Indianapolis, Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington. Part III

Original Publish Date May 20, 2021.

In the John Lennon film “Above Us Only Sky” (a segment from the larger film “Imagine”) there’s a scene from a 1971 encounter with a young man who shows up at Lennon’s house in England. Lennon talks with him and eventually invites him in to eat some food. In the clip, Lennon’s Mini Cooper car (parked outside the house) has a WIFE Good Guys radio sticker in the back window. How in the world did a sticker from a local Indianapolis radio station end up on a car in John Lennon’s driveway in England? The mystery was uncovered by Irvingtonian Bill Price in part I of this article and solved by Irvingtonian Stephen Bruce Smith in part II. Part III reveals another Irvington connection.
When the Beatles played two shows at the Indiana State Fair in September of 1964, Radio station WIFE 1310 sponsored the show in the Coliseum, and WIBC sponsored the show in the grandstand. In 1963, WIFE-310 AM signed on the air with a rock-heavy playlist. And by the time The Beatles arrived, the station had rapidly surged to the top of the ratings race, bringing an end to radio station WIBC-1070 AM’s reign as the champion of Indianapolis’ airwaves. In 1964, programming on WIFE largely focused on top 40 hits and bubblegum rock including The Beatles.


The Beatles concerts have been detailed by this writer in past columns and the specifics of those shows are well-known to all Circle City Beatles fans. Stephen Bruce Smith added more details to that story and revealed that Lennon “got the bumper sticker in 1964 at the station when The Beatles awarded tickets to a lucky high school girl who won a contest. I knew her brother at Howe High School. John got that sticker at the station from either Jay Reynolds or Jack Sunday (Jerry Baker).”
Turns out Smith, who knows everybody, rediscovered that lucky ticket-winning girl too. Did I mention Stephen Bruce Smith knows EVERYBODY? Her name is Elaine Conly and she is a Howe graduate, class of 1966. She was Elaine May when she won that contest back in 1964. Elaine’s mother, Virginia Casey May, who passed in 2002, was active in the Irvington Women’s Club as past chairwoman and past president of the Irvington Music Study Group. She was also a pioneer member of the neighborhood CrimeWatch program and Human Rights Commission, retiring from the Indianapolis Mayor’s office in 1977. Virginia was also a former chairwoman for the Junior Civic Theatre and scriptwriter for the “Time for Timothy (Churchmouse)” program. So Elaine, who performed in some of those productions for her mother’s Civic Theatre, knew a thing or two about the entertainment business.

Elaine Conly With Paul, Ringo, George & John at the Concert Press Conference.

15-year-old Elaine entered a 50-word or less summertime essay contest by the Indianapolis News titled “I want to meet the Beatles because…” Elaine entered (without telling her parents) and her 47-word essay was selected as the winner from more than 3000 entries. Her winning entry read: “I want to meet the Beatles because they have a special magic. When they perform, the oppressing world crisis and other problems can be temporarily forgotten. They sing happy, swinging songs. I’d love to meet the four young men who can make everything seem a little brighter.” Just like in the movie Bye-Bye Birdie, Elaine supplants Ann-Margret who likewise wins a contest to meet her Elvis-like hero, Conrad Birdie.
“I had to keep it a secret though, that was hard to do,” Elaine says. When her picture appeared on the front page of the newspaper announcing her victory, “The phone rang off the hook, it was pandemonium.” Elaine, the daughter of Harry A. May, grew up at 1134 N. Butler Ave., “Butler Avenue North of 10th, Two blocks from the Steer Inn,” she states.
“I was worried that they (The Beatles) would not want to meet a teen-aged kid and that they might poke fun at me. I expected to get a cold reception.” Elaine recalls, “But they were perfect gentlemen and very nice to me. I shook all of their hands and when I entered the room, John stood up an offered me his seat.” Which was a good thing because John Lennon was her chosen Beatle. “He had written a book of poetry and he was my favorite. They were all very nice and gentlemanly but John was the nicest of the four.” Elaine recalls. “I went out and bought a special black crepe dress because I heard that John liked black.”

Paul McCartney with Elaine in the background.

The whole encounter, which took place in the communications building at the State Fairgrounds across from the Coliseum, took less than five minutes. Elaine reveals, “I wore the class rings of four of my classmates to the meeting. They belonged to my friends. They all wanted their ring to touch a Beatle.” When I asked if she got any souvenirs or autographs, she responds, “No, I was told (by the Indy News) that I couldn’t ask for autographs or take photographs of my own. I wish I would have because I probably could have paid for my college tuition with that money now.”
Elaine states that the newspapers followed up on Elaine’s story every few years. As for the Fab Four, “They were very funny but very polite.” she recalled. Part of Elaine’s duties that day, aside from the obvious photo op for the news, was to deliver an original editorial cartoon from the News to the Lads from Liverpool. “Then I just stood to the side for the rest of the Press Conference”, Elaine says. When she left the building, she was bombarded with questions from local reporters.

Elaine Conly with the Beatles.

