Baseball, Indianapolis, Pop Culture, Sports

“The Purdue Football Team’s Halloween Train Disaster” PART I

1903-Purdue Part 1

Original publish date:  October 31, 2019

It was Saturday, October 31, 1903. The college football season was half over as the Purdue Boilermakers geared up for their annual in-state rivalry game against Indiana University. (The “Old Oaken Bucket” trophy was still 20 years in the future.) The rivalry had started a dozen years before in 1891 and for awhile it looked like a clean sweep for the Purdue squad with the Boilers taking the first 6 games outscoring the boys from Bloomington 227 to 6. Then I.U. reeled off 3 in a row to shock the West Lafayette faithful before Purdue took the 1902 contest by once again swamping the cream & crimson 39-0.
The competition for gridiron glory between these two in-state titans was so hot and intense that, for the 1903 contest, both schools agreed that games should be held on neutral ground to quell “potential hooliganism” on the part of the students and fans. To this point eight games had been played in West Lafayette and two in Bloomington. In the spirit of fair play, officials from both schools decided to play the 11th contest on a neutral field at Washington Park in Indianapolis. Washington Park was located at 3001 East Washington Street where it meets Gray Street (in the southwest corner of that intersection). The ballpark, built in 1900 just a stone’s throw from Irvington, was home to the 1902 defending American Association champion Indianapolis Indians.

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1902 Indianapolis Indians

To get to the new state capital location, both teams joined what seemed like the entire student body as they piled into separate special service trains to travel to the game from north and south of the city. Two special trains, operated by the “Big Four Railroad” (the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis Railway), were chartered to carry over 1,500 passengers from Lafayette to Indianapolis for the annual rivalry game. Purdue’s team train was cobbled together like a patchwork quilt and included modern steel streamliner coaches coupled to older wooden coaches. The Boilermakers football team rode in the wooden cars at the front of the train procession.
wash park baseball for web 1The train was traveling on what would have been the 101st birthday of school founder and namesake John Purdue (born October 31, 1802). Purdue, a wealthy landowner, politician, educator and merchant, was the primary benefactor of the University. In 1903, if you wanted to get to Indianapolis from either school, you had three choices: ride a horse and buggy, walk or take the train. Since these were the days before automobile travel was popular, train travel was the most widely accepted form of transportation.
It was Halloween in 1903; late October in the Hoosier Heartland. It is hard for our modern sensibilities to imagine those pre-electricity rural landscapes dotted by farmhouses scattered in a wide swath like checkers on a checkerboard. In this era, Hoosiers generally lived in small communities and held tight to their neighbors. News traveled slowly and so did the traffic. As the Gilded age of Mark Twain collided with the Progressive Era of Teddy Roosevelt, it became apparent that something’s gotta give. Safety was an issue in this gargantuan game of rock, paper, scissors where iron and steel trumped wood every time.

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Namesake John Purdue.

In West Lafayette, it was a festive atmosphere and the town was buzzingly, excited for the match up against the Hoosiers. Like I.U.’s Bloomington, West Lafayette draws so much of its identity from their University and the entire community was looking forward to the weekend. Purdue was 4-2 on the season with a big win over rival Wabash College, but losses to Chicago and Illinois. Purdue enjoyed a 7-3 overall advantage in the series against I.U. and was feeling confident. Running at the rate of thirty miles an hour, the John Purdue Big Four special was carrying 954 students and spectators, including the football team, University President and star fullback and team captain Harry “Skillet” Leslie.
z Dq2VB3-XQAA21c8Unlike the raucous fans traveling in the 13 plush, modern streamliner train coaches behind them, the Boilermakers team traveled in relative silence, focusing on the task at hand, mentally preparing for their upcoming rivalry game in the cozy confines of an older wooden train car. Unfortunately, the athletes had no idea that a minor mistake would lead to a major disaster. Railroad protocol specified that “Special” trains operate independent of the regular schedule. Timing was everything in the railroad game.
In the early 1900s, the rail service depended on many human components: conductors and their assistants, dining car stewards, ticket collectors, train baggage men, brakemen, and train flagmen on the vehicle itself and yardmasters, yard conductors, switch tenders, foremen, flagmen, brakemen, switchmen, car tenders, operators, hump riders, and car operators on the ground. In 1903, railroad track “switches” were manually operated by lantern carrying tenders fluent in the language of railway lantern semaphore, which, strictly defined, means the act of waving a lantern as a warning.

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Switchman

Switch tenders communicated with brakemen who most often stood atop boxcars waving happily at his railyard cohorts and locals as the train glided past. As the train traveled down the rails, some of these daredevils ran along the top of the cars, adjusting the brake wheels sticking up from each car as they went. The complexities of switching, congestion, and rearranging cars made freight yards a far more perilous workplace and working on a moving train could be downright treacherous. One railyard superintendent, when talking about his workers, once famously said, “Men are cheaper than shingles. . . There’s a dozen waiting when one drops out.”
The trouble was, this apparent dispensability of railway workers could cause havoc in areas where tracks needed to be switched to avoid collisions. As the Purdue Special steamed towards the Circle City at over 30 miles per hour, a clerk up the line from Lafayette failed to inform the yardmaster near 18th Street in Indianapolis that the trains were coming. The first train, carrying the team, rounded a curve at the Mill Street Power House and saw a coal train being pushed back on the tracks. The engineer immediately slammed the engine in reverse, locked the emergency brake, and leapt off the moving train.
Z purdue 2The Boilermakers never knew what hit ’em. The engine slammed into the coal car, splintering apart the first few cars while folding like an accordion. When the two trains collided, the lead car hit the debris, causing it to shoot into the air. This gave the full impact to the second train car, causing all the deaths. The wooden train cars splintered like kindling and were destroyed, and the adjacent cars careened violently off the elevated tracks, tumbling to the ground below like jack straws.
Z purdue 1The Indianapolis star reported, “The trains came together with a great crash, which wrecked three of the passenger coaches, in addition to the engine and tender of the special train and two or three of the coal cars. The first coach on the special train was reduced to splinters. The second coach was thrown down a fifteen-foot embankment into the gravel pit and the third coach was thrown from the track to the west-side and badly wrecked. The coal cars plowed their way into the engine and demolished it completely. The coal tender was tossed to the side and turned over. A wild effort on the part of the imprisoned passengers to escape from the wrecked car followed the crash. Immediately following the wreck the students and the others turned their attention to the work of rescuing the injured, and by the time the first ambulances arrived many of the dead and suffering young men had been carried out and placed on the grass on both sides of the track.”
z LARGE (1)The fans at the rear of the train were unaware of what happened and only felt a slight jolt as the train came to a sudden stop. These rearmost passengers wasted no time in coming to the assistance of the victims up ahead. The erstwhile revelers skidded to a stop at the scene of carnage and were horrified at the devastation before them. Acts of unselfish action made heroes out of athletes and ordinary people alike.
According to Purdue student Joseph Bradfield who was riding in the procession, “We began carrying the people out, the injured ones. There was a line of horse-and-buggies along the whole stretch there for half a mile. We didn’t stop for ceremony; we simply loaded the injured people into the buggies and sent the buggies into town, got them to a hospital…There was no ambulance, no cars…”
z purdue_football_wreck_8Seventeen passengers in the first coach were killed. Thirteen of the dead were members of the Purdue football team. Walter Bailey, a reserve player from New Richmond, although grievously injured, refused aid so that others could be helped. Team Captain Skeets Leslie was covered up for dead, his body transported to the morgue with the others. It was the first catastrophe to hit a major college sports team in the history of this country. The affects would be felt for decades to come and one of those players would rise from the dead, shake off accusations of association with Irvington KKK leader D.C. Stephenson, and lead his state and country through the Great Depression.

