Month: June 2015

Misc Monday: John Muir’s Vision Lost and Found

The great naturalist John Muir lost his sight in an industrial accident in Indianapolis in March 1867. (Courtesy New York Public Library Digital Collections) Mystics and scientists alike have often found that there’s a strange algebra to the universe.  From tiny cosmological beginnings, we have the immensity of all that is, says the Big Bang Theory.  A host of old creation stories concur. In the history of the American environmental movement, one of the original “Big Bang” events — the puncturing of John Muir’s right eye by an awl, which caused him to temporarily go blind in both eyes...

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Indianapolis Collected Revisted: The Fall and Rise of the Old Northside

“In my opinion the way to beautify Indianapolis is to make its people happier,” Mrs. Albert Metzger told The Indianapolis Star in 1911, when asked for her ideas on city beautification. If you lived in Indianapolis at the time and didn’t know Frances Metzger, you might have read these words and dismissed her as a clueless socialite. After all, her husband was a prominent banker who had built up considerable wealth through real estate investments. And the name “Mrs. Albert Metzger” was a fixture on the society pages as the Star chronicled her trips abroad, her summers in Michigan,...

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At Your Leisure: Inn the Huddle

The interior of a Huddle restaurant awaiting eager diners. (Image: Evan Finch) A twenty-four hour restaurant tends to bring out some of the more interesting examples of mankind, especially in the wee hours of the morning. A mix of shift workers, college procrastinators, and weekend revelers trying to sober up on coffee and greasy fare can be found in the vinyl clad booths in area restaurants such as Steak ‘n Shake, Denny’s, and IHOP. While today’s examples tend to be corporate giants, Indy once had a destination where locals cured those 3 A.M. omelet cravings. The Huddle Restaurants (not to...

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Misc Monday: The Magnetic Woman who Overpowered Indy

Lulu Hurst performs her “electric” wonders against a team of strong men. Illustration from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, July 26, 1884. (Digital Public Library of America) For almost a whole week in December 1884, one of the most famous traveling entertainers of her time — fifteen-year-old Lulu Hurst, the “Georgia Wonder” — wowed Indianapolis crowds with feats of “magnetism” that had already left audiences all over America howling in hysterics and gasping in amazement. Hurst, who was born in 1869 and grew up in rural Polk County, Georgia, was once a national sensation.  While scientists eventually — but only...

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At Your Leisure: The Fading of the Orange Roof

A postcard showing the grandeur of the downtown Howard Johnson’s. (Image: Amazon) We often look towards chain businesses with a bit of disdain. Large corporations sending profits out of state while serving up conveniences with little to no sense of place. It’s easy to think of theses behemoths as being too big to fail. That said, we have seen our share of these restaurants, hotels, and stores storm into the Circle City only to pull up roots years later. Howard Johnson’s once had a large presence across Indianapolis with its recognizable orange roofs offering accommodations along with a whopping...

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Misc Monday: African American and Catholic in Early Indianapolis

Two Daughters of Charity with African American children at St. Ann’s School, probably in the 1930’s. (Source: Saint Rita Church, Indianapolis, Indiana: Golden Jubilee, 1919–1969. South Hackensack, NJ: Custombook. 1969.) Did Indiana’s first — and only — Catholic school for African Americans originate with an apparition of the Virgin Mary?  So an old story goes. In the 1870’s, a young Irish priest named Daniel Curran came to Indiana. Born in Crusheen, County Clare, Ireland, in 1841, he immigrated with his parents to Seneca Falls, New York, in 1850. Until he felt called to the priesthood at age 22, Curran...

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Indianapolis Collected: The dry, wry humor of Cobb X. Shinn

Thanks to my years of training as a Girl Scout, I always keep an extra umbrella in the car so I will “be prepared” in the event of a torrential downpour. So that’s exactly where my umbrella was last month when I found myself huddled in the doorway of an antique shop, anxiously waiting for a break in the rain so I could dash to my car. Now, there are certainly worse places to be trapped during a thunderstorm than an antique shop, like an interstate underpass with a serial killer or an ancient elevator in the Statehouse with 10...

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At Your Leisure: An Evening in Merry England

A postcard showing the Sheffield Inn. The single story section was a later addition as a large house stood in its place the year the inn opened. At some point this structure was replaced with a different that sits off the street but built in a similar style. Fire perhaps? (Image: Amazon) Have you ever walked down the street and noticed a particular building that seemed completely out of place? Although commonly found in residential neighborhoods throughout Indianapolis, the Tudor Revival style of architecture is almost completely absent from downtown commercial and residential structures. That’s probably why exposed timbers and...

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Misc Monday: Burning Joan of Arc: The 1927 Indianapolis Arson Scare

John F. Hagel’s Mission-style church in the mid-1920s. (Source: “25th Anniversary, St. Joan of Arc Parish, Indianapolis, Indiana, 1921-1946.”) On May 13, 1920, Pope Benedict XV canonized Joan of Arc, the 19-year-old French soldier and visionary who was burned at the stake by the English during the Hundred Years’ War back in 1431.  On the eve of the Jazz Age and at the dawn of the Flappers, this medieval martyr who donned men’s clothing to go into combat was elevated to sainthood.  Joan became the celestial protectress not only of France, but of parishes all over the world, as...

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Sunday Ads: Indy’s Industrious, Illustrious Illustrators

Let’s set the scene… Indianapolis in the 1890s: Due to recent technological advances in printing, Indianapolis newspapers are suddenly able to efficiently print cartoons and illustrations on every page. These become popular features for entertainment and reporting, and subscribers are delighted. But, if the newspapers and magazines of the era are to… daily… fill their pages with engaging artwork to keep up with the readership’s demand, they need a legion of talented, trained artists.  Now, what? 1900 Advertisement in Scribner’s. The Butler University yearbook of 1899 refers to the National Illustrating Company as “the oldest, largest and leading engraving house...

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At Your Leisure: A Stay off of The Circle

The Harrison Hotel located at Capitol and Market once featured a decorative limestone base and awning to protect guests from the afternoon sun. (Image: Amazon) The fate of a historic building dating back to 1928 is unclear. The State of Indiana has recently moved the Indiana Public Retirement System from its longtime home at 143 West Market Street. The building is currently without a tenant and awaits a buyer. The office building, now covered in stucco and modern windows has housed offices for over forty years. Most don’t realize the first half of its life was spent catering to travelers and bar patrons....

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Misc Monday: The Rapid Rise and Tragic Fall of Frank W. Flanner

Flanner & Buchanan isn’t a street intersection — it’s a funeral business — but the great Indianapolis undertaking firm is a veritable crossroads of the capitol city’s history. “Dig Indy?” (Pun intended.) How about the story of the company’s founder, pioneering Hoosier mortician Frank W. Flanner, who came to a strange and tragic end in 1912?  Here’s a bit on the Fabulous Flanners, one of Indianapolis’ most colorful families. Born in 1854 in Mount Pleasant, Ohio, Francis William Flanner came from a line of Quakers.  His father, Henry Beeson Flanner, was a Quaker botanist and fiddler.  In fact, Henry and his wife Orpha loved flowers so much that they named their first son...

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