Part of her prize package included tickets to the show. When asked what memories she had of the concert, Elaine says, “Security was very tight. It was very dark and very hard to hear them. But it was great to look at them, they were so handsome.” Her tickets? “Oh, they were very close, first 10 rows or so.” Did anyone recognize her as the contest winner? “Yes, a few people picked me out right away, but then the Beatles came out and that was that.” Elaine is still saddened by the death of her favorite Beatle. “I was watching Monday Night Football (December 8, 1980) when they broke in to announce that John Lennon had been shot. I cried. I cried a lot.”
And what about that little black dress, the only physical souvenir she has left from that encounter? “That dress was good luck.” she says, “I was wearing that dress a year later when I walked a friend to the bus station. A friend of a friend, University of Cincinnati architecture student Michael Conly, was on the bus and kept asking, “Who’s that girl in the black dress?” Long story short, Elaine and Michael Conly have been married for 51 years. And her engagement ring? Michael purchased it for her in Beatles Country: England, where he was studying in Europe.
Several years ago, Michael had a special print of his wife’s brush with the Beatles enlarged and the poster-sized photo hangs on the couple’s wall inside their Fishers home. “That’s my claim to fame I guess. Over the years it (the photo) was a big hit with our babysitters who would gasp and ask me about the encounter. I was always amazed because most of them were not even born when that meeting took place. The Beatles still have that power though, after all these years.”

Indianapolis, Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington. Part II

Original Publish Date May 13, 2021.

In part I of this series, I told you about an obscure episode involving The Beatles John Lennon and the Indianapolis radio station WIFE. In the film “Above Us Only Sky” there is a car parked outside Lennon’s house that has a WIFE Good Guys radio sticker on the back window. How did a sticker from a Circle City radio station end up on a car 3,947 miles away in John Lennon’s driveway?
Anyone over the age of 50 should remember WIFE AM 1310 in Indianapolis. How can you forget those Coppertone commercials in the summertime: “Time to turn so you won’t burn.” Or the WIFE Lucky 13? Or the billboard near Indianapolis’ Weir Cook Airport (later Indianapolis International Airport) which amused passing motorists with the message, “While you’ve been gone we’ve been spending night and day with you WIFE!” Or even the “window on the world” of the WIFE studios at 1440 N. Meridian Street where pedestrians and downtown shoppers could walk past the window and see one of the “WIFE Good Guy” DJs in action?
WIFE was the top 40 giant of Indy for years and the only real AM radio rockers in town during the mid to late sixties (sometimes garnering as much as a 40% share of the Indy radio audience). WIFE is remembered for their endless contests (“The 100 Thousand Dollar Dream Home” or “The 100 Thousand Dollar Cash and Car Give-A-Way”), ear-worm jingles pounding the call letters and station numbers ad nauseam, and, maybe worst of all, the station sped up the records to cram more music in between the ads, witty banter, and promos. This last practice confounded pre-teens who wondered why the songs sounded so much different on WIFE than on the 45s. Most of all, radio fans remember the “WIFE Good Guys”: Big Jack Armstrong, Roger W. Morgan, Reb Porter, Jay Reynolds, Joe Light, Jay Hawkins, Buddy Scott, Jim Fox, T.J. Byers, Scott Wheeler, Mike O’Brien, Dan Summers, and Steve Miller.


And who can forget Jack Sunday: aka ABA / NBA Indiana Pacers radio voice Jerry Baker. Jerry handled the noon to 3:00 shift for a couple of years at WIFE chanting “Hey, this is Jack Sunday” every break and intro and while hosting the “Pool Party” segments. It was Jerry Baker who introduced the Beatles during their two concert stops at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. For years, WIFE would replay Jerry’s Beatles intro from the fairgrounds every time they played one of the Fab Four’s songs: “On behalf of the Indiana State Fair Board and WIFE Good Guys…The Beatles!” No doubt about it, WIFE 1310 is an Indiana institution. And somehow, a bumper sticker from the station ended up on John Lennon’s car in England.
I found the answer, where else? On Facebook, which led me right back here to Irvington. I started by joining the WIFE RADIO ALUMS & FANS Facebook page. It was there that I found Irvingtonian Stephen Bruce Smith. That name should be familiar to many Irvintonians. Smith is a former Irvington Council President (1997-99), 1975 Howe high school alumni, and 1980 Butler grad. Smith, who grew up on the corner of Brookville and Grand (421 So. Grand), is a Beatles superfan, authority and collector. And he knows EVERYONE in Irvington. I called Smith on a Saturday afternoon. When he answered the phone I could hear that he was spinning Beatles vinyl on the turntable in the background. EXACTLY what you might expect from an Irvington Beatles guy.
Smith unraveled the mystery of the bumper sticker quite succinctly. “The Beatles came to Indy in September 1964 to do two concerts at The State Fair on the 3rd. WIFE sponsored the concert and had various contests surrounding the concert. The Beatles visited the WIFE studio earlier that day and were given various gifts to remember their visit to Indianapolis. They were greeted by Miss Indiana State Fair as well as meeting a girl who won the Meet The Beatles Contest. She happened to be a Howe High School girl. The WIFE Good Guy sticker on John’s Mini Cooper in the 1971 film came from that studio appearance that morning at WIFE 1330 North Meridian. John loved stickers and t-shirts so I’m sure he just stuck it on there many years later.”