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Harry “Skeets” Leslie.
Creepy history, Criminals, Ghosts, Health & Medicine, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Medicine

“Bloody Mary Brown. An Irvington Tale”

 

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Original publish date: 2004 Irvington Haunts. Haunted and Infamous Irvington.  Weekly View publish date: October 24, 2019

Fifteen years ago, Russ Simnick and I published our first book, “Irvington Haunts. Haunted and Infamous Irvington.” That first volume was a collection of fourteen different ghost stories gathered from the pages of Irvington’s haunted history. A few of those stories have fallen off the radar screen over the years. Since it is Halloween time in Irvington, I have decided to revisit a couple of those stories in the spirit of the season.
This story, chapter two from that first volume, is titled “Bloody Mary Brown and the Ghost Horse. South Irvington Farm.” I wish that I could take full credit for this particular tale, but I must admit that this particular story was written by Russ and my role in it’s publication was minimal at best. The imagery of this spooky tale is a feast for the senses. So, tuck the paper under your arm, take it home with you, turn down the lights and pull down the window shades. For tales like this are best read in the dark. Not all the hauntings in Irvington confine themselves to homes. The streets of South Irvington are home to the spirit of a phantom horse and buggy searching for its owner who was brutally murdered.z5f
On the evening of Friday, February 6, 1880, an area farmer named P.H. Fatout found a horse and phaeton buggy plodding along the Brookville Pike with no rider. On that blustery night, Fatout secured the rig and led it to his stable. What he didn’t know was that his find would turn into key evidence in one of the day’s most sensational murder stories. Once inside his barn, Fatout inspected the buggy with a lantern. He discovered its cushions were soaked in blood. The boards of the seats, under the cushions, were broken and the dashboard was heavily scratched, apparent signs of a struggle.
Shortly before daylight, travelers on Michigan Road, near the place it crossed the Belt Railroad, discovered a more gruesome scene– the lifeless body of Irvington Farmer John G.F. Brown. The cause of death for the 52-year-old farmer was first thought to be a bullet wound, but Farmer Brown turned out to be the victim of a brutal ax murder. Indianapolis police Captains Splann and Williamson began investigating the body at 9:30 that morning. They soon concluded that it had been dragged from the buggy and disposed of at the scene of its finding. Buggy tracks led to Irvington butcher Jacob Geis, but he was soon ruled out as a suspect as police correctly surmised that the tracks were a ruse designed to frame Geis.
Brown had just returned from prison to his forty-acre farm, located a half mile south of Brookville Road. As his one-year sentence for receiving stolen goods ended, he returned home to find a man living in his house with Brown’s wife. The man, recent divorcee Joseph Wade, ran a saloon on Virginia Avenue in Indianapolis. He was described as a “fighting man” to Brown by local attorney Nicholas Van Horn.
pic4193-1If he was fearful, Joseph Brown did not show it as he sat down for what would be his last meal. At 5:30 PM, Mary Brown sent her two older children to the Smith’s, neighbors whose home was frequently visited by Wade, the children and Mary Brown. Mary instructed the children that she would come to get them after dinner and that Wade would play fiddle that evening to entertain at the Smith home. During the course of the evening, Wade asked Brown to borrow his buggy. He stated that he wanted to sell a horse to Irvington’s Dr. long. Brown agreed. As dinner ended, Brown went into the front yard to work on an ax handle. Wade was hitching the horse to the buggy.
According to testimony by Mary Brown, as published in “The Indianapolis News” on February 12, 1880, the next events unfolded like this: “I went around the east end of the house to the front to see if Wade was gone. Then is when I heard a noise. I heard no words but a dull sound as if from a gun a long way off or a dull heavy blow. When I heard this I had just passed the southeast corner of the kitchen with my child in my arms. I heard no additional noise. The buggy stood nearby opposite of the gate.”
She soon saw the body of her husband. According to her testimony, she said, “My God, Joe, what have you done?” Wade replied, “I love every hair of your head better than my own life.” He added, “this will be all right. I will prove myself clear.” “It is a horrible picture of depravity and utterly inhumane heartlessness, when it is brought to mind that Mrs. Brown and Wade (who, if they did not both actually commit the murder, contrived it) should have so coolly eaten supper with their victim, and then so soon after dispatched him,” stated a local newspaper of the day.
Panicking, Wade had a body, but no place to dump it. Thinking quickly, he headed to butcher Geis’ home to “throw suspicion under the butcher.” This plan was foiled as Geis’ dogs began barking at the killer. He quickly changed plans. This time, he would make it appear as if Brown was hit by a train and proceeded to take the buggy to the Belt Railroad. “The Indianapolis Journal” (Feb. 11, 1880) reported that Wade intended to “leave the buggy with the body and it up on the railroad track, loosing the traces so the horse could walk out unharmed when the Belt train came along. The locomotive would strike the vehicle and it might be made to appear that Brown had been killed by the cars.” Apparently, there was an unusual amount of travel that night and approaching people did not allow him the privacy to stage the scene. He threw the body out and let the horse go.
46052174_137701834512The investigation by Coroner George Wishard, namesake of today’s Wishard Hospital, was thorough and damning to Wade. During his investigation at the Brown farm, Wishard “found a board, probably a small kneading tray, hidden away under the shed… Which is bespattered with blood.” Signs of a violent struggle and blood were found in the yard. The mountain of evidence was building against Wade. But did he act alone? Or was “Bloody Mary” Brown, as one of the contemporary newspapers dubbed her, more involved than she claimed?
News of the murder was watched with great intensity. The “Indianapolis Journal” declared in February 1880, “Every scrap of gossip, every item of information is readily devoured by eager listeners, all of whom, with varying comment, now look upon the unfaithful wife and her Paramore as the guilty ones.” One enterprising paint dealer, located on Meridian Street in Indianapolis, covered all the roads connected to the murder with signs advertising his business-360 in all-so that the steady stream of travelers and ghoulish thrill seekers from Indianapolis would see his advertisements.
Bloody Mary Brown was shown at trial to have more involvement than she claimed. She and Joseph Wade were both convicted of John Brown’s murder and sentenced to hang. But this was not their last day in court. At a retrial for Bloody Mary in January 1881, a jury once again found her guilty of murder but sentenced her to life in prison at the Indiana Reformatory Institution for Women and Girls in Indianapolis. Upon the result of this trial, the public grew to believe that Wade should not suffer a harsher punishment than Brown. Dozens of men petitioned the governor to commute Wade sentenced to life in prison. Eventually, his sentence was changed to life.
The tragedy that befell Brown was not the end to this story. Many strange events occurred after the murder. Mary’s mother was placed in an insane asylum, and even though she had no involvement with the murder. Wade’s ex-wife, who he had divorced just prior to moving in with Mary, died days after the murder of an apparent heart attack. One of the oddest twists in this case involved the body of John Brown. While his corpse was taken to Kregelo’s undertaking establishment for examination by Coroner Wishard, his skull was taken to the Medical College of Indiana, located at the corner of Pennsylvania and Market streets.

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The Medical College of Indiana.

Ominously, one of the largest fires in the history of Indianapolis ripped through the Medical College on February 9, 1880, just three days after the murder. Not only was Brown’s skull lost, but so were several of the corpses in the college’s dissecting room. “The stiffs were frying and frizzling in there,” said patrolman E. B. Clark to the “Indianapolis Sentinel.”
Even in this day of auto travel, Irvingtonians claim to have heard the clumps of horse hooves plodding and the screech of ancient buggy wheels turning on the southern streets of Irvington, just north of Brookville Road. This testimony can only be assigned to John Brown’s riderless horse, endlessly looking for its owner who was viciously murdered and whose body was left cold and stiff beside the railroad tracks just before Valentine’s Day more than a century before.
After all these years, Russ’s story, appearing here just as he wrote it back in the day, still holds up. Over the last 17 years of ghost tours, I have, more than a few times, encountered guests who have themselves witnessed the spiritual echoes of clip clops from long ago. That is the magic of Irvington at Halloween.

