Month: November 2014

Sunday Adverts: Panacea for a Plethora of Problems

Are your eyes (and waist) still bulging from your Thanksgiving feast? Put on a little weight? Caught a sniffle from the crew sitting at the kids’ table? Got a case of the holiday blues? 100 years ago, they had an easy remedy for all of that! Patent medicines promising “miracles” were widely popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  According to a 1905 article in Colliers, The Great American Fraud, American consumers were spending more than seventy-five million dollars a year on patent medicines by the turn of the century.  Since there were no restrictions on advertising or...

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Indianapolis Collected: Coal smoke brought Indy’s darkest hour

The city of Indianapolis has earned a lot of dubious distinctions during its nearly 200-year history.  In August 2014, Terminix ranked Indy as #14 on its list of bedbug-infested cities.  In 2004, Men’s Health magazine called out Indianapolis as the 11th fattest city in the country.  And in  2000, Indianapolis was crowned as the syphilis capital of the nation. But Indianapolis may have reached her darkest hour in 1911, when a distinguished chemist announced with astonishment that the Circle City was far more dirty and dingy than New York city. Speaking through swirls of cigar smoke at a “smoker” hosted by the American Chemical Society,...

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In The Park: Christian Park

Welcome to Christian Park on Indy’s southeast side As trees begin to drop the last of their crisp leaves and the sun sets ever earlier, there’s no denying it: winter has descended upon the Circle City.  While a trip to your local park in chilly temperatures may be a bit much for  some readers, Christian Park, on the city’s near southeast side welcomes visitors year-round. Christian Park is a 64 acre community park located at 4200 English Avenue.  The park offers picnic shelters, playgrounds, tennis and basketball courts, baseball diamonds, football fields, and a splash pad. The east side...

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At Your Leisure: When Black Friday Comes!

Happy Black Friday! After stuffing ourselves on the most thankful of holidays, many will trek out today to find that sought-after deal of the century with nearly every other Indy area resident. This typically leads to an area mall where bumper to bumper traffic greets the bargain hunters  jockeying for that perfect parking spot. The suburban shopping mall is quickly approaching the age of sixty, and it’s only natural that on the most special of shopping days we remember some of Indy’s once-thriving and former favorite local downtown and neighborhood stores. Today, let’s look at two developments that started...

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Then & Now: Billboards in Indianapolis

Billboards have had a long and sometimes controversial place in Indianapolis history and are in the news again as billboard companies lobby for a proposal to lift a decade-long ban on new and digital billboards. Residents will have an opportunity to express opinions before city officials vote on the proposal. The first outdoor advertising in Indianapolis consisted of hand-painted signs or handbills pasted onto the sides of buildings and fences. Color lithography and large-format posters first created for circus advertising in the 1830s paved the way for billboards. The earliest-known recorded leasing of billboard space dates to the 1860s...

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HI Mailbag: Northwest Corner of Illinois and 34th Streets

Reader’s Question: I’m interested in knowing what the building used to be that is located on the northwest corner of Illinois and 34th Streets.  I look forward to seeing what you discover. Thank you. ~ Mark M., Indianapolis  HI’s Answer: The seemingly single structure on the northwest corner of North Illinois and West 34th Streets actually consists of four separate buildings.  Roofing and siding materials added to three of the original buildings conceal their original identities.  The buildings that are closest to the intersection were constructed a decade earlier than the building that is the farthest away from it.  Some details on each...

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Misc. Monday: Reminisces of an Ayres Christmas

Guest Author: Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacher For seventy years, from 1922 to 1992, the place to celebrate holiday traditions in Indianapolis was L. S. Ayres & Co. Animated window displays drew crowds of fascinated onlookers to L. S. Ayres & Co.’s downtown store.  Inside, the store was festively decorated with garlands of greenery spiraling around the massive columns and special trees.  Shoppers could donate to charity by buying a link in a paper chain. The whole first floor of the store was decorated with these chains. One elevator was decorated to resemble a fireplace and chimney, complete to the mantelpiece...

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Sunday Adverts: Thanksgiving Love and Lard

Vintage Meat Recipe Book, 1946… an Adventure in Fat! There are some history enthusiasts who yearn to recreate the “good old days.” These intrepid time travelers long to capture the mindset of an ancestor… feel the hardships… taste the heritage. You see them at Renaissance festivals, Civil War reenactments, libraries, historical societies — and sometimes in kitchens, hovering over great-grandma’s secret cranberry stuffing recipe. Indeed, tasting the foods of our forefathers gives us a way to appreciate how far we’ve come. Kingan’s Reliable The Kingan & Co. meat-packing business operated at 55 S. Blackford Street in Indianapolis from 1862 – 1966 (at Maryland...

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At Your Leisure: Fire on Ice. A Look at Pro Hockey

The Indianapolis Checkers laced up between 1939 and 1952. (Image: eBay) The puck has dropped on Indy’s next chapter of professional hockey after a decade hiatus. The Indy Fuel have started their inaugural season at the refurbished Fairgrounds Coliseum. Although they aren’t lacing up against National Hockey League competition, the team features prospects for the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks. It would be hard to confuse Indiana as a hockey hotbed as this will be the eighth attempt at professional hockey. Franchises have come and gone and fans have been reluctant to embrace the sport in a region more known for...

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Then & Now: Criswell Mercantile Company/MacNiven’s Restaurant & Bar, 337-339 Massachusetts Avenue

Historic photograph courtesy of the Indiana Album: loaned by Evan Finch. / Modern photograph courtesy of MacNiven’s Restaurant & Bar For every Ayres or Vonnegut or Lilly, there were hundreds of business owners in Indianapolis who set up shop but just did not have the longevity to be remembered today. Some failed due to poor business sense or economic downturns, some moved on to other occupations, while others remained small by choice and made enough money to own a small house and support a family. Fred F. Criswell is one of Indianapolis’s business owners who is likely remembered today...