However, the story doesn’t end there. Stephen went to the first Beatles concert at the Fairgrounds. There were two, one inside the Coliseum and the other on the stage/grandstands outside. “I went with my father, Stephen Smith Sr., in exchange for punishment to see Andy Williams and the Osmond Brothers,” Stephen jokingly says. “My dad was shipping supervisor at Atkomatic Valve Co. at 141 S. Sherman Drive at Brookville and Sherman. They produced valves used in the NASA space program. He passed away in November of 1967. He got the tickets for free from a coworker.”
Smith remembers actually being excused from school to go to the concert. “It was a weekday, a Thursday I think. I was 8 years old and I was worried my teacher, Mrs. Cunningham, wouldn’t agree. I went to Orchard Park School and I think I got on her bad side because I had dressed up as Vic Morrow from the Combat TV show for Halloween. She gave me a frown as she lifted my mask. Everyone else was dressed as princesses, ghosts, and cartoon characters and my costume was a little rough looking, but she let me go.” Smith found out later that several other kids in school went to the concert too.
I asked what he remembered about the concert, and he stated, “It was about 35 minutes long and they played maybe 6 songs. You couldn’t hear anything.” Smith adds that, years later, he became good friends with WIFE Good Guy DJ Jay Reynolds and they often talked about that concert. “I remember Jay gave me the greatest quote about the noise. He said, “it got so loud that it got quiet.” And he was right.” Smith recalls that the Coliseum was “remodeled and brand new after the explosion.” (On October 31, 1963, during a Holiday on Ice show, a propane leak at a concession stand caused an explosion that killed 74 people and injured around 400 others. A subject I’ve written about in past columns.)


Smith continues, “Even at that young age, I could see that the security seemed unprepared for what was happening. Girls were screaming, fainting, and crying and there was even a rumor that one girl died from an asthma attack during the concert. Girls were all peeing themselves and getting hurt jumping from seat to seat. There were 16 Marion County deputies around the stage and they were all scared to death. You could not hear a word.” Stephen continues, “My dad was a pilot in World War II and he said he hadn’t seen that kind of crazy since wartime.”
One image that sticks with Smith is that of a smashed golf cart he and his father walked past after the show. “I remember staring at that thing for a long time. It was totally destroyed. After the concert, they used it as a diversion to get the girls away from the band. These screaming girls chased it down and literally tore it apart. I can still see that trashed golf cart in my mind.”


As an adult, Stephen Bruce Smith also encountered Jerry Baker, aka WIFE Good Guy “Jack Sunday”. Smith relates, “Jerry told me that the Beatles were each given goody packs that included Bibles in each bag. And the only thing they requested was a black and white TV, coca-colas, hamburgers, French fries, and Marlboro cigarettes. Also in those goody bags were t-shirts and stickers from WIFE. John loved trinkets and collected all that stuff, t-shirts, patches, and stickers of any kind; anything American. John had stickers on everything in his house.”
It makes sense that Lennon, fresh on the heels of The Beatles’ 1970 break-up (which many attribute to Yoko Ono), chose the WIFE sticker, with its slogan “WIFE Good Guy”, as a wry contrary comment on his relationship with Yoko. The Indianapolis connection was purely coincidental.
Many years later, Smith won a contest to meet Paul McCartney backstage in Chicago in 2005. “I was ushered in to meet him with a group of reporters. It was only 6 minutes, but it seemed like 6 hours. The reporters were stunned and really weren’t talking to him. I asked him if he remembered the concerts in Indianapolis. He said, “Oh yes, I remember Ringo went drinking with the cops.” Smith adds the little-known detail that Ringo traveled up to Noblesville where one of the police security officers (State Trooper Jack Marks) owned a horse farm. “When word got out about that visit, those poor people were invaded by teenage girls wanting details.”
Smith continues, “knowing Paul owned a sheepdog, I told him I had a sheepdog myself. He asked, “Oh really, what is the dog’s name?” I answered, “Jack the Moose” and Paul said hmmm, “Jack the Moose, Jack the Moose” over and over a few times. I was hoping he was gonna use it in a song, but that never happened.” Smith, who lives next to Pleasant Run Golf Course, ran into Paul’s assistant at another McCartney concert later. “He recognized me and said as we parted, “Cool, Paul will see you after the show.” Smith says, “It never happened. But the concert was great.”


Next week, Part III


The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington.

Criminals, Indianapolis, Pop Culture, Sports

John Dillinger the ballplayer.