Creepy history, Criminals, Indianapolis, Pop Culture

“Bonnie & Clyde-Saga of the Death Car” Part III

Clyde Car Part III

Original publish date:  May, 2014       Reissue date: October 10, 2019

In parts I & II of this article, we recalled the bloody death of outlaws Bonnie & Clyde and explored their Indiana connection. By now, you know the Barrow gang robbed a bank in the tiny community in North Central Indiana known as Lucerne and that Clyde was wearing a shirt made by the Wasson’s department store in Indianapolis when he shot to pieces by Texas lawmen 80 years ago on May 23, 1934. But what about the death car? That bullet riddled Ford V-8 coffin of Crimedom’s best known romantic duo? Well, long-story-short, the Bonnie & Clyde death car is owned by (and on display at) Whiskey Pete’s Las Vegas Casino which also owns the Clyde Barrow death shirt. But how it got there, well that is an interesting story.
Clyde Barrow loved to drive Ford V-8’s. He didn’t like to pay for them and it is unlikely that he ever owned one outright, but he sure could steal ’em. Those who knew, or chased, Clyde said with unanimity that when he slid behind the wheel of a flathead Ford, Clyde Barrow became a part of that car. He could drive those cars so fast and loose around those dirt lined country backroads that no lawman alive had a chance of ever getting a sniff of him. I guess that’s why those six Texas lawmen decided to wait roadside in the brush for Bonnie and Clyde to coast past before popping up and unloading 167 bullets into them.

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Magazine ad for the 1934 Ford V-8 Fordor.

Clyde once famously wrote a letter to Henry Ford praising his cars. The letter, dated April 10th, 1934, was sent from Tulsa, Oklahoma and reads as written: “Mr. Henry Ford Detroit Mich. Dear Sir: -While I still have got breath in my lungs I will tell you what a dandy car you make. I have drove Fords exclusively when I could get away with one. For sustained speed and freedom from trouble the Ford has got ever other car skinned and even if my business hasen’t been strickly legal it don’t hurt anything to tell you what a fine car you got in the V8 -Yours truly, Clyde Champion Barrow” The letter is on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
The Bonnie & Clyde death car, known by crime aficionados as “The Warren Car”, was technically known as a “1934 Ford Model 730 Deluxe sedan Fordor model”. Built in February 1934 at the Ford River Rouge plant in Dearborn, Michigan, it featured a large 85 horsepower Ford V-8 flathead engine with a manual 3-speed transmission and rode on Firestone tires. It was purchased by Miss. Ruth Warren from the Mosby-Mack Motor Company of Topeka Kansas for $ 835 and was “Cordoba Gray” in color.

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Ruth and Jesse Warren posing with their recovered car.

The death car belonged to Ruth and Jesse Warren, a roofing contractor in Topeka. Ruth bought her new Ford for $782.92 – $200 down, $582.92 to be paid by April 15. It was a beautiful automobile with special seat covers, bumper guards, a metal cover on the extra tire, an Arvin hot water heater, and a leaping greyhound in shiny chrome on the radiator cap. The windows not only rolled up and down, but also slid backward almost two inches for partial ventilation. The running boards were wide, and the doors, both front and back, swung outward toward the rear to open. Ford Dealers of the 1930’s advertised that this new V-8 would get nearly twenty miles to the gallon at forty-five miles an hour. But Clyde Barrow proved it could go much faster then that.
For a month and a half the Warrens ran the car at low speeds to break it in smoothly. By late April they had driven 1,243 miles and had paid the balance owed on it. On Sunday, April 29, 1934, she took the car out for a short trip and returning home, she parked it in the driveway, leaving the keys in the ignition. The new car had been sitting in their driveway for only a short time when Ruth, who had been doing dishes, looked out the window and noticed it was missing. Ruth believed her husband had driven it to a nearby neighbor’s house. But just to be sure, she called him and learned that he hadn’t taken the car.
fordv8She called the police and reported the car as stolen. According to the police report, shortly after one o’clock, neighbors saw a man and a woman circling the block in a Plymouth coupe. Later the mystery couple returned, this time with a man riding on the right running board. He jumped off, climbed into the Warren’s car, started it, backed out of the driveway, and sped away. The Warrens wouldn’t see their new Ford for three months.
Clyde would put 7,500 miles (in only 25 days) on the odometer before it rolled to dead stop on that deserted dusty Louisiana highway barely 3 weeks later. Clyde added Arkansas license plate # 15-368, stolen just a week before the massacre, to the car immediately after boosting the automobile. The plate had originally belonged to a Mr. Merle Cruse of Fayetteville, Ark. Later, when Mr. Cruse was in a theater watching newsreel footage of the death scene and impounded death car, he noticed it bore his stolen plate. He jumped up excitedly exclaiming “THAT’S MY LICENSE PLATE!”
On May 23, 1934, an Associated Press reporter notified the Warrens that their car had been found in Arcadia, Louisiana. But the reporter warned Ruth that before she got too excited, there were a couple of things wrong with the car. The upholstery was blood-soaked, and the vehicle had 167 bullet holes in it’s body. In response to the stunned silence coming from the other end, the reporter told the Warrens to check out that evening’s newspaper. The headline read, “Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow Shot Down In Louisiana” and right there was the Warren’s car with the bodies of America’s most famous outlaws grotesquely twisted in the throes of death inside.

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Newsreel poster from 1934.

In a flash of violence, the Warren’s Ford became the most famous car on the planet. Soon everybody in the area knew the story of the death car and by the time the coroner arrived, a souvenir-mad mob had gathered, everyone trying to get mementos. Bits of window glass were broken off, swatches of blood-soaked upholstery were ripped away and the chrome was a twisted, mangled mess. A wrecker arrived and hooked the gray Ford up (with Bonnie and Clyde still inside) and the makeshift rolling coffin made the fifteen mile trip into Arcadia. The car stopped occasionally to let curious clusters of people along the road peer in at the bodies. Behind the wrecker a long line of cars followed.
After the ambush Mrs. Ruth Warren arrived in Bienville Parish, Louisiana to claim her car. Sheriff Henderson Jordan refused to release it to her, claiming that she would have to pay $15,000 to get it back. Warren quickly hired attorney W.D.Goff from Arcadia to represent her. Goff claimed that by Jordan setting the value of the car over $3,000, the case would surely wind up in Federal Court. Because of Sheriff Jordan’s refusal to comply, Federal Judge Benjamin Dawkins threatened to send the sheriff to jail if he did not return the car to Mrs. Warren. She finally got her car back and amazingly drove it to Shreveport, Louisiana, bullet holes and all. From there the car was taken by truck, back to Topeka, Kansas, where it sat in her driveway at 2107 Gabler Street for several days.
Jesse Warren didn’t want anything to do with it and thought it was horrible thing to have the death car parked in his driveway looking like a mess. What would anybody want with a bloody car full of bullet holes? But Ruth soon took control and leased the car to John Castle of United Shows, who exhibited it at the Topeka Fairgrounds. But in September of 1934, Castle defaulted in paying rent. It took the Warrens, another trip to court to repossess the car. Within a short time, a Kansas man name Duke Mills appeared. Billing himself as a “master showman and display expert”, Duke approached Jesse Warren with a plan to exhibit the car at the “Century of Progress” Worlds Fair in Chicago. He offered to rent the car for $50.00 a week and pay Jesse a commission of the ticket proceeds on top of that. But that deal never materialized.
Banner-BC-Death-Car1Ruth then rented the death car to carnival operator Charles Stanley, who exhibited it on the Hennies Brothers Midways in his 1939 crime show. Stanley displayed the car outside of his tent and charged admission to see the film of the actual ambush on the inside. Eventually, multiple bullet-riddled 1934 Ford Fordor sedans began appearing on the county fair and carnival circuit over the next few years, all claiming to be the actual death car. The various owners sometimes vigorously defended their claims, too, casting doubt on the authenticity of the real death car. Aside from the damage to historical accuracy, the frauds cut into the revenue generated by Ruth Warren as the death car toured the country.
1_000a06adb74b0c437bc04c47ed2a8cc2After Ruth divorced her husband Jesse, she kept the title to the car and sold it to Stanley for $3,500.The car was then exhibited at Coney Island amusement park in Cincinnati from 1940-1960. After World War II, memories faded and interest waned in the “Public Enemies” Era, pushing the car further-and-further into obscurity. In a 1960 issue of Billboard magazine, Stanley offered the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car for sale. Ted Toddy purchased the car in 1960 for $14,500. The car then sat in a warehouse for years until the popularity of the 1967 movie “Bonnie & Clyde” brought it out of retirement. 2547195_0 (1)
In 1971 Toddy leased his car to the Royal American Shows. In 1973 the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car was purchased by Peter Simon of the Oasis Casino in Jean Nevada for $175.000. It was eventually put on permanent display at Whiskey Pete’s Casino in Primm Nevada not far from the California Stateline. The display is free and the car rests prominently, yet unceremoniously, behind photo-obscuring reflective glass in the casino lobby flanked by a pair of macabre “Bonnie and Clyde” mannequins. The death car is part of a special display of Bonnie & Clyde personal items including the light blue cowboy shirt that Clyde was wearing when he was nearly shot to pieces. The shirt that Clyde Champion Barrow bought at Wasson’s Department Store in Indianapolis 80 years ago this month.

