Another year has quickly found its way into the history books and we now greet 2015. As the clock struck midnight, Indianapolis celebrated the end of 2014 in great spirit with the inaugural outdoor celebration along Georgia Street. The evening featured live music, food trucks, a beer garden and an ”Indycar Drop” that replaced the more typical New Year’s Eve ball. But how did Indianapolis celebrate the new year in years past?
The first New Year’s celebration in Indianapolis occurred in 1822. Descriptions paint a rather primitive picture of the young state capital, featuring a population of less than 2,000 people. Everyone in the small settlement was invited to a celebration at the Wyant home and tavern. Invitations were all handwritten — printing presses didn’t even exist yet. Unlike some of today’s celebrations, all family members were invited, including children and grandparents. The day began at noon with a large meal followed by dancing that lasted into the late night hours. The main beverage served was strong black coffee, though liquor was available to men for 25 cents. Notable guests included Calvin and Sara Fletcher, who had been married only eight months prior to the day and had recently relocated to Indianapolis from Ohio.
Fast forward almost 100 years to 1902, when celebrations were a bit more lively. The evening could start with a nice steak dinner that cost around two dollars. Bourbon was five cents per drink. Many attended Vaudeville shows at one of the four prominent downtown theaters of the day; The English, Park, Grand, or Empire. When the shows ended around midnight revelers took to the street with horns, rattles and other noisemakers, creating an odd scene.
By 1958, New Year’s Eve celebrations and entertainment ranged from motion picture previews to noisy night clubs. The Indiana Roof featured dancing with music provided by Dick Cisne’s Edgewater Beach Hotel Orchestra. The cover charge was $3.50 per person. Further north, La Rue’s Supper Club required a seven dollar cover charge to dance to the sounds of Big Moe and the Panics. Interestingly enough, the building housing this revelry was the former home of Albert Fletcher, son of the pioneer couple who attended the first New Year’s celebration over 130 years before.
The only thing that could stop the parade of fun could be the heavy hand of the law. New Year’s Eve 1961 had to be a pretty somber affair. December 31st fell on a Sunday, and all liquor sales were illegal a the time. This meant that most legitimate entertainment venues shifted the festivities to December 30th at a reduced cost while closing up shop on Sunday. What have been your favorite New Year’s memories celebrated in Indianapolis?
Indianapolis Star, December 31st, 1939, Section 5, Page 6
Indianapolis News, December 31st, 1952, Page 17
Indianapolis Times, December 29th, 1958, Page 3
Indianapolis Times, November 26th, 1961, Page 5