Ghosts, Indianapolis

The Ghost of old George Pogue.

george pogue ghost photo

Original publish date:  November 1, 2018

Halloween is over and once again, it is time to box up the decorations and compost the jack-o’-lanterns to get ready for the next holiday season. This October I spent some time tracking an old muse from my childhood, George Pogue. Not only is Pogue Indy’s oldest cold case, he is also the Circle City’s oldest ghost story. Over the past few weeks I have re-shared past stories on Pogue’s run and the story of his disappearance. This week I’ll talk about his legacy.
The city of Indianapolis owes George Pogue a debt of gratitude. It was Pogue whom most historians credit as being our city’s first white settler. In 1819 Pogue followed a meandering narrow deerpath paralleling the banks of a pristine little stream that eventually fed into the West Fork of the White River. The Genesis of this once craggy little creek can be found near the intersection of Massachusetts and Ritter avenues on the east side. It spills into the White River south of the Kentucky Avenue bridge in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium.

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Pogues-Run-Covered-Bridge-1850s-Etching by Christian-Schrader

Prior to Pogue’s arrival, native American Indians would often follow Pogue’s Run hunting the wildlife that naturally gathered there. 58-year-old George Pogue, a blacksmith from Connersville, blazed the trail present-day eastsiders know as Brookville Road. Depending on which historian you talk to, on or about March 2, 1819, Pogue built (or occupied) a cabin where Michigan Street currently crosses Pogue’s Run for his family of seven. After Pogue’s mysterious disappearance in April 1821, the creek he followed to arrive in the Whitewater basin became known as Pogue’s Run.
If you Google Alexander Ralston’s original plat map of the city of Indianapolis, you will see Pogue’s run traversing diagonally across the southeast portion of the “Mile Square” area like a giant black snake. Just as Pogue’s mysterious end did not fit the desired narrative put forth by Indianapolis’ founding fathers, Pogue’s run disturbed the orderliness of Ralston’s tidy grid pattern. Before the state government could be moved to Indianapolis from Corydon, fifty dollars was spent to rid swampy Pogue’s Run of the mosquitoes that made it a “source of pestilence”.
Seems that poor old Pogue’s run never had a chance. It was too small to be a canal and too big to be a latrine. So city planners decided that the troublesome trickling waterway needed to be “straight jacketed” once and for all. Pogue’s run was prone to flooding and it had a funky odor hanging over it that wrinkled the tapestry the city’s elite were trying to create. So, beginning in 1914, a year long, million-dollar project variously known as the “Pogue’s Run Drain” and the “Pogue’s Run Improvement” was undertaken to hide the historic waterway. City planners felt that the stream’s submersion beneath downtown Indianapolis (from New York Street on the east side to the White River on the west side) would make the perfect aqueduct to alleviate flooding in the Circle City.
Sounds like a reasonable, viable engineering solution made by concerned public servants to obviate a city eyesore while protecting the citizenry at the same time, right? Well, it may run a little bit deeper than that. A number of factors influenced the decision to “straitjacket” Pogue’s Run, including the economic and human costs from decades of violent flooding, public health risks from diseases, and the stream’s unsightly and unpleasant smell due to years of sewage and industrial pollution. The covering of Pogue’s Run paved the way for the expansion of railroad track elevations, which in turn alleviated congestion on Indianapolis’ busy streets and avenues. It also enabled the city to create Brookside Park in 1898 at the spot where Pogue’s run enters downtown Indianapolis.
Although the legendary waterway now more closely resembles a drainage ditch, make no mistake about it, Pogue’s Run is real. It runs under the city of Indianapolis for nearly two-and-a-half miles, and it’s possible to walk from one end to another. Every underground tunnel presents an irresistible mystery, but Pogue’s Run has a more ghostly history than most. The Pogue’s run tunnels are reportedly home to the spirit of old George Pogue who lords over the dozen or so unfortunate victims of the floods that plagued the city via the waterway for nearly a century before it was covered over.
As detailed in previous articles, one morning George Pogue walked out his front door in search of his lost dog and disappeared forever. He was also trailing a Native American man known as “Wyandotte John” whom he suspected of stealing horses from his farm. Pogue walked over hill and was never seen again. His body was never found. Even though Pogue vanished nearly 200 years ago, his name hits the headlines every few years. It seems that whenever a foundation for a business in downtown Indianapolis is dug and human remains are found, the ghost of George Pogue rises from his unknown grave.
The first widely used cemeteries in Indianapolis didn’t start popping up until long after George Pogue disappeared. While the “City Cemetery”, ironically located on Kentucky Avenue near the White River where George Pogue disappeared, can be traced back to 1821, it was not at all what we would consider a cemetery today. Greenlawn Cemetery was added around 1834 as an 8 acre addition. By 1852 this pioneer cemetery had reached 25 acres and was quickly running out of room. Crown Hill opened in 1864 and Greenlawn quickly fell out of favor. By the 1890s, Greenlawn was gone. In George Pogue’s time, people were often buried where they were found or nearby where they worshiped, worked or lived. Burial records are scarce, wooden markers disintegrate and landmarks disappear. So it is not uncommon for human remains to pop up from time to time even today. So, needless to say, George Pogue does not rest in peace.
When the city of Indianapolis buried their troublesome waterway in 1915, Pogue’s run, like its namesake, disappeared. The trickling little stream is now forever trapped underground. And so is the ghost of George Pogue. Legend claims that Pogue is doomed to walk this underworld purgatory until his remains are found and he is given a proper burial. Pogue leads a small army of ghosts whose souls were lost in the flooding that once plagued the area.
Today, no one thinks much about the creek that runs underneath downtown Indianapolis. True, Hoosiers cling tightly to the White River by naming parks, streets and events in its honor. But unlike other major American cities, the Circle City has very few myths or legends surrounding its chief waterways. That is unless you count the tales of late-night TV host David Letterman and his friends attempting to traverse the central canal via canoe back in the “naptown” days. As a homegrown Hoosier, it has always been a mystery to me why the Pogue’s run waterway has not been more prominently featured in our city’s weird history.
