The Decades-Long Struggle to Electrify Rural Hoosierdom

The Daily Banner, September 30, 1936, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On Wednesday September 30, 1936, The Greencastle Daily Banner heralded the announcement that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt officially started his reelection campaign the day before. On the same page came news of another federal concern, the allocation of over $800,000 to projects of the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). The news was an important victory for Indiana’s rural electrification projects, which had received a boost in the previous year.

IHB historical marker.

Indiana has a long history with electrical power. In March 1880, the Wabash County Courthouse installed electrically powered lamps, reportedly becoming the First Electrically Lighted City. By the late 1880s, companies were providing electrical services to Indianapolis proper. In 1887, Purdue University hired its first Head of the School of Applied Electricity, and the next year formally opened its School of Electrical Engineering. These engineers continued pursuing the development of better systems for electrical use during the era of Edison, Westinghouse, and Tesla.

According to Hoosiers and the American Story (2014), in 1900 the creation of a massive electrically-powered interurban train system carried Hoosiers throughout the state, linking towns to Indianapolis and other areas with close to 400 trains running on a daily basis. In 1912, one of Edison’s former employees, Samuel Insull created the Interstate Public Service Company by combining the resources of several predecessors into a single Indianapolis-based company (the company would eventually come to be known as Duke Energy). By this time, the interurban system began to recede in light of the introduction of automobiles.

Around the same period, Purdue began doing outreach to rural communities through the Co-Operative Extension Service (Extension) first through state funding, and then as a part of the Smith-Lever Act of 1914. These programs were facilitated by County Extension Agents who served as journeymen experts, arranging workshops and showcases to spread agricultural, and eventually home-economics, lessons from techniques developed at Purdue. It took until the early 1920s, though, before research literature began to tackle the question of rural electrification.

Ad, South Bend News-Times, November 30, 1915, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

This is not to imply that efforts were not consistently underway to encourage electrical use. On the contrary, the Indiana & Michigan Electric Company hosted an Electrical Prosperity Week in November 1915; their advertisement on page four of the November 30, South Bend News-Times announced “You can spend a couple of hours most enjoyably—and very profitably—at the Electric Show, and it will cost you nothing.” Beyond the showcase, the next page announced a $10.00 prize for the best 200-word essay on the utility of electricity. The Swartz Electric Company ran a promotional train with examples of the modern conveniences provided by electricity, “under the auspices of Purdue University, with equipment suggested for modern farm homes.”

Ad, Indianapolis News, May 29, 1920, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Yet, with all this promotion, the vast distances and relatively low potential for return on investment limited most electrification to cities and larger towns. As late as 1925, one researcher noted this problem in “Electrifying the Farm and Home,” stating “in order to make a profit they [power companies] have charged the farmers so high a rate that it has kept them from using the service.” Indiana had begun to reach out to their rural communities, just not with power, yet.

Historian Audra J. Wolfe’s “‘How Not to Electrocute the Farmer:’ Assessing Attitudes Towards Electrification on American Farms, 1920–1940,” tracks the process and problems of making this rollout happen. Several early research reports document the hazards of incorporating electrical equipment, particularly generators and batteries, into farming homes, as Wolfe notes, “many women avoided them [substations and gas-powered electric appliances] as they had a tendency to explode.”

Muncie Post-Democrat, June 5, 1925, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On June 5, 1925, The Muncie Post-Democrat carried news of an announcement by researchers at Purdue that they would be undertaking the experimental electrification of two farms, one in northern part of the state run by the Calumet Gas & Electric Company and one in the southern part of the state run by the Interstate Public Service Company. These experiments would include checking on the efficacy of implementing electrical components into crop, animal, and household farm operations, as well as to begin developing the resources necessary for statewide electrification. Starting in January 1927, the Daily Banner announced that Purdue would be sending out a “traveling school on wheels” via the interurban system to “demonstrate the employment of electricity” and included experts in agriculture as well as presentations by a home economist, “to attract the feminine eye.” In 1933, Extension published and distributed Leaflet No. 187, “Care and Operation of Electric Household Equipment.” In it, the author outlines some of the variety of electrical appliances and tools which were becoming available to rural homemakers, and notes that “More than 30,000 Indiana farms are now using electricity . . .” Certainly, the university believed that rural electrification was a matter of probability and time, not a question of possibility.

The Daily Banner, January 18,1927, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

More assistance was needed though for rural electrification to become a reality in the homes of Indiana farmers. Researchers continued to push and though it took some time, by the middle of the next decade, Hoosier lawmakers decided that the time had come to intervene. In 1935, Indiana became part of a growing number of states to enact legislation aimed at developing electrification capacity. According to statistics from the Indiana Law Journal, when Indiana passed its act allowing for the incorporation of rural electric membership corporations who could seek federal financing, almost 150,000 farm homes lacked the ability to access electric power.

The Daily Banner, August 6, 1935, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On July 22, 1935, the Boone County Rural Electric Membership Corporation (REMC) became one of the first funded federal electric projects in the country, and the first in the state. On August 6, the Daily Banner announced the creation of the Indiana Statewide Rural Electric Membership Corporation. In January 1936, Boone County REMC ran its first 5 miles of power lines to the Clark Woody farm.

This legislation was given an important boost when in 1936, President Roosevelt established the REA and began allowing for distribution of public support dollars. In Indiana, the process of establishing REMCs and encouraging electrification fell to the Extension Service. Over the next four years, Extension Agents helped to form numerous REMCs across the state. In 1937, Extension began distributing Bulletin 215, “Selection, Operation, and Care of Electric Household Equipment,” an update to their 1933 publication which boasted “More than 35,000 Indiana farms are now using electricity . . .” This progress was not always consistent, but it was certainly effective. According to Dwight W. Hoover, between 1930 and 1940 electrified Hoosier farms went from 1-in-10 to 1-in-3. According to Teresa Baer, “By 1965, nearly all Hoosier farms had electricity.” Thus, it took nearly eight decades of sustained effort for most rural Hoosiers to gain access to one of the utilities that we so often take for granted today.

Suggested Reading:

D.L. Marlett and W.M. Strickler, “Rural Electrification Authorities and Electric Cooperatives: State Legislation Analyzed,” Journal of Land and Public Utility Economics, 12, no. 3 (Aug. 1936), pages 287–301).

Barbara Steinson, “Rural Life in Indiana, 1800–1950,” Indiana Magazine of History, XC (1964), pages 203–250.

Audra J. Wolfe, “ ‘How Not to Electrocute the Farmer:’ Assessing Attitudes Towards Electrification on American Farms, 1920–1940,” Agricultural History, 74, no. 2 (Spring 2000), pages 515–529.

The Bee Line and Midwest Railroads reset their goals – to St. Louis: Gateway to the West!

See Part II to learn about the Bee Line’s financing dilemma – the loss of control to the Cleveland Clique and Wall Street.

Advertisement, California, Gold Rush, circa 1850
Advertisement for ships to California during the Gold Rush, circa 1850.

Gold! In January 1848 gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill in California. The Gold Rush had begun. And with it, the nation turned its gaze to the West.

image of John Brough
John Brough, courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

The Bee Line and other Midwest railroads would also reset their goals – to reach Chicago or St. Louis: Gateway to the West. And for John Brough, president of the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I], the prospects were particularly tantalizing. While he had already begun to implement a strategy to extend the M&I’s control to the potentially lucrative Indianapolis and Bellefontiane Railroad [I&B] building toward the Ohio state line, the thought of constructing and controlling a line to St. Louis was pure gold.

Midwest Railroads Map, circa 1860, showing the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], and component roads of the Bee Line: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C]; Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I]; Indianapolis and Bellefontaine
Midwest Railroads Map, circa 1860, showing the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], and component roads of the Bee Line: Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C]; Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I]; Indianapolis and Bellefontaine [I&B], courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
A Cleveland Clique of connected businessmen, politicians and railroad investors had already struck gold of their own. The opening of the Midwest’s first regional railroad in 1851 between Cleveland and Columbus – the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad [CC&C] – had proved to be successful beyond their most optimistic expectations. They began to consider expanding their reach, not by building, but by buying or controlling the purse strings of other roads headed west . . . to Cincinnati, Indianapolis . . . and St. Louis.

image of Chauncey Rose
Chauncey Rose, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

John Brough’s strategic and financial needs were more immediate, as the M&I’s business calculus began to wane. One of Brough’s peers on the Indianapolis Union Station’s Indianapolis Union Railway board, Chauncey Rose of Terre Haute, had already assembled a circle of businessmen from Indiana’s largest town west of Indianapolis. In 1847, along with Rose’s New York-based financier brother John, they had gathered the funds necessary to construct the first leg west from Indianapolis toward St. Louis: the Terre Haute and Richmond Rail Road [TH&R]. It would be renamed the Terre Haute and Indianapolis Railroad [TH&I] by 1865, to more accurately reflect its final route.