John “Jack Rabbit” Dillinger and the Mooresville “AC’s”

Original publish date:  April 8, 2021

Despite John Dillinger’s meteoric rise to infamy and spectacular headline grabbing death, his Indianapolis boyhood was unexceptional. He attended public schools for eight years in the Circle City and was a typical student. His teachers recalled that he liked working with his hands, was good with all things mechanical and liked reading better than math. He liked hunting, fishing, playing marbles, the Chicago Cubs and playing baseball. He was energetic and got along well with others (although he often bullied younger children), was cocky and quick witted. Dillinger quit school at age 16, not due to any trouble, but because he was bored and wanted to make money on his own.
During World War I, Dillinger tried to get a job at Link Belt in the city but was rejected because he was too young. Instead, he took a job as an apprentice machinist at James P. Burcham’s Reliance Specialty Company on the southwest side of Indianapolis and worked nights and weekends as an errand boy for the Indianapolis Board of Trade. All the while, Dillinger played second base on the company baseball team. One slot on Dillinger’s resume included a four day stint with the Indianapolis Power & Light Company drawing the hefty sum of 30 cents an hour. Just long enough for the “ringer” to help the IPL team win a league title.
In his spare time, Dillinger hung out at the local pool hall where he drank and smoked with the older men and cavorted with the local prostitutes. One of the regulars later recalled, “John would come in, hang up his hat and play pool at a quarter a game. He wasn’t very good, and he frequently lost. When he would lose two dollars, he’d put back the cue, get his cap, and walk out without a word. Never gave anyone any trouble and never said much.”

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In 1920, his father, John Dillinger Sr., believing that the city was corrupting his son, sold his eastside Indianapolis Maywood grocery store property and moved his family to Mooresville. For the next 3 years, young Dillinger split his time between Moorseville, Martinsville and Indianapolis, traveling by interurban or motorcycle nearly every day. The athletic Dillinger quickly caught on with the semipro Mooresville Athletic Club’s “Athletics” baseball team. His reputation on the local sandlots and his quick speed earned him the nickname “The Jackrabbit”.
The 5-foot-7, 150 pound middle infielder batted leadoff and led the Athletics in hitting, for which the team’s sponsor, the Old Hickory Furniture Company, gave him a $25 reward on their way to the 1924 league championship. His game was so tight that other local teams began to pay him to play ball for them and throughout that summer the cash poured in.

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Dillinger’s younger sister Frances, who passed away in 2015, insisted that her brother was good enough to draw Major League scouts to tiny Martinsville just to watch him play. Flush with confidence and blinded by the glare of an obviously bright future, Dillinger married Beryl Ethel Hovious in Mooresville on April 12, 1924. The couple moved into his father’s farm house but within a few weeks of the wedding, the groom was arrested for stealing 41 Buff Orpington chickens from Omer A. Zook’s farm on the Millersville Road.
Though his father was able to work out a deal to keep the case out of court, it further strained his relationship between them. Dillinger and Beryl moved out of their cramped bedroom and into Beryl’s parents’ home in Martinsville. There Dillinger got a job in an upholstery shop. All the while, Dillinger continued to play baseball. In between calling balls and strikes during AC Athletics games, umpire Ed Singleton (a web-fingered local drunk and pool shark 11-years his senior) was in the young shortstop’s ear. Singleton said he knew an old man, Frank Morgan, who carried loads of cash in his pockets around the streets of Mooresville.

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Beryl Hovius and John Dillinger


On September 24, 1924, the young and impressionable Dillinger accompanied Singleton on what turned out to be a botched stick-up. After ambushing Morgan with a heavy iron bolt wrapped in a cotton handkerchief and knocking him unconscious, Dillinger fled the scene, thinking he had killed his victim. Turns out the bolt was not heavy enough to render an unconscious blow so Dillinger pistol whipped the old man in the face. The gun went off, firing harmlessly into the ground, unbeknownst to the young hoodlum. The robbery netted just $50 ($750 in today’s money).
Upon hearing the gunshot, Singleton panicked and drove away with the getaway car, stranding Dillinger, who ducked into a pool hall a few blocks away. Dillinger was arrested the next day at his father’s farm and held in the county jail in Martinsville. His father visited him there and told “Junior”, “Johnnie if you did this thing, the only way is to own up to it. They’ll go easy on you and you’ll get a new start.” Dillinger, who did not have a lawyer, pled guilty and received a 10-year prison sentence. His accomplice Ed Singleton hired a lawyer and received just 5 years. John Dillinger had launched himself into the big leagues of professional crime. But again, baseball would play a pivotal role in the young outlaw’s life.z pendleton
While incarcerated at the Indiana Reformatory in Pendleton, Prison officials recognized his superior ball playing skills and quickly recruited him for the prison ball club. On July 22, 1959, the 25th anniversary of Dillinger’s death, the Indianapolis News ran an article on Dillinger the ballplayer by “Outdoor Columnist” Tubby Toms. “His play was marvelous, both in the field and at bat… He might have been a Major League shortstop the caliber of a Pee Wee Reese or a Phil Rizzuto.” Tubby further mentioned an interaction between Governor Harry G. Leslie and Dillinger. Leslie, who has been detailed in a couple of my past columns, was a legendary athlete at Purdue University. Leslie always made it a point to stop and linger on visits to watch the prison ballplayers in action.
Tubby, who was the News Statehouse reporter at the time, recalls a 1932 visit to the prison with Governor Leslie when both men watched the reformatory’s baseball team take on a local semipro club. The two men couldn’t take their eyes off the shortstop whom fellow inmates were calling “jackrabbit”. Governor Leslie strongly believed in the rehabilitative power of organized competition and took a keen interest in inmates who applied themselves and excelled. So it wasn’t unusual that Dillinger captured his attention.

