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.
Although 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?
Decorated 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.
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!”
For 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 a 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.
Eight 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. 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.
Matthew Weedman, Assistant Professor of Art at Wabash College will be presenting his talk “IT’S ALIVE! ELECTRICITY, CINEMA AND METAPHOR IN FRANKENSTEIN” at the Bona Thompson Memorial Center at 2 pm, Sunday, Oct.14. The subject seems a perfect fit for the upcoming Historic Irvington Halloween Festival. But how much do you really know about Victor Frankenstein’s monster? When you think of Frankenstein, do you envision Boris Karloff’s 1931 version? Mel Brooks’ 1974 version? Robert DeNiro’s 1994 version? How about TV’s Herman Munster? Or maybe even the Burger Chef knockoff Crankenburger commercial character from the 1970s? It seems that Frankenstein is in the eye of the beholder. However, with this monster, there is more than meets the eye.
Eighteen Hundred and Froze To Death. That is the epithet given to the year 1816 by those who survived it. 1816 also became known as the year without a summer. In the spring and summer of 1816, the eastern United States was blanketed by a persistent blood red “dry fog” that often blotted out the sun. Neither wind nor rainfall could disperse this crimson fog. Temperatures dipped below freezing every day in May and snow was recorded regularly in June. July and August saw frost on the ground and ice on the rivers from the northwest territory to the eastern seaboard. Europe and the rest of the world was locked in a long cold volcanic winter caused by the eruption of Mount Tambora the year before. Located on Sumbawa Island in the East Indies, it was the greatest eruption in Earth’s recorded history up to that time. Crops failed universally and for three years following Tambora’s explosion, almost anywhere in the world, if you were alive you were hungry.
What better time to introduce two of the world’s most popular monsters? Frankenstein and Dracula were born on the same night in the same weekend in 1816. They were brought to life by Mary Shelley and Lord Byron during a contest to see who could create the scariest monster. The weekend was wet and stormy and Lord Byron suggested the reading of ghost stories to pass away the dreary weather. Sitting around a log fire at the Villa Diodati on the shores of Lake Geneva, the company of friends amused themselves by reading German ghost stories translated into French from the book Fantasmagoriana. The members of the party were Lord Byron and his mistress Claire Claremont, his doctor John Polidori, Percy Bysshe and Mary Shelley. Lord Byron is known for his poetry, mostly Don Juan. After reading a few stories, Byron suggested that each member of their party write their own story of horror.
That weekend challenge changed the face of the literary world forever. Byron wrote a small novella about a nobleman who rises from the dead. Later on Dr Polidori would use Byron’s unfinished novella and not only would the nobleman rise from the dead, but he would also have to drink the blood of others to sustain himself. Byron named his creation of his nobleman that rose from the dead a vampyre.
Unable to think of a story, young Mary became anxious, in the introduction to her book she recalled: “Have you thought of a story? I was asked each morning, and each morning I was forced to reply with a mortifying negative.” During one evening in the middle of summer, the discussions turned to the nature of the principle of life. “Perhaps a corpse would be re-animated”, Mary noted, “galvanism had given token of such things”. It was after midnight before they retired, and unable to sleep, she became possessed by her imagination as she beheld the grim terrors of her “waking dream.” In September 2011, astronomer Donald Olson, after visiting the Lake Geneva villa and inspecting data about the motion of the moon and stars, concluded that her “waking dream” took place “between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.” on June 16, 1816, several days after the initial idea by Lord Byron that they each write a ghost story.
Mary Shelley was just eighteen years old when she began writing “Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus”. Shelley wrote the first four chapters in the weeks following the suicide of her half-sister Fanny. This was one of many personal tragedies that impacted Shelley’s work. The horror masterpiece came two years after she’d become pregnant with her first child, a baby she never named. On the eleventh day after her child’s birth, she wrote in her diary: “I awoke in the night to give it suck it appeared to be sleeping so quietly that I would not awake it.” The next diary entry, written the next morning, reads simply, “Find my baby dead.” Her grief at the loss can be seen in later diary entries, “Dream that my little baby came to life again; that it had only been cold, and that we rubbed it before the fire, and it lived.” and “Awake and find no baby.”
Pregnant again only weeks later, she was likely still nursing her second baby when she started writing “Frankenstein,” and pregnant with her third by the time she finished. She didn’t put her name on her book, preferring to publish her novel anonymously in 1818. The first theatrical production of “Frankenstein” was staged in London in 1823. By that time the author had given birth to four children, buried three, and lost another unnamed baby to a miscarriage so severe that she nearly died of bleeding that stopped only when her husband had her sit on ice.
In 1822, her husband drowned when his sailing boat sank during a storm. The last decade of her life was dogged by illness, probably caused by the brain tumor that was to kill her in 1851 at the age of 53. Although principally noted as the literary creator of Frankenstein, it should be noted that Shelley was one of the world’s first fighters for women’s rights. After her husband’s death, she continued to practice her feminist principles by extending aid to women whom society disapproved of. On the first anniversary of Mary Shelley’s death, her box-desk was opened. Inside was found locks of her dead children’s hair, a notebook she had shared with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and a copy of his poem Adonaïs with one page folded round a silk parcel containing some of his ashes and the remains of his heart.
In this his 200th anniversary year, Frankenstein is as popular today as ever. The book tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a doctor who creates a grotesque, intelligent creature by piecing together cadavers collected by the young scientist. The seed for the horror classic can be found in a trip by author Shelley through Europe in 1814. Her journey traveled along the river Rhine in Germany not far from Frankenstein Castle, where, two centuries before, an alchemist was engaged in experiments. On another trip, she travelled in the region of Geneva (Switzerland) where much of the story takes place. The idea for the novel came to her in a dream about a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later became her novel’s story.
Although the name “Frankenstein” is often used to refer to the monster itself, in the novel, the monster is identified by words such as “creature,” “monster,” “demon,” “wretch,” “abortion,” “fiend,” and “it.” About this apparent misnomer, Shelley, perhaps thinking back on the death of her own unnamed child years before, remarked “This nameless mode of naming the unnameable is rather good.”
When “Frankenstein” was published it became an immediate sensation. Mary Shelley crafted her book so that readers’ sympathies would lie not only with Frankenstein, whose suffering is dreadful, but also with the creature, whose suffering is worse. Shelley skillfully directs her readers’ sympathy, page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sometimes even line by line, from Frankenstein to the creature. Shelley deftly navigates the creature’s vicious murders, first of Frankenstein’s little brother, then of his best friend, and, finally, of his bride. In 1824, one critic wrote, “The justice is indisputably on his side and his sufferings are, to me, touching to the last degree.”
Shelley’s dialog is amazing. “It was on a dreary night of November, that I beheld the accomplishment of my toils,” relates Victor Frankenstein. The rain patters on the windowpane; a bleak light flickers from a dying candle. He looks at the “lifeless thing” at his feet, come to life: “I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.” Having labored so long to bring the creature to life, he finds himself disgusted and horrified—“unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created”—and flees, abandoning his creation, unnamed.