Importantly, the Rose brothers also insured the Terre Haute circle would retain substantial financial control in spite of tapping into the newly available public markets of Wall Street. They would control their own financial destiny, unlike nearly all other Midwest railroads, until well into the 1870s. On February 14, 1852 the first train completed the entire seventy-three mile trip to Indianapolis. The line proved to be the juggernaut for rail travel to St. Louis and the West via Indianapolis.

Railroads west from Indiana, including the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], Ohio and Mississippi [O&M], Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A], and St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute [StLA&TH]
Railroads west from Indiana, including the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R], Ohio and Mississippi [O&M], Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A], and St. Louis, Alton and Terre Haute [StLA&TH], courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Rose and Brough were running into obstacles, both political and economic, in organizing a rail line spanning the unpopulated expanse of Illinois to St. Louis. While Rose initially focused on indirect connections via Vincennes and the nearly complete Ohio and Mississippi Railroad [O&M] extending across the southern third of Indiana and Illinois, Brough had a different plan. He would leverage on an 1846 Illinois charter – then moribund – for a direct route between Terre Haute and St. Louis through the former state capital (1820-1840): Vandalia. In 1850 Brough teamed with Vandalia business and political leaders – as well as James F. D. Lanier’s Wall Street firm of Winslow, Lanier & Co. – to resurrect the charter as the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A]. He soon became its president.

James F. D. Lanier, Sketch of the Life, 1877
James F. D. Lanier. Sketch of the Life of J. F. D. Lanier (self published, 1877).

Brough’s venturesome efforts to reach St. Louis did not go unnoticed by the Cleveland Clique. It comported with the Clique’s and Henry B. Payne‘s (then president of the CC&C) vision for reaching and controlling lines to the West. And since Winslow, Lanier & Co. and the Cleveland Clique were already digging their financial talons into the two Bellefontaine lines that would soon carry the publicly-dubbed Bee Line moniker, the collective financial support for Brough’s effort was assured. Along with Brough’s M&I, the component Bee Line roads anted up several hundreds of thousands of dollars in spite of the tenuous financial footing of all except the CC&C – courtesy of the Clique’s urging and Lanier’s financial wizardry or skullduggery.

But Brough was having other problems. As the M&I revenue picture darkened, the I&B’s brightened. Now connected with the Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I] and CC&C to reach Cleveland, the I&B’s passenger and freight revenue per mile spiked during the first year of through service in 1853. In addition, new traffic carried between Indianapolis and Cincinnati – via a connection at the increasingly critical junction town of Union – translated into booming business along the band of steel known as the I&B.

Oliver H. Smith
Oliver H. Smith, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Even before the I&B reached Union, however, the M&I was having trouble meeting its obligations under the five year operating contract the two had inked in 1850. The M&I’s inability to supply and maintain a sufficient number of locomotives and cars capable of handling the increasing traffic across the partially completed I&B was obvious. By the summer of 1852, I&B president Oliver H. Smith had initiated a series of discussions with Brough to recast the arrangement. Brough’s stance was adamant, as Smith reported: “They [M&I] claimed by resolve to run the whole Road for the time specified.” But Brough’s ego did not reflect the reality of his situation.

The Bellefontaine and Indiana’s “Sidney” Locomotive, built by Niles & Co., 1853 (rebuilt 1856)
The Bellefontaine and Indiana’s “Sidney” Locomotive, built by Niles & Co., 1853 (rebuilt 1856), courtesy of New York Central System Historical Society.

At the same time, Smith approached the I&B board with specific proposals to purchase additional rolling stock and motive power equipment. He also proposed building machine shops, an engine house and depot buildings. Smith mapped out a game plan to finance the expansion. It would require selling stock and/or floating $150,000 of bonds on Wall Street. Board member Calvin Fletcher reflected the Hoosier Partisans’ growing concern about Smith: “It was doubted by myself & others whether the Embassader [sic] intended had the qualifications to act in the matter.” Newly dominant shareholders Daniel Yandes and Alfred Harrison would handle the funding question.

image of Calvin Fletcher
Calvin Fletcher, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Things were coming to a head on many fronts. At the I&B board meeting in February 1853 a resolution was passed to terminate the M&I operating agreement effective May 1st, more than two years earlier than anticipated. The M&I and Brough were becoming an afterthought.

Then, in March, Oliver Smith challenged the I&B board to endorse his continued presidency. Given his intransigence on moving the Indianapolis depot closer to the new Union Station – for personal business reasons – Smith’s demand fell on deaf ears. Waxing eloquent, Calvin Fletcher penned a response on behalf of the Hoosier Partisans: “We have no doubt, from your standing in this country . . . that you can do for yourself and the country much better than to remain the President of the said Road.” Smith would resign the presidency on April 6th.

On hearing of the I&B’s bold move to terminate its operating contract with the M&I, Brough was beside himself. As May 1st arrived, Fletcher was concerned, noting “Did not sleep very well having been notified that the M&I would not permit the I&B to have possession & that they would defend with force & arms.” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed during daylong meetings between Brough, Yandes, Harrison and Fletcher. The next day the operating contract was dissolved.

image of The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I] and involved roads: the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad [P&I], extending north from Indianapolis, and the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A], extending west to St. Louis. Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R]
The Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I] and involved roads: the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad [P&I], extending north from Indianapolis, and the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A], extending west to St. Louis. Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R] also shown, courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Adding insult to injury, Brough’s strategy to tighten the M&I’s grip on a second railroad heading north from Indianapolis – the Peru and Indianapolis [P&I] – was also in peril. While a combination with the M&I would be effected in 1853 as the Madison, Indianapolis and Peru Railroad, it unwound the next year. E. W. H. Ellis, president of the Peru and Indianapolis Railroad, lamented upon the dissolution of the combination: “It is to be regretted that, in the days of its [M&I’s] prosperity, the road, its rolling stock and machinery, were permitted to run down and that these heavy burdens are thrown upon the company.” The I&B was already wise to the M&I’s deficiencies.

Still, the prospect of Brough’s push to St. Louis seemed all but certain. Winslow, Lanier & Co. had successfully attracted adequate funds to begin letting construction contracts. The Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad [M&A] had overcome political obstacles thrown in its path by an alliance of Chicago and Mississippi River town interests. They much preferred a route to a smaller river town, on Illinois turf, just north of St. Louis. Much like Indiana’s push to establish Madison as its improbable center of commerce on the Ohio River, against all odds Illinois opted to create Alton as its alternative to St. Louis along the Mississippi River.

Henry B. Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

To the Cleveland Clique and CC&C president Henry B. Payne, Brough’s progress in establishing and constructing a direct line to St. Louis, in the form of the M&A, was a dream come true. Controlling this line as well as the Bee Line would solidify the Clique’s plan for the West. And, as his tenure at the M&I grew tenuous, Brough would find Payne’s forthcoming offer incredibly attractive.

To the shock of the Hoosier Partisans, Brough was elected president at the I&B’s annual meeting on June 30, 1853. He was now at the head of three roads simultaneously: the M&I, M&A and I&B. Fletcher’s observations on Brough’s election summed up the feelings of the Hoosier Partisans: “In order to carry out the design we had to take Mr. Brough as president who had acted for the Madison RR . . . where interest . . . adverse to the I&B created a hostility to him. But it was obvious that we had to forgo the objection & take him.” It was not an easy pill to swallow for the Hoosier Partisans.

While it may not have been obvious at that point, the Hoosier Partisans’ decision to accept funding from the CC&C and Winslow, Lanier & Co. – let alone seeking counsel from the Cleveland Clique – would be fraught with long-term consequences.

Check back for Part IV to learn more about the fate of the Mississippi and Atlantic Railroad, and the related destiny of John Brough with the Bee Line – under influence of the Cleveland Clique.

Continue reading “The Bee Line and Midwest Railroads reset their goals – to St. Louis: Gateway to the West!”

The Bee Line Railroad Financing Dilemma: Loss of Local Control

Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad 1853 advertisement-schedule
Indianapolis & Bellefontaine RR train schedule, printed in Calvin Fletcher’s diary, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

See Part I to learn about the origins of the Bee Line and the men who brought it to life.

