Friday Favorites: Arsenal Tech Trivia

Written by on May 9, 2014 in Friday Favorites - 26 Comments
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1875 map

Map of the grounds, 1875. Click to enlarge.

Bet You Didn’t Know…”

Regardless of the side of town in which you live, if you’ve been in Indianapolis for a while you know some things about historic Arsenal Technical High School… A.K.A. “Tech” to those most familiar with the school.

           But how well do you know it?

For those who need a little refresher, the property was once part of the US Army’s Arsenal system.  In 1863, Army planners chose the present-day 1500 East Michigan Street site, because it was close to Indianapolis — but not too close.  The densely forested acreage was purchased from an immigrant by the name of Herman Sturm, and the first soldiers arrived for duty in 1865. The US Government maintained the complex until 1903, using it to store heavy artillery, light arms (at one point, as many as 100,000 rifles!), and munitions. After the Spanish American War, the facility was considered obsolete for the military’s needs, and, by that time, the city had engulfed the property.

Winona Technical Institute Guardhouse enhanced

One of the guard houses during the brief period the Winona Technical Institute owned the property.

Once the Army left, the location briefly played host to a technical college called Winona but it lasted only six years, closing its doors by 1910. But that  is a story for another day…

In 1912, Indianapolis Public Schools procured the old arsenal to be the city’s third high school. One-hundred-one years later, the school remains in the same place with many of the original Civil War-era buildings still in use.

1922 campus photo postcard

Photo postcard c 1922.

It’s time to test your Arsenal acumen with a trivia quiz that was developed by ardent alumnus and HiIndy fan, Kevin Brewer:

The answers are below the next photo, in case you really want to play along.

QUESTIONS:

1. The Arsenal building was completed in 1864.  In what year was its tower, housing an authentic 19th century wind-up clock, added?

2. There are two cannons stationed on the campus. What kind of guns are they, and from what war?

4.  There is a jail located on the property. It’s in what building?

5.  Tech is alma mater to some famous visual artists. Can you name at least one?

6. What famous (but ill-fated) US Army general is purported to have once stood on the porch of the West Officers’ Residence?

7. About how many soldiers lived on the base when the Arsenal was in full operation?

Arsenal and West Residence

Click to enlarge this beautiful wide view of the Arsenal campus.

ANSWERS:

1. The Arsenal Building was the first structure on the compound to be completed.  The clock and tower were added just a year later, in 1865.  The keystone over the front tower entrance shows this date. Nine additional buildings were eventually completed between 1865 and 1874.  In 1994, Indiana University archaeologists dug test pits near the Arsenal structure. They recovered a silver spoon, a smattering of refuse associated with the construction of the building, as well as several prehistoric artifacts — but strangely, only two tiny pieces of ammunition!

Arsenal clock

Arsenal clock tower.

Arsenal date

The year the clock was added to the Arsenal building.

2. There are two Howitzers located inside the Michigan Street gate. Information about their provenance is sketchy at this time, but they appeared for the first time in the Arsenal yearbook, (aptly named, The Cannon) in 1950. Given the timing of their arrival on campus, they are most likely decommissioned WWII-era guns.

According to sources in the US Army’s Presidential Salute Battery (a ceremonial division of the Old Guard responsible for rendering honors to visiting foreign dignitaries and heads of state, and firing final salutes during funerals at Arlington National Cemetery) the Arsenal guns appear to be M5 tank destroyers attached to M6 chassis (similar to the guns used by the Old Guard PSB unit). Historically, M5 guns were considered unfit for use during the Korean War and later, due to their weight and the kind of warfare being waged (jungle, climate, etc.). They were decommissioned at about the time it appears that Arsenal came into ownership of the guns. If correct, this would place the Arsenal guns in the same era as the highly-prized and pampered Old Guard Howitzers.

03. WW II Howitzers

The  Howitzers

cannon

A photo from the 1950 yearbook.

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US Army’s Old Guard, Presidential Salute Battery renders final honors at Arlington National Cemetery using Howitzers similar to those seen on the Arsenal campus.

3. There are jail cells in the basement of the Michigan Street Guard House (1872). If you were a soldier 150 years ago who was straggling back to base late after a little too much “R&R,” you’d have been detained there until you sobered up.

Originally, there were two guard houses on the grounds, similar in style. The first guardhouse to be completed (pictured below), was built in 1867, and stood in the center of the campus quadrangle closer to the Tenth Street entrance. Unfortunately, it was destroyed by fire in 1921.

Michigan-E-1500-Arsenal-Tech-Guard-House-IHS-Bass-49657-1916

Tenth Street guard house.

