Politics, Pop Culture, Presidents

The 1952 Presidential Conventions Revisited.

Original publish date:  September 3, 2020

Many readers will recall that I have a minor obsession with old paper. Photos, brochures, booklets, newspaper, documents, letters… PAPER! Sometimes I run across an item that illustrates things really haven’t changed that much. During a recent trip to Lexington, Kentucky, I found a box of paper in an antique mall that seemed to be calling my name. It was full of a miscellany of every sort, type & design. Some of which belonged to a woman who, in 1960, had been president of the Lexington women’s club and a delegate to the 1960 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles that nominated John F. Kennedy for President.
Hidden among them was a six-page letter about the 1952 Democratic convention in Chicago that nominated Adlai Stevenson for President written by an Eisenhower supporter. As I read the letter, it all sounded very familiar to me. Written on three sheets of stationery from the Warner Hotel in Warren, Ohio on July 25, 1952, it was sent to a couple living in Lexington. The hotel was named after Jonathan Warner, a long forgotten Lake Superior iron ore magnate and leading manufacturer of pig iron. The letterhead touts the hotel as having 150 rooms, all absolutely fireproof, and as being on the “European plan”, which basically means, all you get is the room; no meals included.

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Adlai Stevenson at the 1952 DNC.


The letter reads: “Dear Mother & Daddy. – I surely did not intend to be so long writing you all, but I guess you know that what with cleaning up after our guests, getting Teresa off to camp, and then getting ready to leave myself, that I haven’t had too many spare minutes. And I must admit that what ones I did have were devoted to the Democratic Convention! Have you ever seen or heard such a brawl as was going on yesterday over the seating of the three southern states! We were so glued to the radio, that we forgot every thing else, and ran out of gas!! Did we ever feel silly! It was just at dark, and fortunately we were in town, and some kind soul gave us a push to a gas station. It’s the first time either of us can remember of that ever happening to us! We sure laughed at ourselves! How we wished and wished we had our television set to see that disgusting spectacle! Tom says he would have forgotten to eat!”
The 1952 Democratic National Convention was held at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago from July 21 to July 26. This was the same arena the Republicans had gathered in for their convention (July 7 to July 11). In 1952, the popularity of television was on the rise with 37% of American households owning televisions and both parties recognized the rising importance of television and the impact it would have on the political process. The 1952 Democratic convention was the second political convention to be televised live, coast-to-coast (following the Republicans three weeks earlier). After carefully watching the Republican Convention, the Democrats made last-minute alterations to make its broadcast more appealing to television audiences.

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The Democratic platform for 1952 called for a strong national defense, collective security against the Soviet Union, multilateral disarmament, repeal of the Taft-Hartley Act, equal employment opportunities for minorities and public assistance for the aged, children, blind, and the disabled, expansion of the school lunch program, and continued efforts to fight racial discrimination.
The 1952 Republican platform pledged to end the unpopular war in Korea, supported the development of nuclear weapons as a deterrence strategy, to fire all “the loafers, incompetents and unnecessary employees” at the State Department, condemned the Roosevelt and Truman administrations’ economic policies (Code word: SOCIALISM), supported retention of the Taft–Hartley Act, opposed “discrimination against race, religion or national origin”, supported “Federal action toward the elimination of lynching”, and pledged to bring an end to communist subversion in the United States.
z 18510_detailThe letter continues, ” Gov. Battle has a brother living in Charleston, who goes to our church, + Tom knows him quite well, + we have been in their home, so we were especially interested in what he had to say. We thought the Louisiana Governor was crying, – did you? But I’m a telling you, the more I see of the southern states vs. the northern states, the prouder I am of being a Southerner!” Virginia Governor John Battle, of whom the letter speaks, was a Delegate to the DNC in 1952. When the Virginia delegation was threatened with expulsion at the convention for refusing to sign a loyalty oath (to whomever the party nominated), Battle delivered a speech to the convention preventing their expulsion.
The letter continues: “And I believe that if anything saves this country from socialism and communism, it’s going to be the southern states! I’m sure you must have heard Gov. Dever’s keynote speech, – the best description I have ever heard of the Democratic Party, – pure socialism! And he seemed to be trimmed in a bright shade of pink! Just listen to some of the phrases they use, – they sound exactly like the “Daily Worker”, and the “hate – mongering” they are accusing the Republicans of doing! It’s all certainly very clear, – and they’re quite bold about it this year too!”