The Bee Line Railroad almost never was. At the dawn of the Midwest railroad era Hoosiers were slow to embrace what became the technological marvel of the 19th century. Dependent on state funds or newly emerging Wall Street for cash, initial railroad financing prospects looked dim. Instead, canals were the preferred method of transportation in the mind of the public.

The State of Indiana began planning for a litany of “internal improvements” from its inception in 1816.  In his 1827 message to the General Assembly, Governor James B. Ray (1825-1831) admonished the legislators, noting that railways could convey “equal burdens to any that can be transported on a Canal . . . and with double the velocity.” However, at the time, the legislature was not moved by his argument.

Indiana Governor James B Ray and Wall Street financier James F. D. Lanier
(L) Governor James B. Ray, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society (R) James F. D. Lanier, Sketch of the Life of J. F. D. Lanier (self-published, 1877).

Finally, as interest in railroads began to percolate by 1832, legislators approved charters for eight – including the Madison, Indianapolis and Lafayette Rail-Road Company. Prominent among its board members was Madison banker James F. D. Lanier, destined to become the leading Wall Street financier of virtually all Midwest railroad era lines during the mania of the 1850s, including the Bee Line.

More than thirty Indiana railroads were chartered between 1832 and 1838. Nonetheless, attempts to lure private capital via stock subscriptions fizzled. Only a mile and a quarter of experimental track had been laid near Shelbyville by the end of the decade.

Madison and Indianapolis Rail Road 1850 Annual Report Cover
Annual Report Cover, Madison and Indianapolis Rail Road Company, 1850, courtesy of the Indiana State Library.

Indiana’s infatuation with canals was reflected in the Mammoth Internal Improvements Act of 1836, which appropriated one-sixth of the state’s wealth for the effort. Of eight state projects funded, only one was for a railroad – what became Indiana’s first: the Madison and Indianapolis Railroad [M&I].

Much of the debt to fund these efforts was taken up by the financial barons and financiers of Europe. Rolling mills and metal fabricators in the United Kingdom (UK) were then seeking new markets for their locomotive and rolled rail products. American manufacturers capable of producing such articles were only just beginning, as the Industrial Revolution reached its peak in Europe a full generation before doing so in the U.S. It became a mutually dependent relationship through the 1850s: English products for American dollars.

By the early 1840s Indiana’s failed internal improvements push had become obvious. The state called on Lanier to extricate it from near financial ruin. Before Lanier sailed to Europe in 1847 to negotiate Indiana’s financial exit plan, it had already jettisoned its canal and railroad holdings.

Beyond his success ensuring the state’s survival, Lanier returned from Europe with the confidence of the barons of Continental and English finance. Since the UK was America’s primary source for finished iron rails until the Civil War, the importance of such developed trust was pivotal. These relationships became the cornerstone of Lanier’s success as the Midwest’s preeminent member of Wall Street’s new financial sector: investment banking.

Wall Street Investment House floor circa 1865
Wall Street Investment House, circa 1865.

As part of its privatizing move in 1842, the Indiana legislature had authorized the M&I to borrow money and issue bonds to complete the line to Indianapolis not later than 1848. In his role on the M&I’s reconstituted board, Lanier orchestrated placement of $50,000 (in 1845) and $100,000 (in 1846) of private bonds through the Wall Street firm which would soon bear his name: Winslow, Perkins & Co.

With funds in hand, the M&I finished the final fifty-six miles of track to Indianapolis by October 1847, at a cost of $628,000. Daniel Yandes, subsequently the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad’s primary stockholder, had won a bid to construct ten miles of the road. The whole task was finished nearly a year before its targeted completion date. In comparison, as a state-run company, it had taken seven years and over $1.5 million to lay the line’s first twenty-eight miles.

The M&I’s Wall Street firm of Winslow, Perkins & Co. began to weigh in on the railroad’s managerial approach after suffusing it with cash. It foretold the more active role financiers would take in operational decision-making of businesses they were funding. To that end, a new president arrived at the M&I in August 1848: John Brough of Ohio, whose life would revolve around the Bee Line railroad.

John Brough image
John Brough. Courtesy of the Ohio History Connection.

Brough had been a youthful and powerful member of Ohio’s legislature. As a freshman legislator at the age of 26, he chaired the Committee on Banks and Currency. Subsequently he was chosen the state’s auditor, a position he held until 1845. Brough had come to Madison, Indiana from Cincinnati, after a three year stint with his brother running the emerging Cincinnati Enquirer newspaper.

By the time Brough issued his first report to shareholders in January 1849, the newly christened Wall Street financial firm of Winslow, Lanier & Co. held more than $92,000 of M&I cash equivalents. Both Merssrs. Winslow and Lanier held positions on the board of directors.

Wall Street was fast becoming the financial clearinghouse for matching Eastern Seaboard and European investors with Midwest railroad securities. A new class of private bankers arose, backed by European firms, which began to serve as investment middlemen. These newly coined “investment bankers” evaluated the quality of securities, served as investment advisers to individuals with surplus capital, acted as financial agents for the railroads, and frequently took investment positions themselves. They also allocated investment capital among the many railroads seeking cash infusions.

Map of Midwest Railroads, with Madison and Indianapolis, Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Bellefontaine and Indiana, and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati railroads annotated in color
Map of Midwest Railroads, with the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I], and Bee Line component lines: Indianapolis and Bellefontaine [I&B], Bellefontaine and Indiana [B&I], and Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati [CC&C] annotated in color. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
Initially, Brough developed a strategy to build, invest in, or otherwise secure favorable operating agreements with a planned web of railroads radiating from Indianapolis. And invest he did. The M&I, Brough reasoned, would gather agricultural goods from the southern two-thirds of Indiana and funnel them via Indianapolis to Madison for transport on the Ohio River.

To assure its dominant position, Brough used his politically powerful board to block a railroad charter for a rail line headed from Indianapolis toward Cincinnati (Lawrenceburg). He also rejiggered timetables to prevent convenient connections over a newly chartered branch line extending toward Louisville (Jeffersonville) from Columbus, Indiana.

David Kilgore image
David Kilgore, from the author’s personal collection.

David Kilgore, director of the 1848-chartered Indianapolis and Bellefontaine Railroad [I&B] – first leg of the Bee Line extending from Indianapolis to the Ohio state line – noted Brough’s aggressive, anti-competitive tactics: “now they would put their feet upon the neck of competition . . . And why? . . . Rival interests are springing up at other points, and if they can be crippled, so much the better for this city [Indianapolis] and Madison.” It would not be long, however, before Brough would prove unable to stem the tide of competition.

Brough’s involvement planning Indianapolis’ Union Station in the early 1850s, with M&I’s investment in the Indianapolis Union Railway Company, yielded insights about the financial health and intentions of other lines terminating there. Unfortunately for him, in 1851 Indiana’s new constitution was adopted, including a mandate to craft general incorporation laws. No longer would special charters be required to form new railroads. It signaled the end of the M&I’s political agility to stifle competition.

Indianapolis Union Station image circa 1906
Indianapolis Union Station, circa 1906, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

As a result, Brough shifted strategies. He now sought to make two of the newborn and financially anemic lines dependent on the M&I. Brough would set his sights on the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, building northeast from Indianapolis. It was already making plans to connect with roads angling to another key center of economic growth: Cleveland. And with the help of Lanier and his Wall Street firm, the lure would prove to be almost irresistible.

Cleveland Railway Station and Docks 1854
Cleveland Railway Station and Docks, 1854 (James Harrison Kennedy, A History of the City of Cleveland: Its Settlement, Rise and Progress 1796-1896. Cleveland: Imperial Press, 1896).

To the surprise of investors, as well as the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine’s board, costs of funding construction and operation of the new railroad had been grossly underestimated. Without access to substantial credit facilities, motive power equipment, rolling stock, iron rails and operating personnel, the I&B was going nowhere. There to “help” was Brough and Winslow, Lanier & Co.

The M&I, as orchestrated by Brough, guaranteed newly issued I&B bonds that Lanier had floated.  Now, it could purchase the M&I’s surplus iron rails, and lease its motive power and rolling stock equipment. The basis of the bargain was a lucrative five-year operating agreement, which commenced in 1850. The M&I would not only supply all personnel, but also collect and distribute ticket and freight receipts, paying itself from the proceeds it handled.

Whose railroad was it anyway? By the time the I&B started partial service between Indianapolis and Pendleton in 1851, the railroad was the Indianapolis and Bellefontaine in name only. It was all as Brough had planned.

image of Henry B Payne, president of Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad 1851-1854
Henry B Payne, courtesy of the Library of Congress.