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Misc. Monday: Early Indy High Schools

Image: HI collection As a respite from the seemingly constant negative news about education and schools, we reflect, if only briefly, to our city’s early success as a place with beloved and highly regarded schools. Since Howe High School was the last of those featured here to be opened, in September 1938, we wonder how to restore them again to a status noteworthy enough to grace the cover of a post card. Did you attend one of these schools, and if so, what do you remember most? And what advice would you have for schools...

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Sunday Adverts: Black Friday 100 Years Ago

Do you think “Black Friday” shopping fervor is a recent invention? Think Again! While the earliest known use of “Black Friday” (specifically referring to shopping on the day after Thanksgiving) dates to 1961, the term has been used going back to the 19th century — and the dawn of the department store. And, though stores-with-multiple-departments have been around since the 1700s, the birth of the department store, as we have come to know it, was in the earliest days of the 1900s. The best known of these stores, Selfridges, (thanks to the PBS television series of the same name) was...

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In the Park: Skiles Test Nature Park

Welcome to Skiles Test Nature Park Just across the street from Woollens Garden you’ll find another of the city’s most primitive parks, Skiles Test Nature Park.  There’s no better place to take in the sites and sounds of fall than this eighty-one acre forested area on the northeast side of Indianapolis. The Test family made their home near the center of this land in in the city’s early years.  Indianapolis businessman Skiles Test inherited the family farm upon the death of his father Charles in 1910. Skiles Test was a reclusive figure and urban myths about his eccentricities abound. ...

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At Your Leisure: Rubbing Elbows with Indy’s Elite at The Marott Hotel

An early postcard showing the Marott Hotel and Meridian Street Bridge. (Image: eBay) Today’s visitors to the Circle City have a wide array of lodging options when looking for a place to spend the night. The downtown area boasts thousands of modern hotel rooms that attract celebrities, athletes and politicians. While Indy may not have a landmark hotel like Chicago’s Palmer House or New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria, an early example in the city’s lodging heritage still stands among the busy intersection of Meridian Street and Fall Creek Parkway. While they no longer take guests on a nightly basis, the...

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Then & Now: Finch Park and the 1700 Block of Fletcher Avenue

Playing football in what became Finch Park, ca. 1915 Finch Park, originally located on S. State Avenue between Spann and Fletcher Avenues, has long served the Fountain Square neighborhood as a playground and park. Photograph lender Elizabeth Laslie shared this ca. 1915 image of her grandfather playing football in the park that was later named after the family of Alice K. Finch. Neighborhood resident Otto Dick is among the athletes in this community football league. A photographer captured them playing in lots that eventually became Finch Park in Indianapolis. It is unclear who owned the lots at this point...

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Penny Post: Henry Ford at the 500

If Detroit is the car capital of the world and Indianapolis in the racing capital of the world, it is only natural that the man who brought the automobile to the masses had a hand in the success of both. An early sponsor of the Indianapolis 500, Henry Ford attended the fifth running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. An encounter with Ford is captured in a 1915 Penny Post. Postmarked: Chicago, ILL., JUN 1, 1915 – 2 PM Message: Chicago, Ill. 6/1/15 Dear Bro: – Only a word two tell you that I have not gotten over my...

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HI Mailbag: The Sidewalks of Randolph Street

Reader’s Question: I lived all my childhood in the 2400 block of S. Randolph St.   On every corner was the name of the street in the sidewalk.  But on our street it said Nelson.  I know there is a Nelson not too far from there.  Could someone tell me why they had the wrong name on it?  ~ Barbara B., Indianapolis  HI’s Answer:  The City of Indianapolis was laid out in 1821, in a mostly symmetrical grid that was only one square mile in size.  When areas outside the original Mile Square were established, the people in those settlements named the streets according to their...

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Sunday Adverts: What Is It!?

Here are your hints: – 100 years ago – Cold and flu season – Epidemics – Bugs – Funeral homes – Outhouses Answer: Behold the Formacone disinfectant and (peee-yoooo!) deodorizer. Very soon the windows must be closed, the steam heat turned on, and winter coughs, colds, grippe, catarrh, and other respiratory or germ diseases will prevail unless the women of Indianapolis remember to get and use the famous Formacone air purifier.” — Indianapolis Star advertisement October 1913 The Formacone was a device invented to release formalin, a form of formaldehyde, into the air for the purpose of disinfection… and...

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At you Leisure: At the Game

As the Indiana Pacers tip off the new season, fans are anxious to see if the team can overcome adversity and match last year’s whirlwind winning pace to get back to the Eastern Conference Finals. Did you know that Indianapolis once featured a team during the early years of the NBA that was owned by its players?  The Indianapolis Olympians story is one of the strangest in the history of pro basketball. It features glory, optimism, scandal and ultimately, failure. We’ve all heard the negative cliché about inmates running the asylum. Can you imagine a professional sports franchise owned...

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Indianapolis Then and Now: Woodruff Place Gazebo, 800 block West Drive

“Woodruff Place ! … The whole addition is surrounded by a massive, artistically carved stone fence; all the streets laid with Nicolson pavement; all the sidewalks with stone; gas and water pipes to each lot; all the lots front on a handsome plat filled with hundreds of pieces of statuary, copies of the old masters, and large and elegantly designed fountains.” (Advertisement for McKernan, Douglass, and Witt, agents for the sale of lots in Woodruff Place,  Indianapolis People, 13 July 1873, p. 8) Woodruff Place was planned as an exclusive residential suburb on about 80 acres located directly east of...

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