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Gov. Paul Dever on rostrum placing name of Adlai Stevenson in nomination.

Not only was Massachusetts Governor Paul Dever the keynote speaker at the convention, he also made an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, polling eighth out of sixteen hopefuls before dropping out after the third ballot. Both 1952 conventions came in the middle of a four-year period of anticommunist policies and attitudes, championed by Wisconsin Republican Senator Joe McCarthy, which came to be known as McCarthyism or more colloquially as the “Red Scare”. Beginning in February of 1950, McCarthy began denouncing the Truman administration for permitting known communists to remain working in the federal government. The accusations by McCarthy put the administration on the political defensive and led Truman to seek ways in which he might prove he was not “soft on communism.”
The letter continues: “We get a kick out of what they say about Eisenhower, because for months they were beating their brains out trying to get him to be their candidate!”
As early as June of 1943, politicians began suggesting to Eisenhower that he should run for President. Ike believed that a general should not participate in politics, and often told reporters that he did not want any political job “from dogcatcher to Grand High Supreme King of the Universe”. In January 1948, after learning of plans in New Hampshire to elect delegates supporting him for the forthcoming Republican National Convention, Eisenhower stated that he was “not available for and could not accept nomination to high political office”; “life-long professional soldiers”, he wrote, “in the absence of some obvious and overriding reason, [should] abstain from seeking high political office”. Both 1948 candidates, Harry Truman and Thomas E. Dewey, tried to get Ike to run for their respective parties but Ike maintained no political party affiliation during this time. Many believed that Eisenhower was too old to run.

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IKE

The letter continues, “Politics is a terrible thing, but thank God we still have it! What must foreign countries think of such behavior as goes on in these conventions! Barkley certainly packed a wallop in his speech, and had the perfectly tremendous over patience, one 35 minutes, the other over 45 minutes! He surely could end up with the nomination!”
After President Harry S Truman announced that he would not seek reelection, his Vice-President Alben Barkley declared his availability to run for president while maintaining he was not actively seeking the office. Barkley’s distant cousin, Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II had not yet committed to run. When Kentucky’s delegation announced that they would support Barkley, Truman encouraged Missouri’s delegates to do the same. Hoosier DNC chairman Frank E. McKinney and former chairman James Farley also supported him. To dispel concerns about his age, failing eyesight, and heart problems,

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Harry S Truman & Alben Barkley.

Barkley arrived in Chicago for the 1952 DNC and briskly walked seven blocks from the bus station to his campaign headquarters. On July 20 a group of labor leaders, including UAW President Walter Reuther, issued a statement calling Barkley too old and suggested that Democrats nominate someone younger like Stevenson. Barkley was unable to persuade them to retract the statement, which caused delegations from large industrial states like Illinois, Indiana, and Pennsylvania to balk on their commitments to Barkley. On July 21, Barkley withdrew from the race. Invited to make a farewell address on July 22, he received a 35-minute ovation when he took the podium and another 45-minute ovation at the speech’s end. In a show of respect, a Missouri delegate nominated Barkley for president and House Majority Leader John W. McCormack seconded it, but Stevenson was easily nominated.

