Abe Lincoln, Assassinations, Civil War, Criminals

Pink Parker and his Monument to John Wilkes Booth.

Original Publish Date August 26, 2021.

Recently, I ran across an obscure booklet about a little-known episode in the post-assassination chronology of Abraham Lincoln. Surprisingly it was published and distributed by a man named Stewart Winning McClelland (1891-1977) a self-described “Sponsor” of Dale Carnegie courses from Indianapolis. More surprising is the fact that it was published exactly 70 years ago on August 28, 1951. The booklet is titled “A Monument to The Memory Of John Wilkes Booth.” Now THAT got your attention, didn’t it?

The booklet tells the story of a cranky old Rebel from Troy Alabama named Joseph Pinckney “Pink” Parker, born August 16, 1839, and died December 12, 1921. Parker, a former police officer and veteran of the Confederate Army, was often described in the local newspaper as “the bitterest Rebel in the South.” Almost immediately after graduating from Springhill Academy in Coffee County Alabama, the Civil War broke out and Pink enlisted in the Confederate Army. He left his family’s well-stocked plantation, a sister, and a bevy of slaves when he left for the front lines.
Parker served in Company A of the Second Georgia Battalion Infantry, Wright’s Brigade, Mohone’s Division of AP Hill’s Corps of the Army of Northern Virginia. During Parker’s four years of service, he rose to the rank of Corporal and fought at the battles of Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, and Appomattox: many of the fiercest battles of the Civil War.
Four years later, when the war ended, Pink returned to find the “farm overgrown with weeds, his stock and slaves disappeared and his sister imbittered by her treatment received at the hands of the northern soldiers.” The family estate was soon “eaten up” by taxes and the former Rebel soldier was forced to take a position as a “walker” on the railroad tracks carrying with him “maul and spikes to keep the tracks repaired.” Parker grew to hate everything “Yankee”, blaming President Abraham Lincoln for the social and economic distress throughout the South and for Reconstruction, which he considered the continued destruction of the South.
Parker married and bought a farm near Inverness, Florida, but found farm life there hard and unforgiving. He moved his wife and three children to a house he bought on Madison Street in Troy. For years he earned a hardscrabble living on his meager salary as a grocery store clerk, policeman, and cotton compress worker. Eventually, he became a schoolteacher in Troy, where he built a comfortable home a short distance from the famed Natchez trace “which Andrew Jackson used in his battles against the Indians in Florida.”

The booklet describes Pink as a well-respected member of his community and a devout member of the Baptist Church with just one single vice: a deep-seated hatred for Abraham Lincoln. As Lincoln’s legend began to move towards secular sainthood, in both the North and the South, Pink Parker’s wrath grew year by year into a compulsion. Whenever Lincoln’s name was mentioned, Pink would burst forth with impassioned flights of profanity that astonished and shocked his friends and family. So bad were these outbursts that his pastor at the Baptist Church removed him from the church roles for his profanity. In a situation that Pink described, “It wasn’t quite fair. I know all the deacons in that church and any one of them can cuss better than I can.”
His expulsion from the church proved to be the capstone of Parker’s Lincoln hatred. Parker’s wife died in 1893 and his children moved away. From that point on, every April 15th, Pink would fashion for himself a paper badge and ribbon celebrating the “Anniversary of the Death of old Abe Lincoln.” Occasionally, Pink would memorialize these otherwise sad anniversaries by walking into the local photography studio to have his picture made wearing the offensive badge. As years passed, the idea came into his head that he would erect a monument to the memory of John Wilkes Booth. As unthinkable and repulsive as the idea sounds to our modern ears, Pink indeed put his plan into action.
The monument, standing approximately 4 feet high, resembled a typical graveyard headstone found in any Alabama burying ground around the state. Pink was always quick to note that he never took the oath of allegiance after the Civil War and he personally never surrendered. The stone bore the inscription: “Erected by Pink Parker in honor of John Wilks Booth, for killing old Abe Lincoln.” It is interesting to note that the old Rebel misspelled the cowardly assassin’s name on his memorial, fitting for such an unpopular, shortsighted memorial.

He first offered his ghastly memorial to the city of Troy to be placed in front of the Pike County Courthouse or in a public park. When the city quickly declined his invitation, he installed the monument in his front yard on Madison Street. It wasn’t long before local vandals turned their attention to the stone, defacing it. Soon Parker erected a board fence to protect it. Although newspapers from the 1920s stated that the stone had been erected in 1866, Pink placed the marker in 1906. Pink told his grandsons that he invited President Theodore Roosevelt to the stone’s dedication with a postcard stating that “while I can’t furnish a carriage for you, I could get you a dray hauled by a couple of mules.”
When those same grandsons asked their grandfather how he was going to get along with all those Yankees when he got to heaven, Pink would say, “Well, I don’t suppose I will find enough up there to bother me.” Pink Parker always believed that John Wilkes Booth was still alive, that Booth did not die from Boston Corbett’s shot through the neck in the Garrett tobacco barn. A belief principally subscribed to by only the most avowed skeptics, conspiracy theorists, and carnival sideshow aficionados of the era.