4. Robert Clark, A.K.A. Robert Indiana, (of LOVE sculpture fame) is an alumnus of Tech High School and of Herron School of Art’s Saturday school. Three of his prints are hanging in the school halls. He also painted five illuminated manuscript Bible pages of the Christmas story from the chapter of Luke. These pages hang outside of the Principal’s office on the first floor of the Arsenal building. He is a member of the Class of 1946.

Indiana-with-murals-at-Skowhegan

Robert Indiana, alumnus.

LOVE-Stamps-sheet-low-res

Indiana’s famous LOVE sculpture, immortalized in 1973 with a commemorative postal stamp.

07. Manuscript page

One of the illuminated Bible passages done by Indiana that hang in the school.

Bill Peed (A.K.A. Bill Peet) was an illustrator and screenwriter best known for his work in Disney animation. He was hired by Walt Disney in 1937, when he was just 22. Peet also wrote and illustrated 35 children’s books. One of his sketches still graces the second floor of the Arsenal Building. Peet is a member of the Class of 1933 and also attended Herron School of Art on scholarship.

Two other Tech graduates went on to be Disney artists as well: Bill Justice ’31, and Victor Haboush, ’42.

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Alumnus Bill Peet

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Though he was a prolific author and illustration, Peet’s most famous works are the illustrations and designs he did for Disney movies.

6. The West Residence was completed in 1870 to complement the elegant commandant’s quarters known as the East Residence which once sat east of the Arsenal Building. The East Residence was razed in 1929.  The West Residence housed the Arsenal’s highest-ranking officers. Gen. George Armstrong Custer is purported to have visited the Arsenal on his way west and stayed in the West Residence.  The building now houses the Colonel’s Cupboard, a restaurant run by Arsenal students and open to the public.

East-Residencesmall

The East Residence building.

7. The 1867 Barracks is one of the earliest buildings on campus and is located behind Stuart Hall. Civil War era soldiers slept in the Barracks Building. The Arsenal, when operating at full capacity, was home to only about 50 soldiers at any one time. The Barracks now houses the school’s JROTC program.

barracksmall

The Barracks as it is today, used now as headquarters for the school’s JROTC program.

Tell us in the comment box below: How did you do on the quiz? What are YOUR favorite bits of Arsenal trivia?

Special thanks to Kevin Brewer, the administrator of the Arsenal Technical High School Alumni Association Facebook site, the ATHS Alumni Association for the images in the article, and to members of the US Army’s Presidential Salute Battery who evaluated photos of the Arsenal guns. Can’t get enough Arsenal history? There’s so much more to explore by viewing Tech’s yearbooks dating back to 1914 which are now available in The Indianapolis Public Library’s online digital collection.

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About the Author

Lisa Lorentz is a writer, nonprofit director, native Hoosier & Indianapolitan with an awkward fascination for dusty attics, antique typewriters and microfilm.

26 Comments on "Friday Favorites: Arsenal Tech Trivia"

  1. East Side May 9, 2014 at 7:20 am · Reply

    I’ve heard that Tech used to have two of the original cannons cast by the Arsenal out in front of the campus, but the school donated them during WWII to be melted down for ammunition. As a thank you, the Howitzers were later given to Tech to replace the cannons. Too bad they didn’t keep the civil war era cannons instead!

    • Lisa Lorentz May 9, 2014 at 8:15 am · Reply

      Thanks, KC! I’d heard rumors of the Civil War cannons and the WWII melt-down, too. I hope to confirm the story and add it to this article. Stay tuned for a story about the Arsenal Museum in the next few weeks. I suspect I’ll find some corroborating evidence there.

  2. Máire Flood May 9, 2014 at 8:56 am · Reply

    We’d always heard that the site of the baseball diamond (now the Legacy Center) used to be where soldiers were buried. When they decided to make Tech into a school, all the bodies were dug up and moved to Crown Hill. We’d always tease that if one had been left behind, he’d grab someone’s leg as they slid into home.

    • Lisa Lorentz May 9, 2014 at 10:22 am · Reply

      EEK! Fun story, Máire! I wonder if our HiIndy friend, Tom Davis, of Crown Hill Cemetery could elaborate on that? Tom, do you have any scoop on those reinternments?

      • Tom Davis May 9, 2014 at 1:58 pm · Reply

        Lisa, I can’t give a definitive yes or no, but since the cemetery has been around as long as the Arsenal and other cemeteries pre-dated even Crown Hill, I’m not sure why it would have been necessary to bury any dead soldiers on the Arsenal’s grounds. Even the Confederates who died at Camp Morton were taken to greenlawn for burial originally. When the National Cemetery within Crown Hill opened in 1866 707 Union Soldiers were moved from there original burial sites and moved to Crown Hill, but I am not aware that they were moved from anywhere but Greenlawn.