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The letter continues: “Glad the steel strike is over, but I wonder if there wasn’t a bit of timing involved? So that it would come during the Democratic convention?”
The 1952 United Steelworkers of America strike against U.S. Steel and nine other steelmakers was scheduled to begin on April 9th. President Truman, after being told that supplies of ammunition in Korea were already low and that even a 10-day strike would endanger the war effort, nationalized the American steel industry hours before the workers walked out. On June 2, 1952, in a landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the President lacked the authority to seize the steel mills. The strike lasted 53 days and ended on July 24, 1952.
The letter concludes, “It’s 11:30 AM, and I had better be going out for some “brunch,” – slept until after 10. Want to thank you all again for all the food you sent by the kids, including the secondhand olives! – And also for meeting us halfway to take Jeane on. Hope you had a pleasant drive home, – we did, – it cooled off some, + we found we had a storm when we got home. It’s very pleasant here, – in fact, I had to wear a coat last night when we went out for dinner. Expect to leave about 3 o’clock this afternoon for Ashtabula, not very far from here. Then tomorrow afternoon we go to Akron to spend Saturday + Sunday with Ed + Margaret Bruner. Monday, Tom has to go to Cleveland, and we had hoped to spend that night with Mrs. Harrison, but she is visiting in Maine so will work that out later on. Anyhow, will be home Tuesday. Heaps of love – Mary Holley.”
Much in this letter written nearly seventy years ago should sound familiar to readers of today. Seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Auctions, Creepy history, Health & Medicine, Indianapolis, Medicine, Music, Pop Culture

Elvis Presley — are you kidding?

Elvis Presley Autopsy Tools.

Original publish date August 10, 2010 Reissue date: August 27, 2020

Recently the Leslie Hindman auction house in Chicago caused a flap when it was announced that they would be auctioning off the instruments used to embalm Elvis Presley after his untimely death at the age of 42. The auction house was planning to sell the macabre Elvis relics in two separate lots: one with a pre-sale value of $4,000 to $6,000, and the other estimated at $6,000 to $8,000. Elvis may have left the building, but the man’s ability to get people “all shook up” has not diminished as the announcement sent shock waves through the media and wrought havoc among fans, collectors, historians and auctioneers alike.
The items in question, which included a comb, eye liner, rubber gloves, forceps, needle injectors, an arterial tube, aneurysm hooks, and a toe tag, came from an unidentified former employee who worked for the Memphis funeral home where Elvis’ body was last attended to. They were used only once — to embalm Elvis’ body, apply makeup to his face, and dye his graying hair to the jet-black color his fans knew so well. The replacement toe tag, marked “John Doe,” was attached to the King’s body after an eager fan stole Elvis’s original tag during the chaos at the hospital where he was taken. Other items in the grouping include the coffin shipping invoice, autopsy room preparation paperwork and the hanger that Elvis Presley’s funeral suit and tie arrived on.


Elvis Presley’s last concert at MSA in Indianapolis.

According to the auction house, the items were used to prepare the King’s body for a private viewing for family and friends only in the morning after his death. Presley died August 16, 1977, in the bathroom of his Graceland estate of an irregular heartbeat. “The senior embalmer at the Memphis Funeral Home at the time of Presley’s death saved the items for the last 33 years and decided to sell them after he realized someone might value them,” said Mary Williams, director of books and manuscripts for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers.
Presley’s autopsy involved draining all body fluids and removal of all vital organs which were then sent to a pathology lab for testing to ascertain the cause of death. The coroner, Dr. Jerry Francisco, along with Dr. Eric Muirhead and Dr. Noel Florredo, presided over the autopsy of Presley. The trio initially concealed the facts by attributing the cause of death to a massive heart attack. They later claimed their motive “was not to tarnish the image by a scandal of a drug habit.” For decades, when asked about the rumors that Elvis is not dead, Francisco consistently replied, “If Elvis is NOT dead, he’s walking around without his major organs as Elvis’ brain and heart are still in storage at Memphis Memorial Hospital.”
When the sale was announced, a spokesman for the auction house admitted the auction may be controversial as some people “are going to be disappointed” by the sale of these items. However, Elvis memorabilia remains in strong demand with a lock of his hair selling for $18,300, a red ultra-suede shirt worn by Elvis in publicity photos garnering a $34,000 bid, and an inscribed record sleeve selling for $10,370 at a Hindman’s auction in October 2009. The proposed sale of these creepy collectibles combined with the fact that he’s been dead for 33 years, keeps Presley intact as one of the highest grossing celebrities, bringing in $55 million in 2009 according to Forbes.com. Presley’s posthumous popularity notwithstanding, why would anyone want to buy these things?