Pink Parker’s House.

Parker became ill and, in 1918, his son, Eugene, moved his father to Sardis, Georgia. Parker deeded his home to his three children. They sold it in 1920. In 1921 emotions over Pink’s distasteful display reached a boiling point. The local president of the Alabama Women’s League of Republican Voters, Mrs. C.D. Brooks, instigated a campaign to have the monument removed permanently. Letters poured in from all over the country supporting her stand. Then sometime around Halloween, a group of local boys pulled down the marker as a prank. The Booth monument lay half-buried in the dirt as weeds slowly overtook it.
In 1921, the Troy Messenger received a large volume of indignant letters and the National Sons of Union Veterans wrote to President Waren G. Harding demanding the monument be removed and destroyed. The added attention and the age of the automobile soon brought souvenir hunters to the little town of Troy. These eager relic collectors began to chip away pieces of the stone. The Troy Messenger reported on July 13, 1921, that the monument had been removed by order of the town council. It was hidden away out of sight and mind in a shed and forgotten.

The recarved Booth Marker.

In the midst of the furor, the half-blind, sick, and forgotten Pink Parker passed away in December of 1921 at the age of 82. His body was brought back to Troy and buried next to his wife. His sons retrieved the stone from cold storage and had it re-carved. The inscription honoring Booth was removed from the monument and it was fashioned into his tombstone, his name and birth/death dates on one side and the details of his service in the Confederate Army listed on the other. Confederate veterans served as his pallbearers.

Pink’s Grave Marker Today.

Historians have long realized how much the South lost by the killing of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was the one man who might have reunited a broken country. The one man who could have allayed sectional hostilities and rebuilt a nation. Pink Parker was on the wrong side of history. But Pink Parker did not care. Today, the former Booth monument can be seen on Parker’s grave in Oakwood Cemetery, located on North Knox Street in Troy. The gravestone stands on a downward slope in the farthest regions of the cemetery. There is no trace of the former writing, no indication that it ever honored assassin John Wilkes Booth. Perhaps fittingly, Pink Parker’s grave marker lists to the larboard side, forever tilted, just like the man it honors.

Creepy history, Hollywood, Indianapolis, Pop Culture, Television

WFBM-TV Cap’n Star a.k.a. Sinister Seymour

Original Publish Date August 19, 2021.

I’ve written about Jerry Vance, a.k.a. Larry Vincent, a.k.a. Cap’n Star, a.k.a. Sinister Seymour in past columns, mostly in conjunction with the late great Hal Fryar a.k.a. Harlow Hickenlooper, a.k.a. Grandpa Harlow. Confused? Well, so am I. However, if ever an Indianapolis children’s TV host from the Circle City’s golden age of television deserved a redux, it’s Jerry, I mean Larry. Bear with me now as we sort out this man of many sobriquets who left Indianapolis to become a Hollywood cult classic legend.
Larry Vincent (a.k.a. Jerry Vance) was born Larry Francis Fitzgerald Vincent on June 14, 1924 in Boston, Massachusetts. After graduating from Bishop-Lee College of Theatre and Radio in Boston, he enlisted in the Merchant Marines during World War II. He first surfaced in the mid-1940s, appearing alongside Kirk Douglas in the Broadway play Kiss and Tell from 1943 to 1945 and then as understudy for Douglas in the short-lived play Alice in Arms. Both are notable for being Kirk Douglas’ Broadway debuts.For a time, Vincent also performed in the play Life with Father. The Broadway production ran for 3,224 performances over 401 weeks to become the longest-running non-musical play on Broadway, a record that still stands. Vincent changed his name to Jerry Vance and teamed up with Anderson, Indiana native Donald Craig McArt to form a stand-up comedy act that performed in nightclubs all over New York City. Don McArt later appeared in the Walt Disney films Son of Flubber and the “bsent Minded Professor and a slew of TV shows.

Vance landed in the Circle City in 1951. In the early 1960s he was working as a producer/director for Indianapolis’ first TV station, WFBM-TV (WRTV Channel 6 nowadays). Vance was among the first wave of Indy television personalities working alongside Howard Caldwell and Tom Carnegie. Since the early television business demanded an “all hands on deck” attitude, Vance created a character he dubbed “Cap’n Star.” Vance’s character appeared in a segment titled “Cap’n Star and Friends” alongside Harlow Hickenlooper and Curley Myers. The segment showcased cartoons and old Three Stooges shorts. Alongside his pet monkey “Davy Jones,” Cap’n Star sang songs and performed skits on the show.