There was another important aspect of the new line’s financial health. By 1853, when the I&B commenced service all the way to Union, the dominant regional player – the Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati Railroad [CC&C] through its president Henry B. Payne – had loaned the I&B and its sister Bellefontaine and Indiana line in Ohio a combined sum of over $100,000.

Thus, no sooner had the smaller combined Bellefontaine lines, now known collectively as the Bee Line, begun full service than they began to lose a grasp on their own destiny. Pulling the financial strings were John Brough, James F. D. Lanier, and a Cleveland Clique of businessmen and bankers headed by Henry B. Payne, then at the controls of the CC&C. The resulting tug of war between the Cleveland Clique and Hoosier Partisans for control of the Bee Line would continue throughout the 1850s.

Map of the Madison and Indianapolis, Indianapolis and Bellefontaine, Mississippi and Atlantic, Terre Haute and Richmond railroads annotated
Map of the Madison and Indianapolis [M&I] and involved lines: Indianapolis and Bellefonatine [I&B] and Mississippi and Atlantic [M&A] annotated in color, as well as the Terre Haute and Richmond [TH&R]. Courtesy of Erin Greb Cartography.
But Henry Payne and the Cleveland Clique had other aspirations as well. Controlling rail lines all the way to St. Louis would cement its dominant role among Midwest railroads. And John Brough, recognizing the need for the M&I to control other railroads heading to more viable destinations, had – with the help of James Lanier – already turned his gaze to St. Louis.

Check back for Part III to learn more about John Brough and the Cleveland Clique’s pivotal play to reach St. Louis, as well as the resulting impact on the Bee Line and its Hoosier Partisans.

Continue reading “The Bee Line Railroad Financing Dilemma: Loss of Local Control”

Inequality Remade: Residential Segregation, Indianapolis Public Schools, and Forced Busing

In 1971, the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) system was brought to court and found guilty of practicing de jure segregation or racial separation enforced by law. This lesser-known story of desegregation in Indianapolis’s schools reveals a community deeply divided over race and offers one local response to an important national conversation.

Indianapolis had been racially segregated long before the 1970s. In particular, residential segregation coupled with a practice called redlining reinforced boundaries between the city’s white and African American populations. Redlining is denying services to people based on race: in this case, financial services. In response to the Great Depression, between 1934 and 1968 the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) used the National Housing Act to make housing more affordable. In practice, the Act only made home ownership easily accessible to white people by guaranteeing their loans. It explicitly denied to back loans for black people or even residents of majority black neighborhoods.

Aerial View of Indianapolis, 1938, courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Appraisers ranked residential areas on a grading scale from A (green) to D (red). These color-coded maps, created by lenders, developers, and real estate appraisers for the FHA and HOLC, dictated how easy or difficult mortgage companies would make it for residents to secure loans in different areas. The appraisal process proved damning to areas where African Americans lived. An A-grade area, as one appraiser said, would not include “a single foreigner or Negro.” The lowest D-grade, red areas included “detrimental influences in a pronounced degree” with “undesirable population or infiltration of it.” Since the appraisers purposefully graded areas where African Americans lived poorly, redlining made it impossible for African Americans to benefit from residential mobility and reinforced racial segregation in the city.

In Indianapolis, A-grade areas were mainly located in the suburbs while C- and D-grade neighborhoods were located in the inner-city – where 98 percent of the African American population lived. One Indianapolis neighborhood on the Old Northwest Central side of the city, where African Americans made up 90 percent of the population, was catalogued as D-25. The appraiser who surveyed the area in 1937 gave it a D-grade for being “blighted” and “almost solid negro.” Even areas described as having “better class” African Americans were still classified as D-grade. In contrast, desirable Grade-A locations, like A-1 near Butler University, boasted “[n]ative white; executive and other white-collar type” residents with “nominal” foreign-born and no black residents.

Courtesy of Mapping Inequality, Richmond.edu.

Explore the redlining map of Indianapolis.

These residential patterns made it easy for IPS to uphold segregation in the school system as the School Board would zone, or divide, different residential areas to feed into different schools. As such, racially segregated housing generated racially segregated schools. A deeply divided school system had been in place in the city since 1927 when the Ku Klux Klan pressured the Board of School Commissioners to build what became Crispus Attucks High School for African American students. IHB’s historical marker observes the school’s history.

Indiana Historical Bureau marker.

Although school segregation was outlawed in Indiana in 1949, Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) reestablished the elementary school boundaries in 1953 to ensure that the school system remained racially divided. The boundaries were so clearly racially-motivated that “[i]n some instances the lines drawn . . . ignored natural boundaries, requiring students to cross a canal, railroad track” or busy street “to get to their assigned school where no impediment stood between the student and an adjoining school.” An African American child tragically died after being struck by a train in 1952 because of these boundaries.

Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

In 1968, a group of African American parents of children who attended IPS schools requested that the US Justice Department file a suit in the federal district court to charge IPS with unconstitutional segregation. The case, United States v. Board of School Commissioners, was tried in Indianapolis in July of 1971. The verdict, given on August 18, 1971, found “a purposeful pattern of racial discrimination based on the aggregate of many decisions of the Board and its agents.” IPS was guilty of de jure segregation, including racist “gerrymandering of school attendance zones, the segregation of faculty, the use of optional attendance zones among the schools, and the pattern of school construction and placement.” The court believed that “complete desegregation within IPS boundaries would encourage ‘white flight’ and lead to rapid resegregation” of IPS. To address this, the State of Indiana was added to the suit so that the township schools within Marion County would have to racially integrate with IPS.

In 1973, IPS having taken no significant steps towards desegregation, the district court asserted jurisdiction over the issue. Judge Dillin of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana ordered a one-way busing system to force IPS and the township schools to integrate.

Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Many Indianapolis parents, both black and white, were nervous for this transition the preceding summer of the 1973 school year. Meridian-Kessler, located on the north side of the downtown, had only recently become multi-racial at the time, and the neighborhood’s August/September newsletter carried a somewhat anxious tone. The front page read:

Uppermost in the minds of most Indy residents this fall is the unsettled school situation . . . There are three grade schools within our boundaries, and our children attend two nearby high schools. All of these schools will be involved in the desegregation plan eventually due to the changing racial balance in this area.

The city had reason to be nervous. Forced busing schemes in other cities like Detroit and Boston made headlines for the violence they incited. Indianapolis residents associated with the Ku Klux Klan became a common presence at anti-busing protest events. On the morning of September 27, 1971, Sgt. J. Adamson of the Indianapolis Police Department (IPD), was assigned to cover an anti-busing demonstration at the Indiana Statehouse. He identified “[a] group of approximately twenty (20) mixed men, women and male teenagers…under the name of ‘Americans for America’,” noting, “[t]his organization has strong Klan affiliation.” Three days later, September 30, 1971, the IPD deployed their Special Investigation unit to cover another meeting: The Citizens Against Busing at the Indianapolis Baptist Temple. Again, many involved were members of the KKK-affiliated group “Americans for America.” Meetings like these were not uncommon.

“Blacks Hurt in Boston Busing Protest,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 13, 1974, front page, accessed Newspapers.com.

In Indianapolis, the first buses of black students began commuting to white schools in 1973. Not all schools responded to the desegregation order immediately. Some townships, including Perry, Decatur, Franklin, and Lawrence only began accepting IPS students bused to their schools in 1981. That year, when her bus, coming from Indianapolis’s east side, pulled into Perry Meridian High School, LaTonya Kirkland was terrified. She “remembers a dozen of her white classmates approaching the bus, their hands slapping against the yellow metal side panels . . . the bus started to rock as the white students slammed against the bus” before throwing an egg at the window. Police had to escort her and her fellow black classmates into the school.

Perry Meridian High School was the site for many violent racial altercations. The burden of reversing segregation, a problem instigated by the white population, fell heavily on the shoulders of black teenagers. The letters “KKK” were found painted on the school building, and there were rumors of black students coming to school with weapons to protect themselves. Only one African American girl was actually caught with such a weapon. She was concealing a meat cleaver. The situation at Perry Meridian High School had escalated so much that in 1981 the FBI came to investigate.

The interconnected stories of redlining and the desegregation of IPS reveal a city deeply divided, struggling with issues of race and equality. In the end, busing briefly achieved what it was meant to do. The court order created schools which appeared racially balanced and integrated on paper, but were often still segregated and hostile. Indianapolis began to phase out forced busing in 1998, ending the court-ordered desegregation era with LaTonya Kirkland’s daughter LaShawn’s graduating class in the 2015-2016 school year.