During George Pogue’s era, antebellum times and the years after the Civil War and Reconstruction, flooding was not really a concern in Indianapolis. The Circle City really had no riverfront development to speak of, roads were sparse and unpaved and any excess winter water thaws had plenty of places to go. In past columns I have detailed a few of the many floods that plagued Indy in the years before the Pogue’s run tunnels were created. The Easter Sunday floods in 1913 brought twelve inches of rain in a five day period and the White River crested to 31.5 feet; 19.5 feet above flood stage. No one knows what the true crest was because the city’s measuring equipment and gauges washed away at 29.5 feet. 70,000 cubic feet per second, an amount 50 times greater than normal, sent torrents of water rushing through the city. In Indianapolis, 7000 families lost their homes and over 25 deaths were reported as a result of this flood. Statewide, 200,000 people lost their homes and over 200 lives were lost. More than a few of those bodies were never found and their spirits, like that of its namesake, haunt the Pogue’s run tunnels today.
A couple of Sundays ago I was joined by several Irvington Ghost tour volunteers in a search of the Pogue’s run tunnels. Rhonda and I were joined that day by our daughter Jasmine, friends Elise Remissong and Jada Cox, Kris and Roger Branch, Steve Hunt, Tim Poynter, Christy and Cameron McAbee, Trudy and Steve Rowe and Cindy Adkins. WISH-TV Channel 8 TV’s Joe Melillo also joined us for a pre-Halloween trek in search of the ghost of old George Pogue. The results of our trip can be found on the WISH TV website under Joe’s banner. Joe’s segment captured only a fraction of what took place down there.
That day, the Colts were playing the Buffalo Bills at Lucas oil above us. (the Colts won 37 to 5) Inside the century old pitch-black tunnel the water had slowed to a trickle. The entrance to the Pogue’s run tunnel is hidden in a thickly wooded area within sight of the downtown skyline. The city of Indianapolis maintains Pogue’s run very nicely and has recently constructed a two-story wooden walkway leading down to the tunnel entrance. Upon entering the mouth of the tunnel the original stream can be seen entering the concrete spillway looking much as it has for nearly two centuries.
The concrete walls leading into the tunnel are festooned with spray-painted graffiti indicative of its big city location. The water stream is contained down the center of the trough with dry foot paths on either side. About 100 yards down stream inside the tunnel, a separate parallel tunnel is revealed through large round vents in the walls that are easy to step through. The upper channel is the spillway used for relief of excess water flowing through Pogue’s run when necessary. These walls are also peppered with graffiti as expected. Mostly introspective, sometimes profane, the graffiti is often nonsensical; logical only to whomever placed it there.
There are rats down here along with spiders, snakes and the occasional stranded fish from floods past. There is also evidence that the homeless population of Indianapolis occasionally seek shelter in the tunnels, but most of that evidence gets washed away by the floodwaters on a regular basis. The temperature outside is just above freezing, but it is warm here in the tunnels. So warm that it is easy for our team of urban spelunker’s to feel overdressed. The water can be deep in places depending on the rainfall. The total blackness of the Pogue’s run tunnels cannot be understated. Without the aid of a trusty flashlight or lantern, it is impossible to see your hand held in front of your face.
The ceiling and sidewalls are cracked in places, betraying rushing floodwaters of years gone by. The side tunnels are made of brick and occasionally they branch off the main route to parts unknown. Cell phones are useless in the tunnel; there ain’t no service down here . There are manholes and open grates that I suppose could be accessed to determine one’s location, but thanks to Stephen King’s “It” (and Pennywise the sewer clown) I wouldn’t recommend it. In places, perhaps owing to the day’s Colts Sunday atmosphere, it is possible to hear activity on the streets above including music and conversation. But mostly it is quiet. Occasionally cars passing above make high-pitched traffic sounds that can be confused with the cries of a baby or wounded animal, but the logical mind soon determines the source. Once in a while one of these vehicles will pass directly over a manhole with a thunderous result that echoes through the tunnel and shakes even the most resolute of subterranean urban explorers.
Upon closer examination, evidence remains of those original pre-World War I era tunnels. Brick troughs and well foundations pepper the tunnels as do the rotted remains of wooden trusses and the occasional displaced iron train rail, the presence of which immediately elicits the thought “how did that get down here?” Oddly, there’s not much of an echo down here. The voice carries, but it doesn’t carry far. When the visitor cups the mouth and lets loose a “Hello”, it rolls only a few rods before disappearing into the darkness. But is there anything else down in the old Pogue’s Run tunnels?
As a student of history, I often find myself asking that question. Is there anything else? I rely on a few friends with deeper insight in that department to answer that query. Tim Poynter, founder of the SPIRIT Paranormal team, observed a few spirits lingering in the tunnels of Pogue’s run, “I encountered the spirit of a light-skinned black man dressed in mid 20th century clothing within a few hundred feet of the opening. His attitude seemed to be one of ‘stay back’which is not uncommon. I imagine this was the spirit of a homeless man who passed while living down there in the tunnels.” Intuitive Cindy Adkins echoed Tim’s feelings at the mouth of the tunnel, “I did not see the gentleman until we got into the tunnel. I was not getting a bad feeling at all just that we were invading his space and he did not like that too well.” Cindy would encounter this man further down in the tunnels of Pogue’s run.
WISH-TV Channel 8 TV reporter Joe Melillo segregated three of our number, Cindy Adkins, Christy McAbee and Steve Hunt, deep within the depths of the Pogue’s Run tunnel. Here, light and sound go to die. Joe watched as the trio “spoke” with the dead. Cindy Adkins is a gifted intuitive and the only person I have encountered who has had an actual conversation with a ghost on tape (or EVP). When Joe Melillo turned on his camera, this man’s spirit came out to play.
“The gentleman is over 6 feet tall,” says Cindy. “He told me there was a house fire and his big two-story home was completely engulfed in flames. He told me his family was killed in the fire. His house was near Pogue’s run and he lived down there in the tunnels. He likes it down in the tunnels and he doesn’t want to leave. But while we were down there and Joe was taping, a woman joined us. Her initials were C. L. and I kept getting the date 1964. She was lost down there in the tunnels and said that she died of a drug overdose. Christy, Steve and I managed to clear her spirit and send her on her way to the light. But the man is still down there. He just laughed when I asked him if he wanted to leave too.”
As I write this article, Joe Melillo’s segment has yet to air. His WISH-TV Channel 8 Pogue’s run segment airs on Halloween morning. When asked for his thoughts and impressions on the Pogue’s run adventure, Joe Melillo siad, “I would say the best way to describe the experience for me was stifling… Almost suffocating. Very dense down there and it made me have a headache. Overall I did feel something, but I am more of a history guy so the paranormal things don’t hit me as hard. When we sat with the group of paranormal investigators I was there to document the exercise, but nothing happened to me specifically. I was so ready for someone to touch me or to see a shadow figure, but I got nothing. At least this time. Maybe next time I’ll have better luck.” Yes, Joe, maybe next time. Sounds like the Pogue’s run entities will still be there, waiting for you.

