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Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society, L. S. Ayres and Company Records, 22 November 1947

The L. S. Ayres cherub, one of the city’s most beloved little sculptures, makes its appearance every Thanksgiving eve and looks out over shoppers until Christmas.

The sculpture has its roots in drawings created for the 1946 catalog of L. S. Ayres, the city’s premier department store. Advertising artist Virginia Holmes used angel illustrations to fill space in the somewhat sparse, post-war catalog and they became a hit. With their 75th anniversary approaching in 1947, the store commissioned sculptor and Herron School of Art instructor David Rubens to create the thirty-six inch tall bronze sculpture. Employees unceremoniously placed the cherub upon their well-known clock at the corner of Washington and Meridian Streets on the day before Thanksgiving in 1947 and created a sensation. Through the years, generations of residents visited downtown during the holidays to enjoy the store’s decorated Christmas windows and take a peek at the angel, especially since it was a tradition for shoppers to “meet under the Ayres’ clock.”

The May Company bought out L. S. Ayres in 1986 and moved the sculpture to their Saint Louis warehouse after closing the downtown store in January 1992. Administrators likely did not understand the fondness that Indianapolis folks had for the little cherub, nor did they anticipate the public outcry when they ignored the tradition and the clock sat lonely during the 1992 season. The anonymous mystery group  FTC (Free the Cherub) alerted the media and distributed bumper stickers reading, “Free the Cherub! Boycott Ayres!”  After hundreds of calls, passionate notes, letters to the editor, and even a poem lamenting the loss read by then-Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, the May Company finally gave in and returned the cherub to the city December 1992. Since 1993 it has again appeared yearly on the old Ayres’ clock. Today Carson Pirie Scott occupies the old Ayres building. Indianapolis Downtown, Inc. is the guardian for the whimsical cherub which celebrates its 67th birthday in 2014. (Undated photograph, ca. 2010)

I hope you all have a very Happy Thanksgiving with friends, family, and loved ones and enjoy your own traditions! Thanks for all of your kind words, comments, and shared memories and photographs of Indianapolis.

[Would you like to see your old photographs featured in this Then and Now column? If so, attach a high resolution jpeg or png and any details about the building within our “Say Hi” link in the footer of our website.]

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5 responses to “Indianapolis Then and Now: The Ayres Clock Cherub”

  1. Ken Turchi says:

    Very nice!

  2. A.P. Robinson says:

    The article is incorrect in stating that the clock sat empty in 1992 and 1993. The cherub was returned in December 1992 and it was given to the City of Indianapolis at that time. Then-Mayor Goldsmith even wrote a poem for the occasion (or his staff did and he read it, and it was not so nice to Ayres). The uproar was sparked by a campaign by the anonymous, shadowy group FTC (Free the Cherub), which printed and distributed bumper stickers that said, “Free the Cherub! Boycott Ayres!” and issued press releases to all local media outlets, creating a public relations disaster for Ayres (then owned by the May Company in St. Louis) at the height of the Christmas shopping season. I know this because, as the ringleader of the group, I wrote and distributed the press release and gave (face blotted out) TV interviews. I still have the bumper stickers and poem and the press clippings. The best of all was The Indianapolis News: “Hark Imperiled Angel Sings.” The bumper sticker used the Ayres advertising font, Bauer Bodoni Bold, in white reversed from red to match Ayres Christmas brand look. And yes, I had worked for Ayres for years prior to their corporate consolidation into May Co.

  3. Joan Hostetler says:

    Anne, thanks so much for the detailed information (and for your role in returning the cherub to Indianapolis). The dates have been corrected. I would love to have copies of the FTC bumper sticker and other photographs to update this article. You can reach me at heritagephotoservices@gmail.com.

  4. Barbara Brookie White says:

    This brings back memories as a little three year old, hanging on to my mother’s purse strap, as she shopped every department in L.S. Ayres. The huge crowds that pressed against the windows to see the delightful Christmas displays were impressive. I’ll never forget the excitement and somewhat fear of getting lost in the crowd.

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