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We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to feature this moving account from one of our readers.

To read Part I of this story, featured yesterday, click here.  Again, many thanks to Janie Hensley.

By Janie White Hensley

When someone finally pulled me out of all the debris I refused to leave until I saw my parents.  Because we lived reasonably close to the coliseum, there were many nearby people who came to help who were friends and neighbors.  It was one such family friend who finally convinced me to go to the hospital with the promise that she would tell my parents where I’d gone.  As a naive 13-year old I would tell you that when I arrived at Methodist Hospital they put a “shipping tag” on my wrist and wrote a bunch of information on it.  I now know that it was a triage tag, but let’s face it I was only 13.  Amazing to me now, the same family friend came to the hospital, and after seven stitches in my head, took me out of the hospital and home with her.

A lot of what I know now about that night is a mixture of experience and research.  Evidently, ministers and family doctors went to the coliseum to help, and to identify those who had died.  At 7am the next morning, the minister from our church, Rev. John Abernathy, came to tell me that my parents had died.  It was our family doctor, Dr. Hugh Thatcher, who identified them.  When Dr. Thatcher came to see me later in the morning, he asked if I had any questions.  I only had one:  Had my parents died instantly?  To my relief they had.

My Mother must have had some premonition, foresight, or whatever you choose to call it that an incident like this was possible.  Throughout my growing up years Mother would just suddenly stop and ask: “What do you do if your father and I are in an accident?”  My sister and I both knew what to do, who to contact and what my Mother’s wishes were.  The strangest part is to realize the odds of my parents being in an accident together were very, very slim—or so you think.

But on the morning after the explosion, I knew who to call and what to do.  My sister was away at college and had to come back to Indianapolis from Sterling, Kansas.  Unfortunately, the way she learned what had happened was not as gentle as mine, but the effect was the same.  In that moment in time, we were forced to grow up very fast.  We understood better than most that no one is immortal, and we had to make the best of what we had left. We learned very quickly to pick up our lives and go on. It’s not easy, but we moved forward in faith.

Letter to the Editor of the Indianapolis Times from The Whites’ next door neighbor.

I’ve been asked about my emotions from that night and the days that followed.  I summarize it in one word—numb.  It wasn’t until later—and some of it I still struggle with—that the reality of that night was truly felt. As I grew up I understood more fully what I had lost.  Yet, my sister and I were very lucky; we had a good family and a wonderful group of neighbors and friends to support us.

Known to Tudor students as Stewart Manor, this was originally the Sommers Mansion and the last home to the all-girls version of Tudor Hall, before it merged to become Park-Tudor School.

I had to move from Indianapolis to Richmond, VA to live with my aunt and uncle and after a year, my uncle was transferred to Chicago, IL.  I came back to Indianapolis to attend Tudor Hall as a Junior and Senior in High School, graduating in 1969.  I was in one of the last classes to graduate from Tudor Hall before it became Park-Tudor.  After graduating from Tudor, I went to North Carolina to school for a while, then back to Indianapolis to attend Central Business College. I got married and we moved to Tennessee. I have now lived just about all my adult life in Tennessee.

I love living in Tennessee, at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains– the people, the weather and just how beautiful it is here. I have raised two beautiful and wonderful girls (and of course I’m not at all prejudiced) as a single parent.  I’ve struggled and worked hard over the years. I didn’t think that I missed anything about Indianapolis, until….

…The Tudor Hall Class Reunion. And during the trip, I went back to see the old family home, our church, some of my favorite places in Indianapolis, and I went to see the plaque at the coliseum. I couldn’t bring myself to go any farther than the hall where the plaque is, but I did make it that far.

I realized that even though I love Tennessee, Indianapolis is my home.  The schools, the church, and the people I knew–both living and dead– the racetrack, the museums, and the history, these are all home to me.  How delightful to find upon my homecoming, that the little court I grew up on was made a historic neighborhood! Visiting Central Court  pulled me back to easier, simpler times and memories – good and not so good.  I’ve thought a lot about memories and what it was like to be a kid in Indianapolis in the 1950s and 1960s.  I have even started putting what I remember down in a journal.

The old White family home now

Do you remember your own childhood, family and history?  You need to share it with someone.  Write it down.  You never know: your children, grandchildren, or great-great grandchildren might be interested in how you lived, how you defined your life and what made you who you are.  And love your parents and children with all your heart every day, because you just never know…

 

 

 

Plaque inside Coliseum at State Fairgrounds

19 responses to “A Personal Indianapolis Story of Love, Survival and Inspiration- Part II”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Wow. Touching story. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Beth Stolts says:

    I truly enjoyed this memory….thanks for sharing it. I too relocated to Tennessee, however Indianapolis/Indiana will always be “home”. You were so right to encourage us all to write down of memories of growing up, as I have researched my descendants in recent years. I found that it is encouraging to find those in my direct line with dates of birth, marriages, and deaths, but I long for the stories of their lives. I wish you and your sister peace throughout the remainder of your lives.