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Governor Harry Leslie


Later that day, as fate would have it, Governor Leslie presided over Dillinger’s parole hearing. After Dillinger was once again denied parole, the dejected outlaw asked a question of the board. “I wonder if it would be possible to transfer me to the State Prison up at Michigan City? They’ve got a REAL ball team up there.” The Governor then said, “Gentlemen, I saw this lad play baseball this afternoon, and let me tell you, he’s got major league stuff in him. What reason can there be for denying him this request? It may play an important part in his reformation.” His request was granted and to this day, his official records state that he was sent to the big house “so he can play baseball.” It was at Michigan City where John Dillinger, under the tutelage of more seasoned cons, learned how to be a bank robber.
On May 22, 1933, Governor Paul McNutt released Dillinger from State Prison. Within a month, he held up the manager of a thread factory in Monticello, Illinois. A month after that, he held up a drugstore in Irvington. From there, he graduated to robbing banks. Dillinger followed his beloved Cubbies for the rest of his short life. Legend states that he even attended a few games at Wrigley Field while perched atop J. Edgar Hoover’s most wanted list. In fact, while playing toss in the outfield before a game in August of 1933, the bank robber was pointed out to outfielder Babe Herman as he sat with a group in the left field box seats. Cubs Hall of Fame catcher Gabby Hartnett often recalled how Chicago police routinely knew that Dillinger was in the crowd of Cubby faithful at Wrigley Field but never turned him into the G-men. Cubs all-star Woody English was once stopped on his way to the ballpark because he drove the same model of car as the outlaw did.
In a letter to his niece Mary, with whom he used to play catch, Dillinger said he was going to try and head east to see the Giants play the Senators in the 1933 World Series. Unfortunately, he was arrested on Sept. 22, 11 days before the start of the Fall Classic. He did, however, make money betting on the Giants, who won the series in five games. The 1933-1934 hot stove season was a busy one for Dillinger. He busted out of two jails and on June 22, 1934, J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI officially dubbed him Public Enemy No. 1. Dillinger responded by hiding out in plain sight in the city of big shoulders. He went to movies, partied at night clubs, toured the Chicago World’s Fair (more than once), and took in several Cubs games.Dillinger almanac


After a near fatal, botched plastic surgery in May of 1934, Dillinger dyed his hair, grew a mustache, and sported dark sunglasses to attend games at Wrigley to test out his new look out. One of Dillinger’s known hideouts in Chicago was an apartment at 901 W. Addison St., just two blocks east of Wrigley Field. On June 8th, Dillinger watched as his Cubs witness from the season before, Babe Herman, hit a 2-run homer in a loss to Cincinnati 4-3. In a story that made newspapers nation-wide, Dillinger watched from the upper deck as again Babe Herman drove in a pair of runs during a June 26th game as the Cubs defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers 5-2.
Mailman Robert Volk, who was in the garage in Crown Point on March 3, 1934 when Dillinger broke out of jail, instantly recognized the arch-criminal and the robber recognized him too. The outlaw got up and sat down next to the terrified man. After sitting in chilled silence for a while, Volk shakily said “this is getting to be a habit”, to which America’s most wanted bank robber replied “it certainly is.” Dillinger smiled and shook the mailman’s hand, introduced himself as “Jimmy Lawrence”, and left during the 7th inning stretch.

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Despite this close call, Dillinger returned to Wrigley again on July 8th to watch the Pirates get pounded by his Cubbies 12-3 (for the sake of continuity, Babe Herman went 1 for 5 in this one). After the blowout, the Cubs left on an extended road trip. They were still on the road against the Phillies on July 22 when Dillinger decided to catch a movie at the Biograph Theatre. The White Sox were in town that afternoon playing a double-header against the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers ‘moidered” the north-siders in both contests. Had Dillinger been a White Sox fan he might have avoided his date with destiny and lived to die another day. He might have been in the bleachers to catch Babe Ruth’s 16th homer that day. Instead he caught a hail of bullets in a damp Chicago alleyway. According to the Cook County coroner, the jackrabbit was only three pounds above his old playing weight.

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Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington. Part I

Original publish date:  May 6, 2021

Last Winter, I was contacted by Irvingtonian Bill Price with a story idea. Bill is journalist Nelson Price’s cousin. Nelson is a good friend and host of the Hoosier History Live radio show that airs live from noon to 1 p.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. I have been on Nelson’s show many times over the years as have several Irvingtonians active in the literary and history communities. So I was happy to learn of our shared connection and even happier to find an Irvington connection to this story.
Bil Price lives on Graham Avenue right in the heart of Irvington, just back of the Methodist church and behind Jockomo’s. Price relates, “I was born at 16th and Ritter, but really grew up on the westside. Nelson and my grandparents lived on 9th Street over by Ellenberger Park. I moved over here after college in the late 80s. Lived by Howe for 14 years and then bought this house on Graham around 18 or 19 years ago.”