Corn, Tomatoes, & POWs: Hoosier Agriculture During World War II

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Lawn mowing was reportedly one of the most coveted jobs at Camp Atterbury amongst Italian POWs reportedly, which apparently weren’t used much in Italy.  Indianapolis Star, 13 June, 1943, 6, accessed Indiana State Library, Clippings File.

In May 1943, Indiana newspapers advertised a new pool of workers who could alleviate the farm labor crisis caused by World War II. Hoosier farmers just had to provide equipment, tools, materials, and transportation. The only snag? The new laborers were Italian prisoners of war that Allied troops had recently captured in North Africa. These prisoners were currently interned at Camp Atterbury, a military training camp just outside Edinburgh, Indiana.  Would the enemy soon fill Hoosier fields, picking tomatoes and detasseling corn? The Franklin Evening Star speculated

It is entirely likely that more than one farmer will apply for this Italian labor. The farmers are badly behind their work…Industry and the draft have created a serious farm labor shortage at the very time most farmers are trying to increase production…for the food needed for victory.

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The Call-Wood Leader [Elwood, Indiana], 19 May 1943, 1, accessed newspapers.com
Farmers across the nation felt the pressure of wartime demands. In addition to soldiers, an unprecedented number of workers were needed to produce food, clothing, supplies, and munitions for troops. Balancing all these demands proved difficult. The Bureau of Agriculture reported that between April 1940 and July 1942, two million men had left their agricultural jobs for employment in the military or war industries. Reports surfaced of farmers unable to get all their work done without additional help. The Tribune in Seymour Indiana reported that a Maryland farmer, “another victim of the manpower situation,” had to plow under thirty five acres of beans after his call for pickers came up empty.  Hoosier farmers hoped the situation wouldn’t repeat in Indiana.

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OWI Poster No 58, Office of war Information, Washington, DC, 1943, photo courtesy The American Legion.

Meanwhile, the federal government emphasized farmers’ need to produce more, despite the labor shortages, to help win the war. President Roosevelt created Farm Mobilization Day on January 12, 1943. He declared “food is the life line of the forces that fight for freedom.” Soon after, the Office of War Information produced pamphlets, posters, and films filled with catchy slogans like “Food Fights for Freedom!” “Food is a Weapon-don’t waste it!” and “Raising Food is a Real Job!” The government created various labor programs, including the Women’s Land Army and the Bracero Program, to mobilize civilian women and Mexican guest workers respectively to help fill the void on the nation’s farms.

After the US entered the war in 1941, prisoner of war (POW) labor became another possible solution to the labor crisis. The first POW arrived in the country in April 1942 from the Pacific. As the war continued, up to 30,000 POWs arrived in the US each month from battlefields abroad. The War Department decided to utilize this labor force and created camps across the nation to bring POWs work sites across the nation. At the war’s end, nearly 425,000 Japanese, Italian, and German POWs were held in prisoner of war camps across 46 states.

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Map of major POW camps across the nation, accessed HistoryNet.

Hoosier farmers and food processors jumped at the chance to hire the first of many POWs to arrive in Indiana, despite their enemy status. In Johnson County alone, 250 people attended a meeting on May 24, 1943 to discuss the farm labor shortage and to learn how to register for potential POW labor from Camp Atterbury. After POWs filled positions within the camp to keep it running, such as bakers and cooks, launderers, repairmen, and gardeners, the rest could be employed outside the camp at local farms and factories. To the dismay of many farmers, at first the POWs could only work within a 25 mile radius of the camp. They picked apples, beans, and tomatoes, and hoed, detasseled, and picked corn. However, since their labor became so vital, the radius was soon lifted. In the summer of 1943, some Italian POWs also worked in tomato and corn canning plants as far away as Austin and Elwood, Indiana.

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OWI Poster No. 59, Office of War Information, Washington DC, 1943, photo courtesy The American Legion.

POW labor came with stipulations. POWs could not engage in dangerous work or labor that directly benefited the war effort. They could also only be employed in cases where civilian labor could not be found. In addition, farmers paid the US Treasury and the War Department the standard prevailing wage in the area so POWs would not usurp local, civilian labor. In turn, those departments paid the POWs 10 cents an hour, up to 80 cents per day for their labor, which was less than the prevailing wage.

POWs did not receive cash, but scrip they could spend only at their camp’s canteen. The War Department reinvested canteen profits back into the camps, often to buy “extras” to occupy the POWs in their spare time, such as musical instruments, art supplies, sports equipment, and books. In time, the POWs organized their own choral contests, soccer and volleyball leagues, and boccie ball games.

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Italian POWs playing volleyball in their spare time at Camp Atterbury, Indianapolis Star, 14 Jund 1943, 17; accessed Indiana State Library, Clippings File.

 

Canteen profits may have been used to finance construction of a small chapel POWs built at Camp Atterbury in 1943. Most of the POWs at the camp were Catholic and wanted a place of their own to attend daily Mass. Prior to construction, prisoners held mass in their rec room and had an altar in an open field. POWs who were employed as skilled artisans before the war designed and built a new brick and stucco 11’x16’ foot chapel for worship. They also painted frescos inside on the ceiling and walls. The chapel still stands at Camp Atterbury.

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Italian POWs at Camp Atterbury built this chapel, photo accessed AtlasObscura.

Entertainment, rations as large as American enlisted men’s, and payment for labor sprouted media reports accusing the War Department of “coddling” the POWs. However, the War Department had logical reasons for providing proper treatment to the POWs in their care besides abiding by stipulations of the Geneva Convention, which laid out rules for proper POW care. Providing good food, leisure activities, and small payment for their work promoted internal camp security and helped sustain a more productive POW labor force. Leaders also hoped good treatment of POWs at home would encourage similar treatment of American prisoners abroad in enemy hands.

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Italian POWs at Camp Atterbury clearing ground for their own garden, Indianapolis Star, 14 June 1943, 17; accessed Indiana State Library, Clippings File.

Italy’s surrender to Allied forces in the fall of 1943 threatened Hoosier food producers’ new labor supply. In February of 1944, the War Food Administration advised farmers not to count on Italian POW labor during the upcoming summer. After surrender, Italy became a “cobelligerent” nation and joined the Allied forces. The Italians at Camp Atterbury and across the nation were no longer really prisoners of war, but still were not free until the war ended. Italy’s new leader, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, encouraged all former Italian POWs to help the Allied cause and join labor battalions, called Italian Service Units. Italians were still guarded by American soldiers like other POWs, but now could perform labor that directly benefited the war effort and received other benefits, like increased wages. The War Department began to transfer Italians at Camp Atterbury in January 1944 to these units. All were gone by May 4.

Soon after, German POWs arrived and replaced the Italian POWs, just in time to help out in the fields during peak production months in the summer and fall. Several smaller, temporary camps, called “branch camps” were established at Austin, Windfall, Vincennes, Eaton, and Morristown, Indiana to bring some of the Camp Atterbury POWs closer to additional work sites across the state. By October, there were nearly 9,000 POWs in the Camp Atterbury system. Living conditions at the branch camps were less accommodating than Camp Atterbury, which contained proper barracks, a recreation room and a mess hall. Since the branch camps were temporary, POWs often lived in tents close to their work sites. At the Austin camp, prisoners lived in a fenced area behind the Morgan Packing Company where many of them worked. At Windfall, a local farm across from the town’s high school served as the branch camp’s location.

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Entrance to prisoner of war branch camp in Eaton, Indiana. Photo courtesy of indianamilitary.org.

The arrival of POWs made an impact on everyday life in these Indiana towns and influenced Hoosiers’ perception of the war. Windfall only had a population of 835 in 1940. 750 German POWs and 100 American guards arrived in the town on August 24, 1944, doubling the town’s population. The POWs arrived by train late at night. Gretchen Cardwell, Windfall native, remembered nearly everyone in the area came to town to watch the POWs step off the train and march to the camp. As the train whistle sounded, she remembered

“The crowd of onlookers grew silent. It was almost as if everyone held his breath as we awaited the sight of our hated enemies. This group was quite different than we expected.”

Instead of proud, haughty, frightening enemy soldiers Gretchen recalls seeing missing buttons, tears and tatters in their uniforms and slumping shoulders. “It was hard to accept this new vision of the enemy.”

