintage cars. The idea came together quickly, almost magically, he says, misfortune leading to opportunity. When he lost the lease on his storage area, his frantic search for space brought him to Vevay, where three adjacent buildings were for sale. He walked through, had a vision, called his Realtor and said, “Be prepared to negotiate.” He toured again the next day and bought the property within the hour.

Over the course of the next year, he plans to transform this 18,500-square-foot space into a three-part car museum. A portion will be The RPM (Racing Performance Museum), displaying a revolving collection of race-ready cars driven by stars like Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, and Mario Andretti. Part of it will be Vevay Auto Company, a re-creation of a 1930s Ford dealership with Model A and Model T vehicles. And Vevay Texaco, a ’50s-style gas station, is planned for the rest. Admission will be free. Kids can sit in one of the cars. There will be fundraisers for the community. Four of his guys are moving to the area. “More economy! More people!”

Trout is so enthusiastic he speaks in exclamation points. Kat Von D: “How crazy is that? But I love it! She’s great! It’s going to be fun!”

About Morin’s new restaurant: “Cool. Cool. Cool. I love what she’s doing!”

Trout grins. “We’ve seen the dynamic going on in Vevay, and it’s exciting.”

What dynamic?

“The dynamic is what’s happening in this small river town,” he says. “The dynamic of rebirth.”

NOT EVERYTHING in Vevay is champagne and racecars. Switzerland County is the sixth poorest in Indiana, and 40 percent of children are economically disadvantaged. Jobs, poverty, and meth are chronic problems, says Kappes, whose family has farmed here for 170 years. One news outlet, 24/7 Wall St., judged Switzerland County the worst county to live in in all of Indiana, noting only 8.3 percent of the population has a college degree. The county’s remote location allows hidden pockets of crime. Ten years ago, police seized 25,741 pot plants stashed on the western edge of the county, valued at $22 million, a record bust for the state. Plants were hidden so deeply in the hills, agents had to rappel from helicopters.

It bothers Kappes, who used to work in mental health, that people pat themselves on the back for holiday fundraisers when the area’s socioeconomic problems will not be solved with a one-off gift, no matter how big the bow. “There are pockets of deep poverty that unfortunately people don’t want to look at,” she says. “People talk about community, but that community has borders.”

And eyes. Everyone knows your business, some locals lament. “It’s boring as hell sometimes,” one Vevay native grumbles. “I’m 52 and I’m supposed to slow down, but I don’t want to. It’s so quiet and peaceful, it drives me crazy. I need chaos every once in a while.”

Another headache: deer. Driving home at night is called “running the gauntlet.” Wilma Rosenberger, who works at the tourism office, says her son has hit 13 deer. Kappes’s father once picked up his newly fixed car from the body shop after a deer collision. On the drive home, he struck another.

And then there’s the mystery of the whacked goats. To boost tourism, Jon Charles Smith launched a painted-goat campaign, like the horses in Louisville and flying pigs in Cincinnati. The community embraced the idea—creating flowered goats, rainbow-pride goats, EMT goats—but several of the concrete animals have been decapitated, making front-page news in the local paper, The Vevay Reveille Enterprise. Police are investigating. Not everyone is convinced malevolence is at work, blaming lousy parkers, bad paint, and the weather.

“I don’t think there is a rogue bandit going around,” says Angie Priest, the vintage-shop owner. “I just think shit happens.”

Heartbroken but undeterred, Smith has more goats on order. Meanwhile, he’s busy making other plans. To augment Vevay’s First Fridays and annual Swiss Wine Festival, he has launched Fred the Goat Public Art Gig, an annual street fair, and Ken Maynard Cowboy Days, a celebration of Vevay’s native son, “The Original Singing Cowboy.” Smith also wrote grants to secure the Smithsonian traveling exhibit Water/Ways, which will show here September 10 to October 23. Smith is so busy he hasn’t fully moved into his new house or hung his art collection, which includes work by Warhol, Haring, and Kandinsky. He also plans to open a high-end gallery to sell some of his investment collection. He’s always on his cell. I ask him if maybe he’s doing too much.