Indianapolis, Uncategorized

George Pogue and why he matters.

 

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Original publish date:  October 25, 2018

George Pogue, a 54-year-old Carolina blacksmith, had no idea he was making history when, on March 2, 1819, he settled on a hill overlooking a stream that connected to the White River a short distance away. George had simply followed a trail blazed by Native American Indians and wildlife through the wilderness made long before him. Pogue is widely regarded as the first white settler in Indianapolis and that trail he followed is now known as Brookville Road. As more and more white settlers arrived in the area in the months to follow, the shallow waterway became known as “Pogue’s Run.” Pogue migrated to the area now known as the eastside of Indianapolis from Connersville. The cabin he built for his family of seven sat roughly where Michigan Street crossed Pogue’s Run. The waterway that bears his name is as mysterious as the man himself.
imag41952Some historians argue that Pogue simply moved into an existing cabin that had been built and briefly occupied by Newton “Ute” Perkins. Others claim that John Wesley McCormick accompanied Pogue to Indianapolis from Connersville and deserves to be mentioned as the first settler in the Capitol city. But Perkins moved to Rushville “on account of loneliness” and McCormick settled near Bloomington where he later had a popular state park named in his honor. But for this historian, George Pogue is the man. Why? Because one day, George Pogue simply vanished from the face of the earth.
Whether Pogue was the first white man to settle here or not, he was certainly the first white man to die here. According to one contemporary account, George Pogue was a large, broad shouldered, stout man with dark hair, eyes, and complexion. His appearance was that of a Pennsylvania Dutchman; colorless, functional clothing with no ornamentation, a broad brimmed felt hat and a mustache-less beard stretching from ear-to-ear. One look at George Pogue would make anyone think twice about challenging him. He was one of the few in the area unafraid of the indigenous Delaware warriors that roamed the woods encircling them. After all, Pogue was one of the first to leave the comfort and safety of Fort Connersville in search of new lands to settle.
imag41972One evening at twilight, an Indian brave known as “Wyandotte John”, stopped at the Pogue family cabin asking for food and shelter for the night. Although wary of the request, some of Pogue’s horses had been recently stolen and he was determined to track down the thieves. The Indian had a bad reputation and the rumor was that he had been banished from his own tribe in Ohio for some unknown offense and was now wandering aimlessly among the various Indiana tribes in the area. Wyandotte John had spent the previous winter living rough, but comfortably, in a hollowed out sycamore log perched under a bluff just east of the area that, a decade later, would become the spot where the National Road bridge crossed the White River. On the inside of the log he had fashioned hooks by cutting forks from tree limbs, on which he rested his gun. At the open end of the log near the waterline he built his fire, which kept the wildlife away while heating the enclosure at the same time.
After Wyandotte John was fed, Pogue, aware that his guest was known to travel from one Indian camp to another, asked him if he had seen any “white man’s horses” at any of the camps. The Indian Brave said he had left a camp of Delaware’s that morning about twelve miles east at a settlement on nearby Buck Creek (Near present day Southeastern Avenue) where he had seen horses with “iron hoofs” indicating that they had been shod. Wyandotte John’s description of the horses led the blacksmith to believe they were his missing mounts. However, George Pogue was nobody’s fool. He began to think that Wyandotte John had described the horses so accurately that it might be a ploy to lure the blacksmith into the woods. He shared his suspicions to his family who begged him to let the matter go. George Pogue was not that kind of man.
obsession_warriorWhen the Indian left the next morning, Pogue grabbed his gun and his dog and followed as Wyandotte John walked towards the river and the pioneer settlement. Pogue followed for some distance waiting for the Indian to turn towards the native camps, but the Indian kept walking towards the white settlers. The two men disappeared over a rise and George Pogue was never seen or heard from again. The settlers formed a company of armed men to search all the Indian camps within fifty miles of the settlement looking for some trace of Pogue, but his fate remains a mystery to this day. The conclusion is that he was killed by Indians. Locals claimed to have seen his horse and several of his possessions in the hands of local tribes. The dog was purportedly killed, cooked and eaten.
Pogue’s Run occupies a strange place in our city’s history. The creek almost continuously alternating between the pride and the pest of the city. Starting as a large reed-choked puddle of water resting between a railroad track and a construction business near the intersection of Ritter and Massachusetts on the eastside of Indianapolis, Pogue’s Run meanders 11 miles through, alongside and at times beneath downtown streets and under some of our most famous buildings. And like old George Pogue, many lifelong Hoosiers have no clue about it.
7762As every Circle City student knows, Indianapolis was laid out in 1815 by Alexander Ralston, an assistant to French architect Pierre L’Enfant, the man who designed Washington D.C. Ralston chose to design the city in a grid pattern, similar to the District of Columbia. There was just one problem; Pogue’s Run. The swampy little creek named after the ghost of an enigmatic city pioneer, called a “source of pestilence” because of all the mosquitoes it attracted, disturbed the orderliness of Ralston’s master plan and required him to make contingencies for it.
Soon the decision was made to move the state capitol from Corydon to Indianapolis (then known as the “Fall Creek Settlement” an area sparsely populated by fur traders) but not before the state government paid a local $ 50 (roughly $ 750 today) to rid Pogue’s Run of the nuisance mosquitoes. Pogue’s Run was too small to be a canal, too unreliable to be an aqueduct and too big to be a latrine. Ralston had no choice but to incorporate the twists and turns of the wayward wandering waterway into his master grid plan. Pogue’s Run cut diagonally southwest through the original plat of Indianapolis, necessitating changes in the original layout of streets. Starting near what is now 34th Street and Arlington Avenue, it crosses Washington Street (the National Road) and drops below downtown Indianapolis before joining White River.
oregon_trailSince much of Pogue’s Run downtown path was diverted underground via hidden tunnels, it is hard for us to imagine today what it must have looked like to the eyes of Indianapolis’ earliest residents. However, the atmosphere of the original waterway was perhaps best captured in an 1840 painting by Jacob Cox. Titled “Pogue’s Run, The Swimming Hole”, this tranquil and pastoral landscape depicts a pair of cows drinking from a stream under a bridge where Pogue’s Run crosses Meridian Street. The image presents a realistic portrayal of the location as it appeared before it became the site where Union Station (which was originally built on pylons over Pogue’s Run) rests today . Although relatively unknown by today’s Circle City denizens, Antebellum Pogue’s Run was the subject of many works of art and poetry by our forefathers.
pogue's_run_white_riverToday, as the waterway runs south it most closely resembles its original creek form as it winds through a housing development fronting Massachusetts Avenue and continues through Brookside Park. Skirting the south edge of the Cottage Home neighborhood, between 10th and New York Streets , it disappears into an underground aqueduct. It continues flowing under Banker’s Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium, and empties into the White River at 1900 S. West St. near Kentucky Avenue.
Some Eastsiders (like my dad who went to Tech and was born and raised on Oriental Avenue) recalled Pogue’s Run as a tributary stream (he called it a storm sewer) that originally started near the old RCA plant north of Michigan Street, headed south through the Michigan / Rural Street intersection near Rupp’s subdivision & Lange’s nursery, down to East New York Street and Beville Avenue before veering off through the State Women’s Prison before following the Sturm Esplanade and entering Noble’s Subdivision. My dad went to junior high school in the old arsenal building on the Tech campus in the 1950s. He remembered playing football outside at recess after lunch on the southern end of the campus near a brick arch at the campus boundary. He claimed that arch was the spot where the Crooked Run tributary entered an underground pipe to join up with Pogue’s Run.
I grew up near the left-hand tributary of Pogue’s Run known as Brookside Creek just east of Sherman Drive north of 16th Street near Brookside Park. There, the creek still flows above ground. So as a child, I could easily conjure up images of wild animals, Native American Indians and buckskin clad pioneers roaming the ancient waterway. The spirit of the spectral pioneer waterway occasionally bubbled up to the surface within the concrete jungle of modern day Indianapolis.
When Union Station was refurbished in the mid-1980s, the original architectural drawings didn’t reflect the creek running underneath the station’s sub-basement. It had been a typical rainy season in the Circle City. As the construction crew dug deeper, the heavy equipment caused the floor to cave in and water came pouring into the work area like a scene from the Poseidon Adventure. The subterranean work crew barely escaped before the waters from Pogue’s Run filled the area. It can be assumed that the mistakes were not replicated when Lucas Oil & the Fieldhouse were excavated above Pogue’s Run.
For my part, I can remember sneaking into the massive mysterious concrete tunnels built to accommodate Pogue’s Run. Historically, most of them were created in 1915 with near continuous updates every decade or so since. There are some great photographs available on the net of that 1915 excavation (particularly underneath Meridian Street) for the Pogue’s Run tunnels that are well worth looking up. My memories revolve around massive oval shaped tubes that could easily accommodate the height of an average sized man. In spots, the tunnels were filled with ankle deep water (at least I told myself it was water) that could mostly be avoided by using a hybrid crab walk posture, but many areas of the tunnels were bone dry.
What I remember most was the darkness. I’m talking pitch darkness. You might enter thinking a match, candle or lighter would suffice, but you quickly availed yourself of that notion and returned later armed with a trusty flashlight. Inside the tunnels, you were greeted by the remains of civilization: shopping carts, empty beer cans, mattresses, graffiti of every imaginable type, discarded clothing and the sounds of scurrying little animals that you could never quite seem to fix your flashlight beam on. No matter how many times you ventured down there, you never really knew where you were. The scariest moment always came whenever a large truck drove over one of the many manhole covers above your head. It sounded like the scream of a Banshee from Irish mythology to me and I must confess that it drove me out of the tunnels in panic on more than one occasion.
As a kid, I imagined the mattresses were placed down there by make out artists who brought their girls down there for some “alone time” and that the clothing and beer cans were remnants left by teenagers having fun. The graffiti was their way of marking the scene of their glorious triumph. I could never figure out how the shopping carts got there. But now, as an adult, I realize that it is far more likely that the refuse I inadvertently stumbled across was more likely left by those less fortunate Hoosiers among us who descended into the underground tunnels in search of a warmer place to spend the night. If so, I’d like to think that the Pogue’s Run homeless might have a patron saint that protects them down there. A bearded former blacksmith with arms like Popeye dressed in clothing from a long time ago named George Pogue.

Next Week…Part II…The Ghost of old George Pogue.

Baseball, Indianapolis, Sports

A Christmas card from the Indianapolis Clowns.

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Original publish date:  January 3, 2019