  3. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    I was stunned to read Janie White Hensley’s personal account of the Coliseum tragedy, because this is the first I knew that parents of someone I’d known were among the casualties. I found myself crying as I read her words, because I was transported back in time to the horror of that Halloween night and the days that followed. Growing up within walking distance of the Fairgrounds, the kids in our neighborhood were quite accustomed to attending events in the Coliseum. Its geographical proximity to our homes resulted in our going to quite a few concerts, graduations, ball games, shows, and other such activities there. We realized that we could easily have been among those who were injured or killed in the explosion, had we happened to have tickets to the opening night of “Holiday On Ice.”

    My family lived on Ruckle Street, just two blocks from the Whites’ home on Central Court, and we were also members of Tabernacle Presbyterian Church, where the Whites worshipped. I knew Anne Marie White, both at church and at Shortridge High School. However, Anne Marie was three years older than I and was already off to college at the time of the accident. Janie was enough younger than I that we would not have been together in high school or Sunday school. I never “put two and two together” until now. I’m sure at some point I must have seen the list of those who were killed, so I probably read the Whites’ names, but in those days, we kids rarely knew our friends’ and neighbors’ parents’ first names. We would have addressed Alfred and Violet White as “Mr. White” and “Mrs. White” with no idea of their given names.

    I am very sorry to learn of Anne Marie and Janie White’s loss. I regret that it took me nearly half-a-century to figure this out. It’s no substitute for having had their parents in their lives, but I hope the girls’ memories helped to sustain them over the years. I’ll be thinking of them and their parents today, as I visit my 90-year-old mother for Mother’s Day.

  4. Donna Winsted says:

    A very moving story! Thank you so much for sharing it – I know it must have been painful.

  5. Sharon White Oliver says:

    I too grew up within walking distance of the Coliseum, on Birchwood just south of Fairfield. I was a “rink rat”, spending every Saturday ice skating for about 10 years. My maiden name is also White (parents Barbara and Ed), and my family was also a member of Tabernacle Presbyterian (“Tab”). I attended PS #66 on 38th Street for elementary school, but my family moved to Washington Township in 1968. My mother and my “bluebird” friend Gloria Butsch attended Shortridge.

    My birthday is October 31st, and that year (my 10th birthday) was the first year we didn’t attend the Holiday on Ice show on Hallowe’en.

    Your story today really touched my heart, as I never knew anyone who had been there that night. Through all these years I often wondered how my brother and I would have managed had I chosen to go to the show that night rather than trick-or-treat in the neighborhood, and thank God we didn’t.

    Janie, thank you for sharing your story with us. I’m sorry you and your sister lost your parents so tragically that night, along with so many others. I’ll be home visiting my mother in a couple of weeks, and will be thinking of you and Ann Marie as I do the “old home tour”.

    Although I moved from Indy in my early 20s, and now live in upstate New York, Indy will always be my hometown. Interestingly, my step-daughter and granddaughters live in Sevierville, TN – so many co-incidences…

  6. Ellen Gonis Luckow says:

    I grew up in Indianapolis, first on the 3200 block of Central and then on the 4800 block of College. As mentioned by others above, I remember the produce man and many events of our childhood during the late 1950s and the early 1960s. I attended Schools 60, 70, 80 and Shortridge, so many of the memories that Janie related are similar to my memories of the time. On Halloween of 1963, my family celebrated my younger brother’s 7th birthday at home. We had several close relatives who attended the Holiday on Ice performance that evening, and upon hearing the horrific news, we feared for their safety. We were so fortunate that they were not injured as the result of the explosion. Thank you for your story.

  7. Sharon Mangas says:

    I’m a former high school classmate of Janie’s. Janie, I just want to say that this is an incredibly beautiful and heartfelt piece, despite the tragic circumstances. Thank you for opening your heart and writing a powerful story. One that reminds us of the brief nature of life. We need to love all we can while we can.
    Happy Mother’s Day, Janie.

  8. basil berchekas jr says:

    One of my best friends, Ronnie Robbins, wasn’t there at the Holiday on Ice explosion, but his Dad was. He ran a house painting company in Brightwood (they lived there and I grew up just 10 blocks east of Brightwood off East 21st Street by Emerson) and a nice customer who was impressed with Ronnie’s Dad’s work invited him to attend the Holiday on Ice with their family. Ronnie used me as a pall bearer for his Dad’s funeral after the explosion, so the “lack of immortality” began to dawn on me as well. The fact that life can end quickly has made itself evident to me since, but that was the first time that it really struck home, as it were…

  9. Julia says:

    What an amazing story! Thank you for sharing so we all can have a better understanding of that day. How happy it makes me to know that the “after” of your life has been blessed in many ways.

