Author: Libby Cierzniak

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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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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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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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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Indianapolis Collected: Bringing the masses to Mass Ave

On the surface, George J. Marott would seem to have nothing in common with Ray Kinsella, the fictional farmer in Field of Dreams who built a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield.  First of all, Marott was a real person – a self-made man whose successful business ventures have left a lasting mark on Indianapolis.  And secondly, there is absolutely no evidence that Marott ever heard a disembodied voice tell him “If you build it, they will come.” But around the turn of the last century,  Marott had a vision that some believed came out of left field when he looked...

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Indianapolis Collected: Paging Dr. Coe

Dr. Isaac Coe turned up unexpectedly in Oregon last month.  Not the actual Dr. Coe — he’s buried at Crown Hill cemetery — but an antique photograph of an even older portrait of the pioneer physician who helped save the citizens of Indianapolis during the great epidemic of 1821. I found Dr. Coe in the same place where I once ran into his good friend James Blake – on ebay.  Not the actual James Blake, of course, but a pencil sketch of the rustic house built by the man who deserves a fair share of credit for building our city.    If not...

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Indianapolis Collected: Camp Ida Wineman

Sylvia Dichner Weiss grew up on the near-southside of Indianapolis, in a neighborhood she called the “ghetto.” When she was about seven years old, a public health nurse sent Sylvia and her brother to a camp on the banks of the White River that served sickly and malnourished Jewish children who were at risk of developing tuberculosis. Initially homesick, Sylvia soon thrived in the outdoor environment. She returned the following year, and the year after that, and each year thereafter until she was grown. “It changed my life,” Sylvia told me earlier this week when I reached her at home in New Jersey....

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Indianapolis Collected: Coal smoke brought Indy’s darkest hour

The city of Indianapolis has earned a lot of dubious distinctions during its nearly 200-year history.  In August 2014, Terminix ranked Indy as #14 on its list of bedbug-infested cities.  In 2004, Men’s Health magazine called out Indianapolis as the 11th fattest city in the country.  And in  2000, Indianapolis was crowned as the syphilis capital of the nation. But Indianapolis may have reached her darkest hour in 1911, when a distinguished chemist announced with astonishment that the Circle City was far more dirty and dingy than New York city. Speaking through swirls of cigar smoke at a “smoker” hosted by the American Chemical Society,...

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Indianapolis Collected: Yar, there’s a pirate’s chest of gold on Monument Circle

For so long as most Indianapolis residents can remember, there has always been one “hot spot” on North Meridian where the mercury was guaranteed to rise even when temperatures were falling in the rest of the city. Not so this year.  In early September, the United Way of Central Indiana announced that it would break from tradition and put its giant fundraising thermometer in cold storage as the organization shifts its focus from the amount of dollars raised to the societal impact of those funds. As surprising as this announcement may seem, it isn’t the first time that an Indianapolis organization...

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Indianapolis Collected: A Road By Any Other Name

In the fall of 2011, Indianapolis Downtown Inc. sparked a Facebook frenzy when it launched a contest to rename Georgia Street.  According to a spokesman for Mayor Greg Ballard, the goal of the proposed “re-branding” was to create a “signature” name for the new pedestrian mall that would be recognized nationally, even internationally. The effort resulted in plenty of signatures, but not the kind sought by Indianapolis Downtown Inc. Instead, a Facebook petition drive created by HI’s own Joan Hostetler yielded hundreds of signatures from re-branding opponents. Three years later, Georgia Street still bears its historic name.  Indianapolis Downtown Inc., however, has...

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Indianapolis Collected: Statehouse Eye Candy, Circa 1879

A small firestorm erupted last year when President Obama called his old friend Kamala Harris the “best-looking attorney general in the country.” And it wasn’t sparked by the 49 other attorneys general who may have felt slighted by the President’s off-hand compliment to their California colleague. Media commenters on all sides of the political spectrum either decried Obama for setting a “disgraceful example” or defended him for giving a harmless compliment.  Even Liza Minnelli weighed in on the controversy. A few days after the President issued the inevitable apology to Harris, his detractors’ concerns were validated by a survey released by the nonpartisan...

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Indianapolis Collected: Where Everyone Knows your Name

When he was 12 years old, Michael Hanrahan decided to run away.  For two weeks during the summer of 1907, he survived by selling newspapers on the street, making deliveries at City Market, and sleeping in the hallway of an empty building on Kentucky Avenue. When he was finally apprehended, the sobbing boy told a juvenile court judge that he ran away from home because he was afraid he would be sent to jail for not attending church. As The Indianapolis Star later reported, Hanrahan’s plan to avoid prison backfired when the judge ordered him to spend two weeks at the Juvenile...