My wife and I have developed a Christmas time tradition of visiting Gatlinburg, Tennessee every December. We’ve been traveling to the area on and off for over 25 years. Back then the region retained an atmosphere where one could imagine Dolly Parton walking down the sidewalk but nowadays, one might expect to see Wayne Newton driving past in a limousine instead. It used to be the type of place where kitschy souvenir stores sold Cedar wood souvenir moonshine stills, featured live bears and homey gemstone pits for the kids to dig through. But those days are long gone. Gatlinburg is today home to glitzy storefronts selling Harley Davidson clothes, designer moonshine and Pandora charms.
You can still drive through Smoky Mountain National Park in search of black bears at Cades Cove and find a cozy log cabin to eat a flapjack in. Some things never change. A couple weeks ago we stopped at an antique mall near Lexington Kentucky where I found a shoebox full of old letters just begging for my attention. One of the envelopes contained a Christmas card from the old Indianapolis Clowns Negro league baseball club. I opened it quickly but carefully, saw what was contained inside, and handed it to Rhonda with the explicit instructions, “Don’t lose this.” I knew we were going to be holed up in the room for the next couple days and this would be a fun thing to examine over morning coffee.
I’m an early riser; Rhonda likes to sleep in and I’m okay with that. It was time to examine my find. The envelope contained a Christmas card from the 1961 Clowns baseball team after they relocated to Hollywood, Florida in the late 1950s. The Christmas card looks like any other; bright red, white & green with “Season’s Greetings” on the front. However the magic happens when you open it and the contents are revealed. The interior features a great real photo image of the entire uniformed team captioned: “Indianapolis Clowns Baseball Club” at bottom. The photo is actually a B&W snapshot that was individually inserted into a pocket window frame inside the card. It is easy to imagine a room full of elegantly dressed women chatting gleefully away as they carefully stuff each photo in place in the Clowns’ front office. Or maybe it was a room full of bat boys and ticket takers. Regardless, it makes for a romantic holiday image.
z d1901The card reads: “Greetings of the Season and Best Wishes for a Happy New Year. Baseball’s Professional Clowning Champions- 35th Consecutive Annual Tour! Indianapolis Clowns Ed Hamman, Bus. Mgr. Syd Pollack, Gen. Mgr. Box 84- Hollywood, Florida” inside. The original mailing envelope has the return address on front and same on back via an embossed stamp on the back. The Christmas card was sent to the Babe Ruth Baseball League in Vero Beach, Florida. True baseball fans will recognize Vero Beach as the spring training home of former Negro leader Jackie Robinson’s Brooklyn Dodgers and later the Koufax/Drysdale Los Angeles Dodgers. For a baseball fanatic, there is a lot going on in this little Christmas card.
z d1900The team photo pictures 10 players in old wool baseball uniforms standing in a line with another four players dressed in comic field costumes including a female player holding one of the Clowns’ trademark props, a grossly oversized baseball bat. The Clowns were one of the first professional baseball teams to hire a female player. They featured three prominent women players on their roster in the 1950s: Mamie “Peanut” Johnson (1935-2017) a right handed pitcher who went 33-8 in 3 seasons with the Clowns, Constance “Connie” Morgan (1935-1996) who played 2 seasons at second base for the Clowns and the first female player in the Negro Leagues, Marcenia “Toni” Stone (1921-1996) who once got a hit off of Satchel Paige.
Most of my interest in the Clowns centers around the fact that they’re from my hometown. But also because they were the first professional team for one of my baseball heroes; Hank Aaron. On November 20, 1951, Aaron signed his first Pro contract with the Clowns. The 6 foot, 180 pound Aaron would play three months at shortstop, batting cleanup for the Clowns. He earned $200 per month.
While with the Clowns, his teammates called him “Pork Chop” because it was the only thing the kid from Mobile Alabama c76-34fknew how to order off the menu. Aaron first experienced overt northern style racism while playing with the Clowns. The team was in Washington, D.C. and a few of the Clowns’ players decided to grab a pregame breakfast in a restaurant behind Griffith Stadium. The players were seated and served but after they finished their meals, they could hear the sounds of employees breaking all the plates in the kitchen. Aaron and his teammates were stung by the irony of being in the capital of the “Land of Freedom” whose employees felt they “had to destroy the plates that had touched the forks that had been in the mouths of black men. If dogs had eaten off those plates, they’d have washed them.”

Aaron finished with a .366 batting average in 26 official Negro league games; 5 home runs, 33 RBI, 41 hits, and 9 stolen bases. At the close of his three months with the Indianapolis Clowns, Aaron received two offers from MLB teams via telegram; one from the New York Giants and the other from the Boston Braves. Years later, Aaron recalled later: “I had the Giants’ contract in my hand. But the Braves offered fifty dollars a month more. That’s the only thing that kept Willie Mays and me from being teammates – fifty dollars.” The Braves eventually purchased Aaron’s contract from the Clowns for $10,000.
6e74e37f42cfa93767ef6009b79ad35aDuring Aaron’s tenure the Clowns were a powerhouse team in the Negro American League. However, the story of the Indianapolis Clowns does not begin, or end, with the Hank Aaron connection. The team traces their origins back to the 1930s. They began play as the independent Ethiopian Clowns, joined the Negro American League as the Cincinnati Clowns and, after a couple of years, relocated to Indianapolis. The team was formed in Miami, Florida, sometime around 1935-1936 and was originally known as the Miami Giants. After a couple years the team changed its name to the Miami Ethiopian Clowns and hit the road to become the longest running barnstorming team in professional baseball history.
Over the next few decades, the Clowns developed into a nationally-known combination of show business and baseball that earned them the designation as the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball. The team built a national following as one of baseball’s favorite entertainment attractions during the 1930s and the club was the only “clowning team” to earn entrance into black baseball’s “major leagues.” Though the Clowns always played a credible brand of baseball, their Globetrotter-like comedy routines was the stuff that paid the bills, filled the stands and brought national attention.
In 1943, the team toned down its clowning routines and joined the Negro American League. They also moved to Ohio’s Queen city to became the Cincinnati Clowns. The team floated back and forth between Cincinnati and Indianapolis for the 1944 and 1945 seasons before officially moving to Indianapolis after World War II in 1946. While this was an epiphanal moment in the history of Indianapolis baseball, the euphoria didn’t last long.newscan0024
Baseball’s color barrier came tumbling down on April 18, 1946, when Jackie Robinson made his first appearance with the Montreal Royals in the Triple-A International League. Robinson was called up to the parent club the next season and helped the Dodgers win the National League pennant on his way to winning the first National League Rookie of the Year award. After Robinson’s success, a steady stream of black players representing the elite of the Negro leagues flowed into the majors leagues. By 1952, there were 150 black players in major league baseball. For the Clowns, the result was sadly predictable. Black fans followed their stars to the big leagues, and attendance at traditional black ballparks tanked.
The Negro National League folded after the 1949 season. Some proposals were offered to keep the league alive as a developmental league for black players, but that idea was contrary to the goal of full integration. The Negro American League continued on throughout the 1950s, but closed its doors for good in 1962, the year after this Christmas card was issued. So the Negro leagues, once among the largest and most prosperous black-owned business ventures, faded into oblivion. After the demise, the Clowns continued barnstorming across the country and returned to their clowning routines out of financial necessity. It remains a testament to the strength of the Clowns’reputation that they were able to sign a young Hank Aaron who would, nowadays, come out of baseball’s minor league system.
The years immediately preceding this Christmas card were, despite the demise of the Negro leagues, the most productive for the Indianapolis franchise. In 1950 the Clowns won their first Negro American League championship behind their star catcher Sam Hairston, who won the League’s Triple Crown title with 17 homeruns, 71 RBI and a .424 batting average. Hairston also led the league with 100 hits and 176 total bases.
During the 1951 season the Clowns did not play a single home game in Indianapolis but won their second Negro American League championship. The Clowns captured their third league championship in 1952. The Clowns’ success earned them a steady barnstorming gig during the off-season traveling with Jackie Robinson’s All Stars. In 1954, the Clowns won their fourth league championship in five years. The next year, the Clowns dropped out of the league to pursue a full time barnstorming schedule. The Clowns played 143 games on the road in 1963. Although this sounds like a staggering number, it is the smallest number of games the Clowns had ever played in one year. Along the way the Clowns broke all color barriers by playing in front of both white and black crowds.
downloadHarlem Globetrotter star “Goose” Tatum also played for the Clowns during this time. Goose was as much of a showman on the diamond as he was on the basketball court. Whether fielding balls with a glove triple the size of a normal one, confusing opposing players with hidden ball tricks or playing second base while seated in a rocking chair, Tatum was amazing. During the same era, Richard “King Tut” King played the field using an enormous first baseman’s mitt and occasionally augmenting his uniform with grass hula skirts in the field. King, who spent over 20-years with the Clowns, paved the way for great white baseball comedians like Max Patkin.
Clowns pitcher Ed Hamman would fire fastballs from between his legs and from behind his back while going as far as to go into the crowd to sell peanuts and programs while his team was at bat. Hamman also invented   “shadow ball”. Hamman’s brainchild had all nine players going through the motions of a real game from pitching to fielding to batting -all without a ball. Hamman’s name appears on the 1961 Christmas card as the team’s business manager.
lfBy 1966 the Indianapolis Clowns were the last Negro league team still playing. The Clowns continued to play exhibition games into the 1980s, but as a humorous sideshow rather than a competitive sport. After many years on the road as a barnstorming team, the Clowns finally disbanded in 1989. The Clowns were also the first team to feature women as umpires. The 1976 movie “The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings”, starring James Earl Jones, Billy Dee Williams, and Richard Pryor, is based on the Indianapolis Clowns.
According to the official website of the Negro Leagues: “The Harlem Globetrotters have won their place in the world’s hearts as comedians with great basketball skill. The Indianapolis Clowns did exactly the same in segregated America. The Clowns crossed all color barriers with their brand of comedy and earned their place in baseball history with trend setting ideas, actions and great play between the lines. Unlike the Globetrotters however, the Clowns took an opposite road to fame. The Clowns became a legitimate playing team after beginning as entertainers -the exact opposite of their basketball playing cousins.” Seasons greetings everybody through the haze of history and your Indianapolis Clowns.

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Indianapolis, Indy 500, Pop Culture, Sports

Henry T. Hearsey Indianapolis Bicycle Pioneer.