        However, I will be careful not to do any baseball type sliding at Crown Hill just in case.

        • Lisa Lorentz May 9, 2014 at 5:50 pm · Reply

          Tom, you’re a hoot! Thanks for the Crown Hill background. That’s exactly the kind of info I was hoping for.

  3. Michelle Wetzel-Hammons May 9, 2014 at 11:10 am · Reply

    My Grandfather, Paul Wetzel, taught at Tech for many years, I believe from the early 30’s thru the 50’s/60’s! I know he taught various subjects, coached football and I believe basketball as well. He also served as vice-principal (I believe in the 50’s/60’s) and I also know he was involved in starting the adult education/night school. Before retiring, he spent some years at the Board of Education, I believe. He was a tall man with snow-white hair and a deep commanding voice. Although a stern teacher, he also was known for his great sense of humor. I spent a lot of time with my grandparents growing up, and it seemed he ran into former students everywhere we went…even out of town! Even in my adulthood, I have met Tech alumni who remember him, including my in-laws! He had very fond memories of his many years at Tech & would often share funny stories of classroom antics! My father, Warren Wetzel, was a Tech graduate and attended during the time my Grandfather was vice principal or Dean(?).

    • Lisa Lorentz May 9, 2014 at 5:54 pm · Reply

      Michelle, note that Tech’s yearbooks dating back to 1914 are now available in The Indianapolis Public Library’s online digital collection: http://digitallibrary.imcpl.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/aths . You might be able to see lots of your Grandfather’s activities in the pages of the Cannon yearbooks! Thanks for sharing!

    • Kevin J. Brewer May 15, 2014 at 6:45 am · Reply

      Michelle, what kinds of subjects did he teach?

  4. basil berchekas jr May 9, 2014 at 1:03 pm · Reply

    My sister, Peggy Berchekas Clark served as the Principal of “Tech” from 2002 through, I believe, 2006. She was a Tech alumnus, and I think the first one to serve as a principal. She’s retired from IPS now, and finished grade school at 68.

    • Lisa Lorentz May 9, 2014 at 5:55 pm · Reply

      Basil, do you think she might know more about the lore of the Civil War/ WWII cannons? I’d be interested in pursuing that part of the story further.

    • Kevin J. Brewer May 15, 2014 at 6:33 am · Reply

      Basil, yes, your sister was the first Tech Principal to have also been a graduate.

      • Kevin J. Brewer May 15, 2014 at 6:35 am · Reply

        Should have been “Tech Principal”. I hate this new keyboard.

      • basil berchekas jr May 15, 2014 at 4:05 pm · Reply

        Thanks, Kevin!

  5. Jack Boeldt May 9, 2014 at 5:32 pm · Reply

    I was really surprised to meet a young Tech graduate of the 1990s who had been quite active during his Tech years who could not believe it when I referred to him and all Techites as Green Clads. I didn’t realize that the nick name had been changed. I went to Howe High School and played football against the Green Clads, and went to a lot of basketball games at Tech. The only quiz answer I knew was the location of the jail. A friend, Tom Jordan, told me about it, and that his class had raised the money to restore the building and it’s jail cells. I stopped in to see it and found an annual from his class, in a glass case, opened to the page showing his senior picture,. I don’t remember what year it was. About a year ago I bought a Tech Annual on EBAY, The Arsenal Cannon, from my father’s 1932 class. His picture is in it. At the time I wasn’t even sure he had graduated. I taught a semester of electricity at Tech’s night school for adults in the mid 1980s.

    • Lisa Lorentz May 9, 2014 at 5:51 pm · Reply

      Jack, I’ll investigate the nickname “Green Clads” and report the story in my next article about the Museum at Arsenal, coming soon!

  6. Dave Robbins May 9, 2014 at 5:37 pm · Reply

    Back in the 1970’s, the Indiana State Library had a project that involved putting every page of every newspaper ever published in Indiana on microfilm. I heard recently that they were digitalizing each page, so that they could be searched by typing in a word like on Google.
    I was wondering if the back issues of “The Arsenal Cannon” had been microfilmed or digitalized in this project. Does anyone know? It certainly would be worthwhile for the many people who love history and Tech.

  7. Kevin J. Brewer May 15, 2014 at 6:36 am · Reply

    Lisa, thank you so much for this series of Tech articles.

  8. Tobi Elmore May 16, 2014 at 9:05 am · Reply

    A couple of observations.