 

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Next Week: Part IV of Bonnie & Clyde-Saga of he Death Car

Creepy history, Criminals, Indianapolis, Pop Culture

“Bonnie & Clyde-The Indiana Connection” Part II

Clyde's shirt part II

Original publish date:  May,  2014               Reissue date: October 3, 2019

The ambush of Bonnie and Clyde some 80 years ago this month proved to be the beginning of the end of the “Public Enemy” gangster era of the 1930s. By the time of their bloody, bullet riddled deaths on May 23, 1934, new federal statutes made bank robbery and kidnapping federal offenses; and the growing relationship between local jurisdictions and the FBI, plus two-way radios in police cars, combined to make the outlaw bandit sprees much more difficult to carry out. Two months after the Bonnie and Clyde massacre, Hoosier John Dillinger was ambushed and killed in a Chicago alleyway beside the Biograph theatre; three months later, Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd was killed by 14 FBI bullets fired into his back in a Clarkson, Ohio cornfield; and one month after that, Lester Gillis, aka “Baby Face Nelson”, shot it out, and lost, in Barrington, Illinois.

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Everyone knows of Dillinger’s connection to our state and city. Many know that Pretty Boy Floyd spent time here assisting Dillinger in the robbery of an East Chicago bank on January 15, 1934 where Police Sargent William Patrick O’Malley died at the hands of the gang. Devoted Hoosier crime buffs also recognize that Baby Face Nelson coasted through the state during a robbery of the Merchants National Bank in South Bend on June 30, 1934, during which a police officer was shot and killed. But what about Bonnie & Clyde? Do they have Indiana connections?

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Frank Hamer

Of course! The more your research, the more you find that EVERYTHING has an Indiana connection. For one, the posse that signed on to hunt down the duo to the death, led by the legendary Frank Hamer, had begun tracking the pair on February 12, 1934. Hamer studied the gang’s movements and found they swung in a circle skirting the edges of five Midwestern states, including Indiana, exploiting the “state line” rule that prevented officers in one jurisdiction from pursuing a fugitive into another. Barrow was a master of that pre-FBI rule, but he became quite predictable in his movements, so the experienced Hamer charted his path and easily predicted where he would go next.
On May 12, 1933, during Hamer’s heightened observation, Bonnie and Clyde and the Barrow Gang robbed the Lucerne State Bank in Lucerne Indiana. Some say the gang netted $300, other accounts say they left empty-handed. Lucerne, an unincorporated community founded by Swiss immigrants in Cass County, seems to have forgotten their connection to the deadly duo.

 

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Clyde Barrow and his brother Buck

On Thursday May 11, Clyde and Buck cased the place. Later that night, Bonnie dropped the pair off and drove their most recent stolen Ford V-8 out of sight. The duo broke into the building and waited for clerks to arrive to open the bank in the morning. Clyde figured that he could get the drop on the unsuspecting employees before customers arrived to interfere. Great idea, in theory at least. Turns out, it was a fiasco.
Employees Everett Gregg and Lawson Selders arrived at 7:30 Friday morning. As soon as the tellers entered the room, closing the door behind them, the Barrow boys jumped out from their hiding places, ordering the startled workers to put their hands up. But this was 1933 and the rash of bank robberies across the state had made everyone jumpy. The bank managers had hidden a shotgun behind the cashier’s desk. Seems that although the Barrow brothers were alone in the building for hours before the robbery, neither thought to search the place. Cashier Gregg and the Barrow boys exchanged several shots, but no one was hit.

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Bonnie & Clyde.

Charging to the sound of the gunfire, Bonnie and Buck’s wife Blanche roared to the rescue in their Flathead Ford. Bonnie was driving. The girls expected to see the boys running out of the bank, arms full of bank bags stuffed with cold hard cash. Instead, their husbands came sprinting towards them firing wildly over their shoulders apparently empty handed. Clyde jumped into the driver’s seat and, despite his well known prowess as a world class driver, getting out of town proved as difficult as the robbery. Locals were out for their morning stroll as the car roared through the small town.

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Buck and Blanche.

One good citizen deduced that there was a robbery in progress. He quickly picked up a large chunk of wood and threw it in front of the speeding automobile. Clyde swerved into a nearby yard to avoid it. Another man jumped onto the hood of the Ford and Clyde yelled at Bonnie to “shoot him, shoot him!” She grabbed a gun and began to shoot, but failed to hit her prey. The ersatz hitchhiker fled in panic, gunpowder peppered through his thinning white hair. Bonnie later told her family that she deliberately missed because she “didn’t want to hurt an old man.”
By now, the whole town of Lucerne seemed to be descending on the outlaws. Guns were sprouting out of every doorway as nervous townsfolk took potshots at the fleeing robbers. Trouble was, the outlaws were shooting back. Two women, Ethel Jones and Doris Minor, were slightly wounded in the melee. The women were luckier than the livestock though. Clyde plowed his car straight through a pack of hogs, killing two of them, making these the only fatalities of the encounter. By all accounts, the robbery did not go well and Clyde, with Bonnie, his brother Buck and Blanche, had to shoot their way out of town for a paltry reward. According to the official Lucerne report in the FBI files, the gang’s getaway car was recovered in Rushville a couple days later.

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H.P. Wasson’s Department Store-Indianapolis.

Evidently, perhaps hyped by their adrenaline infused escape, Clyde and his crew stopped into Indianapolis to do some shopping before leaving the Hoosier state forever. As promised in part I of this story, the most famous grisly blood relic associated with Bonnie & Clyde came from a well known department store in downtown Indy. Clyde Barrow’s death shirt came from the H.P. Wasson and Company (aka Wasson’s department store) located at the intersection of Washington and Meridian Streets in Indianapolis.
68a2294d0f53206f6cc77a70dba69824Clyde was wearing a size 14-32 western style shirt of light blue cotton print with “one patch pocket and pearl buttons” when he was shot to death near Gibsland, Louisiana. The neck label on the shirt reads: “Wasson V Towne shirt/Indianapolis”. The shirt was removed from Clyde Barrow’s body by the coroner who performed the autopsy. Hit by over twenty rounds (Including buckshot), Clyde’s bullet-riddled body slumped against the shattered steering wheel, his 12-gauge shotgun, damaged by the gun fire, slid to the floorboard beside him. Bonnie, with a half-eaten sandwich and magazine at her side, was also struck over twenty times. Both of the star crossed lovers died instantly.