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Original publish date:  November 25, 2008  Updated/Republished December 6,2018

As Christmas morning creeps ever-closer, parents all over the Hoosier state are making their lists and checking them twice. No doubt, at least a few of those lists will include a bicycle. I’m not sure if the bike retains the same lofty perch it did a half a century ago. I’m equally unsure if moms and dads still spend the hours after midnight busting knuckles, pinching fingers and squinting hopelessly at indecipherable directions written in more than one language.
The bicycle has become almost an afterthought in today’s world. But once, it truly was the eighth wonder of the world. The bicycle introduced a radical new invention known as the “pneumatic tire”. In addition to air-filled rubber tires, we can thank the bicycle for giving us ball bearings, devised to reduce friction in the bicycle’s axle and steering column, for wire spokes, and for differential gears that allow connected wheels to spin at different speeds.
And where would our airplanes, golf clubs, tent poles and lawn furniture be without the metal tubing used in bicycle frames to lighten the vehicle without compromising its strength? Bicycles also gave birth to our national highway system, as cyclists and cycling clubs outside major cities across the country tired of rutted mud paths and began lobbying for the construction of paved roads. What’s more, many of the bicycle repair shops were the breeding grounds for a number of pioneers in the transportation industry, including carmakers Henry Ford and Charles Duryea and aviation pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. All of these men started out as bicycle mechanics. And did you know that Indianapolis was on the cutting edge of the bicycle industry from the very beginning?
dont-laughAlthough the first documented appearance of a bicycle in Indianapolis can be traced to a demonstration of the high-wheeled bike called the “Ordinary” in 1869, these old fashioned contraptions (known back then as “Velocipedes”) would be almost unrecognizable to the riders of today. With their huge front tires and seats that seemed to require a ladder to climb up to, these early bikes were awkward and unwieldy for use by all but the most hardy of daredevil souls (They didn’t call them “boneshakers” for nothing back then). It would take nearly 25 years after the close of the American Civil War before the bike began to resemble the form most familiar to riders of today. The development of the safety bike with it’s 2 equal-sized wheels in the 1880s made the new sport more acceptable as a hobby and pastime.
download (1)In 1887 bicycle mechanic and expert rider Henry T. Hearsey (1863-1939) opened the first bicycle showroom in Indianapolis. His store was located at the intersection of Delaware and New York Streets on the city’s near eastside. Hearsey introduced the first safety bike to Indianapolis, the English-made Rudge, which sold for the princely sum of $150 (roughly $4,000 in today’s money). Keep in mind that was about twice the price of a horse and buggy at the time. He would later open a larger shop at 116-118 North Pennsylvania Street. He is credited for introducing the 1st safety bicycle in the Capitol city in 1889. Hoosiers took to it immediately and within a few short years, the streets of Indy were so clogged with bicyclists that the City Council passed a bicycle licensing ordinance requiring a $ 1 license fee for every bicycle in the city.
Henry Hearsey had fallen in love with Indianapolis during an exhibition tour for the Cunningham-Heath bicycle company of Boston, Massachusetts in 1885. He not only sold the first new style bicycles in the Indy area, he also formed the first riding clubs in the city. These clubs, with colorful names like the “U.S. Military Wheelmen”, the “Zig-Zag Cycling Club” and the “Dragon Cycle Club”, would regularly host festive long distance bicycle trips known as “Century Rides” to towns like Greenfield and Bloomington. This period has been called the “Golden Age of Bicycling” by historians. Hearsey also had two famous names working for him at his bike shop: Carl Fisher and Major Taylor.

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Major Taylor

Legendary Indianapolis African American bicycle champion Marshall “Major” Taylor was hired by Henry Hearsey to perform bicycle stunts outside of his shop in 1892. 14-year-old Taylor’s job was as “head trainer” teaching local residents how to ride the new machines.Taylor performed his stunts while dressed in a military uniform and earned Major_Taylorthe nickname “Major”, which stuck with him the rest of his life. He has been widely acknowledged as the first American International superstar of bicycle racing. He was the first African American to achieve the level of world champion and the second black athlete to win a world championship in any sport. Carl Fisher was one of the founders of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, developer of the city of Miami and the creator of the famous “Lincoln Highway” and the “Dixie Highway.”SafetyAd
His innovations included the installation of a revolutionary foot air bellows system that would be known for decades as the “town pump” for public use outside of his store. His shop became a popular hangout for the city’s bicyclists who liked to drop in and rub elbows with all of the greatest bike racers of the age. Indianapolis was a midwest mecca for pro-bicycling in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Hearsey would often use the massive Tomlinson Hall in Indy to unveil the newest model of bicycle in the 1890s. Tomlinson Hall was the largest public venue in the city and Hearsey would routinely fill the place to the rafters with excited Hoosier bicyclists, which would be like renting Lucas Oil Stadium to unveil a new bike today. Cycling in the Circle City was so popular that on April 28, 1895 the Indianapolis Journal ran an eight-page supplement called the “Bicycle Edition” entirely devoted to the cycling craze consuming the Hoosier State and the rest of the country.
NewbyRaceAdCycling was so popular in Indianapolis that the city constructed a racing track known as the “Newby Oval” located near 30th Street and Central Avenue in 1898. The track was designed by Shortridge graduate Herbert Foltz who also designed the Broadway Methodist Church, Irvington United Methodist Church and the Meridian Heights Presbyterian Church. Foltz would also design the new Shortridge High School at 34th and Meridian. The state of the art cycling facility could, and often did, seat 20,000 and hosted several national championships sponsored by the chief sanctioning body, “The League of American Wheelmen.” The American Wheelmen often got involved in local and national politics. Hoosier wheelmen raced into the William McKinley presidential campaign in 1896 and helped him win the election. With this new found political clout, riding clubs began to put pressure on politicians to improve urban streets and rural roads, exclaiming “We are a factor in politics, and demand that the great cause of Good Roads be given consideration.”Newby-Oval-pin
During this turn-of-the-century era, Indianapolis became one of the leading manufacturers of bicycles in the United States with companies like Waverly, Munger, Swift, Outing, Eclipse and the Ben-Hur offering some of the finest riding machines of the day. According to the Indiana Historical Bureau, from 1895-96, Indianapolis had nine bicycle factories employing nearly 1,500 men, women and boys. Not to mention a couple dozen repair shops, parts suppliers and specialty stores stocking bicycle attire like collapsible drinking cups, canteens, hats, goggles, shoes and clothing.

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The Newby Oval on Central Avenue and 13th Street.

In the years before World War I, two entire city blocks around Pennsylvania Avenue became known as “bicycle alley”. Here bicycle enthusiasts congregated among the many manufacturers, outfitters and repair shops to talk shop, swap stories and plan routes. Some of the more popular spots to ride in the Circle City included 16th Street and Senate Avenue, Broad Ripple and the tow path along the Central Canal.
The gem of Indianapolis’ cycling community was the Newby Oval on Central Avenue and 13th Street. The $23,000, quarter-mile track featured a surface made of white pine boards, rough side up to keep wheels from slipping. Wire brushing removed splinters before the floorboards were dipped into a tank of wood preservative and nailed into place. The track featured a “whale-back” design of banked curves to increase safety and accommodate speed. The Newby Oval featured grandstand seating, two amphitheaters, and bleachers designed to hold more than 8,000 spectators.
The Newby Oval’s first race, sponsored by the League of American Wheelmen hosted its first bike race on July 4, 1898. The contest included ragtime, two-step, and patriotic tunes to serenade the riders and spectators alike. Every time a rider neared the finish line, spectators fired their pistols in the air in anticipation. For a time, the Newby Oval was considered to host the city’s first automobile race. The euphoria didn’t last long though. Because cars would need to run in separate heats at the Newby Oval, the event was moved to the State Fairgrounds, where multiple vehicles could compete at one time. The track’s building materials were put up for sale and by early 1903, the Newby Oval was dismantled. By the turn-of-the-century, interest in cars was outpacing bicycles. By 1908, the bicycle craze was over.
With the advent of the automobile and motorcycles in the early 1910s, interest in bicycling as a form of transportation waned. Henry T. Hearsey changed with the times and became Indianapolis’ first automobile dealer. Hearsey lived at 339 East Tippencanoe Street, just a stone’s throw away from the James Whitcomb Riley house in Lockerbee Square. Indianapolis, just as it had in the generation before with bicycles, soon become a pioneer in the manufacture of automobiles, second only to Detroit in fact. Most of the parties involved in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were former colleagues of Henry Hearsey and members of his bicycle clubs.

