Author: Libby Cierzniak

Deja Vu Tuesday: Raiders of the Lost Ark Tavern

A few months ago, an old photograph of a young woman named Dora Stevens was auctioned on eBay.  According to the seller, the photo came from a circa-1890s album owned by a Miss Addie Knight of Indianapolis.  I was curious about both women, so I searched their names on newspapers.com in hopes of finding some articles that could shed light on their identities.   Knight apparently lived a life free from both notoriety and fame, in that no mention of her could be found in the local newspapers. Stevens was not so fortunate, however. On a warm spring evening...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: A flood of first-time female voters

107 years ago yesterday, a 70-year-old woman from Indianapolis named Mary E. Nicholson made history as one of the first females – if not the first female — elected to public office in the state of Indiana.  A former teacher and administrator in the Indianapolis Public Schools, Nicholson beat four well-respected male business leaders to win a seat on the IPS school board. Nicholson’s landmark election was orchestrated by an army of well-heeled women who established a city-wide political organization with workers in each ward who walked door-to-door in support of her campaign. Female volunteers were also recruited to stand at the...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: The College Avenue War of 1903

For Mrs. Lottie A. Kinsey, life on the corner of 15th and College Avenue was a lot like an AC/DC song. Although another eight decades would pass before the Australian rockers recorded their classic ballad, “You Shook Me All Night Long,” Mrs. Kinsey was experiencing many of the symptoms described in the lyrics, albeit for a different reason. In a voluminous lawsuit filed in July 1903, Kinsey complained that her walls were shaking, the earth was quaking, and her mind was aching — all because her once-quiet street had turned into the Highway to Hell. The reason for this...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: 1835 letter sheds light on worst legislative fiasco in state history

In an old Saturday Night Live sketch, a rugged frontiersman named “Johnny Canal” travels to the White House in 1820 to pitch his idea of connecting every city and town in the country by an elaborate system of canals.  A skeptical aide to the President (played by Jon Lovitz) points out that Mr. Canal’s dream is “redundant” and “utterly ridiculous” because most of the U.S. was already connected by railroads. Shocking as it may seem, the SNL writers actually got this important historical fact completely wrong.  The “Johnny Canal” sketch was set in 1820, but it would be another...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: A Tree Falls in Indy

Pioneer leader James Blake was a man of many firsts.  During the early years of the 19th century, he brought the first piano to Indianapolis, built the first plaster and frame house, opened the first mill, started the first charity, and supervised construction of the first Statehouse. Although others soon followed his lead, James Blake may also have been our city’s first “tree-hugger.” As plans were being made to build the first courthouse in the early 1820s, Blake was determined to save at least 200 of the majestic sugar maples that stood on the courthouse square.  Workers hired to thin out the...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: Dear Indy – Please tell us your real birthday

In May 1920, The Indianapolis Star published a special edition commemorating the city’s Centennial celebration.  Then, in February 1936, The Indianapolis News came out with its own special edition in honor of the city’s 100th birthday. Now, I’m no mathematician, but based on everything I’ve ever heard or read, a Centennial only comes round once every hundred years. It’s always been my understanding that 1920 was the date firmly fixed by city leaders for the Centennial celebration; in fact, I’d written an HI article about the week-long festivities in June 1920 that literally involved a cast of thousands.  So I was understandably...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: The Know Nothing Party of Indiana

Imagine for a moment that you’re living in a world where families are struggling to make ends meet. Where hard-working citizens are losing their jobs to technology and immigrants.  Where some of these immigrants are criminals, many are indigent, and most of them practice a different religion that calls into question their allegiance to our country. And then — almost overnight — a new political movement sweeps the nation that promises to make America great again. Welcome to 1854 and the rise of infamous “Know Nothing” party. In the mid-1850s, a new political party known as the “Know Nothings” seemingly sprang...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: The Carole Lombard Mystery

“Every picture tells a story don’t it,” Rod Stewart famously sang in the early 1970s, the same decade that brought us other grammatical atrocities in song titles such as “Baby I’ma want you.” But sometimes the story told by a photograph is not the truth, but an artful work of fiction that gets repeated every time the photo is reproduced. Or as British journalist Harold Evans wrote in 1978, “The camera cannot lie, but it can be an accessory to untruth.” Hollywood celebrities are especially adept at using the camera to paint a tale of their lives that may not be entirely...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: For Whom the Bell Tolls

During a recent campaign stop in Indiana, Donald Trump told a cheering crowd that the job of running for office was so hard that the actual job of being president would be easy by comparison. “It’s harder to get into Harvard than it is to stay there,” Trump said. “It’s harder to become president than it is to do a good job.” Although it’s a safe bet that Trump will reverse his position on the relative difficulty of serving as Leader of the Free World after a couple of hours in the Oval Office, he is right about one...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: Would a Hoosier by any other name smell as sweet?

