March Madness is not the only kind of madness found in the history of Indianapolis!
Hoosiers and Indianapolitans show no lack of quirk and whimsy. We come by that trait quite honestly, as our forefathers and mothers have certainly exhibited a “flair for the fun” over the years. Consider the following:
Flights of Fancy
Speedway President Carl Fisher loved leading-edge technology, and he was almost as fascinated with aviation as race cars. This passion led to the first major balloon race in Indiana on June 5, 1909, where a crowd of 40,000 observed six balloons ascend from the Speedway. The winner of the event was Goethe Link, whose silver loving cup was later placed at the Smithsonian Museum.
In 1910, the Speedway played host to the first licensed aviation meet in the nation — a six-day event. Competitors circled the track in the air, guided by pylons on the ground. Walter S. Brookins, a young man of 21, set the altitude record at 4,384 feet.
The first contestant to circle the track in a flying contraption was Orville Wright, soaring as high as 125 feet during the race. Carl Fisher got into the act, riding with Orville Wright in one of Wright’s pipe-and-stretched-silk biplanes at dusk on one of the evenings. Fisher and Wright, fully exposed to the elements, laid on their stomachs for the flight, the Speedway president white-knuckling the metal pipe structure for the duration.
Around the turn of the 20th Century, an Interpretive Dance craze swept the entire nation — largely in rebellion against the two forms of dance prevalent at the time: vaudeville, which was considered too gauche for a proper lady and ballet, which was thought to be insufferably high-brow and old fashioned for the modern girl. Not to be outclassed or outmoded, Indianapolis ladies’ groups caught the neoclassical bug and classes sprung up like spring flowers in many of the city’s women’s organizations.
At the height of this dance being in vogue, a local dance troupe commemorated the city’s 1920 centennial with an interpretive dance entitled “The Enemies of Mud and Malaria”. The performance was so well received, it was repeated the next day.
Again in 1926, the 10th anniversary of University Park’s Depew Memorial Fountain was similarly celebrated with an interpretive dance around the very fountain that represents the joys of dancing and the wonder of music. The moment was immortalized by an Indianapolis Star photographer.
Roque (Rhymes with Cloak)
In 1937, Mr. George Atkinson of Indianapolis won the national Roque title — the only Hoosier to win the national crown, and possibly the only Hoosier who knew what Roque was. The game, devised in 1901, was a combination of croquet and billiards. It required the use of four hard rubber balls and 10 arches in a game played to 32 points. Apparently Mr. Atkinson was a true talent as, in his career, he thrice placed runner-up in the national championship, once placed third, and also served as vice-president of the American Roque League.
The fanciful fad of flagpole-sitting was initiated by stunt actor and former sailor, Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly, as a publicity stunt. His 1924 sit lasted 13 hours and 13 minutes. It became a fad that swept the nation, as one intrepid sitter after another competed for the coveted world record for decades.
The once world champion and current state champion in flagpole sitting is Mauri Rose Kirby who, at 17, climbed into a 3′ x 6′ shed atop a 71-foot pole at a drive-in restaurant called the Southwind, located at Carson and Shelby Streets on the south side of the city. Her adventure was sponsored by the Southwind where Kirby served as a waitress or, “curb girl.”
To while-away the weeks in “comfort,” Kirby took with her a pile of confession magazines, a radio, a telephone, a lamp and a sleeping bag. Food and other necessities were hauled up and down by a pulley system — including a Christmas tree. During the winter, though temperatures dipped below zero, Kirby persevered and once she required a dentist to make a pole-house call to extract a tooth!
Kirby stayed aloft for 211 days and 9 hours, finally descending on March 4, 1959.
And finally, under the category of “not quite historic, but memorable,” the largest Indiana necktie was created in October of 1984 by Mike Helbing under commission by Mel Simon & Associates as a money-raising event to support the beautification of downtown Indianapolis–a cause we can all get behind!. The ostentatious accessory, which weighed 250 pounds, was 60 feet long and hung at 2 West Washington Street.
So what are YOUR favorite Indianapolis feats and quirks — historic or otherwise?
Share with us in the comment box below!
Sources: The Indiana Book of Records, Firsts, and Fascinating Facts by Fred D. Cavinder and Indiana State Library newspaper archives.