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Carl Fisher-Indy 500 Founder

While images of the old fashioned high-wheeled “ordinary” bicycles and the winged tire logo of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway are instantly recognizable to sports fans all over the world, no-one remembers Henry T. Hearsey today. Hearsey not only introduced Indianapolis to the first commercially viable bicycle, opened the first Circle City bicycle shop, was the first to recognize the genius of Major Taylor and Carl Fisher and opened the first car dealership in the city. He was born during the Civil War, flourished during the Gilded Age / Industrial Age / Progressive Era / Roaring Twenties and survived the Great Depression. Henry T. Hearsey, the trailblazing businessman whose name is unknown to most Hoosiers, died in the summer of 1939. He lies buried in Crown Hill Cemetery among the many notable names from the pages of Indianapolis’ history, most of whom knew him personally and called him by his nickname. Happy holidays “Harry” Hearsey, the Circle City tips its collective cap to you.

Christmas, food, Indianapolis, Pop Culture

Roselyn Bakeries Rosie’s Gingerbread House.

Original publish date:  December 10, 2012

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Painting by Dale Blaney.

For many Indianapolis residents, Christmas in the Circle City is defined by one thing: The World’s Largest Christmas Tree. Every year since 1962, the dedicated electrical workers of IBEW 481 have dutifully transformed the Soldiers and Sailors monument into a glistening, magical pyramid of lights that even the most skeptical Scrooge among us proudly calls the world’s largest Christmas tree. This year marks the 56th anniversary of that monumental Christmas tree.
Monument_Circle_ChristmasAlthough I never fail to take my annual trip around Monument Circle at Christmastime to gaze in wonder at the fantastic fir tree fantasy, my personal memories of Christmas on the Circle revolve around a little shack that used to rest at its base facing the Indiana Statehouse. You may think of the L.S. Ayres Cherub, Santa’s mailbox, the 26 larger-than-life toy soldiers and sailors surrounding the Circle, the 26 red & white striped peppermint sticks, the 52 garland strands or the 4,784 colored lights strung from the top of the Monument to its base, but I think of the Roselyn Bakery Christmas Hut.
For a quarter century beginning in 1974, every year on the night after Thanksgiving Indianapolis based Roselyn Bakeries set up a special “Christmas Hut” to celebrate the lighting of the “World’s Largest Christmas Tree” on Monument Circle. The best part? Many lucky visitors received free Christmas cookies made from a “secret” Roselyn recipe. Surely those cookies were made by Roselyn’s mascot “Rosie” herself inside that tiny little shed, right?
Rosi_Roselyn_logo_shdwDecorated with Gingerbread man shutters and candy cane pillars, coated in what looked like white icing, the Christmas hut was set up on the West side of the Circle where it remained for 25 years from 1974 to 1999. It was estimated that some 1.2 million Gingerbread man cookies were handed out from within that festive little house over those years. Just like the bakery itself, that little hut was an institution. 636389898040860440-roselyn-1
Roselyn Bakery was founded in 1943 with its first storefront located at 22nd and Meridian Streets. Within the decade Roselyn bakeries could be found all over the city. You might remember those old city buses with the early Roselyn Bakery cartoon chef logo known as “Mr. Henry.” By the Bicentennial celebration in 1976, there were over 30 Roselyn locations all over central Indiana. When they closed up shop in 1999, Roselyn had some 40 locations offering over 700 different items. I’m still amazed by the memory of those Grandmotherly looking counter ladies wrapping up those cookie and cake boxes with that menacing looking string-tie machine that made that frightening bullwhip sound: “Whoosh-snap!”
Roselyn cookbook coverFor me, Roselyn will always be identified for buttermilk jumbles, toffee cookies, alligator & sweetheart coffee cakes, yeast donuts and the darling little girl cartoon mascot known as “Rosie”. A blonde haired, blue eyed perpetually smiling little naive whose popularity forced the Roselyn Christmas Hut to undergo a name change to “Rosie’s Gingerbread House.” If memory serves, for a time there was even a living, breathing life-sized “Rosie” mascot dressed in a horribly oversized paper mache’ head and wearing a red velvet dress. Every so often, she would wobble awkwardly out of the Gingerbread hut to personally pass out cookies to the eager, but slightly befuddled, kiddies on the Circle. As I recall, she didn’t speak, but to a 12-year-old cartoon addicted boy like me, her skirt was short and her cookies were hot.
Today, nearly two decades after that Roselyn Christmas house disappeared, the lighting of the Circle is called the “Festival of Lights” attended by a crowd of over a 100,000 people with another 50,000 viewers watching the event live on TV from home. In 2011, Travelocity called the Circle of Lights one of the top five “must-see Christmas trees” in the country. To quote the old Virginia Slims cigarettes slogan from Rosie’s days, “You’ve come buttertoffeecookies-5a long way baby.”
The “Christmas in the round” idea was born in 1945 at the close of World War II and intended as a celebration of peace at a monument built to honor fallen soldiers. Renowned Indianapolis architect Edward D. Pierre (IPS schools # 7 & 78, Indiana State Library and Historic Bureau) first suggested decorating and lighting the Monument as a glowing symbol of peace. Until 1961, decor was confined to the lower parts of the Monument. The next year, the “World’s Largest Christmas Tree” was born. That simple program with a few speakers in 1962 has evolved into an intricate hour-long television show today. As for Roselyn, the cakes, donuts and cookies can be found in several of the grocery store chains around town. But its not quite the same. The bakery chain’s only remaining evidence on our streets are the many Roselyn Bakery “Frankensigns” that dot the city in front of those familiar low rise buildings that once sold Rosie’s sugar-coated sweets.
package-fallholidaypartytray-1-1-300x300Eight mayors and ten governors have served our city and state over the past 50 years. I can’t say that I miss any of them, but I do miss those Gingerbread cookies. If you do too, you can make them yourself. Here’s the recipe for Roselyn Bakeries famous Gingerbread Men cookies: 1 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 2 3/4 teaspoons baking soda, 5 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 teaspoon ground ginger, 2 1/2 teaspoons salt, 3/4 cup Crisco shortening, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 6 tablespoons whole eggs, 1 1/4 cup extra fine coconut (Make sure that the coconut you use is very fine, almost like coarse sugar-you may have to grind store bought coconut flake down), 1 1/4 cup honey, 5 cups all-purpose flour. Preheat oven to 360 degrees F. Combine allspice, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, salt, shortening, and sugar into a large mixing bowl. Cream together. Scrape down bowl. Add beaten eggs and mix thoroughly.Sweetheart Scrape down bowl. Add coconut and honey and mix well. Scrape down bowl. Add flour and mix well. On a lightly floured surface, with a floured rolling pin, roll dough 1/8 inch thick. With a 5 inch long cutter, cut out men. Re-roll trimmings and cut more cookies. With spatula, place 1/2 inch apart on cookie sheets. Bake at 360 degrees for 8 minutes or until browned, then, with spatula, remove cookies to racks to cool. Decorate as desired. Makes 3 dozen cookies. Now if I could only locate a slightly used Christmas shack.

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Civil War, Indianapolis

The Battle of Pogue’s Run.

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1871 Pogue’s Run painting by Jacob Cox.

Original publish date:  December 7, 2013~~Republished September 27, 2018

Quick name the Northern-most battle fought on Union soil during the American Civil War? Gettysburg? Nope, but here’s a hint…it was fought in Indiana. Corydon? Nope. Indianapolis…the Battle of Pogue’s Run. Okay, okay, so no shots were fired, but it’s still a great story from the archives of Civil War Indiana. And during this, the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, what better time than the present to revisit Indianapolis past?
It’s May 20, 1863 and there’s a battle raging at the Indiana statehouse. Rumors were spreading that Copperheads within the Indiana Democratic party were determined to take over State Government and turn it over to the Rebels. Named for the poisonous snake indigenous to Southern Indiana which gives no warning before it strikes, Copperheads were Hoosiers who opposed the American Civil War. Considered traitors by others in the North, they favored immediate peace with the Confederacy.
These “Peace Democrats” accepted the label and often identified themselves by the use of stickpins featuring the likeness of Lady Liberty, which they cut from copper pennies and proudly wore on their lapels. Copperheads damaged the Union war effort by fighting the draft, encouraging desertion, and forming conspiracies in effort to incite unrest far behind the front lines.

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Poster on display at Historic Connersville museum.