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The death shot to the back of Clyde’s neck that severed his spinal cord.

The Clyde Barrow death shirt contains over 30 bullet or buckshot holes and the cuts made by the mortician when the shirt was removed. An inked inscription on the shirt tail reads: “This is Clyde Barrow’s shirt worn on May 23, 1934 when be was killed.” and is signed by his youngest sister Marie Barrow as its witness. Traces of bloodstains remain in Parts of fabric. The shirt was given to Clyde’s mother, Connie Barrow, after his death. Marie said her mother kept the shirt in a cedar chest for years before passing it on to her.
The shirt was sold, ironically, on tax day of 1997 by a San Francisco auction house. The bidding was fast and furious and in the end, a Nevada casino known as “Whisky Pete’s ” paid $85,000 for the bloodstained shirt. Much more than Clyde ever stole in his lifetime. That number does not include the $ 10,000 buyer’s premium. The rest of Clyde Barrow’s belongings including a belt and necklace made by Barrow while in prison, a handmade mirror and 17 Barrow family photos, brought $187,809, most of which went to Marie Barrow, Clyde’s sister (She died in 1999).

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Clyde Barrow’s Pocket Watch.

One of the more prized personal relics that hit the auction block that day was Clyde’s 17-jewel, 10-carat gold-filled Elgin pocket watch. Expected to bring in $3,000, it was sold to an anonymous phone bidder for $20,770, including buyers’ fees. All items in the Barrow lot sold for amounts in excess of their estimated value, often doubling and tripling those estimates. The remaining Barrow family was at the auction to take a final look at the items before they changed hands. That Elgin pocket watch had an “Indianapolis movement.” Did I mention that Wasson’s also sold pocket watches?

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The author and Clyde’s shirt at Whiskey Pete’s Casino.

 
Next Week: Part III of Bonnie & Clyde-Saga of he Death Car

Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours, Witches

The Black Hat Society Calendar Release Friday the 13th.

Witches

Original publish date:  October 12, 2017

A dark cave. In the middle, a boiling cauldron. Thunder. Enter the three Witches. “Round about the cauldron go; In the poison’d entrails throw…Eye of newt and toe of frog, Wool of bat and tongue of dog,..Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf, Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf…Ditch-deliver’d by a drab, Make the gruel thick and slab: Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron, For the ingredients of our cauldron…Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble.” Witches Chant Macbeth by William Shakespeare .

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The Three Witches from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” (1827) by Alexandre-Marie Colin. 

The coolest thing to come to Irvington in a very long time has arrived. The Black Hat Society has taken the eastside of Indianapolis by storm. Since their debut at the 2016 Historic Irvington Halloween Festival, their membership has grown as fast as their popularity. The coven of friendly witches was the brainchild of Karin Mullens. In the summer of 2016, Karin saw a video of German witches on facebook and immediately thought of her Irvington neighborhood.

Irvington has long been home to spooky stories, legends and tales of ghosts and goblins. Why not witches too? After all, Irvington is home to the countries longest running Halloween festival, which this year celebrates its 71st annual street festival and costume parade along the Historic National Road. The tradition of the Black Hat Society kicks off this Friday the 13th (would you expect anything less?) with a calendar release at the Irving Theatre at 7:00 pm.

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Parade photo by Michael Sullivan Photography.

The public is cordially invited to attend this first ever event free of charge. The Black Hat Society will be out in all their glory to greet fans, well-wishers and friends. The calendar will be available for purchase for $ 20 and if you are lucky, you can get the members to autograph your calendar up close and in person. Dont miss your chance to obtain your very own treasure that is destined to become a cherished memento of Irvington lore in the years to come. Oh, and by the way, you’ll be helping out some local charities at the same time.

The calendar features images of the Black Hat Society witches posed in settings and scenes in and around Irvington. The images, created by photographer Michael Sullivan, are fantastic and each month captures the whimsy of the witches posed in seasonal themes and familiar Irvington businesses. Settings include The Irving Theatre, Jockamos Upper Crust Pizza, Snips Salon & Spa, Lincoln Square Pancake House, Black Sheep Gifts, Artisan Realtors, Irvington Insurance, Coal Yard Coffee, Two Poodles and a Cake, the Irvington Wellness Center, 10 South Johnson Coffee House and of course, the Oakley-Hammond Funeral Home. They are all represented in this debut calendar. What makes the calendar even more fun is the way photographer Sullivan has posed his coven. But you’ll have to discover that on your own because I’m sworn to secrecy and even I know that a promise to a witch is one that should not be broken.

59f611740231b.imageThe charities involved are the Diabetes Youth Foundation summer camp in Noblesville, Helping Paws Pet Rescue and The PourHouse Street Outreach Center. The Black Hat Society hopes to raise $ 10,000 for these worthy charities. In addition, there will be a donation box placed at the entrance of the Irving Theatre during the event. The Black Hat Society requests donations of men’s socks, pet food and cleaning supplies, all of which are in almost constant need by these institutions. Karin informs me that Eric Wilson at Irvington Insurance has helped mightily in spearheading the group’s donation efforts.

Weekly View readers will not be surprised that the ranks of the Black Hat Society are populated by Irvingtonians and east-siders. Karin informs, “We are about 30% Irvingtonians, 20% east-siders (Little Flower, Emerson Heights, Bosart Brown) and the remaining 50% come from nearby communities like Carmel, Greenfield, Franklin, Greenwood and the West side.” The group started out with about 50-60 members, “But we’re up to over 100 members now.” says Karin. “We practiced two times a week for six weeks before we marched in the parade but had out debut at last year’s Spooky Stories on the Circle.”

5bd9b509c774e.imageFrom there, the Black Hat Society marched in the Indy St. Patrick’s Day parade, Pride parade and they recently won a $ 100 prize in a parade in Fountain Square. Should you miss the releases party, never fear, the witches will have their calendars for sale at their booth at the Halloween Festival. The calendars can be ordered on line at theblackhatsociety.org and on their facebook page.

I am fortunate, as are many of you, to say that several of the witches are friends of mine. Nancy Tindall-Sponsel, a founding member, may be the most enthusiastic of all the witches. Nancy has her hands full this time of year with her duties as chair of the Halloween Festival, but she always has time to talk about the witches. “It was a big surprise,” she states, “how the group came together so fast. We’re just a group of women that have formed a sisterhood. There are no qualifications for membership, just a willingness to have fun and enjoy.” Nancy states that the group has formed a fellowship that is so close that they can now “haunt” Goodwill stores and thrift shops looking for costume additions. “If we find something for our costume that we already have, we’ll pick it up and share it with other members.” says Nancy.

Dawn Briggs, another founding member, also speaks glowingly of the group. “Most of us are just girls who never got to play dress up,” Dawn says. “We are a Fraternity of friends. There are no cliques. It was instant bonding. We all have fun lifting each other up and raising money for charity.” Dawn continues, “Some of the ladies are shy by nature but when they put on that costume, they change. Even though we’re mostly women, there is no cattiness involved.”

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The author and Jan DeFerbrache of the Magic Candle.

Jan DeFerbrache, owner of the Magic Candle, is the unofficial historian of the group. Jan guides the membership in the do’s and don’t’s of witchcraft and makes sure that the members appearances are accurate. Jan’s knowledge helped out during the St. Patrick’s Day parade when most of the marchers wore “earth witch” costumes to better keep within the theme of the holiday.

