Following the trail of any one person’s life can be fascinating and addictive. You can follow a physical trail: where a person lived, traveled or worked; A person’s social contributions: clubs, community involvement and the like; or, the work life–especially for men, if exploring worlds of 100+ years ago.
Ever liked the game “Concentration?” You have to memorize where a bunch of face-down cards are turned over, two at a time, seeking to find two alike. Like connecting the dots, but with lots more memorization. A fun history game for those who know a bit about the city and its players is similar, where you look for former titans of industry and their connections through the city. Such games are probably easiest at a place like Crown Hill.
So many names stand out when you are familiar with old pieces of Indy. Here is one example, an easy game to play for the most observant among us. Seeing this lovely mausoleum with the name Severin should immediately transport you to the southeast corner of Illinois and Virginia Streets, to our oldest surviving downtown hotel.
Also briefly known as the Atkinson and currently, the Omni-Severin, it will always just be the Severin to purists. Brought into being by successful businessman and Indianapolis native, Henry Severin, Jr. and celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, here’s hoping this corner remains preserved here for at least another 100 years.
What names jump out at you when you visit a cemetery? Do you recognize the names of stores, streets, former friends and family?
Pay attention to the names, you just may be inspired to journeys you never would have imagined.
Another interesting way to connect the dots is to see the names of original landowners and names of subdivisions in the older parts of town that indicate a historical lineage, as well as street names (like English Opera House and Hotel, English Avenue, and his name associated with subdividing with Fletcher, Yandes, etc., and the English Foundation Building for nonprofits…just examples you know well!)
So funny you posted this. My younger sister and I were just at Crown Hill on Memorial Day and we saw Charles Fairbanks’s grave, and she was like, “That’s who my school is named after!” The school where she teaches is IPS 105 – Charles Fairbanks Elementary. Then we saw Hilton U. Brown’s grave and she texted me on her way home (she wasn’t driving) and said, “We’re driving by the Hilton U. Brown Early Childhood Center!” We saw the Fletcher family (I live near Fletcher Place) …and name after name that made me think, “I wonder if this street was named after them…Huh…”
I note the name Virginia Keep and a sudden thought pops up–When my daughter Kelly was small, a dear family friend Mrs. Harry Miesse (nee Elizabeth EItel)–niece of late James Whitcomb Riley) was still living in very large family home around 34th and Meridian (ran from Meridian back to Penn) before throwing together couple l suites to move into Marott Hotel–=year uncertain..) She at late 80’s was a trip! Loved to entertain, cruise, wore bright ribbons in her hair matched by ribbon on her tiny dog, took lessons at Arthur Murray—and doted on her memories/artifacts of “Uncle Jim.” who had left large legacies to nieces including spinster Miss Leslie Paine or Payne (not her “flavor of month”.)
Mrs. Miesse wanted to write a play–loved to remember and share and I have things she gave me like Uncle Jim’s glasses, original recording of him reciting poetry (drunk I think), her sterling chatelaine with her date notes still written on little ivory pad-=-and, the book I am about to describe.
I am sure it was written by Virginia Keep or similar name. Mrs. M. gave it to my daughter “Living Dolls” or something like that–I can look–and her story was that as proper young upper class ladies were expected to do, she was volunteered to be part of the then-new Children’s Museum. Somehow the story of Living Dolls was integral part of that early effort–details lost in my memory. I still have book…could this be related family member?
Virginia illustrated all the “Live Dolls” books (it was a series) that were written by Josephine Scribner Gates and published by Bobbs-Merrill. I am impressed that you recall her name! I recognize the Eitel name from some collection of correspondence I looked through at the Historical Society (maybe relating to Bobbs-Merrill?)
Re recognizing Eitel name–all my information is anecdotal from friendship with Elizabeth Eitel Miesse (widow of well known city leader Harry Miesse) whose father was banker Edmund Eitel (spelling iffy)–she always described her father as being the one who “made a millionaire” of “Uncle James Whitcomb Riley–grooming the somewhat carefree and reckless young poet into a man of means later in JWR life. Riley who never married left big fortune to nieces including Mrs. Miesse, spinster Leslie Paine (Payne) and another one or two. Her huge home on M.Meridian was a treasure trove of Riley relics–hjand made valentines, etc. as well as her own childhood growing up in affluent local family. She gave my daughter Kelly Mikels Shea the first Orphant Annie doll, as well as the Keep book–any local group like Chidren’s Museum welcome to it on request to Kelly. Mrs. Miesse lived into 90’s, last years after she sold big house 3400 Meridian (going all the way back to Penn) she resided in double suite in Marott–generously giving away her keepsakes to friends–I have her sterling silver chatelaine from her deb years, Uncle Jim’s pince nex, some books and a 78 record of Riley reciting his own “Little O. Annie” poem (bit boozy but audible.)