The “Battle of Pogue’s Run” began when a rumor circulated that that many of the delegates to the Democrat state convention were carrying concealed firearms, hell bent on insurrection. Union soldiers entered the delegates hall and found personal weapons on many of the delegates. Afterwards, Union soldiers stopped departing trains carrying delegates and began another search of the delegates. Many of the delegates fled the train and began to throw their weapons into the creek that ran diagonally southwest through the city known by locals as Pogue’s Run. Some blamed the Republicans, some the Democrats, while others pointed the finger at powerful Governor Oliver P. Morton but it might be easier to place the blame on the fear and paranoia that permeated the Civil War itself.
Oliver P. Morton, Governor of Indiana for the duration of the Civil War, strongly supported President Abraham Lincoln and the Union. Perhaps more than any other northern Governor. Under his leadership, Indiana raised more men and money for the war effort than any other northern state. Whether you loved him or hated him, there was no doubt about it, Oliver P. Morton was large and in charge.
Within days of his inauguration as governor, Morton saw the war clouds on the horizon and began to prepare the state for the inevitable. He appointed men to important positions who he knew would never compromise with the southern states. Time and time again, he chose Republicans loyal to him over others connected to politicians like Congressmen George W. Julian or Schuyler Colfax, his chief rivals in the Republican Party. When the legislature resisted his call for the creation of a State armory, he collected private funds and built one himself. Morton’s new state arsenal employed seven hundred men to produce ammunition and weapons without legislative permission in preparation for the war he was sure was coming. When the South Carolinians’ fired on Ft. Sumter on April 12, 1861, he telegraphed President Abraham Lincoln within hours to announce that he already had 10,000 soldiers under arms ready to suppress the rebellion.
Lincoln and Morton maintained a close alliance during the war, although Lincoln was wary at times of Morton’s ruthlessness. Lincoln once said of Morton that he was “at times the shrewdest person I know.” Governor Morton wrote to Lincoln claiming that “no other free state is so populated with southerners”, and that these “Copperheads” kept Morton from being as forceful against secession as he wanted to be. Through sheer determination and projected self confidence, Morton kept the state united early on in the war. That is until Lincoln began to raise the emancipation question in 1862.
The cracks in Morton’s armor began to show in the mid-term elections of 1862. The Republican party suffered a major defeat at the polls and the Democratic Legislature, which had been strongly Pro-Morton during the Governor’s first 2 years in office, now turned against him. The Democrats, under future Vice-President Thomas A. Hendricks, declared that while they were strongly pro-union and supported the war effort, they opposed the abolition of slavery. In protest, and possibly out of arrogance, Morton never called the 1862 State Legislature into session.
z op mMorton believed that should he call the session, radical elements in the opposition party might undermine the Hoosier state’s devotion to the war effort, instigate riots, harbor southern spies and possibly vote to secede from the Union. The Governor issued secret instructions to GOP legislators asking them to stay away from the Statehouse, thereby thwarting efforts to attain a voting quorum. With Morton’s aid, the Republicans fled to Madison where they could cross easily into Kentucky should the Democrats attempt to forcibly return them to the capitol. Because of this, the government was at a virtual stand still. No budget, no taxes, no revenue. The state quickly ran out of money and teetered dangerously on the edge of bankruptcy. Exceeding his Constitutional powers, Morton solicited millions of dollars in personal loans to keep the Government going.
Although patently Unconstitutional, Morton’s plan worked and the Hoosier contribution to the war effort rolled on without the help of the State Legislature. The atmosphere created by Morton’s actions only worsened tensions between the two parties and guaranteed a confrontation, which was probably already inevitable. Now Democrats saw Morton as the embodiment of the National Republican agenda, with its expansion and corruption of power. They saw him as Lincoln’s henchman in Indiana as well as a tyrant in his own right.
The rage among the Democrats was bubbling to the top. They launched vicious attacks in the press against Morton, who responded by accusing them of treason. Morton again pushed the limits of his wartime authorities by using an intelligence network to deal with rebel sympathizers, the Knights of the Golden Circle, Democrats, and anyone who opposed the Union war effort, or him. While this helped to keep the state more secure, his secret police force also carried out arbitrary arrests, suppressed freedom of speech and freedom of association (particularly in the press), and generally maintained a repressive control of the southern-sympathetic minority. It was easy to see that a battle was brewing in the Circle City.
The Battle of Pogue’s Run commenced when Morton had soldiers disrupt the Democratic state convention based solely on conjecture. Many leaders of the Democratic Party were arrested, detained, or threatened and charged with the possession of firearms. Which is ironic considering Morton had been making his own guns and ammunition statutorily illegally for years and while nearly every citizen in Indianapolis, at that time considered the far western frontier, was armed to the teeth.
Governor Morton developed an incendiary plan to place Union troops inside the convention hall specifically to intimidate the delegates to the convention. About four o’clock in the afternoon, while Thomas A. Hendricks was speaking to an estimated 10,000 delegates from the rostrum, a group of a dozen-or-so soldiers entered the hall with bayonets fixed and rifles cocked. The menacing looking soldiers entered the crowd and advanced slowly toward the stand, causing a great uproar. The delegates and attendees scattered in every direction. A high fence on the east side of the state-house square was pushed down by the panicked crowd. To make matters worse, a squad of cavalry galloped back-and-forth along Tennessee street.

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General John Coburn.

The soldiers moving towards the stand were ordered to halt by Colonel John Coburn, who had been guarding the quartermaster’s stores north of the State-house but who had rushed over after hearing the disturbance. He asked what they were doing. They replied they were “going for Tom Hendricks,” that he had said too much, and they intended to kill him. Coburn reasoned with the agitated soldiers and they halted. Meantime, there was much confusion on the stand. Perhaps needles to say, Hendricks closed his remarks prematurely by quickly suggesting that the resolutions be read and the meeting adjourned. The record reflects that there was no second to his motion.

When calmer heads prevailed, it was found that the resolutions declared that the Federal government had two wars upon its hands; one against the rebels and one against the constitution. The quorum breaking Republicans in the late legislature were denounced in the strongest terms and it was further declared that the Governor could not “clear himself from complicity, except by taking steps to prevent repudiation.” In reaction to the Governor’s crack-down on dissent, the Indiana Democratic Party called Morton a “Dictator” and an “Underhanded Mobster” while Republicans countered that the Democrats were using “treasonable and obstructionist tactics in the conduct of the war”.
Although now calmer, the soldiers remained agitated. Occasionally, if they heard any of the remaining Democrats speak against the war, the Republican Party, the President or Governor Morton, that individual would be grabbed roughly underneath the armpits and marched out to the street followed by a great rabble. The intent was not to harm the poor fellow but to frighten him. Eventually the scared temporary detainee either slipped away or was told that he would be released if he promised to behave himself. A number of men were taken to the police court and charged with carrying concealed weapons, and about forty pistols were taken from those arrested. Later that night as the convention concluded, many of the Democratic delegates took trains departing from Indianapolis. As the trains slowly departed from the city a great number of shots were fired from within the cars traveling on the Lafayette and Terre Haute railroads. z 9225172_2
The delegates felt the rough treatment they deserved from the Governor’s armed thugs was undeserved and their anger manifested by an intention to create an armed disturbance. Perhaps justified in their feelings, it was not the wisest thing for them to do, and the re-agitated soldiers quickly determined to teach the remaining “Copperheads” a lesson. As the Indiana Central Railroad train left Union station a cannon from Morton’s nearby armory was commandeered and placed on the tracks in front of it. The train stopped. A small body of soldiers and policemen boarded the train and demanded the surrender of all firearms by the passengers. The delegation collected nearly two hundred weapons. The train bound for Cincinnati was also stopped and many revolvers were taken from the passengers.
Some of the enraged delegates refused to hand over their personal firearms and chose instead to throw them out the open windows into Pogue’s Run, a shallow waterway parallel to the track. Some delegates gave their pistols to women on the train, in the belief that they would not be searched. They were mistaken and in one instance, seven firearms were found hidden upon a single woman. A two foot long Bowie knife was discovered hidden in the smoldering ashes of a stove in one of the cars. In all, about five hundred loaded revolvers were taken from passengers, not all of whom were delegates to the convention, or even Democrats!
z cody-dug-up-gun-museumAccounts of just how many weapons were thrown into Pogue’s Run ranged from 500 to 2,000. The Indianapolis Sentinel described it as: “It is with feelings of sorrow, humiliation and degradation that we witnessed the scenes of yesterday. . . . Indiana is as completely under military rule as France, Austria or Russia”. But to those who supported Morton’s action, it seemed to them that would-be insurrectionists would be too cowardly to actually rebel. The term “Battle of Pogue’s Run” was given to the event by the Republican Party derisively, who praised the soldiers involved as “halt(ing) a meeting of traitors to the Union cause”. The Democrats, on the other hand, called the event “still more assaults upon constitutional rights” by those supporting Abraham Lincoln and Governor Morton.
The Run flooded in 1882, killing at least ten people and exposing the skeletal remains of many of the weapons pitched into the water that May evening two decades before. The flood destroyed a covered bridge that once crossed Pogue’s Run near the spot where the battle took place. More than three decades after that devastating flood, in 1914, Pogue’s Run was rerouted into the storm sewers of downtown Indianapolis in order to allow for a perfect grid pattern for Indianapolis’ roads. The stream goes underground at New York Street, east of I-70, and eventually spills into the White River near Kentucky Avenue. Indy Parks established a Pogue’s Run Trail alongside the creek bed on the section northeast of downtown.