Paula Nicewanger, creative director of this newspaper, and her husband Steve, are members of the troupe. During last year’s parade Paula was in the coven, but not as a member. She was taking photos of the witches for her newspaper and was swept up inside of the coven as they marched along Washington Street. She had such a good time that she joined the Black Hat Society shortly afterwards. Paula, an accomplished artist, created an original painting that will be turned into a poster that will also be sold at the witches’ Halloween festival booth. The poster depicts five of the witches (Paula, Dawn Briggs, Renee Cotterman, Karin Mullens & Kitty Fenstermaker) in full costume posed around a cauldron.

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Paula Nicewanger.

Other founding members include Michelle Roberts, Karen Davis, Sue Beecher, and Leslie Walsh. Michelle has just recently been named Vice-President of the group. Molly McPherson is the official choreographer for the group and helps with the music. Nancy Lynch acts as creative director and arranged the sites used for the calendar photos. I’m repeatedly told that Christy Raymer is the witch to seek out and shake hands with. Apparently Christy has an eyeball on the back of her hand that looks so realistic it’s scary.

It may come as a surprise to some that the Black Hat Society is not entirely made up of women. The group includes a few men too. Along with Steve Nicewanger, Tim Lynch, Dylan Roahrig and Craig Rutherford are among the warlocks in the group. Roger Disher, whose wife Kim is a founding member, is described by some of the girls as a coven member too but I’m told he doesn’t dress up. Kim says, “He’s a quiet member. Support system of sorts.” Kim confirms what many of the other witches say by relating that above all else, the group is “FUN!” and loves supporting the neighborhood and the fact that “we welcome ALL!”

While Steve calls himself a warlock, Dylan wears a kilt for his costume, and Kim calls Roger a quiet member, Black Hat Society member Craig Rutherford proudly calls himself a “male witch.” Craig, the unofficial prop maker for nearly every Halloween Festival event including the Black Hat Society, didn’t march with the witches last year but plans on marching in this year’s parade. And about this year’s parade, every Black Hat Society member agrees that something BIG is in the works for this year. What that something big is has become the best kept secret in Irvington. None of the witches are talking but Craig came closer to anyone by admitting that his role this year will be as a witches’ minion.

53778687_1823021094469367_5747701049993461760_nWhen I asked Craig what it is like to be a male witch surrounded by so many women, he answered succinctly, “It’s lonely.” Craig would like to see more guys join the group. “At last year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade, I made eight drums for our drum line, but we only had 4 drummers. We need more guys!” Craig is amazed by just how generous the witches in the Black Hat Society are, “If I need something for a prop or help in building a set, I get 30 or 40 responses within minutes.”

I’d suggest you make plans now to attend the Halloween festival parade on October 28th. The route is such that you can stake out your optimal viewing position well before it starts. The parade will commence from the Irvington United Methodist Church and head West on Washington Street, then backtrack to the east on Washington to Audubon. The parade will then head South on Audubon and end at Bonna. So bring a chair, stake out your spot and get ready to enjoy the show. But first, head out to the Irving Theatre Friday the 13th from 7:00 to 9:00 and get your calendar before they sell out. As the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth lamented, “By the pricking of my thumbs, Something wicked this way comes. Open locks, Whoever knocks!” The witches will be expecting you.

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St. Patrick’s Day Parade photo by Nancy Ann Tindall-Sponsel 
Abe Lincoln, Civil War, Indianapolis, Irvington Ghost Tours

Sons of Union Veterans Ben Harrison Camp # 356.

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Left to right: Dave Wilson, Bob Winters, Mike Beck, Past Department Commander (PDC); Tim Beckman, PDC; Garry Walls, PCC; Bruce Kolb, PDC; Jim Floyd.

Original publish date:  July 11, 2019

Sometimes you just need to step back, relax, reflect awhile and think about what it means to be a Hoosier. The fourth of July seems a perfect time for such reflections. I was born in Indianapolis, as were my parents, grand parents and great-grand parents. Like many of us, I had forefathers who served in the Civil War. In my case, I had gr-gr-grandfathers serving on both sides of the conflict; my maternal forefather was riding with Morgan’s Raiders while my paternal forefather was chasing him. Had one caught the other, I might not be here.
This past Memorial Day, I finally decided to venture out to Crown Hill Cemetery and attend the official ceremonies hosted by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War-Ben Harrison Camp #356. Dave “The King” Wilson had suggested I join a few years back and I just got around to joining recently. I’ve known Camp Commander Jim Floyd for nearly two decades and was delighted to be present as a spectator while Jim and Dave led the ceremonies. Truth is, I joined not only to honor the veterans in my past family but also to honor my muse of the past decade: Osborn Oldroyd.

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Osborn H. Oldroyd

As many of you know, Oldroyd has been on my mind lately. Not only was he the very first curator of a Lincoln museum, first housed in the Lincoln homestead in Springfield, Illinois for a decade and then in the House Where Lincoln Died in Washington D.C. for over three decades more. Equally importantly, he also served as Assistant Adjutant General of the Grand Army of the Republic in the District for over twenty years. Regardless of how I got there, I got there. And hopefully by the time you’re finished reading this article, you’ll decide you might want to join too.
The Ben Harrison Camp No. 356 SUVCW was originally founded on June 19, 1884 with 46 members, most of whom were “real sons”. After that first camp disbanded, it reorganized on March 8, 1897 with 32 members. It continued meeting into the early 1970’s before it disbanded again. In 1981, the Ben Harrison camp was organized once again and has met continuously ever since. Their mission statement, quite simply, is to “Honor Union Veterans and all who have patriotically served our country in any war, preserving & perpetuating the Grand Army of the Republic, and Patriotic Education.” All with the goal to help America become a better nation by helping to keep the stories and sacrifice of our Civil War ancestors alive.
The Ben Harrison camp “honors the soldiers who fought to preserve the Union and free an enslaved people through activities including: maintaining their graves, teaching patriotism, and ensuring future generations continue to learn from the mistakes of the past.” As for the parent organization, “The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (SUVCW) is the volunteer, non-profit, charitable, fraternal, patriotic and educational organization created by the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), which was the largest Union Civil War veterans’ organization. The SUVCW is officially recognized as the GAR’s legal successor, and received its Congressional Charter in 1954.”