“Hear my tale,” the creature insists, when he at last confronts his creator. “I was a poor, helpless, miserable wretch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing…But, feeling pain invade me on all sides, I sat down and wept.” He learned to walk, and began to wander, still unable to speak—“the uncouth and inarticulate sounds which broke from me frightened me into silence again.” Eventually, while secretly observing the villagers talk, “I discovered the names that were given to some of the most familiar objects of discourse: I learned and applied the words fire, milk, bread, and wood.” In time, the creature acquired “a cursory knowledge of history…I heard of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty; of rank, descent, and noble blood.” He learned that the weak are routinely abused by the powerful, and the poor despised. “I, the miserable and the abandoned, am an abortion,” the creature says, before, in the book’s final scene, he disappears on a raft of ice.
Shelley’s novel offers many deeper moral and political ambiguities not often found in the versions that followed. Her novel questions whether Victor Frankenstein is to be blamed for creating the monster-usurping the power of God, and of women-or for failing to love, care for, and educate him. Mary Shelley was dead by then, her own chaotic origins already forgotten. Nearly everyone she loved died before she did, most of them when she was still very young. Of this mortal reality, Shelley, commented, “the last relic of a beloved race, my companions extinct before me.”
In his 1919 essay ‘The Uncanny’, Sigmund Freud says that “apparent death and reanimation of the dead have been represented as most uncanny themes”. This, of course, can be related to Frankenstein’s reanimation of a creature made from dead body parts, joined together. When Frankenstein looks upon his creation’s ‘yellow skin… watery eyes… shrivelled complexion and straight black lips,’ he is disgusted and realizes the monster symbolizes Frankenstein’s own death. With so much death and tragedy littering her wake, Shelley too was acutely reminded of her own mortality.
In Mary Shelley’s introduction to the 1831 edition of Frankenstein (written two decades before her death), the author states, “I saw-with shut eyes, but acute mental vision-I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world.”
A century later, a lurching, grunting Boris Karloff defined the most widely accepted version of the creature in Universal Pictures’s 1931 production of “Frankenstein.” Karloff’s monster-portrayed as prodigiously eloquent, learned, and persuasive in the novel-was no longer merely nameless but all but speechless, too. “Frankenstein” has spawned many different depictions in the two centuries since its publication. For its bicentennial, the original, 1818 edition has been reissued in paperback form by Penguin Classics as “The New Annotated Frankenstein.”
Matthew Weedman will address the Frankenstein topic indepth this Sunday afternoon (2 pm at the Bona Thompson Memorial Center) with his talk “IT’S ALIVE! ELECTRICITY, CINEMA AND METAPHOR IN FRANKENSTEIN”.
This will be my 16th season of leading October ghost tours in Irvington. Along the way I have made many friends, some of whom return year after year to take a stroll through haunted Irvington. I have been fortunate to meet many talented and famous people who have come on the tours. I have connected with family members of the personalities I talk about on the tours and I have been privileged to hear first-hand accounts and stories that mirror the fun and spooky atmosphere of autumnal Irvington. That is what makes October in Irvington so special to me.
This coming Saturday, October 20th at 2 PM, several of those famous friends will be here in Irvington at the Irving theater to share their talent with our community in a program I have called, “Whispers from the Grave. Testimony of Irvington’s Most Famous Crimes.” Over the past decade and a half I have gathered testimony, witness accounts, personal statements and personality sketches of the characters, both good and bad, from the stories I share on the tours. This Saturday, local celebrities, journalists and members of the media will lend their talents to the voices of these characters. Much of this spoken word performance will offer accounts that have not been heard for over a century. This testimony, told in its entirety using the words of the subjects themselves, is always poignant, sometimes shocking and often scandalous.
The doors of the Irving theater will open at 1 PM this Saturday and will close promptly at 2 PM for the start of the presentation. No one will be admitted after 2 PM out of respect for the performers and the solemn content. Parental discretion is advised and content may not be suitable for all audiences. This is the real thing in the performance promises to prove the old adage that “truth is stranger than fiction.” The performance is free to the public, but a $ 5.00 minimum donation is requested. The proceeds will benefit the Free Press of Irvington.
Those of you who have taken my tours understand that an Irvington ghost tour is really a history lesson disguised as a ghost story. Over the years proceeds from the tours over the years have helped fund many local philanthropic endeavors including the Irvington food bank at Gaia works, the IHS / Bona Thompson Museum, Halloween festival, the Irvington Council, the children’s Guardian home, the Girl Scouts, and several scholarships for local high school students. This Saturday’s presentation will be an opportunity for guests to better understand the foundation of the ghost tours by hearing accounts from the people who lived it.
Joining us Saturday will be long time Q 95 star and stand up comic Dave “the King” Wilson reading the words of DC Stephenson. David Curtis Stephenson was the Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan who reigned supreme here in central Indiana during The Roaring 20s. Stephenson controlled Indiana politics from the governor’s office to the mayor’s office with Klan money and influence from his University Avenue home here in Irvington. Gathering testimony and statements from Stephenson’s made all the more harder by the fact that after his 1925 trial for murder concluded, the official court papers mysteriously disappeared.
2 – time Emmy award-winning former WTHR on air personality & meteorologist Nicole Misencik who will be voicing Madge Oberholtzer. Tragically, Madge was the undeserving victim of DC Stephenson’s crime in the spring of 1925. Madge was an Irvingtonian and former student at Butler College whose death at the hands of Stephenson brought down the Ku Klux Klan, which was the most powerful organization in the country at the time. Madge’s testimony was so graphically detailed that when it was read aloud in open court in Noblesville Indiana, women fainted and grown men got up and left the room. Nicole will recount Madge’s 9 – page deathbed declaration and its entirety for the first time in public and nearly a century.
Former WTHR reporter Brandon Kline will be voicing Pinkerton detective Frank Geyer, the man who brought America’s first serial killer to justice. Brandon will wear the hero cape by voicing this legendary Pinkerton agent who is dogged determination alone solved Irvington’s first murder, that of 10-year-old Howard Pitezel. Brandon’s hero duty will be doubled when he also voices Irvingtonian lawyer Asa J Smith who recorded Madge’s deathbed declaration in what promises to be a most memorable exchange with his wife Nicole.
Boomer TV personality, longtime WZPL radio host and former WISH – TV alumni Julie Patterson will be voicing the last wife of HH Holmes, Georgiana Yoke. Ms. Yoke, a native of Franklin Indiana, is easily the most unknown character in the presentation. Georgiana’s family has deep connections to Indianapolis’east side at both Garfield Park and Holliday Park. Georgiana narrowly escaped death at the hands of her husband and, after his death by hanging, could not escape the cloud of suspicion that hung over her in Indianapolis after her husband’s crimes were revealed. Julie’s interpretation of Georgiana will also include her court testimony, some of which was delivered by her husband HH Holmes while acting as his own counsel.
Ed Wenck, long time local radio host, journalist, author and on-air television personality, will be voicing America’s first serial killer HH Holmes. Allegedly responsible for over 200 murders, Holmes admitted to killing 27. The arch fiend came to Irvington in October 1894 on the heels of the 1893 Chicago world’s fair. His crimes are numerous, gruesome and unspeakable. Ed will voice America’s first serial killer using Holmes’ own words which are guaranteed to make your skin crawl.