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Indianapolis Collected: Mission Accomplished

The recent death of Lauren Bacall brought to mind the movie magic she made over the course of four films with Humphrey Bogart, her co-star and real-life husband. But while Bacall may have had Bogey’s love to herself when the cameras were turned off, she was not the only woman to capture his heart on the big screen. In The African Queen, Bogart and Katharine Hepburn charmed audiences with the unlikely romance between a middle-aged spinster and a codgy boat captain who takes her on a danger-filled trip down the Congo.  Bogart won the Oscar for his performance as Charlie...

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Indianapolis Collected: A Stitch Back in Time

In the earliest days of Indianapolis, young John Wilkins was a favorite of the ladies. He arrived from Ohio in May 1821, and built himself a one-horse carriage, the first of its kind in Indianapolis.  Despite a complete lack of ornamentation, Wilkins’ novel conveyance was still the most fashionable carriage in the pioneer settlement, and an invitation to ride with Wilkins was, according to historian John Nowland, viewed as a great compliment by the town’s single women. All that changed in 1825, when Wilkins returned from a visit to Ohio with a new bride on his arm. Within a year, Eleanor Wilkins gave birth to...

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Indianapolis Collected: Finding Maxwell Parry

In July 1918, The Indianapolis Star launched a series of articles about war mothers who kept the home fires burning while their sons were fighting overseas.  The third installment ran on July 12 – exactly 96 years ago today — and featured Hessie Parry, the widow of prominent industrialist David M. Parry, along with their three soldier sons, Maxwell, David and Addison. The bulk of the article focused on Max,  a combat pilot who had made headlines a few days earlier when he shot down a German plane during a fierce aerial dogfight.  The Star noted that upon receiving...

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Indianapolis Collected: The Fall of the House of Fletcher

When the youngest son of pioneer leader Calvin Fletcher graduated from Phillips Academy in 1865, he asked his classmates to sign an autograph book. “Dear Al,” one faded inscription reads, “As we hope to meet at ‘old Harvard,’ I need not bid adieu…..your friend and classmate, Richard T. Greener.” Greener would later go on to become the first African-American to graduate from Harvard University and the dean of the Howard University School of Law. But despite Greener’s optimistic inscription, Albert Fletcher never made it to Harvard, at least not as a full-time student. After repeatedly failing the mathematics portion of...

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Indianapolis Collected: “Ghosts wept” as the Maennerchor fell

More than 1,000 members and friends of the Maennerchor gathered at its old hall on Washington Street in June 1906 to march through downtown Indianapolis to the site of the German singing club’s future headquarters at Michigan and Illinois. Following a lively cornerstone-laying ceremony featuring remarks by Mayor Charles Bookwalter, the group returned to its old clubhouse for several hours of activity that The Indianapolis Star described as “enthusiastic jollification.” Nearly seven decades later, however, the mood was neither jolly nor enthusiastic when the cornerstone was pulled from the rubble of the freshly demolished landmark and loaded on a flatbed truck along...

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Indianapolis Collected: A Return Visit to Crone’s Garden Theatre

The English Opera House opened to accolades on September 27, 1880, with famed Shakespearean actor Lawrence Barrett appearing in the role of Hamlet. But enough about the theater. Today’s article is about The Theatre – or more specifically, those places of public amusement in 19th century Indianapolis where transposing the “r” and the “e” helped lend an air of respectability to the acrobats, minstrels, comedians and assorted “dances of doubtful decency” that delighted the beer-swilling crowds. I was blissfully unaware that such places even existed until I stumbled across a faded broadside for a venue on East Washington Street...

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Indianapolis Collected: The Most Interesting Man in the World

Wulfson in one of his many disguises Isidor Wulfson was an international opera star, a Yiddish stump speaker, a master of disguises, and a famous detective. He also was the Chief Weights and Measures Inspector for the City of Indianapolis and quite possibly The Most Interesting Man in the World. I stumbled upon Wulfson’s strange tale completely by accident while researching some old Indianapolis postcards. Around 1910, the Polar Ice & Fuel Company issued a series of postcards that showed one of its horse-drawn wagons in front of various local landmarks, including several long-demolished buildings. Since May is Preservation Month,...

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Indianapolis Collected: The Day Indy Got Her Wings

Before the advent of planes, trains and automobiles, the fastest route from point A to point B was usually by water.  So when a new state capital was selected in 1820, the fact that Congress had passed a law declaring the White River to be a navigable “public highway” was a critical selling point for the tiny pioneer settlement that would later become Indianapolis. Sadly, city founders quickly discovered that it would take more than an Act of Congress to make the White River navigable to Indianapolis.  Sandbars, drifts and low-hanging branches made it virtually impossible for all but the smallest craft...

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