Price reveals, “In the John Lennon film “Imagine” from quite a few years back, and the documentary about him recording the Imagine album, there’s a scene where a young hippie / vagabond type of man who is apparently a shell-shocked Vietnam vet shows up at Lennon’s house. Lennon is patient and talks with him and even invites him in to eat some food. Recently, another film “Above Us Only Sky” has been released about Lennon and has the same footage. While watching this clip, I noticed something peculiar. There is a car parked outside Lennon’s house that has a WIFE Good Guys radio sticker on the back window! I am wondering how in the world did a sticker from a local Indianapolis radio station end up on a car in John Lennon’s driveway in England? I’ve asked a couple local musician buddies of mine who seem to know a lot about local music / radio and The Beatles, etc., but they have no idea of any Indianapolis connection to John Lennon at that time.”
Well, Bill, you are absolutely correct, that sticker is most certainly from Indianapolis. The sticker, which features a bearded B&W beatnik smiley faced character holding up a bright yellow sign reading “WIFE Good Guy”, appears on the left side of the rear window of Lennon’s Circa-1971 Mini Cooper. Indeed, the clip from the documentary features a scene in which a young man named Curt Claudio shows up at Lennon’s house “just to see him.” The house, actually an estate mansion known as Tittenhurst Park, is located in Berkshire, near the town Ascot in England.


In the scene, which can be easily found on Netflix, John is leaning against the pillars of the mansion that date back to 1830, Yoko stands nearby her husband. The disheveled young man, his long hair flowing over the Shearling fur collar of a ragged sheepskin coat, carries on a lengthy, disjointed conversation with his hero from just a few feet away. Given that the scene was filmed mere months after the Manson family murdered Sharon Tate, Jay Sebring and several others under supposed orders from The Beatles White Album and knowing the way Lennon’s life ended less than a decade later, the scene is eerie to behold.
The young man had written several letters, one of which apparently stated, “I’m coming and I just need to look into your eyes and I’ll know.” Apparently Claudio had been secretly living in the rough on Lennon’s 72 acre estate for days. London police wanted to arrest the troubled fan but Lennon wouldn’t allow it, instead opting to gently talk to him face-to-face. Claudio apparently believed that some songs were speaking directly to him. Lennon does his best to dissuade that notion by asking how that could be possible since the two were strangers and stressing, “I’m just a guy who writes songs. Don’t confuse the songs with your own life. I mean, they might have relevance to your own life, but a lot of things do. So we met, you know, I’m just a guy. I write songs.”

Curt Claudio


As Claudio starts to quote the star’s lyrics, determined that the words were about him, John gently counters: “I was just having fun with words. It was literally a nonsense song. I mean Dylan does that… you just take words and you stick them together and you see if they have any meaning. Some of them do, some of them don’t.” Claudio replies: “You weren’t thinking of anyone in particular when you were singing that song?” To which Lennon replies, “How could I be? How could I be thinking of you, man? I’m thinking of me, and at best Yoko if it’s a love song. I’m singing about me and my life, and if it’s relevant about other people’s lives, then yeah, that’s alright.” Claudio looks devastated and his eyes drop to the ground. John then says: “Are you hungry?” gesturing to his friends he adds: “Let’s give him something to eat.” At which point Claudio is invited into the house and is seated at the dining room table with John and Yoko and they all eat a meal together.
For years, there was some confusion as to exactly who Curt Claudio was. Most accounts pegged him as a Vietnam War Vet. Others a hippy strung out on heroin. Still others claimed he was a deranged patient from a San Francisco mental hospital. According to the website “thedailybeatles”, Curt Claudio was born Cesare Curtis Claudio in Alameda, California on August 28, 1948. He graduated with the class of 1966 at Kennedy High School in Richmond, CA. He died in a plane crash in Fremont, CA. on December 22, 1981, a year and two weeks after Lennon’s murder. Part of Claudio’s legend states that he was so devastated by Lennon’s death that he deliberately crashed his own plane to end the pain.

Curt Claudio and Yoko Ono


Curt’s older brother Ernie cleared up the mystery, “Curt was never in the military. He was a straight “A” student in high school and earned a scholarship to the University of California in Davis, CA. Then he started using drugs and dropped out of school. He spent most of his life working on farms. We worked at Ford Motors in Milpitas, California until they closed the factory. Ford gave their employees $12,000 so they could re-train for another job. I asked Curt,” What are you going to do with your $12,000?” Curt said, “I’m either going to buy a Harley or an ultra-light airplane.” He bought the ultra-light, and that’s what killed him. He was flying too low and too slow and the plane stalled. The plane came down, bounced off a carport roof, and landed in a tree, six feet off the ground. The high impact caused his aorta to separate from the heart. Death was instantaneous.”
In 1973, John Lennon sold Tittenhurst Park to his former bandmate Ringo Starr, since Lennon had decided to live long-term in the United States and move to the Dakota (where he died). In 1988, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan – President of the United Arab Emirates and former ruler of Abu Dhabi – purchased Tittenhurst Park from Ringo Starr for 5 million pounds. Renovations took place in 1989-1990, during which many elements pertaining to Lennon’s, Ono’s and Starr’s time still on the property were removed. Astonishingly, during those renovations, wall paintings by Lennon were destroyed.


But what about that sticker? The one from the WIFE Good Guys in Indianapolis? Where on earth did that thing come from? Well, I found the just the guy to solve the mystery. And he lives right here in Irvington.

