Indianapolis Collected: The Secret in the Old Diary

Written by on July 25, 2015 in Indianapolis Collected - 7 Comments
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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 to movies at the Circle Theater, a show at the Murat, and a dinner at the Log Cabin, a long-gone tavern at 38th and Keystone.

That was enough to hook me.  I could not resist the challenge of playing Nancy Drew and uncovering The Secret in the Old Diary.

Day in the Life

It didn’t really take much sleuthing to find the original owner of the diary, given the fact that Charlotte had written her name on the first page.  Still, she had failed to list any other identifying information in the spaces provided in the diary, such as her height, weight, eye color, home address or hat size.

I found her obituary online, which helped shed some light on this mysterious woman whose dark secrets I was sure I would soon discover. She was an accountant for nearly 40 years for the now-defunct Esterline-Angus Corporation in Speedway.  She apparently never married.  And she may have loved dogs, since her obituary stipulated that memorial contributions be made to the Humane Society.

Page1

With that limited information in mind, I started poring over the spidery handwriting, only to find that the entries were similarly sparse.  There were no tear-soaked pages detailing a broken heart or a star-crossed love affair with her best friend’s husband. If she ever tucked a love letter or a faded photograph between the diary’s pages, these mementos were long since gone.

It was almost as if the words were written with the thought that someday someone like me would unlock the diary and share its secrets through a medium that would not exist for another 50 years.

FB Key West

Charlotte was 26 years old when she started chronicling her life in the diary.  She had just turned 30 when she penned the last page. As far as I can tell from reading her diary, Charlotte Jane Anderson was a smart and happy young woman with loads of friends and a whirlwind social calendar.

Her entries read a little like modern-day Facebook postings.
FB Keys

During the five years she kept the diary, Charlotte reported that she watched 288 movies, including classics such as Key Largo, Sunset Boulevard, and I was a Communist for the FBI.  In the hot summer months, she and her friends took in double-features during the day and occasionally saw a third movie in the evening.  They went to the Ritz at 3422 N. Illinois, Loew’s Palace at 35 N. Pennsylvania, the Esquire at 2961 N. Illinois, and the Zaring at 2741 Central. The magic of movies even brought Charlotte a little bit of Christmas in July 1947, when she went down to the Indiana Theater to see Miracle on 34th Street.

Then in mid-1949, WFBM-TV became the first commercial television station to sign on in Indianapolis. On September 22, 1951, Charlotte’s family bought a Sylvania TV set. “So wonderful having TV,” she wrote a few days later. “Still can’t believe it.”

After that, the trips to the movies became less frequent, replaced with evenings spent in the glow of the Sylvania.

Sylvania

1951 Sylvania TV ad

Charlotte lived with her mother and her stepfather, and seemed to have enough disposable income to go to Indianapolis Caps hockey games, eat out several times a week, golf with her girlfriends, and buy new dresses at Ayres. She and her friends grabbed barbecue at Bradley’s, ice cream at Martha Washington, cokes at the Tee Pee, and cocktails at the Keys.

On April 13, 1950, she and her chums from Esterline-Angus hosted a “bon voyage” dinner at LaRue’s for a co-worker who was sailing to Rome.  LaRue’s was a legendary supper club in an old mansion that was demolished to make way for the interstate. “Really a swell party indeed,” Charlotte wrote in her diary that evening.

LaRue's

Charlotte Jane Anderson was born in Indianapolis on November 4, 1920 to Martha and Lawrence Anderson.  It’s unclear whether her mother was later divorced or widowed, but in 1930 Martha married Walter Dolmetsch. Martha was a bank teller and Walter was a salesman at various retail establishments, including L. Strauss and Hooks Drugs. In her diary, Charlotte affectionately called them “Mater” and “Pater.”

The family was living at 3017 N. Capitol when Charlotte graduated from Shortridge High School in 1938.  Within a few years, Walter and Martha bought the house next door. Charlotte would live there for the remainder of her life.

