Month: August 2015

A German Firebug?

Most Americans know nothing about the time Nazi submarines stalked the Eastern seaboard of the U.S.  But if you’re ever on the Outer Banks of North Carolina and see anyone old enough to remember the year 1942, strike up a conversation.  Chances are, they remember an eerie glow on the sea at night, seen from childhood bedrooms or the beach.  Torpedoed by Hitler’s U-boats a few leagues offshore, cargo ships and burning oil tankers cast these fires.  Burned bodies of sailors often washed ashore.  In 2008, I interviewed romance novelist Dixie Burrus Browning, whose father Dick Burrus once played...

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At Your Leisure: In the Woods

This postcard shows how the Pennsylvania Hotel would have looked shortly after opening. (Image: eBay) Why would anyone want to surround a beautiful historic building with a brick wall separating the occupants from the rest of the outside world? You may have wondered this while walking along Pennsylvania Street just north of downtown. Searching for the answer uncovers a long forgotten hotel and night spot that existed for over forty years. The area along north Pennsylvania Street looked much different at the turn of the twentieth century. Instead of the mid-rise buildings and walk-up apartments we’re accustomed to seeing...

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Indianapolis Collected: D.C. Stephenson’s revenge

On July 4, 1923, an aspiring Republican politician from the east side of Indianapolis stood before an estimated crowd of 10,000 people at Malfalfa Park in Kokomo and delivered an impassioned speech that touched on themes that still resonate with voters today. Complete transparency in government.  A balanced federal budget, with no deficit spending. Curbs on inflation, to help protect middle class families. And public financing for political campaigns to ensure that “[n]o selfish interest, either political or predatory, could buy or pay for a representative of the people.” Despite the sweltering heat, the pressing crowd, and the uncomfortable weight...

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At Your Leisure: All’s Fair

August brings about a favorite tradition amongst Hoosiers. Every year nearly one million people descend on the Indiana State Fairgrounds in the capitol city to celebrate the agricultural spirit of the State of Indiana. If you can get past the often unfortunate combination of deep-fried treats and the colorful rides of the midway, the exhibitions remain surprisingly close to the roots that stretch back over 160 years. Did you know the fairgrounds have not always been located at 38th Street and Fall Creek Parkway, and that early fairs took on a nomadic existence? A large write-up on the fifty-fifth anniversary...

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A Bathing Revolution at the Indiana State Fair

The Locomotive, 1853. (Photo Stephen J. Taylor from the collections of the Indiana State Library.) You might have a hard time imagining Abraham Lincoln taking a shower — and not just because the wild-looking man was too tall for the spout.  While Americans before the Civil War understood the concept of bathing and sometimes even practiced it, their common mode of getting clean wasn’t the shower. In summertime, nude bathing in lakes and streams was a possibility. . . the farther from cities the better.  In 1869, the German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who dug up ancient Troy a year...

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At Your Leisure: A Night on the Circle

Monument Circle is always a pleasant place to take a stroll on a summer evening. The center of the city is always bustling with people enjoying the picturesque surroundings. Despite the great location, there isn’t really a good place to enjoy a nice meal or a cocktail, unless you’re fortunate enough to be a member of the Columbia Club. This wasn’t always the case. The southeast quadrant of Monument Circle has changed quite a bit over the years. While the venerable Circle Theater serves as an anchor, as it has since 1916, the space immediately to the west bears...

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Curb Cooties and Their Moveable Porches

Ever wonder about the history and folklore of cooties?  Around 1950, these mysterious critters evolved into a fictitious bug or imaginary microbe infesting American elementary school playgrounds.  Getting cured had nothing to do with proper medical treatment and everything to do with social standing.  In most cases, you could just unload them onto somebody else, then you were cootie-free.  But sometimes they’re permanent.  As I’ve just been reminded by a girl, “all boys have cooties.”  (“All boys?!”  “Mm hmm. Every. Last. One of them.”) Though the make-believe variety of this classic contagion was part phobia, part children’s “infection tag game,”...

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Indianapolis Collected: How We Spent Our Summer Vacations

Summer break ended for many Indianapolis children last week as another school year got underway.  Even if teachers no longer ask for detailed essays on “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” it’s likely many youngsters reported on it anyway, if only to their classmates. And if a new ad from Nature Valley is to be believed, it’s likely that the experiences these children had during their brief summer respite were very different from the summer fun we remember from our childhood. In the now-viral video, an off-screen narrator asks three generations of the same family what they did for...

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At Your Leisure: Saint vs. Saint

Even those who know little about Indianapolis are likely familiar with that “saintly” steakhouse on Illinois Street that has been serving up massive chops and fiery shrimp cocktails since 1902. Today there is no shortage of high-end steakhouses and a promise of more to come. Some 30 years ago, there were two candidates vying for bovine divinity in Indianapolis. It was a battle of the patron saints of soldiers and sailors, one, a mere block away from the monument, that pays tribute to both. Although the victor is obvious, many have fond memories of the other saint: the former St....

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A Chinese Gravestone and a Murder Mystery at 207 Indiana Avenue

Crown Hill — America’s third-largest public cemetery — has a few hundred thousand stories to tell.  One of its more extraordinary burials took place in 1902, when a Confucian ceremony officially ushered Doc Lung, a murdered Chinese laundryman, into whatever mystery awaits us on the yonder side of death. That summer, August Diener & Sons, tombstone makers, erected a “modest white marble marker” over the dead man’s grave.  The carved inscription, later inlaid with gold leaf, was written and traced onto the stone by a man named Moy Kee.  Official leader of Indianapolis’ tiny Chinese community at the turn of...

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