Special guest Jo Moore, retired IMPD Sergeant, will be voicing the unsung hero of the Holmes saga in Irvington, Detective David S Richards. Sgt. Moore will help outline the details of the alleged “Curse of HH Holmes” that lingered for over a quarter century after the serial killer was hanged. Sgt. Moore has been instrumental in meticulously researching the lives and duty roster of Indianapolis policemen whose honorable recognition is long overdue. Jo has also led the charge to create a museum archive honoring fallen members of Indianapolis police departments past and present. Her own son, Officer David Moore, prominent among them.
These Circle City personalities, all of which are friends of Irvington, have strong backgrounds with the press and public service. Their individual love of Indianapolis history will shine through during their performances. It promises to be an afternoon to remember. So join us this Saturday, October 20th at 2 PM inside the Irving theater for this unique performance. Remember, parental discretion is advised and the content may not be suitable for all audiences and most importantly, no one will be admitted after 2:00 PM.
Original publish date: January 24 , 2011 Republished: November 8, 2018
The first Playboy club opened at 116 East Walton in downtown Chicago, Illinois on February 29, 1960. Playboy magazine owner Hugh Hefner decided that Leap Year would be an appropriate time to open up his controversial club on Chicago’s Gold Coast. After all, Hefner had started Playboy magazine in his Hyde Park kitchen on Chicago’s South Side in 1953 and in the years that followed, Playboy became the most popular men’s publication in the country. I imagine that many of you can recall the famed men’s clubs that used to stretch from coast-to-coast and around the world (40 clubs worldwide at its height) and suspect that more than one of you may even still have a Playboy Club gold key tucked away in your dresser drawer somewhere. Whether you liked Hef’s idea or hated Hef’s idea, what cannot be denied is the impact his Playboy Clubs made on American pop culture.
But there is one aspect of the Playboy Club that you may not be aware of. The Chicago Playboy Club is credited with spawning the popular “Batman” television series of the Mid-1960s. That’s right, in the early 1960s, the Playboy Club in Chicago was screening the old 1940s Era Batman movie serials for their guests every Saturday night. These private screenings became very popular among the club’s hip clientele. Playboy party goers would cheer and applaud the Dynamic Duo, and boo and hiss at the villains. During one of these party screenings, east coast ABC executive Yale Udoff, a Batman fan in childhood, attended and was amazed at the reaction the old serials were getting. He contacted ABC executives who eventually developed a prime time Batman series in the hip & fun style of the wildly popular Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV show.
For two and a half seasons from January 12, 1966 to March 14, 1968, a total of 120 episodes were produced and they strangely mirrored their Playboy Club Genesis by packing star power and sexuality in nearly every episode. Just as the biggest names in Hollywood flocked to the Playboy Clubs, soon many of these same big names wanted to make cameo appearances as villains on the Batman TV show. The guest star list reads like the Hollywood walk-of-fame: Burgess Meredith, Otto Preminger, Vincent Price, Eli Wallach, John Astin, Art Carney, Tallulah Bankhead, Roddy McDowell, Liberace, Ethel Merman, Ida Lupino, Rudy Vallee, Milton Berle, Shelley Winters, Carolyn Jones, Liberace, Van Johnson, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Cliff Robertson, Joan Collins and Anne Baxter (TWICE!).
Do you remember THESE Batman villain names: Lola Lasagne, The Puzzler, Nora Clavicle and her mechanical mice, Lord Marmaduke Ffogg, Lady Penelope Peasoup, Olga-Queen of the Kossacks, The Sandman, Colonel Gumm, Shame, Clock King, False Face, Louie the Lilac, Bookworm, King Tut, and the Mad Hatter? Do you remember the Batclimb Cameo that opened many of the TV episodes? 14 episodes featured a window that would be opened by a celebrity for a short conversation as the Dynamic Duo scaled a building using Batarangs and Bat-ropes. The scenes were actually filmed on a horizontal surface with the camera rotated by 90 degrees to give the illusion that the Duo were on a vertical wall. Their capes were held up by strings (usually off-camera, but on occasion visible). These Batclimb cameos featured big names like Jerry Lewis, Dick Clark, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Dana as astronaut José Jiménez, Werner Klemperer as Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes,Ted Cassidy as Lurch from The Addams Family, Don Ho, Andy Devine as Santa Claus, Art Linkletter, Edward G. Robinson, and famously Van Williams and Bruce Lee as Green Hornet and Kato. And was there a sexier costume on 1960s television than Catwoman? Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt in skin tight black vinyl & sequins? Forget about it!
During the same era, the Playboy Club phenomenon was soaring too. During the last three months of 1961, more than 132,000 people visited the Chicago club, making it the busiest night club in the world. Playboy Club membership became a status symbol. Only 21% of all key holders ever went to a club. At $25.00 per year per membership, Playboy earned $25 million for every 1,000,000 members. This revenue stream was critical to the development of the Playboy empire.
The success of the club was tied directly to the costumed Playboy Bunnies. According to Hugh Hefner, the Bunny was inspired by Bunny’s Tavern in Urbana, Illinois (opened 1936). Hef was one of the many Univ. of Illinois students who studied at Bunny’s during his years on campus. These Bunnies, with their royal-satin corsets, white collar, cuffs, bowtie, bunny ears and fluffy white tails served “Keyholders” as VIPs of the club. The bunny costume also featured black sheer to waist pantyhose and matching high-heeled shoes. The outfit became a powerful symbol of the Playboy Clubs which was quickly elevated to icon status. It was also the first commercial uniform to be registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (U.S. trademark registration number 0762884).
More than once, the club was described by the media as a “Disneyland for adults.” The layout of the club was described as, “Each of four floors was designed as a ‘room’ in a mythical and fabulous bachelor pad—there was Playroom, a Penthouse, a Library, and a Living Room. Teak and leather furniture, wood-paneled walls and rich, autumnal shades prevailed in the decor. Playboy magazine was in evidence everywhere-from framed original cartoons in the ‘cartoon corner’ of the Living Room, to huge, back-lit pictures of Playmates in the Playmate Bar.”
The Chicago club opened on a bitterly cold day in Chicago, yet lines of eager prospective members stretched around the block, warmed by ideas of what was to be found inside. Membership was available to anyone willing to purchase a key – $50 for residents and $25 for out-of-towners. The club “key” itself was metal and topped off with a rabbit head, later replaced by a gold plastic credit card to carry in a wallet. Hefner was present at the grand opening until the club closed at 4am. Keyholders gawked at ladies in their colorful Playboy Bunny outfits and dined on steaks and salads (no fancy hors d’oeuvres or desserts here), drank cocktails and bought packs of cigarettes and Playboy logo lighters. Most club items were available for the standard price of $1.50 per item (an exorbitant price at the time, especially for drinks and cigarettes). In the club’s first year, entertainment included the most popular stars of the day, including Mel Torme, Barbara Streisand and a 19-year-old Aretha Franklin.