Luckily, that question will remain unanswered because these sad rock-n-roll souvenirs were removed from the August 12th auction after doubts were raised about their provenance and authenticity. According to the auction house, the items have been given back to the Memphis Funeral Home, following a dispute between the home and the potential consignor. “Due to questions of ownership, the retired embalmer and his son have decided to turn over the property to the Memphis Funeral Home and its parent company, Service Corporation International, with the intention of donation,” Hindman said in a post on their Web site.
Shortly after the auction was announced, the Memphis Funeral Home claimed that those tools were taken without the home’s consent. The funeral home thought the embalmer was dead, but he’s not. He’s in his 80s. The funeral home contacted the elderly man and told him he can’t sell the items and if they were not returned, legal steps would be taken to reclaim them. According to funeral home president E.C. Daves, “We are awaiting word from the Elvis Presley estate on its preferences for the items. The items could be donated to a funeral history museum in Houston or they could be destroyed. Either way, the funeral home is not going to do anything until the Presley estate agrees with it.”


Now, maybe you’re thinking, “But you never answered the question, who would buy this stuff?” Well, before the items were pulled from the sale, Hindman’s auction house specialist Williams explained, “It’s really about owning a piece of the celebrity themselves… and how much closer can you get than the actual embalming instruments?” Okay that’s a creepy statement. However, I can help add some clarity to the issue for you. If you’ve been paying attention to past columns, you’ve learned that I’ve been an antique dealer for 30 years and a memorabilia collector for even longer than that. As with many collectors, I’ve bought, traded and sold many collections over the years.


One of those collections was a group of crime related autographs, artwork and paintings featuring infamous names like serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Ted Bundy, Manson family members Charles Manson, Tex Watson and Squeaky Fromme and political assassins James Earl Ray, Jack Ruby, Lee Harvey Oswald, and Charles Guiteau. I have owned signatures of Bob Ford, the “dirty little coward” who killed Jesse James and a personal check signed and written out by Bruce Lee made payable to and endorsed by his hairstylist Jay Sebring, who died alongside Sharon Tate in the Manson family massacre. Most of these items lost their appeal to me as I grew older but the urge of the infamous and their misdeeds never fully went away, for I still own a signed photo of John Wilkes Booth and a few other assorted macabre mementos from our country’s history.
I have seen many similar grisly relics offered for sale in the past, and held many of these macabre items in my hands including several items connected to the Lincoln assassination conspirators, the blood stained glasses that John Lennon wore the night he was murdered, the “Double Fantasy” record album Lennon signed for Mark David Chapman just a short time before Chapman killed Lennon, the watch that was in Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne’s pocket when he died in a plane crash, the watch Buddy Holly wore on his wrist when he likewise perished in a plane crash, and countless locks of hair and death masks from celebrities in every field across the board. Within the “hobby” they are commonly known as “blood relics” and they are in high demand. Whether you agree or disagree with their relevance, there exists a lucrative market for these sad souvenirs.
Collecting is an addiction. There is the thrill of the chase, the negotiation for acquisition, the elaborate planning for display and the final realization that you now possess the object of your desired search. For those collectors whose fandom goes beyond collecting rare records, signed merchandise and other conventional methods of capturing a performer’s essence, it’s only natural that they would be interested in something that would bring them a little closer to the performer. And friends, it doesn’t get much “closer” than this. So ask yourself: if you had the chance to own, possess or simply handle one of these unique items, what would you do?

Amusement Parks, Music, Pop Culture

Indiana Beach Music Scene (Part II).