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Left to right: Dave Wilson, Jim Floyd,  Bob Winters, Jim Floyd.
These fellows truly practice what they preach. In the past few years of outside observation, I’ve watched from afar as these men have repaired, reset, restored, cleaned and replaced the markers of dozens of Hoosier Civil war soldiers; led the charge by decorating soldier’s graves for memorial day at Crown Hill Cemetery and Remembrance Day every November in Gettysburg as well as protecting a Hoosier monument in distress at Vicksburg. This past effort is of particular interest to me as it was on this field that Osborn Oldroyd was wounded three times in battle. I’ve fairly worn out my family, friends and readers over the past several years by rambling on about Oldroyd, so I’ll spare you any further abuse on the Lincoln collector / curator…for now.
IMG_3521This memorial day, the Ben Harrison camp honored Hoosier Civil War soldier Captain Richard Burns. With temperatures in Indianapolis hovering above or around the 90 degree mark for nearly two months now, Captain Burns’ story seems apropos to the moment. For you see, Captain Richard Burns died of sunstroke. At 5′ 10″ and weighing 143 pounds, Richard Burns was light skinned with piercing blue eyes and prematurely gray hair. Burns first enlisted on September 21, 1861 as a private in Third Battery, Indiana Light Artillery. The unit was organized in Connersville, Indiana, and mustered in at Indianapolis on August 24, 1861. Ironically, the unit would muster out nearly 4 years to the day (August 21, 1865) at the same place.
Within weeks of his enlistment, Burns was appointed corporal on October 1, 1861. From there Burns advanced to squad sergeant then orderly sergeant. On November 25, 1862 he was appointed second lieutenant then rose to first lieutenant on October 25, 1863. On July 25, 1865 Burns was appointed captain, a rank he would retain until his discharge on August 21, 1865. While his rise through the ranks might be described as meteoric, it did not come without cost. During his service, Burns contracted typhoid pneumonia (more commonly known as consumption back then) and was plagued by chronic diarrhea for nearly all of his military service. The latter, while uncomfortable, was temporary. However, the Streptococcus pneumonia remained and slowly invaded and weakened his heart for the remainder of his life.
Before the war, Burns worked in the “burnt district” of Wayne County as a heavy machinist. After his discharge, Burns returned to Cambridge City but was confined to light duty, working as a grocery clerk and a brick mason. Burns relocated to Montana in 1867, presumably chasing gold or cattle alongside other fortune-hunting Civil War veterans, but moved back to Cambridge City the next year. From there, Burns moved to Anderson and finally to Indianapolis.
According to an article titled “THE OPPRESSIVE HEAT” found in the August 16, 1888 Indianapolis Journal newspaper (page 8), “The remarkably cool weather of the first three days of the week was followed by a hot wave yesterday that raised the mercury to 91 degrees at 3 o’clock in the afternoon. The air during the afternoon and early evening, in the absence of any breeze, was very oppressive, and as people were not prepared for the sudden change there was much discomfort. At 5 o’clock in the evening Richard Burns, a brick-mason, living at No. 90 North New Jersey street, was prostrated on Hadley avenue, where he was working. Kregelo’s ambulance was called, and the attendants were taking him to the City Hospital when he died. He was fifty years of age.”

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August 16, 1888 Indianapolis Journal newspaper

The Indianapolis News of that same day, reported “Yesterday afternoon the temperature mounted to an uncomfortable degree, and the heat was very oppressive. Late in the day Captain Richard Burns, residing 90 North New Jersey street and employed on Hadley avenue, was overcome by the heat, and he died while Kregelo’s ambulance was removing him to the hospital. He was aged about fifty, and was a member of Chapman Post, G. A. R., and a pensioner. he leaves a wife, but no children….” He was buried on Lot 49, Section 4 in Crown Hill Cemetery on August 19, 1888 at 2:00.

This memorial day’s ceremony at Crown Hill was solemn, stirring and well organized. However, it wasn’t until afterwards that I learned of a connection between Captain Burns, myself and Irvington. The Third Light Battery was assigned to General John C. Fremont’s Army of the Tennessee and accompanied it in the campaign through southwestern Missouri in the Western Theater. In December, 1863, the battery moved to Columbus, Ky., where it served in the winter campaign through western Tennessee before it moved to Vicksburg and joined Sherman’s army on the expedition to Meridian, Miss., in Feb., 1864. From there, the battery assisted in the storming and capture of Fort De Russy. It then served at Memphis and Tupelo, Miss. In Jan., 1865, the unit moved to New Orleans, where it took part in the siege and capture of Fort Blakely, which resulted in the surrender of Mobile. It next moved to Montgomery, thence to Selma, Ala., where it remained until July 30, 1865, when orders were received to proceed to Indianapolis. It was mustered out Aug. 13, 1865, numbering 3 officers and 71 men, having lost 64 in killed and wounded.

Captain Richard Burns served in in the Third Battery, Indiana Light Artillery alongside fellow Captains James M. Cockefair, Thomas J. Ginn, and Watton W. Frybarger. Capt. Frybarger was promoted major and was wounded in the head during the Battle of Shiloh. After which he was ordered back to Indianapolis to organize all of the state’s artillery units by his pre-war friend, Indiana’s Civil War Governor Oliver P. Morton. It should be noted that Frybarger has the distinction of organizing the Hoosier state’s only artillery battery in place BEFORE the war. Frybarger went to work shoring up the southern border of Indiana by placing guns at several places along the Ohio River. His invasion fears were realized in early July of 1863 when Morgan’s Raiders invaded the state via Kentucky. Yes, Major Frybarger was a born artillerist.

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The W.W. Frybarger ring on Dave Wilson’s finger.

If you have taken my October tours of Irvington, then you’ve met Major Frybarger. Well, sort of anyway. I conclude every tour of Irvington with a stop at the spot where Abraham Lincoln’s funeral train slowly steamed past in the pre-dawn hours of April 30th, 1865. As I share with my guests, many years ago I was offered some of the personal effects of Major Frybarger. Among those effects were an ancient leather-bound album full of family tintype and CDV photos, a lock of his hair, a large silver platter, and his regimental ring. The platter, which at 21″ tall and 33″ wide, is quite large. It is inscribed “Presented by the 22nd and 23rd Indiana Mounted Artillery to Mrs Major W.W. Frybarger Indianapolis March 1863” and was given to the Major’s wife by grateful soldiers in thanks to the Major securing the southern Indiana border.

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Major W.W. Frybarger

Equally important to the Frybarger saga is his role in the Lincoln funeral here in Indianapolis. As every Hoosier student of Lincoln knows, when the martyred President’s remains arrived in Indianapolis, it arrived in the midst of a torrential downpour so strong that the official public ceremonies had to be cancelled. For that evening of April 30th, 1865 Mr. Lincoln’s body remained in the rotunda of the old statehouse. Who was in charge of the decorating and care of the railsplitter’s body that night? Major W.W. Frybarger. I tell October visitors to Irvington that story while placing the ring on the finger of every guest I approach with the admonition that Frybarger’s regimental ring may well have touched the body of Abraham Lincoln.

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Major W.W. Frybarger.

Now, thanks to the impeccable research of Sons of Union Veterans Camp Commander Jim Floyd and Eliza E. George Auxiliary No. 356 Secretary / Treasurer Jennifer Thompson, I now have another connection to Frybarger. I should note that by the time you read this article, I will have joined the Sons of Union Veterans Ben Harrison Camp No. 356 as an official member. I am sure that the brothers would be happy to have you in their ranks as well. For more information, contact http://benharrisoncamp.org/ Or drop me an e-mail and I’ll steer you towards this fine organization.

 

 

 

 

 

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Rhonda Hunter with flowers at the ceremony.
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Dave Wilson, Rhonda Hunter & Jim Floyd.
Indianapolis, Pop Culture, Travel

Indianapolis Union Station.

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Original publish date:  June 8, 2015        Reissue date: July 3, 2019

Twenty-Five years ago this week, the single most important icon of our Capitol city’s railroad era, Union Station, reopened to much fanfare, high hopes and hoopla as a downtown destination for visitors and citizens alike. Indianapolis Union Station reopened its doors on April 26, 1986 as a festival Marketplace.
The first railroad came to Indianapolis in 1847 and within a year there were four serving the city. Railroads connected the young state capital to the rest of the nation. Over the next decade, other major rail lines would reach town. But they each had their own tracks and their own depots. In 1848, the city fathers developed an idea to build a single station that all the railroads would share. The four railroads liked the idea and in 1853 the original Union Depot was built in Indianapolis. Union Station was integral to the growth and development of antebellum Indianapolis. It was the first time in American history that all railroad trains could enter and leave a city from a single central station.
It was America’s first “union” railway depot (whose very name suggests the meeting of several railheads) but soon the idea was duplicated across the nation. Union Station united passenger and freight trains from many competing railroad companies into a single convenient downtown terminal. The station prospered for decades serving up to 200 trains and thousands of people per day. By 1870 more than a dozen railroads were now converging at the “Crossroads of America.”
z INDIANAPOLIS-Indiana-UNION-RAILROAD-STATIONBeginning in November 1886 a new station was constructed just north of the existing station, and soon a three-story, red brick and granite station with extensive vaulted Romanesque arches and a 185-foot clock tower began to rise towards the Hoosier heavens. It was that clock, with its four separate clock faces each nine feet in diameter, that would become an Indianapolis landmark for generations to come.