The Playboy Club was an instant success. In the first year, there were 106,000 Keyholders and the place sold more food and drink than any other restaurant or club in town. Clubs quickly opened in Miami and New Orleans and, between the first three, brought in over $ 4.5 Million in gross profits during that first year. Playboy Club Keyholders were served by Playboy Bunnies in their skimpy attire. Each Bunny outfit featured a satin rosette with the bunny’s name, worn on the hip. But, it was made very clear that she was unavailable for anything but the serving of cocktails. Keyholders could look but not touch.
The Bunnies themselves were instructed, in a 44-page “Bunny Manual”, that they could not date customers, give out their phone numbers, or meet their boyfriends or husbands within two blocks of the club. If they did, they would face the tortuous penalty of being banned from the “bunny hutch.” There were different types of Bunnies, including the Door Bunny, Cigarette Bunny, Floor Bunny, Playmate Bunny and the Jet Bunnies (specially selected to serve on the Playboy “Big Bunny” Jet). To become a Bunny, women first had to audition. Prospective “Kits” (short for “Kitten Rabbits”) underwent thorough and strict training before officially becoming a Bunny. Bunnies were required to be able to identify 143 brands of liquor and know how to garnish 20 cocktail variations. Customers were also not allowed to touch the Bunnies, and demerits were given if a Bunny’s appearance was not properly organized.
A Bunny also had to master the required maneuvers to work. These included the “Bunny Stance”, a posture that was required in front of patrons. The Bunny must stand with legs together, back arched and hips tucked under. When the Bunny is resting or while waiting to be of service, she must do the “Bunny Perch”. She must sit on the back of a chair, sofa, or railing without sitting too close to a patron. The most famous maneuver of all, the “Bunny Dip”, was invented by Kelly Collins, once renowned for being the “Perfect Bunny”; to do the “Bunny Dip” the Bunny gracefully leaned backwards while bending at the knees with the left knee lifted and tucked behind the right leg. This maneuver allowed the Bunny to serve drinks while keeping her low-cut costume in place. Strict regulations were enforced by special workers in the guise of patrons.
The Playboy Bunny mantra? “Always remember, your proudest possession is your bunny tail.” To ensure enforcement, a “Bunny Mother” was hired and served both as confidant and enforcer of the rules. The Bunny Mother was in charge of scheduling work shifts, hiring, firing and training. The Playboy Club’s numerous conservative enemies kept the clubs on their toes and Hefner went so far as to hire private detectives to continuously test the Bunnies and bartenders by trying to entrap them by offering money for favors and thinly disguised requests for sex. The Club Manager had only two responsibilities for the Bunnies; floor service and weigh in. The Bunnies were weighed by the club manager before every shift and could not gain or lose more than one pound (let that sink in for a
moment ladies). Playboy Enterprises required all employees to turn in their costumes at the end of employment. Somewhere out there is a warehouse full of old Playboy costumes. The only two bunny costumes on public display are in the collections of The Smithsonian and the Chicago History Museum.
Most readers are aware of feminist Gloria Steinem’s crusade to expose the sexist treatment of Playboy Bunnies in her 1983 book “Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions.” The article featured a photo of Steinem in Bunny uniform and detailed how women were treated at those clubs. The article was first published in 1963 in Show magazine as “A Bunny’s Tale”. But are there any other famous former Bunnies out there? Well, yes, the “hutch” is littered with the names of young, struggling Hollywood actresses. Some are familiar: Lauren Hutton, Sherilyn Fenn (Twin Peaks TV star), Barbara Bosson (Hill Street Blues TV star), Patricia Quinn (Magenta from Rocky Horror), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Dark Shadows TV star) and many others. Jon Bon Jovi’s mom, Carol Sharkey, was a Bunny as was Kimba Wood, Bill Clinton’s nominee for Attorney General in 1993. At least 32 former Bunnies were also Playboy Magazine Centerfold “Playmates.” Rock stars Dale Bozzio (Missing Persons and Frank Zappa) and Blondie’s Debbie Harry were also Bunnies. Harry once famously remarked, “The girls there were part of the entertainment; part of the sort of mystique, the excitement, the naughtiness of it. But on the inside of that job, the girls were treated very, very well. There was a lot of benefits: health benefits, job security, good salary, good money. It was a very sought-after kind of job.”
The Chicago Playboy Club enjoyed a long and successful quarter century run, but closed in 1986. Today, the “One Magnificent Mile Building” has replaced the Chicago Playboy Club, and in 2000, that stretch of Walton was given the honorary name of “Hugh Hefner Way.” The original magazine headquarters was located nearby as was the original Playboy Mansion at 1340 N. State St., both of which have also moved on. Sadly, nothing has quite replaced the Playboy Club in Chicago. Hugh Hefner died at his home in Holmby Hills, Los Angeles, California, on September 27, 2017, at the age of 91. The cause was sepsis brought on by an E. coli infection. He is interred at Westwood Memorial Park in Los Angeles, in the $75,000 crypt beside Marilyn Monroe. “Spending eternity next to Marilyn is an opportunity too sweet to pass up.”
And Batman? The franchise, which existed decades before the TV Show, rolls on through the present day. Although the 1960s Batman TV series campy reputation continued to be associated with the character for years after the show ended, various creators worked to return the character to his dark roots, culminating in the Batman movies that remain popular with present day fans. A cultural icon, Batman has been licensed and adapted into a variety of media, from radio to television and film, and appears on a variety of merchandise sold all over the world such as toys and video games.
Who would have thought that two iconic American institutions so widely opposite from one another shared such a common thread as this? That’s what you have to love about America. Its the differences that draw us together proving that opposites attract to make, dare I say it? Strange bedfellows. Besides, didn’t Hugh Hefner remind you just a little bit of Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne. Yeah, now it all makes sense.
The Major League All-Star break is over and once again regular season baseball games are in full swing. Off hours are filled with baseball themed like Major League, Field of Dreams, A League of their own, Eight Men Out and, of course, The Natural. But did you ever stop to think, is Robert Redford’s character in The Natural based on a real life player? Well, the answer is yes. And no.
It would be more accurate to say that the film is based on an event, rather than an individual player. On June 14, 1949 Philadelphia Phillies “Whiz Kids” (and former Chicago Cub) first baseman Eddie Waitkus was shot by an obsessed fan named Ruth Ann Steinhagen in a Chicago Hotel Room. The comparison between Waitkus and the movie character pretty much ends there. But it is a Helluva story.
Just a few years into the start of what seemed a very promising career, Waitkus was shot in the chest at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago. A 19-year-old typist at the time of the incident, shooter Steinhagen became infatuated with Eddie when he was a Cub and seeing him play every day fed her obsession. However, once he was traded to the Phillies, Ruth Ann’s sanity snapped when she realized that her “crush” would only be in Chicago 11 games that season.
Born two days before Christmas in 1929, Ruth was the daughter of immigrant parents from Berlin, Germany. Born Ruth Catherine Steinhagen, she adopted the middle name Ann at some point in her youth. While she never actually met Waitkus before she shot him, she created a ‘shrine’ to him inside her bedroom with hundreds of photographs and newspaper clippings – sometimes spreading them out and looking at them for hours, according to her mother. She would often set an empty place across from her at the dinner table reserved for Waitkus. She told her doctors, after the incident, “I used to go to all the ball games to watch him. We used to wait for them to come out of the clubhouse after the game, and all the time I was watching I was building in my mind that idea of killing him.”