Original publish date:  August 18, 2014 Reissue date: August 20, 2020

Last week, I shared the details of Janis Joplin’s visit to Indiana Beach in Monticello on August 14, 1968, 46 years ago. It still seems strange to me. The place most Hoosiers identify with the cartoon crow popping up out of a cornfield to squawk “There’s more than corn in Indiana” is the very same venue where Janis Joplin performed live for a crowd of 100. Not to mention, she strolled the midway before the show checking out the food and arcade games like any other 25-year-old. It got me to thinking, who else played the “Beach Ballroom” that I didn’t know about.
Since I never attended a single Indiana Beach show, I was fortunate to track down a couple fellows who did. Gary Brewer and Brad Long were gracious enough to share memories and files with me about the bands who played the park back in the day. Brad recalls, “I attended a few concerts at Indiana Beach years ago – Blue Cheer, Ohio Express, The Who, and Brownsville Station / Alice Cooper. I intended to continue my research and make a list of all the acts I could and all the dates they performed there, along with the opening acts from back then, who included The Chosen Few, REO Speedwagon, etc. IB was indeed a big music place in the sixties and I can remember that The Beach Boys, Byrds and Yardbirds were just a few who played there.”
Brad, a Logansport native, has an impressive list of bands with whom he’s performed and recorded with in his own right. He started playing in 1967 and his bands have included The Psychedelic Oranges, Celebrate, Tobias, The Lynx and Lincoln Supply Depot and has recorded albums on the Line Records label, whose artists included Jimi Hendrix and the Yardbirds. So, Brad has the necessary street cred to talk about Rock ‘n Roll at Indiana Beach in the 1970s.

Gary Brewer has an equally impressive musical pedigree and also recalls attending Indiana Beach concerts in the 1960s, “I used to go see some of the big name bands at Indiana Beach in the 60’s, my mom & sister & I vacationed there in ’68 and ’69, and I saw the Grassroots, Iron Butterfly & Lemon Pipers then… later in both of those summers, I persuaded some older band friends to take me there to see the vanilla fudge (twice). They also had local teen bands playing 6 nights a week in the ballroom, too, along with lounge bands upstairs above the tiki gods in the fountain.”
Gary, who used to play in Duke Tumatoe’s band and has ties to the Eastside of Indianapolis (his dad was a Tech grad), is an ex-guitar player with the Faith band. He recalls, “They (Faith) occasionally opened up for the bigger name bands in the ballroom, when they were still known as the Chosen Few. I saw them open for the vanilla fudge, and they also opened up for the Who. In 1968, the stage was facing towards the lake which I think they (Vanilla Fudge) had been swimming in (before the show), & the opening act was the Chosen Few (later known as Faith). The stage is back in that same spot now, pretty much.”


Indiana Beach Ballroom today.

“But, in 1969, i have mixed memories of it’s (the stage) location. When they (Vanilla Fudge) performed in the show, they were at the farthest end of the ballroom, facing towards the entrance & the game room, boardwalk, etc… but, it seems like, when they first arrived (late), they did a soundcheck, and were facing where the 1968 stage had been (opposite side of it). That doesn’t make a lot of sense, though, unless they moved the stage, for some reason? Or, there was another one? But, I think it’s a possibility that the stage was in one location for the soundcheck, and moved later for the show. Some of their equipment didn’t show up in time and they (The Chosen Few aka Faith) played with a scaled-down set-up. And during the soundcheck, they messed around with a led zeppelin song as they’d just taken them on their first U.S. tour a few months before.”
During Gary’s stint with the Faith Band, he recalls, “While were riding in the car somewhere, the Faith guitarist told some stories about the Who show. He said they were all having a party in one of the rooms (with the Who), and Keith Moon slipped off somewhere (he may’ve gone down the balcony). I think he ended up in an elderly lady’s room, and she came knocking at the band’s door, holding onto Keith’s earlobe, trying to return him!” When the Who played Indiana Beach in July of 1968, guitarist Pete Townshend knocked out a large chunk of the ballroom ceiling while destroying his guitar on stage. (It has since been patched but the spot may still be seen in the old ballroom.)
Gary, who hadn’t been back to Indiana Beach since 1969, drove back up there in the mid ’90’s, and says, “it was like going back in time. Except for a few new rides, it looked just as it did when I last visited there. Mr. Spackman, the owner, still walked the grounds daily, usually with an unknown, pretty girl in tow. I started driving back up there, on a regular basis, sometimes not even arriving until 30 minutes before closing. But, I’d take a few laps around the boardwalk, and that would last me until my next visit.”
Gary continued, “A few months ago, Mr. Spackman passed away, at the age of 100. I drove up for the funeral showing, and spoke to the family, all of whom had left Indiana Beach. They shared a funny story, around that time, of Cream’s appearance at Clowes Hall, in March of 1968. (I attended that show, by the way, and it was great!) After the show, Eric Clapton heard that B.B. King was playing that night at a local Knights of Columbus or possibly an American Legion or Eagles club, but, i’m pretty sure it was a K. of C., anyway, Eric was already friends with B.B. King, and wanted to go see him. So, they took Eric & Ginger Baker to the place. I didn’t know there was such a thing, but this particular K. of C., or whatever it was, was comprised of mainly black folks. But, they said they had a time with Ginger, because he was chasing all the girls around!”
Gary concludes by recalling, “I went to many of the shows back in those days…they were scattered around venues all over the city, many on the eastside. The Rivoli, The Irving and Melody Skateland…. the nationally-known surf band, the Astronauts, played on the steps of Eastgate once, back in the 60’s. and across the street, at the YMCA, were their weekly teen dances, which were legendary.”