House1

3017 and 3015 N. Capitol. (Photo courtesy of Everhart Studios.) According to the caption in Charlotte’s 1938 Shortridge yearbook photo, she planned to study journalism at Arlington Hall, a swanky all-girl junior college in Washington, D.C. Charlotte never matriculated, however, and instead spent four years at Central Normal College in Danville.

Because diaries with locks are designed to hold a person’s darkest secrets, I kept searching for details of Charlotte’s love life.  Charlotte was not only pretty and popular, but she was also smart and confident, elected president of her sorority at Central Normal College in Danville and vice president of the senior class.  Her diary mentioned so many friends that I actually had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of them. Yet the mentions of dates in her diary were few and far between.

Yearbook2

In 1947, she went out for a while with Bob Cradick, occupation unknown.  Their first date was March 11, when they saw a high school basketball game and had sandwiches at the Tee Pee. In October, they took advantage of the beautiful fall weather to drive down to Kentucky, stopping in Oakland City to eat fried chicken and visit with friends. It was, according to Charlotte, a “grand day.” That the last reference to Bob in the diary.

In January 1948, Charlotte hosted a group of friends at her house. “Had grand time all together,” she wrote. “Carl went home 2:30.”

A few days later, she and Carl went to Sam’s.  After that, Carl started popping up with frequency in the diary.  They went to dinner, to the movies, and to the Indiana Roof to dance to Guy Lombardo. Then at some point, Carl slipped from the pages as well.

FB Claypool

I have now read the diary twice and have grown very fond of the girl who I met on its yellowed pages.  Aside from one curious entry on April 11, 1949 -“Kathy out in California found dead in well. Busy day at the office indeed.” – the only secret I have found is what experts are now calling the secret to happiness.

For five straight years, Charlotte spent five minutes a day recalling and writing down a few things that happened each day that made her grateful. Her entries were peppered with “Wonderful,” “beautiful day,” “happy,” and “so grateful.” She loved her friends, her family, her dog, her car, and her life.

In her final entry on December 31, 1951, Charlotte Anderson wrote:

Super month…Wonderful year…Hope joys continue for a long time…..

I hoped so, too.

Last word

An inspirational poster recently popped up in my Facebook feed that said “If a friendship lasts seven years, psychologists say it will last a lifetime.” If this is true, I believe that Charlotte had many lifelong friends. Although she usually referred to a friend by her first name in the diary — Mildred, Lucy, Harriett — I was able to piece together enough information to figure out the last names of two of her closest friends, both of whom outlived Charlotte.

Anabel Coffin, who boarded with Charlotte’s family and was her constant companion during the diary years, remained in Indianapolis until her death in October 2000.  And even though sorority sister Beulah Woolsey got married and moved away in the late 1940s, Charlotte wrote her several times a week during the years she kept the diary.  Beulah died last January.

Beulah 2

Beulah Woolsey Schoeneberger, as shown in the 1942 Central Normal College yearbook and in her 2014 obituary.

The house at the 3015 Capitol where Charlotte wrote in her diary and spent most of her life is now on the market. Although the front porch where she and her friends ate fried chicken after the Indianapolis 500 has since been enclosed, the house retains its original woodwork and much of its old-fashioned charm.  I can almost see Charlotte running down the stairs to have lunch with Anabel or post a letter to Beulah.

CJA 5

Charlotte’s diary is now back home in Indianapolis after traveling to Chicago and back.  I don’t know the next stop on its journey.  Perhaps a potential buyer will walk through the house and hear the echoes of laughter that tend to linger in places where people were happy.  Perhaps the buyer will love history and will contact me for more information about Charlotte. Perhaps I will give the diary to the buyers and urge them to keep it in the house for future owners to cherish.

Perhaps.

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About the Author

Libby Cierzniak is a partner at Faegre, Baker & Daniels, LLP, practicing primarily in the area of government affairs. A native of Kokomo, she became fascinated with historic preservation and Indianapolis history in the 1990s while working in the newly renovated Statehouse. She's an avid collector of "old Indianapolis"--books, photographs, advertising and other items--and loves to research and share information with others about the city's rich and colorful history. Libby, her husband and their two chronically misbehaving dogs live in an 1894 home in the Old Northside, where she serves on the board of the neighborhood association.