In 1948, Steinhagen’s family sent her to a psychiatrist, but her obsession didn’t diminish, even after Waitkus was traded to Philadelphia. After the shooting, police found extensive clippings in her suitcase and even pictures papering the ceiling of her bedroom at home. On June 14, 1949, the Phillies came to Chicago for a game against the Cubs. After the game, which she attended, Steinhagen sent Waitkus a handwritten note through a bellboy, inviting him to visit her in her 12th floor room in the Edgewater Beach Hotel where they were both registered.
Claiming to be Ruth Anne Burns, the note began: “Mr. Waitkus–It’s extremely important that I see you as soon as possible. We’re not acquainted, but I have something of importance to speak to you about I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain to you.” After insisting that she was leaving the hotel the next day and stressing the urgency of the request, she concluded: “I realize this is a little out of the ordinary, but as I said, it’s rather important. Please, come soon. I won’t take up much of your time, I promise.”
According to Waitkus’ friend and roommate, Russ Meyer, Waitkus received the note, which was attached to the door of their 9th floor room after returning from dinner with Meyer’s family and fiancé past 11:00 p.m. Waitkus called the room but the woman would not discuss the details over the phone. The Sunday Gazette Mail says Waitkus knew some people named Burns. Waitkus’s son later speculated that his father may have “thought he had a hot honey on the line.” For whatever reason, he went to meet her in the room.
The details of what happened in the room are a little sketchy. According to the Associated Press report day after the shooting, Steinhagen told police that as Waitkus entered the room, she greeted him by saying, “I have a surprise for you”. After which she retrieved a .22 rifle from the closet and shot him in the chest. Meyer said that Waitkus told him that when he entered the room, the woman claimed to be “Mary Brown.” He said that Waitkus claimed Steinhagen’s words after retrieving the gun from the closet were “If I can’t have you, nobody else can.” Another account claimed that Steinhagen said, “You’re not going to bother me anymore.” Waitkus, who later said he believed the woman was joking, stood his ground and was shot. He said he asked her, as she knelt beside his prone body with her hand on his, “Oh baby, what did you do that for?”
Steinhagen later told police that she had originally planned to stab Eddie, and use the gun to shoot herself, but changed her plans when Waitkus walked into the room and sat down. Steinhagen still intended to shoot herself, but evidently could not find another bullet. While Waitkus was lying on the floor bleeding from the chest, Steinhagen called down to the front desk of the hotel and told them “I just shot a man….” After the shooting, she went to wait for the authorities on the benches near the elevator, although she later claimed that she stayed with the wounded man and held his head in her lap until help arrived. The phone call, which brought quick medical attention as well as police, saved Waitkus’ life.
Steinhagen was arrested and then arraigned on June 30, 1949. Questioned about the shooting, she told police she did not know why she had done it, explaining that she wanted “to do something exciting in my life.” Strangely, when taken to Waitkus’ hospital room the day after the shooting, she told Eddie that she didn’t know for sure why she had done it. She told a psychiatrist before she went to court that “I didn’t want to be nervous all my life”, and explained to reporters that “the tension had been building up within me, and I thought killing someone would relieve it.” She said she had first seen Waitkus three years before, and that he reminded her “of everybody, especially my father.”
Steinhagen’s counsel presented a petition to the court saying that their client was “unable to cooperate with counsel in the defense of her cause” and did not “understand the nature of the charge against her.” The petition requested a sanity hearing. At the ensuing sanity hearing (which also occurred on June 30, 1949), Dr. William Haines, a court-appointed psychiatrist, testified that Steinhagen was suffering from “schizophrenia in an immature individual” and was insane. Chief Judge James McDermott of the Criminal Court of Cook County then directed the jury to find her insane, and ordered her committed to Kankakee State Hospital. The judge also struck “with leave to reinstate” the grand jury’s indictment of Steinhagen on a charge of assault with intent to commit murder, meaning that prosecutors could refile the charge if Steinhagen recovered her sanity.
Steinhagen never stood trial, but instead was confined to a mental institution until 1952, when she was declared cured and released. Waitkus did not press charges against Steinhagen after she was released, telling an assistant state’s attorney that he wanted to forget the incident. After her release, Steinhagen moved back home to live with her parents and her younger sister in her parents’ small apartment on Chicago’s North Side. She shunned publicity in the ensuing decades, and remained a recluse for the rest of her life. In 1970, she and her family purchased a home in a crowded, racially mixed neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. She lived in the home with her parents and sister and, after their parents died in the early 1990s, continued to live there even after her sister died in 2007. She employed full-time caregivers in her final years.
She lived a quiet and secluded life, steadfastly maintaining her privacy, avoiding reporters, and refusing to comment publicly on her shooting of Waitkus. She never married and worked an office job for 35 years, her neighbors and coworkers never knew of her place in infamy. Court records and routine background checks reveal no information about her career. On December 29, 2012, Steinhagen died in a Chicago hospital of a subdural hematoma that she suffered as a result of an accidental fall in her home. She was 83 years and six days old, and left no immediate survivors.
The bullet that struck Waitkus lodged in a lung, barely missed his heart, required four surgeries and prevented his return to baseball for the rest of that 1949 season. Eddie nearly died several times on the operating table before the bullet was successfully removed. The incident profoundly influenced Waitkus’ career and personal life as well; he was never the same player after the shooting. Eddie developed somewhat of a phobia worrying that others might not understand why he had visited Steinhagen’s room. He also, according to roommate Meyer, developed a drinking problem after the incident.
On August 19, 1949, the Phillies held “Eddie Waitkus Night” at Shibe Park and showered their wounded first baseman with gifts. Waitkus appeared at the stadium in uniform for the first time since he was shot in Chicago. Although the shooting left Waitkus knocking on death’s door, he was back in the Phillies’ Opening Day lineup the next year, going 3-for-5. After the 1950 season, Waitkus was named the Associated Press Comeback Player of the Year.
The Waitkus shooting is regarded as the inspiration for Bernard Malamud’s 1952 baseball book The Natural, which was made into a film by Barry Levinson in 1984. Other than the shooting, its hard to make a comparison between Eddie Waitkus and Roy Hobbs, the character played by Robert Redford in the film. In The Natural, Hobbs was shot as a teenage phenom before ever reaching the majors and the shooting kept him from reaching the big leagues until the age of 34, at which point he immediately started hitting like Babe Ruth with his miracle bat “Wonder Boy”. When shot, Waitkus was a 29-year-old veteran of both World War II and 448 major league games.
Miraculous comeback aside, Waitkus, who died in 1972, was no Hobbs at the bat. Though he was enjoying his finest season when he was shot, he had just one home run in 246 plate appearances, and when he retired in 1955 at age 35, he had just 24 home runs in 4,681 at bats. Waitkus hit for respectable averages (.304 in 1946, .306 in 1949 before the shooting, .285 for his career), but they were empty. He hit for little power and drew only an average number of walks. He did make a pair of All-Star teams and drew some low-ballot MVP votes in two seasons, but was by no means a Hall of Fame candidate.