Abe Lincoln, Creepy history, Ghosts, Politics, Presidents

The Mumler Abraham Lincoln Ghost Photo.

Original publish date:  October 22, 2020

Last Saturday before the Irvington ghost tours, one of our volunteers, Alex McFarland, initiated a conversation that seemed to be a perfect topic for the evening: the Abraham Lincoln ghost photo. Known officially as the “Mumler photos”, these were a series of posed studio photographs, not unlike any old time photo, usually in Carte de Visite (or CDV) form, that can be found at any antique show, shop or mall today. The difference is, Mumler’s photos had the visual image of a ghost in them. The most famous of the Mumler photos features widowed First Lady Mary Lincoln with her deceased husband, President Abraham Lincoln.


William H. Mumler

William H. Mumler (1832-1884) was a well-known Boston photographer who claimed to be a “medium for taking spirit photographs.” Mumler was part of the growing phenomenon of spiritual manifestations introduced in 1848 by the Fox sisters of Hydesville, N.Y. The three sisters held séances at their home (near Newark, N.J.), that featured spirit rappings and table tippings in response to their queries. Their amazing “abilities” caused a sensation that spread across the country. With its long history of highly intelligent, intellectually curious populace, Boston became an epicenter for the movement attracting spiritualists, mediums and psychics from all over to the mysterious world of the “higher plane.”
In 1871, the camera was still in its infancy. The technology had graduated from metal to glass to paper photos readily available and affordable to the general public like never before. The country was still mourning from Civil War losses, in some cases having lost entire male lines of families and large portions of towns and communities. The loss of loved ones was still fresh and many turned to any means necessary to see and talk to their loved ones one last time. Mumler’s promise of contact in the form of visual evidence drew flocks of true believers to his studio at 170 West Springfield Street in this city historians called the “Cradle of Liberty.”


In February of 1872, seven years after Lincoln’s assassination, a still grieving Mary Lincoln arrived at William Mumler’s Boston Studio to have her picture made. Dressed in mourning, she gave the photographer a false name (‘Mrs. Lindall”) and kept her face concealed behind a black veil. In 1875, Mumler recalled in his autobiography, “I requested her to be seated, went into my darkroom and coated a plate. When I came out I found her seated with her veil still over her face. I asked if she intended to have her picture taken with her veil. She replied, ‘When you are ready, I will remove it.’” The widow Lincoln was used to dealing with charlatans and knew how to prevent their tricks.

The reason she landed at Mumler’s studio was because her dead husband had appeared to her at a séance earlier in Boston. The medium told her she should visit Mumler’s studio because the photographer had the ability to capture the shadows of the dead on photographic negatives. Mumler always claimed that he did not recognize his subject until the after he developed the negative. And then only after he recognized the image of the martyred President did he realize it was Mary Todd Lincoln. His visitor just may have been the most vulnerable woman in America, shattered by death and loss for the past two decades.
Mary never recovered from her husband’s assassination six years before and the loss of three of her four sons, all dead before their 18th birthdays. Even before her husband’s death, Mary Lincoln had embraced spiritualism, the belief that spirits of the dead can be contacted through mediums. Reputedly going so far as hosting seances in the White House and visiting mediums in Georgetown and D.C., sometimes accompanied by the President himself. So her visit to the studio, today located near historic Frederick Douglass square in Boston, was unsurprising and predictable. It should also come as no surprise that the photo, the greatest presidential ghost photo ever known, is a fake.


Mary’s visit to William Mumler’s studio (one of five Boston studio locations he occupied during the 1860s-70s and 80s) stands out as one of the grand hoaxes of the Spiritualist period. The distraught first lady must have been satisfied, even consoled by the image, but to our practiced modern eyes, this photograph of Mary Lincoln remains a touching, if sadly preposterous, fake. Nonetheless, it was Mumler’s most famous portrait. Mumler’s Lincoln image is his most reproduced photograph, and it is believed to be the last photo ever taken of Mary before her death in 1882.
The story of Mumler’s spirit photography began as an accident and turned into a joke. In 1861 the 29-year-old jewelry engraver was living in Boston and experimenting with the new art of photography as a hobby. In his autobiography, The Personal Experiences of William H. Mumler in Spirit Photography , Mumler claimed his discovery was made while developing a self-portrait. While the plate was soaking in the tray of toxic chemicals, he noticed the mysterious form of a young girl slowly materialize on the negative. Amused and mystified, Mumler printed this curiosity and showed it around to friends, claiming that it was the ghost of a dead cousin. Mumler, a man of “a jovial disposition, always ready for a joke,” decided to show the photo to his spiritualist friends, pretending that his picture was a genuine impression from beyond the grave.

The Boston psychics fell for the gag and soon Mumler’s ghost photos were circulating around the city. It became an instant sensation and once Mumler’s photo was published in The Banner of Light and other spiritualist newspapers, he became an instant celebrity. The “spirit cousin” was nothing more than the transfer residue of an earlier negative made with the same plate, but it was declared a miracle and Mumler the jeweler became heralded as the “oracle of the camera”. Mumler soon left his job as a jewelry engraver and opened his own photography business full time.