“Oh, no,” he insists, crossing the street. “It’s fun stuff.”

Smith reminisces about a spring day, his first week in Vevay. The blooming redbuds. The fried chicken at AJs. The old timers playing bluegrass. “It was beautiful,” he recalls. “This is the farthest north of the South. This is Appalachian culture. We’re different from any other part of Indiana.” Locals talk tomatoes. People offer to bring him pie. “I love the sincerity,” he says, “and unpretentiousness.”

a mansion is now an inn in vevay

The Pleasants Rose Mansion has been converted into an inn.Photo by Tony Valainis

KAPPES AND I pull into Drakes Ridge Rustic Nudist Retreat around 5 p.m. An above-ground pool, swing set, and basketball hoop shiver in the cold. Inside the modest clubhouse, a dozen nudists in Christmas getups prep the potluck. Bennett Kern greets me. His parents founded the club back in 1965 when they bought 65 acres for $1,500. He hands me a faded magazine article about the retreat. On the cover, his parents stand naked in the woods, the club’s sign covering their privates. Despite its conservative reputation, Indiana has more nudist camps per capita than any state besides California and Florida, Kern says. The American Association for Nude Recreation lists seven clubs in Indiana. Kentucky, by comparison, has none. Drakes Ridge has 90 members and hosts 300 visitors a year, but Kern wants to expand. He outlines the club’s philosophy: Drakes is not a swingers’ club. It promotes family values and respect for the environment. Nudism is a healthy antidote to society’s relentless body shaming.

“When you are out here, you’re just you,” Kern says. “You can’t put on any pretenses. We get to know people for who they really are, not who they are dressed up to be.”

For Brad Strouse, a semi-retired tech worker from New Albany, nudism is a way of life. He keeps his camper at 74 degrees so he and his wife can undress when they enter.

“Housework naked is much more comfortable. I mean you can’t step out of the house naked because the neighbors might have an issue with it,” he says, adding: “I’m not a militant nudist. I don’t want to force everyone else to be nude. It’s all personal choice.”

Debbie from Louisville describes Drakes Ridge as a laidback getaway where visitors hike, swim, and play volleyball. “We’re really like a big family, and we try to make it warm and inviting,” she says. “People let themselves relax a little bit. You can talk to anybody, a lawyer, reporter, or whatever you are. We’re all the same. We’re all people.”

Will people strip down tonight? I ask. “The party hasn’t started,” she says, gazing about fondly at her old friends. “People are cooking. I’m sure they will.”

Kern’s stepfather, Jerry, shows up. Now that he’s 85, he only gets naked when temperatures approach his age. Members tell differing versions of a similar coming-out story: how they were nervous, took a shot of courage, relaxed, found a second family at Drakes. I start to think about clothing, why we wear it, what we hide, what it means to be free. Strouse tells me about a National Geographic photographer who visited Drakes for a story. Wanting to fit in, he worked all day in the buff. (The article changed its focus so the photos never ran.) “The man had taken pictures in North Korea and places like that, so a little nakedness in Indiana was not going to bother him at all,” Strouse says.

Right. Why are people so hung up? Why am I? I picture myself coming back in summer, fitting in, but don’t get too far, though the people here could not be nicer, cracking corny jokes—“I was born nude” and “Glass is not a nudist’s friend”—and reminiscing about naked snow angels. The food is ready. There is talk of Christmas carols. The nudist in a Santa hat pulls out his banjo. He presses me to sing. A Swedish woman lifts her Christmas onesie off her body as if she’s hot and wants to shed some fleece. “You’re either a nudist or you’re not,” we’ve been told. I look at Kappes. It’s time to go.

a bar in the southeastern Indiana town of Vevay

Cuzz’s is the second-oldest bar in Indiana.Photo by Tony Valainis

BACK IN TOWN, after pizza and breadsticks, I head to The Big Blue, another stunning Victorian. It’s 10 p.m., and the party is booming. “Welcome to The Blue,” coos a voice as the front door opens. Mike Dean, the innkeeper, is dressed as a tin soldier. There’s a middle-aged Ken doll and a man wearing a blow-up flamingo. A band plays in the bay window. People dance under beautiful fretwork. The room sways with lights and costumes. People shout to be heard. Our hostess, Julie Perkins, a petite woman dressed as an elf, finds me a glass and opens wine. House proud, she gives me a tour, but I can’t hear a word she says. One bedroom has racks of costumes. Dozens and dozens.