Whether it was the seasons’ lost to World War II, his advancing age or the shooting, Eddie Waitkus never really lived up to the Roy Hobbs hype. Turns out that author Malamud built his iconic character around what was by far the most interesting thing about Waitkus’s career; the shooting. The similarities between fact and fiction end with the echo of that gunshot.
Recently I was fortunate enough to take a tour of an American treasure housed within the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office in Baltimore, Maryland. What, you ask? An American treasure in a medical examiner’s office? Yes dear reader, let me share with you a story about the coolest display you’re ever likely to find in any government office, anywhere. This is the story of the “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.” On the fourth floor, room 417 is marked “Pathology Exhibit” and it holds 18 dollhouses of death. These meticulous teaching dioramas, dating from the World War II era, are an engineering marvel in dollhouse miniature and easily the most charmingly macabre tableau I’ve ever seen.
These dioramas were created by Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962) over the course of 5 years between 1943 and 1948. Glessner Lee was a pioneer in the burgeoning field of forensic science and a trailblazer for women’s rights. She used a sizable inheritance to establish a department of legal medicine at Harvard Medical School in 1936. She donated the first of the Nutshell Studies in 1946 for use in lectures on the subject of crime scene investigation. Glessner Lee named her studies nutshells because they were designed to “convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.” She instructed her students to study each scene methodically by “moving the eyes in a clockwise spiral” before drawing conclusions based on visual evidence. Crime-scene investigators had 90 minutes to study each diorama.
I was fortunate to have Bruce Goldfarb, Special Assistant for the Office of the Chief M.E., as my personal tour guide. Bruce, a former EMT, newspaper writer and accomplished author many times over, knows more about the Nutshell Studies than any one else in the Clipper City. “There are 18 dioramas in our collection and another is housed in a museum in Littleton, New Hampshire.” Bruce says, “Glessner Lee was an heiress to the International Harvester fortune and a dedicated model-maker. Each diorama cost as much to make as a full sized house.” Each model cost about US$3,000–4,500 to create which, when calculated for inflation, translates to $ 40,000 to $ 60,000 today.
Each exquisitely detailed miniature diorama (1 inch equals 1 foot or a 1:12 scale) depicts a different true crime scene and are so well done that they are still used for forensic training today. Bruce explains, “These are not famous crime scenes. They are local scenes chosen by Frances to tell a story using composites of actual court cases. They are designed to teach young investigators how to examine and preserve a crime scene properly.”
Housed in impressive looking wood and glass locked cases, they are not unlike the ancient penny arcade mechanical machines recalled by every baby boomer’s childhood. Except these scenes are populated by dead bodies, gruesome instruments of death and startling realistic blood spatter patterns. The scenes take place in attics, barns, bedrooms, log cabins, bathrooms, garages, kitchens, parsonages, saloons, jails, porches and even a woodman’s shack. Sometimes, it’s easy to determine the cause of death, but look closer and conclusions are tested. There is more than meets the eye in the Nutshell Studies and any object could be a clue. Every element of the dioramas-angles of minuscule bullet holes, placements of window latches, discoloration of painstakingly painted miniature corpses-challenges the powers of observation and deduction.
Bruce says, “Look at the miniature sewing machine (about the size of your thumbnail) it’s threaded. There is graffiti on the jail cell walls. The newspapers (less than the size of a postage stamp) are real. Each one had to be printed on a tiny press, the newsprint is immeasurably small. The Life magazine cover is accurate to the week of the crime. The ant-sized cigarettes are hand rolled and burnt on the end. Amazing!” Bruce, who came to the M.E.’s office in 2012, says that although he’s been over every inch of each diorama, he is still making new discoveries.
Bruce credits a recent exhibition of the Nutshell Studies at the Smithsonian for reinvigorating interest in the displays among the public. The dioramas were exhibited at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum in Washington, DC from October 20, 2017 to January 28, 2018. When I asked if they would ever be put on public display again, Bruce answers quickly, “Never. That is the last time they will be available to the general public. This is a classroom, not a gallery. The studies won’t leave this room again.” He continues, “The Smithsonian people really helped in our preservation efforts. They had expertise far beyond our knowledge.” Bruce especially credits Smithsonian conservator Ariel O’Connor for her expertise, “Ariel is the only woman to have entered the Apollo 11 capsule and only the 6th person overall. She was lowered Tom Cruise / Mission Impossible style into the capsule to retrieve a bag left under the seat by Neil Armstrong.”
As informative as Mr. Goldfarb is on the dioramas, his eyes really light up when it comes to the artist. He explains “Lee was the first female police captain in the U.S. and is considered the mother of forensic science.” Lee’s original commission as captain hangs nearby on the wall. Bruce delights in telling the story of how a woman co-opted traditionally feminine crafts to advance the male-dominated field of police investigation and to establish herself as one of the founders of “legal medicine”, what we now call forensic science. “These studies are not puzzles waiting to be solved. They are designed to teach police officers to handle, observe and assess crime scenes. Frances wanted the investigator to get a sense of who these people were by deciphering the residual clues found in the surroundings.”
The Nutshell Studies made their debut at the homicide seminar in Boston in 1945. It was the first of it’s kind. Bruce says, “Frances’ intention was for Harvard University to do for crime scene investigation what they had done for their famous business school. When Frances died in 1962, support evaporated and by 1966, the department of legal medicine at Harvard was dissolved.” When asked how the displays made the trip from Harvard yard to Baltimore, Bruce states, “That’s a good question. When Harvard planned to throw them away, longtime medical examiner Russell S. Fisher brought them here in 1968. Fisher was a legend and a former student of Frances Glessner Lee. Fisher was one of the doctors called in to examine John F. Kennedy’s head wounds.”
Each study includes a descriptive crime scene report placard (written by Lee to accompany each case) containing a general outline of the crime, parties involved and date. But the solutions remain a secret. One such placard reads: “Robert Judson, a foreman in a shoe factory, his wife, Kate Judson, and their baby, Linda Mae Judson, were discovered dead by Paul Abbott, a neighbor.”
One model shows farmer Eben Wallace hanged in a hay-filled barn. One depicts a man shot to death in a log cabin, another shows a charred body in a burnt home, another, a body splattered face-down on the sidewalk outside a three-story apartment complex and still another reveals the decomposing body of “Mrs. Rose Fishman,” found in a pink bathroom in 1942. The scenes are accurate to the tiniest of details, including the appropriate lighting. “Frances was very ingenious in her lighting choices. There were no LED lighting options available. She used turn signal bulbs, Christmas tree lights, flashlight bulbs, anything she could find. Sometimes it came down to the color of the bulb or a particular paint color to achieve appropriate mood lighting.” says Bruce. “The blood pools and spatter are actually finger nail polish, which took us forever to figure out.”
While perusing these fascinating dioramas, it’s easy to forget where you are. Researchers who work in the $43 million Forensic Medical Center call the state-of-the-art facility the “Bat Cave.” It is the largest free-standing medical examiner’s office in the country and home to some 80 full-time employees, many of them pathologists, who analyze death in minute scientific detail, much like the Nutshell Studies themselves. Here, the state of Maryland learns the facts behind thousands of deaths each year.
