Month: July 2015

Yeats in Irvington

W.B. Yeats in 1903, just before he visited Irvington. Photo by American photographer Alice Boughton. It’s fascinating to reflect on the list of world-famous artists, writers and performers who once walked down Indy’s own streets.  The trail they left behind in the newspapers is often frustratingly small, but here’s a few visits that might surprise you. In January 1904, the Irvington Athenaeum nabbed a visit by one of Ireland’s rising young poets, 36-year-old William Butler Yeats, who was on a two-month trip to America.  Yeats began his tour in late 1903 in New York, then spoke at various East...

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At Your Leisure: This week in Indianapolis 1965

If you happen to see some superheroes or gunslingers walking around this weekend, please, have no fear. It’s time for the 48th annual Gen Con to kick off in Indianapolis, meaning downtown will be full of con-goers providing a fun distraction for Indy residents. The event will bring nearly 60,000 table top game enthusiasts downtown, making it one of the largest conventions of the year. Attendees can often be seen roaming the streets dressed as their favorite fictitious characters. It truly adds to the ambiance of the city for one weekend, and everyone, gamers and non-gamers alike, enjoy the show....

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Women Take to the Skies in Jazz Age Indy

“You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.”  That was Amelia Earhart’s verdict on rising up to the aerial view, where she thought the soul changes after a glimpse of the world from above.  Earhart also said that “Adventure is worthwhile in itself.”  Here are a few stories from the early days of flight in the Hoosier State. When folks in Indianapolis wanted to get a bird’s-eye view of their city circa 1915, they had several airports to choose from.  At a time when aircraft were small enough to land in cow pastures, on...

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Indianapolis Collected: The Secret in the Old Diary

Charlotte Jane Anderson died 17 years ago.  A life-long Indianapolis resident, she left behind a cousin, a house, and a diary that chronicled every day of her life from January 1, 1947 to December 31, 1951. About a year ago, a Chicago antique dealer purchased the diary at the Kane County Flea Market.  By then, the small leather book had changed hands several times and had traveled more than 200 miles from Indianapolis. The dealer listed the diary for sale on ebay last month, noting that its original owner seemed to be from the Indianapolis area. He posted a photo of a single page that showed references...

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At Your Leisure: History Paved Over

Although it’s heartbreaking to think about the buildings and businesses that have been lost over the years in Indianapolis, it is still exciting to discover a long lost building for the first time. Interstate 65 looms over the area just north of downtown. The elevated highway acts as a barrier between downtown’s Saint Joseph Historic Neighborhood and the Old Northside.  Many of us have no recollection of the area prior to the construction of the highway. During the mid-twentieth century, many historic homes, apartments, and businesses were lost so that, in theory, thousands could scurry through town without stopping. One...

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Misc Monday: Moses in Wonderland

One amazing local business coming to the rescue in the midst of the “food desert” of Indy’s East Washington Street corridor is Tlaolli, an incredible lavender house of tamales in a sea of post-industrial gray.  Almost directly across the street from Tlaolli is an advertisement for help of a different sort.  If you’re familiar with the Near East Side, you’ve probably seen a large billboard outside an old abandoned battery factory there.  Located near the intersection of East Washington with Rural Street, this side of the block, at least, needs all the help it can get.  The colorful billboard...

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At Your Leisure: Beware of the Witch

This 1960s-era postcard promises a country style meal served by the Sloan family. (Image: Amazon) A once-popular way to make your business stand out from the competition was to build a structure to look like the theme represented. Folks around Indy have seen these examples throughout the years — from a seafood restaurant built like riverboat to an upside down house to promote an area home builder. A long-standing restaurant in our metropolis embraced the theme of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about two wayward children and their encounter with a cannibalistic witch. Between 1959 and 1960, Purdue electrical engineer,...

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Misc Monday: On Liberty and Whiskers

Lajos Kossuth in a daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes, 1851 The list of famous visitors to Indianapolis would probably surprise you.  Oscar Wilde came in 1882.  Mark Twain came four times.  Sergei Rachmaninov, the composer, nine times.  One of the lesser-known visitors to saunter into young Indianapolis — but famous in his day — came in March 1852, when the town wasn’t much more than a backwoods clearing.  That man was the wild-whiskered Hungarian revolutionary Lajos Kossuth. Europe’s 1848 revolutions are mostly forgotten today, but they were once big news in America.  Like the recent Arab Spring, several nations erupted...

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Indianapolis Collected: The Mystery of the Missing Mantels

Daisy McKay was only 16 years old when her parents broke ground on a fine brick mansion at the corner of 13th and Broadway. The new Statehouse was under construction at the time, and her father purchased quarter-sawn oak woodwork from the same firm that furnished it for the capitol, along with quantities of cherry and black walnut. Then Horace McKay did something a little unusual with the expensive wood. He gave his teenage daughter a knife and chisel and let her have at it. The result was extraordinary. But Daisy was not an ordinary teenager, and Horace McKay was certainly not an ordinary 19th century father....

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At Your Leisure: At the Drive-in

This ticket advertises a free pass for the driver at the Shadeland Drive-in. (Image: eBay) For those who grew up in between the 1950s and 1980s, a summertime rite of passage always included a few nights at the local drive-in theater. Whether you were a youngster on the playground, indifferent to the show, or capitalizing on the opportunity to canoodle with your significant other, indifferent to the show, the drive-in served as an entertainment mecca for a few generations. Many believe that the beginning of the drive-in era coincided with sock hops and tail fins, but they would be...

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Misc Monday: The Russian Connection

Dos Equis might have “The Most Interesting Man in the World” doing beer ads today.  But in 1904, a colorful contender for that title came to the U.S. from Russia.  Are you ready for a glimpse into one of Indianapolis’s weirdest — and at times, funniest — Russian connections? When he sailed into the port of Tacoma, Washington, Count Alexander Mikhailovitch Lochwitzky certainly had a wild story to tell U.S. immigration officials. Born in St. Petersburg in 1871, he claimed to be the son of General Mikhail Lokhvitsky, a Russian war minister.  According to his testimony, he had also...

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Agitatin’ on the Fourth of July: The Hidden History of Dietz’s Grove

On July 4, 1913, Americans celebrated their national holiday with pride as always, even as the world slouched toward the coming horrors of the First World War.  Yet workers in America’s mines, factories, and fields often had little to celebrate. At Dietz’s Grove in Irvington, on Indianapolis’ east side, fifteen-hundred Hoosiers gathered at a Fourth of July picnic.  The speaker engaged for that event was one of the most passionate labor leaders of her time.  Known to friends and foes alike as Mother Jones and to her detractors in the U.S. Congress as “the Grandmother of All Agitators,” Mary...

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At Your Leisure: Celebrating our Independence

The Knights of Pythias Building as it appeared in 1906, looking north on Pennsylvania St. where  Massachusetts Ave. intersected it. (Image: Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library) The Fourth of July is the symbolic birthday of the United States. It’s symbolic, as the Declaration of Independence was ratified on July second and not signed until a month later. The Continental Congress chose the Fourth for the annual celebration of our breakup from Great Britain. Today, thousands flock downtown to witness the largest fireworks display in the region. Thanks to Daylight Savings Time, it won’t be dark enough for the big show...

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