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The Grand Hall at Union Station.

The station, whose focal point was a three-story structure known as the Grand Hall, was completed in late September, 1888 and by all accounts was a raving success. In the early 20th Century it was assumed that as long as the cities population grew, so would the need for trains. In 1920, Union Station was averaging 176 trains a day. That figure does not include all of the electric rail traffic in the city. The original large iron train shed was replaced with a larger, poured concrete structure. The new shed, which survives to this day, offered twelve passenger and two express freight tracks.
Some of the better documented notables known to have passed through Union Station include Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt and Harry Truman. However, its not enough to simply state that these were the only famous names to travel through Union Station. In the age before automobile and air travel became the unconscious norm, Americans traveled by train. Every politician, every movie star, every author, every athlete, every famous (or infamous) person traveling east of the Mississippi, traveled through Union Station. Names innumerable populate the scrolls of time at Union Station.

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Thomas Edison

Seventeen-year-old Thomas Edison worked at Union Station in 1864 as a Western Union telegraph operator but was fired for spending too much of his time on “useless” experiments. One of those experiments included wiring two telegraphs together, one to receive incoming messages and the other to save them, resulting in a primitive data storage device. Sadly, it broke down on the night of Abraham Lincoln’s re-election due to extraordinarily high incoming traffic and Edison was fired. Edison moved to Cincinnati shortly afterwards and perfected his device, which he called a phonograph, and the rest is history. Ironically, the golden age of Union Station runs nearly concurrently with the life of it’s most famous terminated employee, Thomas Edison (1847-1931).
z 51mOWzAwX6LTrain travel dropped in the 1930s, mostly because of the Great Depression, but rebounded during World War II because so many servicemen were on the move. After the war, passenger trains were declining as the automobile and aviation industries experienced rapid growth, all but signing the death warrant of Union Station. By 1946, as post-war passenger service fell off, only 64 trains a month operated and by 1952, barely 50 passenger trains a month used the station. Over the next generation, as rail travel continued to decline, Union Station gradually became a dark, ghostly relic of a by-gone era. During the 1960s and 1970s, it suffered from the same pattern of deferred maintenance and slow decline plaguing most urban buildings.
z imagesUnion Station was then owned by Penn Central, a “Frankenline” created by the merger of the old Pennsylvania and New York Central lines. A series of events including inflation, poor management, abnormally harsh weather and the withdrawal of a government-guaranteed $200-million operating loan forced the Penn Central to file for bankruptcy protection on June 21, 1970. Many of the once-powerful railroad firms were bankrupt and only six trains operated out of the station. Penn Central offered the station for sale and the decline continued when by 1971, the United States mail room closed and Amtrak was formed out of the few remaining rail lines. It looked like the grand station would be bulldozed into a parking lot. A “Save Union Station” committee scrambled to keep it from being demolished.

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Indianapolis Mayor Richard Lugar.

Mayor Richard Lugar led the effort to save the station. Hope sprang anew in 1974 when Union Station was listed on the National Register of Historic Places (protecting it from demolition) and was purchased for $196,666 by a group of 21 private investors known as “Union Station Associates.” A year later, only two trains remained and four years later in 1979, “The National Limited”, which ran from New York to St. Louis, was the last passenger train to use the station for one year. The station was closed and for a few months the largely vacant Union Station became a municipal eyesore and hangout for gangs and the cities less fortunate. In 1980, the city of Indianapolis purchased the station for $434,500 and Amtrak reinstated the Hoosier State, running daily from Indianapolis to Chicago
In 1982, inspired by the success of adaptive reuse projects in comparative sized cities like Boston, Baltimore, and San Antonio, the city government stepped in to save the historic landmark. A local development team from Borns Management Corp. began a renovation project that turned the facility into a 1 million-square-foot “Urban festival marketplace.” After almost 15 years of deterioration, Union Station re-opened its doors in 1986 after a $50 million dollar facelift to much fanfare showcasing many specialty shops and fine restaurants. Local developer Robert Borns used the Federal investment tax credit program for historic structures to convert and modernize Union Station.

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Interior Union Station.

At first, it was a breath of fresh air and a “must see” for locals and tourists alike. For a time, the future looked bright for the renovated landmark. Crowds flocked to the urban mall in search of everything from gourmet food to fashionable clothing. Specialty shops included a magic shop, sports store and an appropriately apropos toy train store. However, it was not a longterm success, although it did stay open for about a decade. By 1989 the station reports a $2.92 million net loss and the following year, Union Station reports a $3.38 million net loss. In 1991 the Borns turn over their long-term lease for Union Station to the Balcor Co., a Skokie, Ill., finance and real estate firm that held a $23 million mortgage on the station. In 1992 station officials report business is picking up, but still ask the city to defer payments on loans the city made to the station. In 1993, the station reported turning a profit of $431,000-the first time since it’s opening in 1986 that it has been in the black.

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Interior Union Station in 1988.

By early 1995, Balcor Corp. puts its lease up for sale and 3 months later, USA Group Inc. buys Union Station for $3.2 million and gives most of it to the city of Indianapolis, except for the 852-car parking garage attached to property. About $ 26 million in outstanding loan payments are forgiven by governmental agencies and Balcor. A year later, three Union Station bars and restaurants shut down, citing declines in business since Circle Centre opened-leaving the station about 50 percent occupied. Faced with declining patronage and continued high maintenance costs, city officials shuttered the mall venture in 1996. It was closed for renovation on April 1, 1997 and in October 1999 the Union Station once again reopened as Crowne Plaza’s Grand Hall and Conference Center.
The old train shed became the home to the new Crowne Plaza luxury hotel. Four tracks at the north and south ends were retained, and stocked with thirteen old heavyweight Pullman cars which were converted them into hotel suites. The cars harken back to Union Station’s heyday by being named after prominent personalities known to have traveled through the train station, including Charlie Chaplin, Louis Armstrong, Jon Philip Sousa, Benjamin Harrison, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, P.T. Barnum, Cole Porter, Diamond Jim Brady, Amelia Earhart, Rudolph Valentino, Lillian Russell and Jean Harlow.
z 1.-Crowne-Plaza_54_990x660Perhaps as an homage to the vibrant spirits of luminaries past, Twenty-eight “Ghost People” linger around the Grand Hall at Union Station. Dressed in authentic period clothing, carrying real items from their times, each have a special story. Made of white fiberglass, they were created by Indianapolis native Gary Rittenhouse, from an idea of developers Bob and Sandra Borns, who were fascinated by the history of thousands of people beginning and ending their travels in Union Station.z maxresdefault
Today, the station is owned by the City of Indianapolis and houses a major hotel, restaurants, a charter school and a banquet hall . A branch office of the Mexican Embassy also is located in the building, a sign of Indy’s changing demographics, and a fitting place, because this was the gateway to Indianapolis for most of the city’s immigrants of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
I’ve told you why Union Station is important to Indianapolis but I have not told you why the station is important to me. It is important to me because this was the site of my first date with a pretty little girl from Frankton, Indiana way back in 1988, She was unfamiliar with the big city of Indianapolis and I was Indianapolis born and raised. I loved union Station then as I love it now. I love the history, mystique and wonder contained within it’s walls and I love the little Frankton girl whose hand quivered in mine as we walked the storied halls of this Grand Indiana landmark. In fact, Union Station was the site of our first kiss. A memory that still makes us smile. I’d like to think that our story is special, but I suspect that ours is only one of many such tales of romance and young love that can trace their genesis back to a first date or first encounter at Indianapolis Union Station. A historic tapestry that Rhonda and I are proud to be woven into.