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Stokely Foods, Inc. advertisement for labor, Tipton Daily Tribune, 5 June 1944, accessed newspapers.com.

As the POWs began working in fields and factories in communities across Indiana, native Hoosiers began to identify similarities between them and the enemy. Farmers appreciated the hard work ethic many of the POWs exhibited harvesting tomatoes and detassling corn. At Windfall, POWs worked in 40 food processing plants in the area. In Morristown, 400 POWs worked at 17 canning plants. POWs peeled and packed tomatoes, canned corn and peas. At the Morgan Packing Plant in Austin, POWs stacked cans in the warehouse, cooked tomatoes before they were canned, helped run the labeling machine, and loaded canned tomatoes for shipping. When the German POWs returned to Camp Atterbury in the fall of 1944, locals at Windfall admitted they would miss the POWs, especially “the outdoor concerts of a large chorus of voices” of the prisoners singing as they worked or rested in the evening.

By the end of the war, more than half of all the prisoners of war held in the US during World War II provided essential agricultural manpower. Farmers saw POW labor as so essential, President Truman eventually gave into pressure and kept them in the states to work in farms, canneries, and food processing plants through the fall of 1945 and into 1946 before repatriation. In all, POWs saved hundreds of acres of crops from going to waste, in Indiana and the nation.

Mesmerism, Rappings, & Trance Speaking: Spiritualism in Indiana

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Indiana has been home to a lively Spiritualist community since the very early days of the religion. Although Spiritualism, in the broad sense of the term, has existed for thousands of years, Modern American Spiritualism began in the late 1840s in upstate New York with the Fox Sisters. Margaret and Catherine Fox first claimed to have direct communication with the spirit world in late March 1848. In the next two years they would tour much of the country demonstrating these communications, which came in the form of rappings or knockings, to thousands of Americans, inviting anyone to come test the claims for themselves.

Spiritualism was championed by many reformers and intellectuals of the day as a means to find “scientific ground on which to rest every real Christian doctrine.” Although Margaret and Catherine would confess in 1888 that they themselves were the source of the rappings, (they made the sounds by popping their toes) the movement had a life of its own at that point and the confessions were seen as ploys for attention and money by most dedicated spiritualists.

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Early attendants of Camp Chesterfield reclining near one of the many tents which made up the camp at the time. Circa 1890. Photo Courtesy of “Chesterfield Lives!”

In Anderson, Indiana, a group of free thinkers began to meet in the meeting hall of J.W. Westerfield in the 1880s. Westerfield organized a lecture series which included lecturers on mesmerism, phrenology, trance speaking, healing, clairvoyance, and spirit contact. Many of the attendants at these lectures soon became spiritualists and after attending a Spiritualist Camp meeting in Michigan, members of this group set themselves to the task of creating a Spiritualist camp in Indiana. In 1890, Westerfield became the president of the Indiana Association of Spiritualists and under his leadership founded a camp in Chesterfield. Beginning as a sort of tent city, more and more buildings and infrastructure were added to Camp Chesterfield over the years until it became almost a city unto itself. The grounds included cottages for many of the mediums of the camp as well as a grocery store, ice cream parlor, and a band stand.

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Camp Chesterfield cottage with a group of attendants lounging on the porch. Sign advertising a Materializing Medium hangs out front. Image courtesy of “Chesterfield Lives!”

Many spiritual happenings were reported at Camp Chesterfield. Between 1901 and 1908, the camp’s programs advertised mediums with a wide variety of abilities. These abilities included trumpet mediumship, slate writing, spirit photography, materializing mediumship, and precipitated spirit portraits. Examples of each of these forms of mediumship can be seen below.

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Camp Chesterfield faced many hardships throughout its history, including a mass arrest of 14 mediums in 1925 (the charges of false pretense were eventually thrown out), dwindling interest in Spiritualism, and the 1997 release of the expose The Psychic Mafia by former Chesterfield medium Lamar Keene. Through it all, Champ Chesterfield endured. In fact, it is still open and active today as one of the oldest continually active Spiritualism camps in America. In 2015 and 2016, the camp was listed as one of the top 10 most endangered historical sites in Indiana by Indiana Landmarks. The Friends of Camp Chesterfield Foundation is a non-profit working to restore, renew, preserve, and maintain historic Camp Chesterfield for future generations. To see the work being done by the Friends of Camp Chesterfield, join their Facebook page! Visit Camp Chesterfield’s website here to learn more about the work they are currently doing.

Ben-Hur Races to the Top in Indy

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2016 movie poster, courtesy of Imdb.com.

The release of the new Ben-Hur movie this summer reminded us of the story’s Hoosier origins.  This latest production from Mark Burnett and Roma Downey is the fifth time that film producers have interpreted Crawfordsville native Lew Wallace’s best-selling novel for the screen. Many are familiar with the 11 Academy Award winning adaptation starring Charlton Heston in 1959 and most film buffs know that there were two earlier versions in 1907 and 1925.  The 1907 film prompted a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that protected copyrighted works from unauthorized motion picture adaptation.  The 1925 film arguably has a better chariot race than the 1959 movie. There was also a forgettable and regrettable Canadian mini-series reboot of Ben-Hur in 2010.

In a world of constant movie reboots, one ponders: if Lew Wallace were alive today and re-wrote Ben-Hur in a contemporary setting, would he have Ben-Hur racing in the Indianapolis 500?

What if we told you that Ben-Hur did, in fact, race at Indianapolis?  Of course, the race did not take place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway; instead it took place in 1902 at English’s Theater during the BenHur stage play’s first visit to Indianapolis.

The stage race as explained and illustrated in pages of Scientific American. Image from General Lew Wallace Study and Museum website.

On November 13, 1902, the Indianapolis News reported “J.J. Brady is here in advance of ‘Ben-Hur,’” and “brings with him a corps of stage carpenters and mechanics, who have practically to reconstruct the stage . . . so that the play may be given properly.”  Although English’s stage was new, crews needed to rebuild it in order to accommodate the chariot race. Producing that scene called for eight live horses running at full gallop on treadmills, cycloramic scenery and, other apparatus.  All this equipment and animals imposed an estimated weight of over 50 tons on the stage, which required pouring a special cement foundation. The public was anxious to see the spectacle, even if it meant staking out a place in line many hours in advance.  The Indianapolis News reporter observed:

“A few individuals sat and shivered all night in the lobby of English’s waiting in patience and with an unwonted supply of cash in their pockets for the box office to open.  They were men who had been hired to buy seats for some of the performances of ‘Ben-Hur.’”

Ticket prices ranged from fifty cents to two dollars. Even at that rate, a day after the tickets went on sale, the English Theater reported “over $10,000 was taken in at the box office window” and representatives for the producers of the play (Marc Klaw and Abraham Erlanger) announced that the sales “beat all records for the play in advance sales.”  The Supreme Tribe of Ben-Hur, a national benevolent society headquartered in Wallace’s hometown of Crawfordsville, nearly bought out one performance by itself.  The Tribe planned to run an excursion via train for its members from Crawfordsville to see the play.

Basill Gill as Messala (Left) and William Farnum as Ben-Hur (Right) in the 1902 Indianapolis production. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Ben-Hur and Messala face off in a promotional picture for the production. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

However, a few members of the Hoosier public were dubious about purchasing tickets.  In particular, one woman was of the opinion that the play was to take two weeks to complete.  When the box office manager informed her that the entire play was presented every night, she remained quite suspicious that anyone “could put all that book into a one-night drama.”

Production managers sought to cast extras from Indianapolis’s denizens, advertising a salary of $4.25/week. That was enough to encourage a crowd of men, women, and children to stand outside in a late Indiana autumn for an hour and a half waiting for their opportunity at show business.  An assistant stage director eventually made an appearance and sorted through the crowd.  One “gray beard” was turned away because the assistant director believed him not to be “nimble afoot.”  The rejected man futilely protested to the assistant director and argued “he could get around faster than two-thirds of the younger fellows that had been accepted.”

With the extras cast, the production opened on Monday, November 25, 1902.  After witnessing opening night, an Indianapolis reporter wrote, “There [will] be critics who see nothing good in the American stage or in the works of American dramatist: if the American stage had done absolutely nothing worthy in its long career but this, had its fame to rest solely on this production of ‘Ben-Hur’ it has justified its existence.”

Mabel Bert in costume for theatrical production of Ben-Hur. Courtesy of the Digital Public Library of America.
Mabel Bert in costume as the mother of Ben-Hur. Courtesy of the New York Public Library.