Vance also directed many of Frances Farmer’s shows at the station from 1959 to 1964. The show, known as “Frances Farmer Presents,” aired five days a week, with Farmer doing her inserts live. She showed only the newest available movies from major studios. Farmer’s show was the number one show in its time period from the day it premiered until the day it left the air.

Vance lived in a house at 41st and Graham Avenue on Indy’s east side. Local children remember him as a kind neighbor who always had time for kids, often letting them wear his sailor’s cap from the show and play with the show’s mascot monkey. Vance had a background in Indianapolis theatre, performing as a leading man and directing many productions at the Circle Theatre, Catholic Theatre Guild and Civic Theatre. In 1961 and 1966, he won the city’s best actor award.
While in Indianapolis, Vance led the league in personal appearances. He spent his nights as a stage actor and his days as Cap’n Star. While at WFBM-TV, he handled nearly every chore affiliated with the production of his show, including beating the bushes for sponsorship and commercial advertising. Almost every weekend would find Cap’n Star at a local store, restaurant, school, carnival, or fair. The August 30, 1963 Indianapolis Star announced that “Cap’n Star, star of his own WFBM-TV show ‘Cap’n Star’ and ‘Deputy Dawg’ on Channel 6” would be appearing on Saturday morning at 11:00 at the new Eastgate Shopping Center on East Washington Street.
In 1967 he left Indianapolis to become staff director for KHJ-TV in Los Angeles. Utilizing a formula developed in Indianapolis, Vance became a member of the Barbary Coast Theater. In an October 3, 1967 column, well-known Indianapolis showbiz reporter R.K. Shull recalled a perchance encounter with Vance in Hollywood. “Last Spring, Vance left Indianapolis and decided to try his hand at the big-time in Hollywood. So far, he’s done well. He played a scene with Julie Andrews in her upcoming movie, Star. He’s had three guest roles on TV series, the first of which, an I Dream of Jeannie series. Only he isn’t Vance anymore.”
Shull continued, “‘I’m now Larry Vincent,’ he said, exhibiting a briefcase with that name under the handle, as though that proved something. But why Larry Vincent? ‘That’s my real name,’ he explained. Soon, Vance applied for his ‘SAG’ card with the Screen Actors Guild. ‘They already had a Jerry Vance registered as a member… a stunt man,’ he said. ‘So I had to pick another name and I chose my own… I found out about the other Jerry Vance the hard way. They mailed him my check for the work in ‘Star.’ He’s a decent guy though; he sent it back.’”
Vincent made guest appearances in others series: The Flying Nun (1967), Mission: Impossible (1969), Get Smart (1968–1969) and Mannix (1970). However, Vincent secured his legend as host for a few Sammy Terry-style Friday night horror show programs in L.A. The first was known as Fright Night and aired from 1969 to 1973 on KHJ-TV, the next, Monster Rally for one season in 1973, the last was Seymour’s Monster Rally from 1973–1974 (both of the latter shows aired on KTLA TV-5). Although the shows were different in name, they followed roughly the same format.

Vincent’s “Sinister Seymour” character presented low-budget horror and science fiction movies on both local Los Angeles stations. Fans remember Seymour’s “slimy wall” behind which was an ongoing party of ghouls that, try as he might, Seymour was never invited to join. They recall a pay phone from which Seymour was constantly trying to scam “Pizza fella” out of free pizza (on a borrowed dime no less). And they remember Banjo Billy (played by Vincent himself) whose bright orange band uniform matched his cheery disposition and one-piece Groucho glasses and nose combo was as bad as his banjo playing, played foil to Seymour on the show.

Sinister Seymour advertising Volkswagens back in the day.

He is remembered for his style of criticizing the movies, presented in an offbeat and funny manner, usually appearing in a small window that would pop up in the corner, tossing a quip, before vanishing again. Sometimes he would, using a blue screen, appear in the middle of the movie, apparently interacting with the characters in the film. Seymour called these movies “turkeys” right out of the gate. One need only look at the titles to understand why: Teenage Vampires, Monster from the Surf, The Spider Woman Strikes Back, X-The Man With X-Ray Eyes, The Crawling Eye, The Brain Eaters, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians and Attack of the Mushroom People, which he renamed “Attack of the Bunny Slippers” because of the unfrightening appearance of the film’s furry little parasite protagonists.