While it may not come as a surprise that big name bands played the Circle City back in the day, often stopping on the eastside for shows, concerts and partying, the idea of Indiana Beach being considered a hot music spot does come as a surprise. A 1968 Indiana Beach publication offers a picture of the Mothers of Invention with a young Frank Zappa, his Fu Manchu mustache and soul patch combo looking as “hip” today as it did in June of 1968. The Who belted out their hit “I Can See For Miles”, The Yardbirds sang their standard “For Your Love”, The Turtles’ performed “So Happy Together”, and Lovin’ Spoonful harmonized the classic “Summer In The City” live on stage at Indiana Beach.
Along with the shows came images of the band members roaming the midway, sunning on the beach, swimming in the lake, crashing the bumper cars and riding the rides alongside Hoosiers who had no idea who they were. Legend claims that the Turtles rode their motorcycles down the midway and that Cher took a long ride on the skyride. But wait, let me blow your mind with a partial list of bands and the dates they played the Beach Ballroom:

The Beach Boys July 19, 1963-Jerry Lee Lewis July 17, 1964-Everly Brothers July 31, 1964-The Kingsmen (Louie, Louie) July 9, 1965, Aug. 5, 1966, and July 21, 1967-The Byrds July 23, 1965-Righteous Brothers July 30, 1965-Sonny & Cher Aug. 20, 1965- Mitch Ryder & Detroit Wheels May 29, 1966…Lovin’ Spoonful June 24, 1966…The Mindbenders July 15, 1966…Paul Revere & the Raiders July 22, 1966-Simon & Garfunkel Aug. 5, 1966-Yardbirds Aug. 12, 1966 (with a young Jimmy Page on bass and Jeff Beck on guitar)-Tommy James & The Shondells June 2, 1967 (Crimson and Clover & Mony Mony)-Jefferson Airplane July 3, 1967-Sam the Sham & The Pharaohs Aug. 18, 1967 (Wooly Bully & Little Red Riding Hood)-Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention June 21, 1968-Gary Puckett & the Union Gap and Ohio Express June 28, 1968-The Who July 12, 1968-Janis Joplin/Big Brother and Holding Co. Aug. 14, 1968-Guess Who Aug. 29, 1968-Iron Butterfly with REO Speedwagon Aug. 30, 1968 (In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida)-Boyce & Hart Sept. 1, 1968 (I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight & Last Train to Clarksville)-The Box Tops June 27, 1969 (The Letter)-Spencer Davis July 3, 1969 (Gimme Some Lovin’)-The Grass Roots July 11, 1969-REO Speedwagon July 3, 1970 & Chicago July 17, 1970 which is generally considered to be the last big show in the ballroom.