The cast, as it appeared in Indianapolis, included William Farnum as Ben-Hur and Basil Gill as Messala.  Farnum’s performance was described as realizing the part to the fullest degree.  Among the other actors and actresses in the production, Mabel Bert’s portrayal as the mother of Hur is worth noting because she was the only cast member with a major role to be with the company continuously since the production opened on November 29, 1899 in New York City.  Mrs. Bert told a reporter,

“I have always been the mother of Ben-Hur – various Ben-Hurs, however, for Mr. Farnum is the third I have mothered on the stage…It does make me a trifle lonely sometimes to lose my stage children and stage friends that way.  But then, too, it affords a certain amount of variety that is interesting and keeps my work from becoming at all monotonous.”

Ellen Mortimer as Esther (Left) and William Farnum as Ben-Hur (Right) in the 1902 production. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.
Esther and Ben-Hur in a promotional photo for the production. Courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles.

The public certainly found nothing monotonous about the play.  In fact, the production was originally slated to run for two weeks in Indianapolis, but four days after opening night the Indianapolis News reported that the high demand for tickets had prompted producers to extend the play for another week.  Box office receipts for the first two weeks alone were estimated in excess of $35,000.  That figure broke all box office records for Indianapolis and was the highest figure for all productions of Ben-Hur to that date.

The cover of the Souvenir Album of the 1902 Indianapolis production of Ben-Hur. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.
The cover of the Souvenir Album of the 1902 Indianapolis production of Ben-Hur. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society.

The Indianapolis News attempted to describe the sales phenomenon in Indianapolis:

“‘Ben-Hur’ occupies a unique position on the native stage, since it appeals alike to habitual theater patrons and those who seldom find enjoyment in offerings of the stage.  While the elaborate scenic equipment and realistic chariot race command the admiration of the spectators, the rare beauty and force of ‘Ben-Hur’ as a drama give a lasting distinction to this most uplifting, inspiring and soul-stirring play.”

This description of the popularity of Ben-Hur, while no doubt true, neglects that a major reason for the large turnouts was because the author of Ben-Hur was a native Hoosier son.  Some Indiana cities, such as Covington, Franklin, and Noblesville, brought large numbers of their population and sold out individual performances.  In fact, Covington could not secure as many tickets as they had citizens who wanted to attend; the Indianapolis Sentinel reported that a small riot broke out as a result.

While various Indiana cities were hoping to witness the performance, Crawfordsville was no exception, as it was Ben-Hur’s birthplace.  A contingent of Athenians and Montgomery county residents had the theater to themselves for a performance on December 2.  Among those in attendance at that performance was James Buchanan Elmore, aka the Bard of Alamo.  After witnessing the arrest of the Hur family, Buchanan leaned over to a newspaper reporter and said, “Seems to me if I was bossing that show I would make the actors speak softer and not so rough, it don’t seem like Scripture voices.”

An example of the final scene from the theatrical version of Ben-Hur, which opened at the Grand Opera House, Seattle, on Oct. 9, 1905. Courtesy of the University of Washington.
An example of the final scene from the theatrical version of Ben-Hur, which opened at the Grand Opera House, Seattle, on Oct. 9, 1905. Courtesy of the University of Washington.

Although the December 2 performance hosted one Montgomery County literary celebrity, another one was conspicuously absent, that being General Lew Wallace, the author of Ben-Hur.  Wallace was recovering from an illness during the Crawfordsville excursion.  However, he was sufficiently recovered to attend a matinee with his son, daughter-in-law, and his two grandsons on December 12.  Wallace watched most of the play from a private box and tried to remain as inconspicuous as possible, lest he be called upon to deliver a speech.  Wallace and his party were invited behind the stage so that they could witness how some of the scenes were produced, especially the chariot race.  Wallace took special interest in watching the race and all of the mechanization that was involved.  While backstage, Wallace met the starring members of the cast and reportedly chatted for several minutes with the actor incarnating his literary creation.  Before returning to his box Wallace remarked to a stage manager that the production had reached a state of perfection. Ben-Hur ended its stay in Indianapolis the day after Wallace’s visit, before moving to Milwaukee for a two-week engagement.

Eleven years later, when Ben-Hur was making another visit to Indianapolis, Hector Fuller aptly noted in the Indianapolis Sunday Star,

“If Indiana had contributed nothing else, save this one play to the American stage it might be counted that the Hoosier state had done its part.  For ‘Ben-Hur’ is the dramatic marvel of the age.  It has held the stage now for fourteen years, and in that time over 10,000,000 people have seen it.”

Learn more about Lew Wallace, his father David Wallace, his stepmother Zerelda Wallace, and his mother Esther Test Wallace with other IHB historical resources.

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Stop by our exhibit in the Indiana State Library to see memorabilia from productions of Ben-Hur.

The Indelible Ross Lockridges

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Ross Lockridge Sr. and Jr. camping, photographed by three-year-old Ernest (son of Sr.) in the summer of 1942, image courtesy of Evansville.edu.

Ross Lockridge Sr. and Jr. left an indelible mark on Indiana history through traditional history publications and fictional depiction. However, the father and son have yet to be cemented in the annals of state history. We hope to contribute to that reversal.

The senior Lockridge was born in Miami County, Indiana in 1877 and went on to graduate from Indiana University in 1900. He married and returned to his north central Hoosier home. He became the principal of Peru High School, and later earned a law degree from IU in 1907. Not long after, he moved to Fort Wayne and worked as employment manager and welfare director at Wayne Knitting Mills. He also served three years as executive secretary of the Citizen League of Indiana, which lobbied for a new state constitution and advocated for women’s suffrage.

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Wayne Knitting Mills, 1910, courtesy of History Center Notes & Queries.

While in Fort Wayne, Lockridge Sr. helped organize the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society. During this time his reputation grew as a writer of pioneer Indiana history. According to Larry Lockridge, his grandfather, Ross Sr.,”developed his own brand of ‘Historic Site Recital,’ combing public speaking, drama, and local history.” Between 1937 and 1950, Lockridge Sr. served as a director of IU Foundation’s Hoosier Historic Memorial Activities Agency. Some of his published works include: George Rogers Clark (1927),  A. Lincoln (1930), LaSalle (1931), The Old Fauntleroy Home (1939), and Labyrinth (1941), Theodore F. Thieme (1942). His The Story of Indiana (1951) was primarily used as a text in Indiana at the junior high school level.

The historian also wrote about Johnny Appleseed, the Underground Railroad, and Indiana’s trails, rivers, and canals. Another extended work, which continues to aid transportation history researchers, is Historic Hoosier Roadside Sites, commissioned in 1938 by the Indiana State Highway Association. He worked tirelessly to mark the state’s landscape with monuments and markers, preserve records, and execute historical pageants. His clear and concise writing style has added to Hoosier’s knowledge of their past.

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The Vidette-Messenger (Valparaiso, IN), March, 23, 1936, courtesy of Newspapers.com.

According to Larry Lockridge, his grandfather “didn’t exactly whitewash history,” but he “certainly edited it. He attempted to bind people to their own local history through heroic narrative.” After the tragic drowning of Ross Sr.’s 5-year-old son, Bruce, in Fort Wayne, his dedication to historical work intensified. Larry contends:

“Preaching history as resurrection of the worthy dead was his idealistic, nonmetaphysical challenge to time and mortality, grounded in the tragedies of his own life and the pettiness of the contemporary scene.”

Ross Jr. assisted his father with historical projects, but according to Larry was “not his father’s puppet at such performances” and “never approached his father’s ease of performance and lack of self-consciousness.”

Ross Jr. was born in Bloomington, Indiana and moved to Fort Wayne. When he was 9-years-old the family returned to Bloomington and his literary dreams took root.

According to an Indiana Public Media article (IPM), Junior attended Indiana University, where he was known as “A+ Lockridge,” graduating with the highest GPA ever awarded by the school (4.33). Scarlet fever precluded his plan to join IU’s English Department, leaving him bedridden for eight months. He was later accepted as at doctoral student at Harvard University, where he began his famed novel.

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Raintree County cover, courtesy of Goodreads // Ross Lockridge Jr. signing copies of Raintree County in Indiana, courtesy of Altered Book Arts.

According to an Altered Books Arts article, he withdrew from his studies and taught at a nearby college, so he could focus on his literary magnum opus. The IPM article reports that he studied abroad in Europe in 1934, where he “first had the vision of writing a novel that would draw upon the would-be literary heritage of his maternal grandfather, a schoolteacher and poet who had lived in Indiana’s Henry County.” This evolved into the character of John Shawnessy, who after losing his wife went on to fight in the Civil War, attempted to write the Great American Novel, and ended up in the fictional Raintree County.