Dressed in black with a wide-brimmed gaucho plantation hat and cape, Sinister Seymour stalked his way into the films to openly mock the films as they aired. He equally derided his viewership, calling them “dummies” and “Fringies” while admonishing them for wasting their time by watching his program. No one was immune from Seymour’s insults, which could help explain his cancellations and reinstatements. For the last episode of Fright Night, Seymour ended the show by walking out of the studio, and the first episode of Monster Rally had him breaking into KTLA-5.
As he had done in Indianapolis, Seymour blanketed Tinseltown with personal appearances. Seymour was the Master of Ceremonies for the costume party at the first annual Witchcraft and Sorcery Convention in Los Angeles in 1971. He hosted “Seymour Day at Marineland” and was the first host of “The Seymour Show” in 1973/1974 — a Halloween Haunt show in the (then) John Wayne Theater at Knott’s Berry Farm. The event has since grown to become the largest and most haunting Halloween experience in California known as “ScaryFarm.”


Vincent a.k.a. Seymour’s last show came in 1974. Traditionally, Seymour ended the show by saying, “I’d like to thank you… I’d like to, but it’s not my style! Bad Evening!” But on his final telecast, Seymour eschewed his familiar goodbye and said nothing. He merely waved as the stagehands disassembled the set behind him. His last movie performance was in 1975 in an uncredited role in The Apple Dumpling Gang. For the last years of his life, Mr. Vincent battled stomach cancer. He died on March 9, 1975 at the age of 49.


Several years later, Elvira took over Larry’s place as horror-film hostess on Fright Night, which later morphed into her own series, Elvira’s Movie Macabre. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Elvira Mistress of the Dark.
Indianapolis, Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

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

Original Publish Date May 20, 2021.

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


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

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

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

Paul McCartney with Elaine in the background.

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

Elaine May Conly with the Beatles.
Elaine May Conly

Part of her prize package included tickets to the show. When asked what memories she had of the concert, Elaine says, “Security was very tight. It was very dark and very hard to hear them. But it was great to look at them, they were so handsome.” Her tickets? “Oh, they were very close, first 10 rows or so.” Did anyone recognize her as the contest winner? “Yes, a few people picked me out right away, but then the Beatles came out and that was that.” Elaine is still saddened by the death of her favorite Beatle. “I was watching Monday Night Football (December 8, 1980) when they broke in to announce that John Lennon had been shot. I cried. I cried a lot.”

And what about that little black dress, the only physical souvenir she has left from that encounter? “That dress was good luck.” she says, “I was wearing that dress a year later when I walked a friend to the bus station. A friend of a friend, University of Cincinnati architecture student Michael Conly, was on the bus and kept asking, “Who’s that girl in the black dress?” Long story short, Elaine and Michael Conly have been married for 51 years. And her engagement ring? Michael purchased it for her in Beatles Country: England, where he was studying in Europe.
Several years ago, Michael had a special print of his wife’s brush with the Beatles enlarged and the poster-sized photo hangs on the couple’s wall inside their Fishers home. “That’s my claim to fame I guess. Over the years it (the photo) was a big hit with our babysitters who would gasp and ask me about the encounter. I was always amazed because most of them were not even born when that meeting took place. The Beatles still have that power though, after all these years.”

Indianapolis, Music, Pop Culture, The Beatles

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

Original Publish Date May 13, 2021.

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


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


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


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


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


Next week, Part III


The Beatles, John Lennon, WIFE… and Irvington.

Criminals, Indianapolis, Pop Culture, Sports

John Dillinger the ballplayer.

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

Original publish date:  April 8, 2021

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

z Dillinger Sr  John Dillinger, Sr.

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

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

z john and beryl

Beryl Hovius and John Dillinger


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

z 11191_1418241724

Governor Harry Leslie


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


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

wrigley-z field-vintage-photo-photograph-print-chicago-cubs-baseball-stadium-1930s-artistic-panda
Despite this close call, Dillinger returned to Wrigley again on July 8th to watch the Pirates get pounded by his Cubbies 12-3 (for the sake of continuity, Babe Herman went 1 for 5 in this one). After the blowout, the Cubs left on an extended road trip. They were still on the road against the Phillies on July 22 when Dillinger decided to catch a movie at the Biograph Theatre. The White Sox were in town that afternoon playing a double-header against the Yankees. The Bronx Bombers ‘moidered” the north-siders in both contests. Had Dillinger been a White Sox fan he might have avoided his date with destiny and lived to die another day. He might have been in the bleachers to catch Babe Ruth’s 16th homer that day. Instead he caught a hail of bullets in a damp Chicago alleyway. According to the Cook County coroner, the jackrabbit was only three pounds above his old playing weight.

z vintage-newspaper-headline-gangster_1_20f1aaa899543d25dfae1513df663d3e