She was a trip–taking Arthur Murray rumba, tango lessons into her 90’s, writing a movie script, always matching hair bows on her and her tiny dog. Anybody else remember her?
Regarding Elizabeth Eitel Miesse. You are correct that her father, Henry Eitel – helped James Whitcomb Riley with his money. Riley was a true artistic person and did not have a business mind. He was frequently taken advantage by unscrupulous business managers who were being made rich from Riley’s work. This was part of the reason for Riley’s depression and binge drinking (most of the time Riley functioned normally). Riley would be worked to almost exhaustion and then because of the ill-written contracts – – he would receive very little income from his efforts.
In comes Henry Eitel – husband to Riley’s younger sister, Elva May Riley Eitel. He takes Riley’s business contracts and money dealings in hand – – and allows the poet to his artistic work. Eitel would negotiate contracts for Riley and see to it that he was fairly paid for his work. This was how Riley because a successful and wealthy poet – -instead of a starving artist.
Even though Riley was engaged to be married twice – he never married. His older brother John had no children. Two of his other siblings died while young – Martha (age 4) and Alexander (age 21). He had only two siblings who had children and they were his two younger sisters: Elva May Eitel and Mary Elizabeth Payne. Elva May would have Edmund and Elizabeth. Mary Elizabeth had Leslie Payne. Elva May’s marriage to Henry Eitel was a happy one – – and her husband provided for her very well. Mary Elizabeth on the other hand had an abusive husband, and she divorced. James Whitcomb Riley helped support his sister and her niece in his later years.
**If you have any items that you would like to donate to the James Whitcomb Riley Boyhood Home in Greenfield, IN – -we would gladly accept them. We are always looking to collect Riley related items – and enjoy sharing these things in the James Whitcomb RIley Boyhood Home and Museum.
RE Virginia Keep Living Doll–I am closing down ;home of 60 years and have been offered flat sum for large collection of books/ephemera but one of them might be special to you. I would have to dig it out but from memory this is a book which was given to my daughter Kelly Shea perhaps in 60’s by the late Elizabeth Eitel Miece . She was daughter of Edmund Eitel, banker and his wife was sister of James Whitcomb Riley. (She and spinster cousin Ms. Leslie Payne were last 2 surviving heirs of Riley,, and when she sold her large home on N.Meridian to move into Marott she gave me and family members numerous family items, one a gift from Uncle Jim to her in her teens–sterling silver chatelaine with compact, coin holder, tiny pencil, silver note book with ivory pages. But back to the Keep book—she told me when she was pre-teen she along with same aged girls from affluent families were “volunteers” (by their parents) for the original Children’s Museum and that this hard back book was associated. I am selling too much kept but would love for items like these to find their way to appropriate people places. Price negotiable.
To D. M. Shea, I just wanted to make a correcftion in your information. My Uncle. Henry Eitel was Elizabeth’s father. Edmund was her brother, and she also had a half sister who was older.
Your info right on and I would love to share and get enlightenment on other info…Mrs. Miesse was a wonderful friend and her last years –last days actually–=have left me with some information I always wanted to pass on—did not know she had family. What was your relationship? Right now a great ;h;istorian is asking me questions with special interest in that area and I am working from a 90 yer old memory—not always good. But do have some interesting Eitel info….would love to share with you
Elizabeth was my grandmother’s first cousin, so she was my first cousin twice removed. My great grandfather was Charles A. Eitel, a younger brother to her dad, Henry Eitel. While other members of my family kept in contact with her for several years and up until her passing, my last experience was when she came to my school and did a program about her famous uncle. The thing I remember most is that when she was introduced she first announced that she had other family in attendance and then she introduced us as her cousins. Needless to say our teachers were surprised I would be interested in hearing your Eitel information, and thank you for replying to my comment.
I just found this cleaning out folders and am so computer limited I don’t know how to re-connect with you or to extract email—so this is a shot in the dark to see if I can indeed share not just a few but a lot of last days with Mrs. Miesse–plus I have a number of family items she gave to me and my children over a long period of years–each with a story. A collector wants to buy some of the books and artifacts but I would first send photos or memories to you if I could reach you. Not knowing how public this is I hesitate to post a phone or address–but you are probably smarter than I in re-connecting. Posted 9/15 after finding lost correspondence
Yes I would be interested in what you have concerning the Eitel family. You can call me at 317 839-3403. I live in the Indy area.
Thank you for your help.
Randy and Donna –
Thought you might find this interesting. The Riley Home in Greenfield is in the process of cataloging our collection and getting ever thing computerized. In the process, I have run across references to correspondence from Edmund Eitel to Arthur Downing (a former Mayor of Greenfield and first President of the Riley Old Home Society). The correspondence details how several of the Riley Family’s personal items and pieces of furniture were donated to help establish the Riley Home in Greenfield. Very interesting stuff!