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1871 Pogue’s Run painting by Jacob Cox.

Today, wildlife can be found on the path including ducks, geese, red-winged Blackbirds, and the occasional blue heron. A plan called “Charting Pogue’s Run” intends to mark where the creek once ran in downtown Indianapolis. The plan calls for a blue line, made of thirty permanent steel medallions and a semi-permanent blue thermoplastic line, to “meander” across roads and parking lots following the route of the historic waterway. That proposed blue line promises to show how Pogue’s Run now lies under Lucas Oil Stadium and Banker’s Life fieldhouse. I expect that at least one of those markers will be dedicated to the rich history of Pogue’s Run and the Civil War battle that bears it’s name.

Creepy history, Ghosts, Indianapolis

The Harmonica Playing Ghost of Paul Ruster State Park.

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Original publish date:  October 4, 2018

Relatively speaking, Paul Ruster Memorial Park is one of the newest additions to the Indianapolis Parks system. The park’s trail consists of a 1.2 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features a river and is rated as moderate. The park is tucked away off of busy Washington Street and the trail is like stepping into a hidden forest. The trail features some steep inclines with several elevation changes and can be very tight in certain areas. It is more of a recreational facility than a park in the traditional sense of the word. Located near the bustling Washington Square Mall shopping complex, the 102-Acre park features a small fishing pond and playground.The Ruster park is bordered by walking trails, defined by Buck Creek that borders the area, that each offer eastsiders a rural setting for jogging, hiking and dog walking. During summer, locals take advantage of the park’s picnic facilities and shelter house. In 2007, the park added two fenced in “Bark Parks” (the third such facility in Indianapolis). During the winter, the park’s many hills are filled with sledders, skaters and tubers.
z 68162236_130289523266Ask any of these visitors about the park’s namesake and you’re likely to catch them at a loss. What’s more, most visitors are unaware that Paul Ruster Park is haunted by a centuries-old ghost. The park, acquired by the Indy Parks system in 1970, is named after a 1964 Warren Central high school graduate, Paul M. Ruster. Paul, the oldest of three sons of Marvin and Marie Ruster, died December 10, 1978 of Hodgkin’s disease. Paul’s brother Bruce was a former Warren Central baseball star and much beloved Phys-Ed teacher at Warren Central for many years. Paul was born on the eastside, attending Eastridge elementary and Woodview Junior High. He graduated from Ball State University and returned to Indy’s eastside to teach Phys-Ed at Lowell in 1969.
During his ten years at Lowell, Mr. Ruster became admired, respected and loved by the people he worked with each day. People remember him for his winning smile and infectious laugh. He always seemed to be giving his time, talents, and energies to and for his pupils. He believed in kids, encouraged them, and was not disappointed in return. While at Lowell, he completed a master’s degree at Butler University. In addition to teaching and studying, he coached girls’ softball at Lowell little league. He later coached girls’ teams affiliated with the Amateur Softball Association.
His teams worked hard for recognition and were able to travel to several neighboring states to compete in various tournaments and playoff games. Paul was able to find time to start a “Dad’s Night” at school for the fathers who had a desire to take part. Mr. Ruster also found time to participate in several basketball leagues in the city. The Lowell PTA and the community honored Mr. Ruster by establishing a scholarship in his name and by starting a petition to have the city park at 11300 East Prospect Street in his honor. The approval for the park to be named after Paul Ruster came through on June 28, 1979.
z kkAlthough the park may have been new to the Indy Parks system, the haunted reputation was well established. Some of the first to report the strange happenings going on within the park were people who were themselves looked upon as strange by casual observers. These were the weekend warrior gatherings of young people dressed as medieval knights wearing full combat regalia while sword fighting and jousting around the green spaces of Ruster Park. These were the early days of the “Dungeons and Dragons” phenomenon in the 1980s involving fantasy role playing groups that met on a regular basis in the park. These groups began to report strange sights and sounds coming from the periphery of the park’s boundaries that would often stop participants in their tracks. Sometimes, these spooky sounds would drive the groups from the park in fear. Soon, the ghostly rumors made the rounds among Indianapolis paranormal groups that Paul Ruster Park was a hot spot for paranormal activity and an allegedly haunted area. Paranormal investigators declared that these unexplained occurrences were emanating from a nearby abandoned family cemetery a mere stone’s throw from the new park.

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Prospect Road elevated entrance to cemetery

Kitley-King cemetery, located at 11000 East Prospect Road just east of German Church Road, is in an area of woods located on the southeastern edge of the soccer field complex located within Paul Ruster Park. Although located on busy Prospect road, the cemetery, located on the site of the old Kitley family farm, is over a century old and only visible when standing directly atop it. Resting across from the point where East Prospect Road is intersected by Touchstone Drive, a set of six broken and weathered steps ascending from the curb is the only clue to the graveyard’s existence. The steps lead up from the road into a stone walled square plot of ground within which rest a smattering of gravestones in varied states of disrepair nestled into what looks like the foundation of a long forgotten house.
Sadly, only two monuments remain intact. They are the John W. King (1806-1893) and Francis Kitley markers. The cemetery is not well maintained and the two remaining stones are severely cracked. The grass around the area is usually overgrown and uncut.
An 1889 Sanborn map of the area shows the presence of two farms at the intersection of German Church and Prospect Roads. The properties were registered to J. and J.N. Kitley and to Francis Kitley. Across the street on this 1889 map is a farm once owned by Andrew King. Francis’ home once rested on what today is the soccer field. Since the Kitleys and Kings were farmers, it was natural to bury their loved ones in the land beside the farms.
County records show that John Kitley recorded an eighty acre farm on this spot on December 16, 1825. Kitley was born in Hamilton County, Ohio on April 15, 1793 and died sometime around February 25, 1865 (based on his will’s probate date). His stone was once within the cemetery but is missing today, as is that of his wife, Anna Fox Kitley. However the couple’s mortal remains undoubtedly rest beneath the soil to this very day. John and Anna were organizers of the Cumberland Baptist Church on the National Road, or present day Washington Street, located a short distance to the north. The Scotch-Irish Kitleys, who were Methodists, intermarried with the neighboring King family, who were members of St. Johns Evangelical Church on German Church Road.
According to county records, also buried in the Kitley-King cemetery plot are John & Anna’s son, Francis Kitley (December 25, 1823-October 16, 1886) and Mary Jane Smithers Kitley, who is listed on the back of Francis’ stone with the dates: Feb. 6, 1841-Aug. 25, 1932. Other “lost” graves may include siblings Sarah King, Elizabeth King, Lillian Hart, Walter S Kitley, John Kitley, Hester Wiese and James Nelson. Still others may include James’ widow, Rose, and their children Floyd and Frank along with their wives, Alma and Anna, respectively. As with many Indiana pioneer cemeteries, records are sketchy and incomplete with graves remaining unmarked and unrecorded.
z istockphoto-181900911-1024x1024Legend claims that many years ago a 12-year-old boy living on the farm was killed while walking along the nearby train tracks. No-one knows if he was struck by a train or whether some other harm befell him. Reportedly, he is now buried in an unmarked grave within the foundation of his old house. Witnesses claim that if you walk the long path leading from the soccer fields through the woods to his grave near Prospect you can hear the boy playing his harmonica. Still other witnesses have reported seeing the ghostly image of a young boy walking down the road and again, he is seen playing a harmonica.
The railroad tracks are long gone, but the wandering spirit of the musical boy remains. His spirit has been witnessed near the large fishing pond located just west of Muessing Road within the heavily wooded area of the park. Fishermen have often reported the plaintive sounds of a ghostly harmonica heard moving through the woods and around the perimeter of the old fishing hole, as if circling them. It is believed that this lonely wanderer is John Kitley, young namesake son of the farm’s owner, who died on April 12, 1864.
What is known is that Paul Ruster State Park, built for the enjoyment of the children of Indianapolis’ east side and named to honor a devoted kid-loving eastsider, is visited by hundreds of joyful children who run and play in its green spaces all year round. Most likely these visitors frolic and play unaware that a sad and lonely Civil War era lad may be watching from afar wishing he could join them, or perhaps just play them a tune.