    I have worked at Tech for years and I have some tidbit information. Working in the Social Studies Department and teaching history you tend to collect things over the years.

    Cannons: According to the booklet put out in 1953 for the 40th anniversary of Tech.”Two 3-inch M 5’s were acquired in the fall of 1947 through the efforts of Col. Will Brown, formerly in charge of city R.O.T.C. equipment in the Magazine, to replace the two World War I cannons which Tech donated for scrap metal at the beginning of of World War II”

    from the same source: World War I cannons Two cannons were placed at the flagpole about 1921 and were dedicated to the hope that peace would endure after World War I. In a farewell ceremony on October 14th, 1942, they were contributed to the scrap drive for World War II.

    I inherited a shell that supposedly fits in one of the M5 Cannons when Mr. Karl Shnieder retired.

    The Original Tech Titans (Especially in the 70’s) where named after the Titan Missiles and in some of the rooms you can see the old license plates with the Tech Cheerleader standing in front of a Titan Missile. The old Band uniforms from the 70’s had a missile on the back.

    I went to Howe in the late 70’s and the Howe band and Tech band hung out together.

    The urban legend is that edge markers for the cemetery were between 3rd base and home. They would rise to the surface to be buried by the coaches.

    And speaking of Ghosts. Many students and my wife claim that Stuart is haunted by a teenage boy dressed in seventies cloths. Everyone knows that the Arsenal is haunted and on clear moonlight nights you can see a sentry on top of the Arsenal doing his rounds.

    Tobi Elmore

    • Kevin J. Brewer May 16, 2014 at 3:06 pm · Reply

      Tobi, thank you so much for the information on the cannons.

    • Lisa Lorentz May 17, 2014 at 9:04 am · Reply

      Tobi, thanks for sharing this — both fun and informative!

  9. CJ Paligo March 11, 2016 at 8:07 am · Reply

    I went to Tech around 1992-94. Did you know that Barbara Bush visited there, while her husband was President? I have an entry from my journal:

    Mrs. Barbara Bush
    The school was on lockdown. We found out a week before that Mrs. Barbara Bush, the President’s wife, would be visiting the school. After finding this out, in the coming days, the school had Secret Service men scout out the school territory. She was to meet a few select students outside the library building. The day of, the James Gang could not go in the library for the usual 15 to 20 minutes before first class. The Secret Service had it cordoned off. I remember being directed by one of the members to go away from the library, during that time. I went in the Stuart Hall Magnet building, instead. During the day, my spainish teacher, who didn’t shave her legs, said the Secret Service wanted her to keep her window shades closed, because her widows looked on to the front of the library, where Mrs. Bush would be standing. A student went to peek through the shade. He was quickly apprehended, by the teacher. “Don’t look through them, either!” she immediately spoke, loud enough for the class to hear. She told the class that the men we passed in the little Foreign Language Building’s hallways were Secret Service. This was pretty easy to tell. They had little earpieces with the wire coming out of them, encircling their ear. Mrs. Bush would be at the school, during the next class. The next class that day was twice as long, to accommodate the mixup and security threat that Mrs. Bush’s trip produced. I finished with spainish. I left the Foreign Language Building, headed for chemistry, in the Magnet building. I passed right by where Mrs. Bush would be speaking. Again, cordoned off. This time, there were students sitting in the outside auditorium-like space, next to the library. Two were Magnet students, though in a different grade than mine. The space was a two story pit. You could reach the library’s basement, from the bottom of the pit. It was a quarter of a circle shaped. It had 3′ x 3′ stair-like wrap arounds that the students sat on, with regular stairs on the sides. I tried to go in the Magnet building’s side doors, directly across from where she would be speaking. A Service agent standing at the doors told me they were locked, go around to the front of the building. I turned the corner and see three men standing outside the Stuart Hall Magnet building’s front door. A few steps more, I recognize who two of the people are… the Governor and Mayor of Indiana and Indianapolis! I knew them from watching TV. The mayor was Bob Orr. I forget the name of the Governor. I was excited. I tried to pass them up and go in the front. The third man, I don’t know who he was, told me I had to go in the other side door. The Governor and Mayor saw me, though! A little more walking and I was in the building. In chemistry, we had study time, which was more like talking time. We were all talking about Mrs. Bush. I knew at this moment, she was speaking to select students, who I was envious of. As class was coming to an end, I looked out the window. There were four limos, one with the Presidential Seal and flags, speeding through the large, cleared parking lot in back, behind Stuart Hall, rushing Mrs. Bush to the airport.

    I have some more entries, if you want to see them. This was the best, though.

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