The Indiana Beach ballroom also hosted hundreds of other performances, including legendary big bands who drew massive crowds in the 1940s. Records from most of those performances at the Lake Shafer amusement park in the 1940s and early 1950s are sketchy at best. Some played more than one night, an entire weekend, a whole week of shows or even stayed and played for a month. Those acts included Glenn Miller June 1940-Benny Goodman June 25, 1941-Louis Armstrong June 12, 1955 and again on July 27, 1962-Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey June 28, 1955; Aug. 1, 1956-Dave Brubeck July 3, 1956-Bill Haley & the Comets May 31, 1957 & June 22, 1962 and Duke Ellington Aug. 20, 1957. The “Heart-throbs” and “Folkies” were well represented too with acts like Fabian, Ricky Nelson, Peter, Paul and Mary and the Kingston Trio.
The Monticello stop was usually sandwiched between gigs in Chicago and Indianapolis. By the early 1970s, cavernous arenas started to pop up for big rock tours. The arena rock era led to bands being more theatrical (Alice Cooper & Kiss, for example) and elaborate sound and lighting systems made places like the Indiana Beach Ballroom seem archaic and outdated. The list of legendary Indiana Beach bands are all but faded memories now. However, it is fun to think that back in the day, it was possible to drive an hour north of the city to see music history come alive in a room filled with less people than you might find at a Costco or Sam’s Club on any given Tuesday afternoon. And all this for the price of a $ 3.25 ticket.

Amusement Parks, Music, Pop Culture

Janis Joplin at Indiana Beach. Part I.

August 14, 1968 Janis Joplin Indiana Beach Part One August 18, 2014 picture

Janis Joplin on stage at Indiana Beach August 14, 1968.

Original publish date:  August 18, 2014 Reissue date: August 13, 2020

As the last gasps of summer slowly wheeze out of our lungs, I wanna take you back to 1968. America seemed to be coming apart at the seams. It was a presidential election year in the United States. The nation was divided by disputes about civil rights and the war in Vietnam. This seminal year became the backdrop for a confluence of independent yet related phenomena. It marked the end of LBJ’s “Great Society”, the country was ensnared in an unpopular war, campuses were alive with dissent, years of racial unrest were reaching a boiling point, women were burning bras, divorce was on the rise and the youth of the nation were finding their collective voice.


The culture was getting younger, like it or not. Styles and indulgences were taken to revolutionary status; drugs, music, clothing, sexual liberties, you name it and it was changing. There wasn’t a single institution left unchallenged by the nation’s youth. To top it all off, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were tragically removed from the National stage at at time when both were needed most. In the critical year of 1968, as the atmosphere of threats, distrust, and violence poisoned the nation’s politics and public life, “Don’t trust anyone over 30” became the mantra. The blows to the national psyche were catastrophic, and were only exacerbated by the urban violence that accompanied both major parties’ political conventions that August.
But 1968 was a golden age for music..artistic expression..and political thesis. On August 14, 1968, 46 years ago this week, an iconic symbol of the sixties was breezing through Indiana. Was it Richard Nixon? Hubert Humphrey? The Beatles? No, it was Janis Joplin and she was rockin’ the main stage in the “Beach Ballroom” at Indiana Beach. Yes, Indiana Beach in Monticello, Indiana.


At the time, 25-year-old Janis Lyn Joplin was the lead singer of the psychedelic-acid rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company. Her performance at Indiana Beach came a year after her breakthrough performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and a year and 3 days before she stormed Woodstock with the Kozmic Blues Band on her way to becoming an American Rock n’ Roll legend.
Janis and Big Brother played for a crowd of about 100 people on that Wednesday night. Before the show, while the roadies were setting up the equipment, Janis casually strolled the midway through the games and rides and none of the park visitors bothered her. She later told friends that she “was just having a good old time.” No-one hassled Janis, no-one asked her for autographs, no-one screamed or hollered or caused a scene. Half the people didn’t even know who she was.


For the show, Janis and the band performed on the north stage that faced south. Although no playlist from that particular show exists, the Indiana Beach concert came just two days after the band released their second album, “Cheap Thrills” on August 12, 1968. So it is reasonable to deduce that Janis belted out classics like “Down on me” and “Easy Rider” from their self titled 1967 debut album along with new standards like “Summertime”, “Ball and chain” and “Piece of my heart” from the new album.
A concert at Indiana Beach in the 1960s was like going to the State Fair with the smell of grilling burgers and popping popcorn wafting in from the midway. “It had that carnival atmosphere,” one fan remembered. “It was like going to a big party.” Those who had front-row seats left with unforgettable memories. But with the passage of time, physical evidence has faded away and memorabilia has been long ago tossed in the trash or stowed away in long-forgotten boxes in the attics of Northern Indiana.