7 Comments on "Indianapolis Collected: The Secret in the Old Diary"

  1. Mick Williams July 25, 2015 at 3:24 pm · Reply

    As I read through your article about Charlotte Jane Anderson and her diary, I was astounded to see the image which mentioned Arlington Hall, in DC. Evidently she attended the prestigious young ladies’ finishing school there after graduation from Shortridge High School?

    During WWII, the school’s property was commandeered by the military for the war effort, becoming Arlington Hall Station. The impressive, columned academy building, near Arlington National Cemetery in Northern Virginia, became the headquarters for a few decades through the Vietnam War, of the Army Security Agency. I was assigned there 1969-1971, and was aware at that time it had previously been an elite school for young women.

    I’m curious about the circumstances which led Charlotte to have possibly attended there before the involvement of our country in the war.

    • Libby Cierzniak July 25, 2015 at 11:38 pm · Reply

      Mick – thanks so much for tipping me off about Arlington Hall. She is pictured in the 1939 Central Normal College yearbook as a freshman, so it appears that she planned to attend Arlington Hall and study journalism, but for some reason, never matriculated there. I’m revising the article to include this interesting tidbit of information.

  2. D M Shea July 25, 2015 at 4:49 pm · Reply

    Libby—this is a great story, and my message is such a long shot I almost hesitate to post it…it is that “Cathy found in the well” reference and I had a sudden “news” flash about a long ago front page on-going drama of a tiny girl I think named Kathy or Cathy (maybe Fiscus?) who had somehow tumbled to the bottom of a well or cistern–and the ongoing teams of responders desperately trying to rescue her. But have no idea if they did—and no idea of the locale. Just a random thought.
    .
    I so enjoy your writing–I have lived in one home for 60 plus years and now having to empty it of 90 years accumulation of “stuff.’ This includes long ago Indy memorabilia–plates, those magnifying heavy glass paperweights of State House and other places…menus, programs from old Press Club and Gridiron…you name it. I can’t figure out how to dispose of them. I am going to try to forward you one of the most incredible, a WW! mess kit of a soldier who “scratched” the battle history on the tin and whose history we have found. I now live 7900 North, so if you want to come out as I unpack and unload,,,gimme a call. I am going to post a truly funny story about the Cathcart, 9th and Penn and its sister owners–a story I wrote for the old Times.

  3. Carol July 26, 2015 at 8:31 am · Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. Old diaries are treasures. My mom and aunt found diaries my grandmother wrote in the 1920s when they were cleaning out her house after she moved to a nursing home. Even though she wrote only a few lines a day, the diaries are full of insight into her life as a young mother and wife living on the near East side of Indianapolis, on Rural Street, just south of Brookside Park. Unfortunately, some of the diaries were lost as they traveled from one sibling to another, but my cousin has three years’ worth and made copies for us. I transposed them into a document and then for three years posted them on a blog, (www.ruthcampbellsmith.blogspot.com) with commentary from my mom and my aunt. We did learn some secrets from the diaries, and gained some insight into live “back then”.

  4. Carol Durnil Ayres July 26, 2015 at 1:16 pm · Reply

    I can add to the story of the girl in the well. In l949, I lived in Bloomington, IN., with my husband, who was a student at I.U.
    Before TV, the city newspaper on the square in Bloomington posted large sheets of paper on their large windows announcing the news of the day. This huge national story was followed by millions of people. The little girl, who fell into the uncapped deserted well was Kathy Fiscus, three years old.
    tI was significant enough to be posted on Wikipedia, where you can read the details.

  5. Monique July 29, 2015 at 7:56 am · Reply

    That was great!

  6. Pam Carpenter Smith July 29, 2015 at 7:57 am · Reply

    Wonderful story! Have you considered transcribing the diary and making it available in PDF for purchase? I’m sure I’m not alone in being very interested to read the whole thing – and it might make a good fundraiser for HI.

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