    I, myself, have struggled for years to make Indianapolis “home” for me. I felt as if I had no choice when I moved here at the age of 8. I never wanted to be here and spent many years trying to get out. Then one day I woke up, looked at my 3 daughters, and stopped trying to get out -realizing what a blessing it is to be here and raise my family.

    So, I’m glad we can share Indianapolis as “home”!!!!

    Thank you, again, for your story 🙂

  10. Donne' Elbert Mills says:

    I was really touched to read Ms. Hensley’s story. I just recently moved from “The Court”. I lived at 556 Central Court and I just want to let her know that it’s still a quiet oasis in the city and until the last couple of years, all of the neighbors knew each other. My grandchildren loved walking to my home after school…

    Thank you so much for your story.

  11. basil berchekas jr says:

    That story literally moved me; also had friends (luckily not family; friends would be bad enough…) at the Fair Grounds that night….

  12. Sharon Butsch Freeland says:

    Mr. Mills, I know your former home! I spent many hours there in the ’60s, when I was a teenager. The family of one of my best friends while I was a student at Shortridge High School lived at 556 Central Court North from the mid-1950s until the mid-1970s. Their name was Genovese. Dr. Pasquale Genovese was on the staff at the VA hospital. Mrs. Genovese always served her children’s friends freshly baked chocolate chip cookies whenever we were in their home, which made it a popular hangout. Central Court has always been a unique little neighborhood-within-a-neighborhood. I don’t know of any other enclave like it in the city. Central Court used to be even cozier in earlier years. Originally, there were homes on the south side of the street on Central Court South. Central Court South lost maybe eight or nine houses, when School 48 was built. Although I’m sure it was nice to have an elementary school nearby, “The Court” did not seem quite as private as it once had, after all of those 1920s-vintage houses were torn down for the schoolyard.

  13. basil berchekas jr says:

    There are very few “local” neighborhoods like Central Park Court around in Indianapolis or in its suburbs….this is a beautiful story…. nothing more I can think of!

  14. Russ Williams says:

    My friend, Sharn Butsch Freeland, sent me the link to this website and I am so very pleased that she did. When I opened the site I was greeted with this beautiful story of home, love, loss and survival written by Janie White. I also grew up on the “Court” at 537 South Central Court. Janie and I share not only the memories of growing up on this wonderful street but we too share the same birthday, October 31. My family also attended Tab and Janie’s mother and mine were both members of the Nettie Ransford Chapter, Order of Eastern Star. Janie was in the same class as my younger brother Neil at #66 until we moved away.
    By the time of the expolosion, my family had moved to the Sherwood Forest neighborhood in North Indy however I found myself gravitating back to the old neighborhood many times. I had so many friends who still lived there and fortunately, I was able to attend Shortridge High School with them instead of North Central (the school in the area where we had moved to).
    The day after the explosion, some friends of mine cut school and sought out a place where we could donate blood to help the survivors. We were turned away as being too young. I had always wondered what became of Janie and Anne Marie. Now I read that they have lived a good and full life. Thank you Janie for sharing this beautiful story.

  15. Julie Bush says:

    Thank you for sharing this very sad, personal, beautiful and triumphant story of this horrific event that affected and touched so many lives. Outstanding work as always from HI! Thank you for providing local, historic and relevant content each and every day!

  16. Beverly Honeycutt says:

    Thank you for sharing your story. My older sister attended the ice show that night, fortunately she returned unharmed. From reading your story it seems while your time with your parents was short you were really happy. Your parents raised a sweet caring responsible daughter my heart goes out to you.

    Beverly Honeycutt
    Fortville, In

  17. Ted Meek says:

    Like, Janie I almost became parent-less that night. My father had been offered two tickets from a friend for the Holiday on Ice Show. But, Halloween was my parents anniversary plus my mother was 8 months pregnant with my youngest brother. So, he graciously declined the tickets. The couple who went instead both died in the explosion. I always wondered how my life would have been had they gone. Reading this account gives me some idea.

  18. Jack Boeldt says:

    I still have a ticket stub from that Ice show. My wife, her sister, and brother-in-law and I were sitting directly across the ice on the north side when the explosion happened. I often wonder about others that were there. I remember everything as though it were yesterday. God bless you all.

  19. Anonymous says:

    4.5

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