July 16, 2007 — -- You can tell something is going on in Crawfordsville, Ind. But only a precious few of the 15,000 residents here will tell you what it is.
You can see them talking among themselves, huddled on the sidewalk or attending a furtive rendezvous in a city park, whispering like spies from the old Eastern Bloc.
Watch Dean Reynolds' report tonight on "World News with Charles Gibson."
What exactly is going on here?
"Well, Dean," said Mayor John P. Zumer, "I guess I would just say that that's privileged information."
Actually, we have kind of an idea. A July 5 Publishers Weekly story reported that the final volume of the "Harry Potter" series is being printed in Crawfordsville at the R.R. Donnelley plant in town.
According to the article, the printing of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was being conducted under the strictest security so as not to irk the book's publisher, Scholastic Books, and author J.K. Rowling.
Nobody wants anybody getting an advance peek, and everyone associated even peripherally with this publication seems to have taken an oath of silence worthy of the mafia's omerta.
The town's willingness to cooperate is understandable, given the fact that Donnelley's is the town's biggest employer.
"Have they asked you to keep it quiet?" I asked Zumer.
"Well certainly I have had many discussions and I would just prefer to keep the content of those discussions between myself and management," he replied.
I tried the president of the local Chamber of Commerce, Dave Long -- to no avail. "No confirmation," was all he would say.
Undeterred by the tight-lipped locals, we kept going and wandered over to the impressive Lew Wallace museum. Gen. Wallace is the author of "Ben Hur," one of the earliest and bestselling novels of all time. He wrote it in Crawfordsville in the latter part of the 19th century.
At the museum, Cinnamon Catlin-Legutko said Rowling probably owes a debt of gratitude to Wallace, a trailblazer in the marketing of his works.
But what about this "Harry Potter" printing thing, I pressed. Is it true?
"No one has seen it except those who work there and those who work there are mum," she said.
Without confirming anything, Long offered an explanation for the town's reticence. "Once the buzz starts, it's hard to stop the buzz."
Undaunted, we buzzed over to the seldom used train tracks leading to the printing plant -- tracks that are said by locals to have suddenly sprung to life with the rumbling of freight cars going to and fro at all hours of the night.
Jim Amidon, who directs marketing at Wabash College here, lives about as close to those tracks as one can without getting hit. He told us the trains shake his house in the middle of the night.
"We've lived in this house about three years," he explained, "and I don't ever recall there being as much rail traffic along this spur as we've had in the last six or eight weeks."
To Amidon, there's little doubt. "I think people here know it's the 'Harry Potter' books being printed at the Donnelley plant.
"My daughter calls it the 'Harry Potter' express."
But we wanted confirmation. And while there was no point in turning to the workers at the plant, a recent retiree was certainly helpful.
John Wooten recalled the printing of previous "Harry Potter" volumes at the Donnelley plant and the strict rules that had applied -- including the confiscation of cell phones and regular searches.
"They had the ability to check your lunch box, a woman's purse, and a brief case," he said. He remembered a dinner for retirees that was attended by plant officials.
"They couldn't talk about it and they couldn't even mention the name of what they were doing even to us retirees, who all knew what was going on, but knew we couldn't talk about it," Wooten explained.
When you come to think about it, though, the secrecy makes perfect marketing sense. After all, with the fanatical following the books enjoy, you might have fans vaulting the fences at Donnelley's to sample a manuscript. "I guess it's the dramatic ending," said Amidon. "No one wants to let the word get out."
In any case, the veil of silence is about to lift and soon people here can get back to another topic of interest.
They're wondering why it is that this town -- of all towns -- does not have a book store.