Here’s the scam. On arrival, the subject of the photo was greeted by William’s wife Hannah, she would chat up the client who would invariably reveal who the spirits were that they wished to appear in their sitting. Hannah had some clairvoyant abilities of her own and she often offered her own intuitions about the spirits surrounding her husband’s clients, resulting in the client’s unwittingly revealing more precise information. All while William Mumler was eavesdropping from the adjoining room. Part of his con included a “vacuum tube” that glowed as an electrical current was run through it which he claimed was a special force he then channeled into the camera. It was P.T. Barnum style showmanship pure and simple.

For this special ability, Mumler’s fees were extravagant. At the height of his fame, Mumler charged $10 for a dozen photographs, roughly five times the average rate. Worse, there was no guarantee that any spirits would appear. If Mumler or his wife sensed a particular vulnerability in their subject, the spirits would not appear in the photos. And clients were encouraged to make repeated trips to Mumler’s studio before they were blessed with a true spirit photograph. If the high fee was ever questioned, “The spirits,” Mumler answered, “did not like the throng.”


Boston’s other photographers were not impressed by Mumler’s ghost photos. James Black, one of Boston’s premiere photographers famous for his aerial views of the city taken from the perspective of a hot air balloon, was convinced that Mumler was cheating. He set out to catch him at it. Black bet Mumler $50 that he could discover his secret. Black examined Mum­ler’s camera, plate and processing system, and even went into the darkroom with him. In his auto­biography, Mumler described Black’s reaction when a ghostlike image emerged on the negative right before the doubter’s eyes as, “Mr. B., watching with wonderstricken eyes…exclaimed, ‘My God! Is it possible?’”

P.T. Barnum.

Of the incident, Mumler later recalled, “Another form became apparent, growing plainer and plainer each moment, until a man appeared, leaning his arm upon Mr. Black’s shoulder.” The man later eulogized as “an authority in the science and chemistry of his profession” then watched “with wonder-stricken eyes” as the two forms took on a clarity unsettling in its intimacy. Despite the best efforts of countless investigators, no one was able to determine exactly how Mumler created his apparitions. With the photographic elite unable to debunk Mumler’s ghost photos, hoards of desperate souls flocked to Mumler’s studio-including a grieving Mary Lincoln and the master of all hoaxes, P.T. Barnum himself.
Soon Mumler’s pictures became the subject of great speculation among his peers from all over the country. In 1863 noted Boston scientist, physician and avid photographer Oliver Wendell Holmes not only gave step-by-step instructions on how to obtain a double exposure in an essay for the Atlantic Monthly , but he also contemplated the popularity of Mumler’s pictures. “Mrs. Brown, for instance, has lost her infant, and wishes to have its spirit-portrait taken,” Holmes wrote. “It is enough for the poor mother, whose eyes are blinded with tears, that she sees a print of drapery like an infant’s dress, and a rounded something, like a foggy dumpling, which will stand for a face…An appropriate background for these pictures is a view of the asylum for feeble-minded persons…and possibly, if the penitentiary could be introduced, the hint would be salutary”
Further confounding the experts was the fact that the apparitions seen in a Mumler photograph had human features, lifelike gestures and filmy interactive forms. They are translucent spirits, not hard edge ghosts. That was the secret of a Mumler ghost photo. To mediums, psychics and spiritualists, Mumler’s photos depicted what they believed: that the afterlife was a paradise, simply the next step in human existence, albeit on a higher plain. All questions of process and motives aside, Mumler’s subjects were satisfied with the results. Distraught parents saw visions of children gone for years. Grieving widows saw husbands one more time and widowers looked into the eyes of deceased wives once again.
Eventually, Mumler was a victim of his own vanity and the third deadly sin of avarice: aka Greed. The more people that showed up, the more Mumler had to perform. Some prominent Boston spiritualists, once avid supporters of Mumler’s ability, began to examine the ghost photos more closely only to discover that some of the “spirits” in the images were still quite alive. The ragman, the butcher, the schoolteacher, the cop. These were normal people walking the streets of Boston, all past subjects of Mumler’s “straight” photo studio sessions utilized by Mumler in the photographs of strangers. Eventually, Mumler’s business in Boston fell off.


He died on May 16, 1884 holding patents on a number of innovative photographic techniques, including Mumler’s Process, which allowed publishers to directly reproduce photographic illustrations in newspapers, periodicals, magazines and books. Mumler’s skill as a photographer was only rivaled by his talent as a con artist, but he never really experienced any accumulated wealth from his labors. Mumler maintained to the end that he was “only a humble instrument” for the revelation of a “beautiful truth.” To further confuse matters, Mumler destroyed all of his negatives shortly before he died. William Mumler’s photographs may be products of pure hoaxing, but the question of whether technology is capable of catching spirits on film remains with us to this day. Search the web on any given day and you will see photos of every type captured by cameras of every description. Security cameras, ring doorbells, digital images and cellphones continue to capture photos of mysterious orbs, mists, apparitions, shadows, dancing lights and unexplainable phenomenon of every description. The allure of capturing a ghost on film, especially that which is invisible to the naked eye, may have begun with William Mumler but it continues to this day.