I inform Bruce that the last time I was in Baltimore was on April 15, 2015 during the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. It was 3 days after the tragic death of Freddie Gray that sparked Civil Rights protests in the city and all across the country. My visit this time came just 3 days after the Capital Gazette newspaper shootings in Annapolis. Bruce pauses, shakes his head slightly and says, “Yes, we were very involved in the Freddie Gray incident and we’re working on the Capital Gazette shootings downstairs right now.”
In a typical summer, the M.E.’s office receives 13 to 18 bodies each day (more than 8,000 per year). It is the sole medical examiner’s office for the entire state. Homicide accounts for about 14 % of deaths, suicide for 12 % and accidents for 27 %. The first floor of the building serves as a garage that can be transformed into a mass casualty center. A large classroom on the fourth floor, with banks of desks and communication connections, can become an emergency command center during disasters. It’s like a hospital where patients are getting a physical exam, one day too late.
Bruce says the Nutshell Studies are an integral part of the M.E.’s popular 5-day homicide seminar every April. The seminars are limited to 90 people and are routinely filled to capacity. He reveals that the courses are likely to be expanded this October. “The seminars are not pass or fail, they are designed as a team exercise. Each team member is paired up with strangers. They are conducted the same way that Frances did them back in 1945. Each graduate receives a ‘Harvard Associates in Police Sciences’ diploma and a class photo. Historically, police officers and journalists do well.” Bruce says with a wry smile.
However, the Nutshell Studies are not the only visual aids created by Frances on display in the M.E.’s office. The walls of the entryway to room 417 are lined with 48 incredibly realistic looking bullet wound patterns and the conference room has 3 life-size heads with bullet wounds, slashed throats and a reconstructed face. Cases contain cremated remains, shoes worn by people struck by lightning, exploded oxygen tanks and even a motorcycle helmet from a crash victim who died in an accident. But wait, there’s more.
Bruce asks, “Would you like to see the Scarpetta House?” Accompanied by official tech advisers Kris & Roger Branch and my photographer wife Rhonda, I answered “Absolutely” even though I had no idea what lay in store for us. Bruce explains that the Scarpetta house is an enclosed space decorated like a typical model home complete with a swing set and wooden deck “outside”, a furnished living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and laundry room “inside.” It was donated by novelist Patricia Cornwell and the facility is named after Kay Scarpetta, Cornwell’s medical examiner heroine. Her books, including 24 novels in the Scarpetta series and 2 non-fiction books on Jack the Ripper, have sold more than 100 million copies worldwide.
It should come as no surprise that the Scarpetta house is incredibly accurate in every detail. Cigarettes on the kitchen table, cereal boxes on the counter, trash in the trashcans: it looks like someone just stepped out to get the mail. Bruce notes that a few years ago, the M.E.’s office used bloody mannequins to recreate death scene scenarios for investigators to solve, but now they use live volunteers to portray the dead.
“We have local makeup artists with ‘Special FX’ experience from TV and movies come in to apply the Moulage make-up. And they look very realistic. We’ve even had some celebrities come in to portray dead people. It’s like a bucket list thing with them.” Bruce continues, “Last year my brother came in and portrayed a suicide victim. His family asked him not to take the makeup off when he was finished so they could see it. I drove him home (in the passenger seat) with a gunshot wound (complete with dripping blood) to the right temple. I even pulled in to the 7-Eleven and parked. Nobody even raised an eyebrow. He warned me that if I got pulled over for speeding, he was gonna play dead and let me explain it.”
I must admit that by this time in our visit, the investigation bug had bitten our little group. The four of us were now spread out in the Scarpetta house in search of our own clues. And although the facility had been cleaned up after last Spring’s class departed, upon closer examination, blood spatter evidence remained in those hard to reach places found in normal household scenarios. For example, the space between the toilet & sink, the bathtub grout and that pesky space between the fridge and the cabinet. Rhonda notes that there was no toilet paper in the bathroom but the empty roll remained on the holder. “That is a crime in itself,” she states. While in the kitchen, Bruce pauses before saying, “Oh yeah, don’t open the fridge” before walking out of the room. Although tempted, we took his advice and left it alone without ever knowing exactly what was inside of it.
Viewing the Nutshell Studies in this information age of virtual reality, it becomes easy to appreciate them as works of art and popular culture over and above their importance as forensic tools. Lee’s hyper-real dioramas are designed to re-train people to see. It becomes obvious that Frances Glessner Lee’s genius for story telling by using simple materials was both exacting and highly creative in her pursuit of detail-knitting tiny stocking by hand with straight pins, writing minuscule letters with a single-hair paintbrush, and crafting working locks for tiny windows and doors. Exacting details, easily overlooked.
What may be most overlooked in her dioramas is the subtle social commentary found within these complex cases. Her subversive velvet touch challenges the mores of femininity, questions domestic bliss and upends the traditional ideals for dollhouse miniature modeling, sewing, and other crafts considered to be “women’s work” back in the day. Often, her models focus on society’s “invisible victims” and feature victims (women, the poor, and people living on the fringes of society) whose cases might be overlooked or tainted with prejudice on the part of the investigator. She wanted trainees to recognize and overcome any unconscious biases and to treat each case equally, regardless of the status of the victim.
So much of today’s culture is digital, and the Nutshell Studies are three-dimensional. You can’t really understand it from a flat page; you have to see it to believe it. And if that isn’t enough, Bruce Goldfarb is in the final stages of a book about Frances Glessner Lee. “Why not? I know her as well as anyone and it’s a story is worth telling. ” Bruce says. I’m sure that Bruce’s book will sum it up quite nicely…in a nutshell.
Original publish date: September 9, 2011 Reissued: July 5, 2018
It was Wednesday night March 16, 1921, St. Patrick’s Day Eve, and Indianapolis was stretching the boundaries of the cultural heartland. That is, with the help of recent Pulitzer Prize winning playwrite Eugene O’Neill. The state and nation were in flux; World War II was still fresh in the hearts and minds of Americans (the United States officially declared peace with Germany in August of that year), newly minted President Warren G. Harding had been in office less than two weeks, and the Indiana Ku Klux Klan was officially chartered by the state. Worldwide, Adolph Hitler assumes leadership of the Nazi party, Albert Einstein wins the Nobel Prize in Physics, and 5 million people die in the Russian Famine brought on by the Russian Civil War.
Out of this atmosphere and into the footlights of the Little Theatre in Indianapolis stepped “The Emperor Jones”, an expressionist play by Eugene O’Neill featuring a controversial unlikable black protagonist in the lead role. The play tells the story of Brutus Jones, an African-American train porter who kills a man, is sentenced to prison, escapes to a Caribbean island, and cons his way to the Emperor’s throne. The story is told from the prospective of Jones himself in a series of eight acts that are written in flashback style and scripted in the vernacular of Jim Crow America in a decidedly unflattering colloquial tongue. So dominant is the lead character, that scenes two thru seven feature only Rufus Jones himself speaking in a rambling retrospective of his two year sojourn to the top.