In a rare display of bipartisanship during a campaign season otherwise marked by epic ugliness, Indiana’s two U.S. senators recently banded together to take on the entrenched bureaucracy in Washington’s all-powerful Government Publishing Office. Earlier this month, Sen. Dan Coats and Sen. Joseph Donnelly penned a letter to the GPO’s Style Board, asking it to change the designation of Indiana natives to “Hoosiers” in the 2016 GPO Style Manual. This style bible for bureaucrats requires the use of the term “Indianan” to refer to Hoosiers in all official publications of Congress, the White House and other federal agencies. But as Coats and Donnelly...

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Deja Vu Tuesday: Celebrating 200 years of history repeating itself

In 1905, philosopher George Santayana penned the oft-repeated maxim, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To which Indy native Kurt Vonnegut promptly retorted (some 80 years later), “I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana: we’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive.” As Indianapolis approaches its bicentennial, you’ll read a lot of articles about how much the city has changed over the past two centuries. This isn’t one of those articles. Today — and on future Deja Vu Tuesdays — we’re going to celebrate 200 years of history repeating itself. Or as rocker Jon...

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Indianapolis Collected: The things we leave behind

There are two kinds of people who buy old houses, according to The New York Times:  old house people, who know what to expect, and regular house people, who don’t.  But I would argue that there is a third kind of purchaser: the temporarily crazed but otherwise rational person who walks into an old house and suddenly decides to buy it because of a feeling, a sense — or in my case, the ghost of a dog that had been dead for more than a century. In 2002, my husband and I were on our way to make an offer...

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Indianapolis Collected: Free textbooks & the IPS music man

In the closing days of the Civil War, Indianapolis Public Schools superintendent Abram Shortridge found himself in a unique situation — an “adventure,” as he called it. Almost every position within the state’s largest school system was filled by a woman.  Every principal, every assistant, and all but two teachers in the IPS schools were women, and young women at that. “It is due to the administrative abilities displayed by these young women … that the discipline and good order of the schools has been sustained at a high standard, and the several grades were never in better condition...

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Indianapolis Collected: The Worms crawl in…..

This week’s story has all the hallmarks of a classic horror tale.  A slaughterhouse. A butcher. An insane asylum. And Coffins with Worms. It all started last Monday, when I got a terse email alert from a stranger. “The killer is inside your house!!” it read. Well, not literally. The actual words were far more terrifying. “BACON CAUSES CANCER” While this scary pronouncement from the World Health Organization made the blood run cold through my bacon-clogged arteries, a century earlier such news could have brought on a heart attack for many Indianapolis residents. In 1914, the city’s pork packing...

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Indianapolis Collected: A Message from a Dead Friend

In May 1915, Argyra Friend was asleep in her apartment at 15th and Illinois when she had a conversation with her dead brother that was so vivid and real she questioned whether it was a dream. “The other night I had a dream about Edwin in which he appeared to me very well and happy,” she wrote her sister-in-law. “I said to him: ‘But Edwin, dear, I thought you were drowned when the Lusitania went down,’ to which he replied: ‘True enough, dear sister, I did drown, but I am not dead to those whom I love and know me....

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The Crumbling Crossroads of America

“Practically every great city has to be a geographic crossroads before it can become a great city,” the National Geographic Society wrote in its November 1925 bulletin. The crossroads of the sea at the Panama Canal, the crossroads of cable lines in Guam, the crossroads of the air in Prague and the crossroads of history in Palestine were among the world’s more remarkable crossroads, the article noted. But closer to home, “[o]ne of the most important men in the United States is the traffic policeman at the intersection of Washington and Meridian streets, Indianapolis. ….The Washington and Meridian streets intersection in Indianapolis...

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Indianapolis Collected: Tribute to a “Hero in Overalls”

Classes were dismissed early on the afternoon of April 12, 1907, so that students and teachers at Shortridge High School could attend a funeral in the school’s auditorium, Caleb Mills Hall. The deceased individual was an elderly man named James M. Biddy. This was the first time that the doors of the high school had ever been opened for a funeral, and according to The Indianapolis Morning Star, it would likely be the last.  Although the venue was unusual, it was appropriate, because — as the school’s principal told the Star — there had never been a man in the history of  Shortridge...

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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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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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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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