The White County Historical Museum is one of the very few places where memorabilia from Indiana Beach Concerts may be found. The museum has a collection of 1960s Era newsletters from the venue known as the “Indiana Beach Preview” and later “Happenings”. Even these newsletters change tone as the decade marches on with the early versions promoting what the park rather innocently called “Dance-In Experiences”. By the late 1960s, these same events were being called a “Psychedelic Experience & Musical Explosion”. Browse through these newsletters today and you will find bubblegum acts like Brenda Lee (I’m sorry, Sweet Nothin’s, Rockin around the Christmas Tree) to Big Bands to Beach Boy look-alike garage bands to the Beach Boys themselves. In these newsletters, music trends and styles change before the reader’s eyes. By 1968, psychedelic and hard rocker bands sporting mutton chops, long hair and wearing dashikis were showing up at Indiana Beach.

Some concert photographs and ticket stubs survive, but posters, contracts and other documentation have essentially vanished. Not even the Spackman family, former owners of Indiana Beach, know where such memorabilia can be found. Nobody was thinking in terms of posterity or Rock ‘n Roll history back then, they were just trying to get more kids into the amusement park to spend money on rides, midway games and food. Had they realized back then that today, those contracts and memorabilia would sell for a day’s receipts at auction, they most certainly would have saved them. By the way, a ticket to see Janis Joplin with Big Brother and the holding company sold for $ 3.10. Amazing huh?
Today, the Beach ballroom sits quietly behind the Indiana Beach arcade never betraying the Rock n’ Roll history it once held sway over. Few people enter the ballroom or even take notice of it. Inside, there’s an odd mix of outdated furniture as well as the old DJ booth. The cement floor remains that once withstood thousands of feet each summer all dancing to the sounds of rock ‘n’ roll royalty. The old stage stood on the north side of the ballroom allowing for a large space for standing room only crowds. The walls opened up to allow people from the outside as well as those docked on their boats, to see and hear the bands if necessary. (Did I mention only 100 people showed up to see Janis?) The ballroom can still be reserved for events, but most live bands now choose to play in the Rooftop Lounge, a bar just a short walk from the historic ballroom. A newer stage was built in the 1970s long after Janis Joplin’s raw, emotional voice pierced the summer air along Lake Shafer.


By the time Janis Joplin finished her set at Indiana Beach, she was on her way to becoming a legend. Big Brother and The Holding Company left Indiana for a gig at the Aragon ballroom in Chicago on August 16-17. By now publicists and media were calling the band “Janis Joplin and Big Brother and The Holding Company”, which led to dissension among the band. The other members thought that Joplin was on a “star trip”, while others were telling Joplin that Big Brother was a terrible band and that she ought to dump them. On August 18 Big Brother played the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. On August 23 they were playing the Singer Bowl in New York City and just over 2 weeks after performing at Indiana Beach, Big Brother was playing the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. It was at this show where Janis Joplin announced that she will leave the band at the end of fall tour.
In 1968, Time magazine called Joplin “probably the most powerful singer to emerge from the white rock movement”, and Richard Goldstein wrote for the May issue of Vogue magazine that Joplin was “the most staggering leading woman in rock… she slinks like tar, scowls like war… clutching the knees of a final stanza, begging it not to leave… Janis Joplin can sing the chic off any listener.” Her final show as a member of Big Brother was December 1, 1968 at the Family Dog Benefit in San Francisco. She had been a member of the band for two and a half years. From that day on, although she toured with a backup band, she would become Janis Joplin. By early 1969, Joplin was allegedly shooting at least $200 worth of heroin per day. But for that one brief shining moment in Monticello, Indiana, Janis Joplin innocently strolled the carnival midway as just another average kid. The rest, as they say, is history.

If this article about Indiana Beach “blows your mind”, wait til next week when I tell you about some other big name acts that played there. It will be groovy man. Tune in, turn on, tune out…next week.


Next Week: Indiana Beach Part II