In a follow-up call, I ask Perkins if she thinks Von D will ever come to her party. Maybe the annual ’70s bash. Von D has already been invited. “She knows she’s always welcome,” Perkins says. “Everyone is.”

I stroll home on Market Street, admiring the lights on the dark river. Despite the chill, I feel warm inside. Full. If I moved to Vevay tomorrow, I wouldn’t eat lunch alone, unless I wanted to. There’s something in the air here so rare since the pandemic struck that it isn’t until a week later that I can put a name to it: optimism. Optimism as infectious as COVID. Yesterday, I saw an abandoned gray-blue house across from Town Hall. Lyons, the Realtor, said there used to be animals inside and it needs a lot of work. But it has good bones, I said, thinking someone ought to save it, thinking maybe that someone is me.

“Move to Vevay and buy that house with good bones and get a tattoo,” Lyons says, cracking herself up. “The next chapter in your life: She Came Out Of Her Shell.” I laugh, but the idea does not seem ridiculous. Funny thing is, I didn’t know I had a shell until I came to Vevay.

THE NEXT MORNING, the sun comes out. Steam rises off the river. A barge drifts past. Mike Dean says he likes to wake up at 5, sit on a porch rocker, and read Scripture. He cooks me eggs Benedict, then heads off to church.

Somehow, I haven’t seen the Schenck Mansion yet and drive over before leaving town. Standing at the iron fence, I count five balconies, a four-story tower. The contrast with its closest neighbors is startling. Directly below is a quiet lane of ranch homes covered in siding. “We Our Liberty,” says the sign in the yard. No, two yards. In 2021, Von D’s net worth was listed at $20 million. Maybe she’ll decorate her home for the holidays, let local children visit. Maybe she can bring new jobs to town. Lift a few boats with her rising red tide. “Anything she does is awesome, always done way better than I can ever imagine doing it,” Morin says of her old friend. I hope that applies to being a good neighbor.

My last stop is the grocery store for a newspaper. The IGA is long on soda and short on veggies, but has the familiar Vevay mixture of history and glee. The white board announces a chili champion, and a coin-operated kiddie horse ride waits outside. Inside, another expert: Lester Uselman III, a fifth-generation butcher, who says his brother has knives that are 300 years old and a sharpening tool dating back to 1717. “I started working meat at age 11 standing on a milk crate,” he says. “My sister cut meat. My female cousins cut meat. Everybody.” I say I like the horse. The silver-haired cashier says she rode it on Halloween. In costume, of course. Dressed as a Sexy Grandma Sheriff.

Driving up the long hill out of town, I listen to Jack Reno sing the twangy country tune, “Vevay, Indiana,” circa 1978.

Just smoked my last cigarette,
just drank my last wine.
I had the urge to call you up,
but I haven’t got a dime.
The gas gauge is reading empty,
and I don’t know what to do.
I’m 14 miles from Vevay, Indiana,
and I’m trying to get to you.

About 14 miles out of town, I pull over, curious about what there is to see at this particular mile marker. Pleasant, it turns out, a crossroads with a grocery and pizza. Up ahead, the Patriot water tower and mowed-over cornfields. Nothing special. But that was the point of the song. Then, like now, what was special was 14 miles down the road—in Vevay.

(Editor’s Note: This article appeared in our March issue. At the time of production, Kat Von D was not able to be interviewed due to scheduling conflicts. You can read our interview “Kat Von D On Becoming A Hoosier” by clicking here.)


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