The play had premiered off Broadway in 1920 and was so well received that it eventually had to be moved to a larger theatre on Broadway to accommodate demand. It was Eugene O’Neill’s first critical and financial success and is credited with launching the future Nobel Prize winner’s career. While there can be no doubt that Eugene O’Neill took daring chances with his plays that would ultimately change the face of American theatre, we must also tip our cap to the “Little Theatre” of Indianapolis for the risks assumed by staging this one-time performance.
“The Little Theatre Society” was founded in the Fall of 1915 to showcase productions by American and European authors / playwrites heretofore unable to garner recognition by mainstream producers. The Society was unique in that it had no theatre of its own. During the earliest years, plays were performed in the sculpture court of the John Herron Art Institute. Although beautiful, the acoustics were poor and the venue could only seat 200 guests. Soon, performances were soon moved to the Masonic Temple. The Temple was beautiful and could seat 1,000 guests, but the stage was shallow and there were no dressing rooms. Each member of the society paid a $ 5 annual membership fee which entitled them to 12 tickets for every performance. Members could use the tickets themselves or sell them to the public at an average cost of between twenty-five and fifty cents each.
According to the Society’s literature, their purpose is to: “encourage the production of new plays, plays which cannot be produced by commercial stage, either because of their content or lack of commercial possibility-in short, to encourage all community endeavor of an original character in the field of the theatre.” The Little Theatre Society was among the first to shine a spotlight on Hoosiers Theodore Dreiser and W.O. Bates. Other productions included George Bernard Shaw, Booth Tarkington, Jack London, Oscar Wilde, William Butler Yeats, George Ade, Meredith Nicholson, and James Whitcomb Riley. And that was just in the Theatre’s first two years.
With the choice of O’Neill’s work, “The Emperor Jones”, the Society was taking an enormous risk if only for the fact that it required an elaborate stage for a one night performance. And then there was the Klan. The KKK was growing by leaps and bounds despite the fact that it had just been formally recognized in the state that same year. Soon, one third of the native male white born citizenry of the state would belong to the Klan. This was a play solely centered around a strong, murderous black man in a position of absolute authority in production in the principally white governed center of the WASP-ish Midwestern cornbelt.
On the contrary, in defiance of its cornbelt stereotype, the Little Theatre Society was chartered for just such bold experimentation and modeled after such avant-garde venues as the Moscow Art Theatre, the Abbey Theatre of Dublin, the Manchester Players in England and Théâtre Libre in Paris. Local critics, like Walter D. Hickman of the Indianapolis Times, applauded the company’s brave undertaking immediately: “Last night at the Masonic Temple, an Indianapolis audience witnessed for the first time a local presentation of The Emperor Jones. No legitimate theatre in Indianapolis would ever think of presenting this play…the title role was played by a local negro educator, Mr. Arthur T. Long…Mr. Long dominated every scene last night and gave to the role the great beauty of expressive inflection which the part demands. I forgot that a local man was playing the role and I surrendered myself to the grim tragedy which was unfolded on the Masonic stage. A grim tragedy told in a volcanic way.”
W. F. McDermott, drama editor of the Indianapolis News, wrote this about Long: “a colored actor, played the role of the emperor with several moments of great naturalness. He was able to portray the negro fear of “ha’nts” with unusual power.” But McDermott was less kind to the playwrite, “O’Neill writes darkly of brooding, inscrutable fate; of black and stormbound heights, of man, stripped savage and terrified; of man tragically at odds with his environment and foredoomed.”
However, it was the local black owned press that was perhaps hardest on the production, routinely denouncing O’Neill’s work for its stereotypes in the form of the backwards (certainly by today’s standard) dialog. Although groundbreaking when viewed within the context of the time, today, O’Neill’s so called “Negro plays” are seldom performed nowadays because of their perceived negative stereotypes. Much the same as Mark Twain’s historic works have been routinely revised and censured by modern day pundits. In truth, racial issues were never O’Neill’s focus. His aim was the human soul in its tragic destiny. His ultimate goal was to provide opportunities in mainstream theatre for talented black actors. Eugene O’Neill was the son of James O’Neill, an actor whose “Romeo” character was described as the best ever, making him one of the countries first matinee idols. O’Neill was determined to revolutionize what he called the “hateful theater of my father, in whose atmosphere I had been brought up.”
Perhaps the most unusual feature of the Indianapolis production was the choice of the lead actor chosen to portray Brutus Jones. Arthur Theodore Long was born on December 31, 1884, the son of Henry and Nattie (Buckner) Long in Morrillton, Arkansas. According to the 6th edition of “Who’s Who in Colored America (1941-1944)”, Long graduated from Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri in 1904. He entered the University of Illinois at age twenty and earned a BA degree in 1908. Arthur then went on to further his education at both Indiana and Butler universities. He then studied at the University of Chicago, presumably in pursuit of his master’s degree. Long earned teaching credentials in history, civics, English, music and mathematics.
In 1909 Long was hired to teach at I.P.S. 26 (one of the “colored schools”) in Indianapolis. There he served as assistant principal (1910 to 1915) and as principal (1915 to 1923). Long served as principal at a high school in Crawfordsville and later as a supervisor for principals in Indiana. Long then took a similar position at Lincoln School in Trenton, New Jersey, where he served for a decade. Wherever he went, Arthur T. Long promoted the arts (dance, music, and drama) and was described by people who knew him as a “tall, light skinned serious minded disciplinarian who liked to play the piano for the students in the mornings.” In good weather, he often lit up the school playground at night to stage impromptu school productions featuring black heroes like Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington and Benjamin Banneker. Long left his position in Trenton in November of 1933, just two months before his fiftieth birthday and was never heard from again.
What became of O’Neill’s social masterpiece, “The Emperor Jones?” Although it struck the theatre world like an electric shock nearly a century ago, it is relatively forgotten today. Personally, I believe it to be as socially relevant today as it was when it made its debut back in 1920, regardless of color. The story could easily serve as a parable for many of the problems facing every facet of today’s society. O’Neill’s Brutus Jones is a desperate man facing a hopeless situation who is thrust into an opportunity he sees as his only chance at survival. He arrives on an isolated island and is immediately elevated to a position of authority and power by the island’s uninformed, superstitious inhabitants. In time, he abuses his position, becomes careless and is punished (in this case killed) by his “subjects” who have caught on to his game.
Is this not unlike today’s ninety-day wonders: rookie corner drug dealers who operate freely and undetected for brief periods of time with more money than they can spend and more friends than they can count before law enforcement catches up to them? Or perhaps a modern day investment banker or securities trader spending the money of trusted friends and clients for his own whims before he is discovered and prosecuted? Both of these examples speak their own language and justify their own actions in the same coarse way as Eugene O’Neill’s Brutus Jones did all those years ago. Although you can easily look up “The Emperor Jones” on the web and decide for yourself, its unlikely that you’ll be seeing it on Broadway anytime soon. But, like me, you can take pride in the fact that nearly a century ago, a brave little theatre troupe in Indianapolis had the guts to stage the saga on St. Patty’s Day eve when other, allegedly more “Cosmopolitan” cities wouldn’t touch it.