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Photo of a raintree planted in honor of Ross Jr. behind the Lockridge house, image courtesy Larry Lockridge, accessed IPM.

Although Johnny had his successes, the character flashed back in memory wondering about the country’s future. He is influenced by several cultural concepts, one of which is to find the legendary Rain Tree, supposedly planted somewhere in the Raintree County by the celebrated Johnny Appleseed, who is buried in Allen County. The tree Lockridge sought to feature is based on a real Golden Rain Tree, which blooms in the summer with subtle yellow flowers that drop like a raining of yellow pollen dust.

In addition to Allen County, Monroe County is represented in the book. Larry noted, “We have county fairs and patriotic programs and outdoor sex and footraces and weddings and temperance dramas and rough talk . . . all of this he picked up in the culture of Bloomington” (IPM). Ross Jr.’s wife, Vernice, did the final typing of the novel, an 18 month endeavor and, unlike many writers, her husband gave her full credit for her help in constructing the 1060-page novel.

Altered Books Arts summarizes the novel’s themes, stating:

“In the course of its thousand pages philosophy, religion, sex, and history all flow together in a narrative that spans 40 years, recollected in a single day. In some ways it is an Indiana Ulysses, though Lockridge said that whereas Joyce wished to make the simple obscured, he wished to make the obscure simple. When it came out Thomas Wolfe and Walt Whitman were frequently cited for comparison, but it seems closer to in technique and feeling to the panoramic narrative of John Dos Passos’ U.S.A.

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Ross Lockridge Jr. by river, image courtesy of Larry Lockridge, accessed IPM.

Ross Jr.’s labor of love was met with much anticipation from his publisher, Houghton Mifflin. However, in order to win MGM’s high-profile contest for best new literary work, an award of $150,000, he was pressured to revise and cut several sections from his masterpiece. His likely selection as Book of the Month club winner, meant that he had to make many more extensive cuts. He conceded reluctantly and worked tirelessly to trim it for publication. His publisher Dorothy Hillyer wrote “Ross was quite capable of fussing eighteen hours a day over that manuscript. He was in love with it, almost sexually.” (He ended up cutting out a 356-page dream sequence, which is retained at Bloomington’s Lilly Library).

These compromises, the killing of his darlings, so to speak, and the completion of his life’s work plunged him into a deep depression. Despite generally rave reviews about the novel and winning MGM’s literary award, Lockridge’s depression worsened and he returned to Bloomington. His son regarded this as a mistake, “not because of Bloomington’s particular atmosphere but because it felt to him as if he had come full circle. . . . It was the symmetry of fate that he was returning home to die.”

Larry noted that his father began exhibiting bizarre behavior, inspecting knives in the kitchen and opening and closing cupboards, claiming he was “looking for a way out.” Public backlash about the book’s sexuality and irreverence, especially by his Bloomington neighbors, made him doubt the quality of his work and worsened his fragile state. (According to IPM, the publication of his neighbor Alfred Kinsey‘s Sexual Behavior in the Human Male promoted Lockridge to quip “It seems Mr. Kinsey and I have succeeded in making Bloomington the sex center of the universe”).

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The cover of Mary Jane Ward’s autobiographical novel about her own struggles with mental illness, image courtesy of IPM.

Ross Jr.’s father hoped to combat his son’s malaise with recitation, the memorization of the Declaration of Independence, hearkening back to their old historical endeavors. Ross Jr. reluctantly entertained his mother’s Christian Science ministrations, but remained in a debilitated state. Ross Jr. was not alone in his distress; his cousin Mary Jane Ward suffered from mental illness, which she depicted in her successful autobiographical novel The Snake Pit.

Witnessing her husband’s ongoing suffering, Vernice convinced him to seek treatment at Indianapolis’s Methodist Hospital, where he underwent electroshock convulsive therapy and insulin-induced coma. Further distressed and embarrassed by the procedures, he gave staff the impression he had recovered and was released.

According to Larry, his father tried to write a second novel, a “thinly disguised autobiography, from Fort Wayne days to the present.” He had planned to begin the story with his young brother’s tragic death and,

“the tranquil Avenue of Elms, Creighton Avenue in Fort Wayne, whose backdrop was the Great War. It is in this city that his brother Bruce drowns, that his house catches fire, that there is a great strike at the mill, that he falls in love with Alicia Carpenter, that he decides to become a writer, and that through ‘the brutality of fate’ his personality is set by the age of ten.”

He was never able to finish a second novel. On March 6, 1948, the day after Raintree County was declared a number one best seller, Ross Lockridge, Jr. took his own life at age 33 in Bloomington. Unable to locate her husband, Vernice went out to their garage. There she discovered his limp body in the running car, a vacuum cleaner hose piping exhaust into the car. The death of the new literary star stunned the nation, attracting over 2,000 to his funeral and prompting an obituary on the front page of the New York Times.

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Movie poster, courtesy of Imdb.com.

In 1957, MGM produced a big screen depiction of Raintree County, featuring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Eva Marie Saint.

Weeks after the death, Vernice found a note written by her husband, stating “‘Dearest, Have gone for early morning walk to clear head. Love, Ross.” On the back side he wrote:

“The purpose of Raintree County is to present life in its many-sided variety with idealism triumphant. An irreverent character in a book does not mean an irreverent book. In any event it is an old and good rule that every reader is entitled to his own opinion of a book.”

Surviving the death of a second son, Ross Sr. passed away a few years later in 1952.

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Henry County plaque, courtesy of IU Press Typepad.

Learn more about the remarkable Lockridges with Larry Lockridge’s 1994 Shade of the Raintree: The Life and Death of Ross Lockridge, Jr., author of Rain Tree County.

The Lost Mrs. Ralston

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Jennie C. Ralston, wife of Governor Samuel Ralston, First Lady of Indiana (1913-1917), image courtesy of Indianapolis Star.

Tracking down a portrait of Jennie C. Ralston, wife of Indiana Governor Samuel Ralston, was our most pressing challenge last week. The problem? It appeared as though no one had actually seen the painting since 1970. When we got a call from Jennie’s great-great granddaughter, who thought the portrait had been donated to the Indiana State Library, we were honored to help track it down.

Though most well-known as wife of Indiana Governor Samuel Ralston, Jennie was a civic leader in Indiana in her own right. Born on November 15, 1861 on a farm near Danville, Indiana, she met Samuel while attending Central Normal College in Danville. She graduated in 1881. The two married in 1889 and lived on a farm near Lebanon, Indiana. Throughout her life, she participated in numerous clubs, often holding leadership roles. A few of her positions included President of the Pioneer Woman’s Memorial Association, in which she helped organize the Parent-Teachers’ Association, Trustee of the Indiana Girls School, and Vice-President of the Indiana Federation of Clubs. She was also a member of the Democratic National Committee from 1934 until she retired on her 91st birthday in 1953.

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Samuel and Jennie Ralston sitting together on their front porch, c. 1922-1925, image courtesy of Indianapolis News.

The first place we looked for Jennie’s portrait was the Indiana Governors’ Portrait collection, managed by the Indiana State Library and the Indiana State Museum. The collection contains portraits of all of Indiana’s
governors (except for one) since Indiana became a territory. The state museum makes sure every newly elected governor has their portrait painted and added to the collection. Most of the paintings are currently on display in the State House or in government offices.

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Portrait of Indiana Governor Samuel Moffett Ralston by Wayman Adams in the Indiana Governors’ Portrait Collection.

It was possible the collection contained Jennie’s portrait. When he was governor (1913-1917), her husband Samuel significantly expanded the collection. In honor of the state centennial in 1916, he had his own portrait completed by Muncie artist Wayman Adams, and hired T.C. Steele to paint portraits of four famous Indiana governors, William Henry Harrison, Jonathon Jennings, Oliver Perry Morton, and Thomas A Hendricks.

However, no records indicated that Jennie’s portrait came with her husband’s to the Indiana Governors’ Portrait Collection. We contacted nearly every other major archive and museum in Indianapolis and no one seemed to have record Jennie’s portrait in their collection or knew where it currently was.

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Steele’s portraits commissioned by Gov. Ralston, courtesy of IHB.

Next, we scoured books and digital publications for reprints or references of Jennie’s portrait, with the hope that a citation might lead to a repository that currently owned the painting. After searching through several books from First Ladies of Indiana and the Governors to Portraits and Painters of the Governors of Indiana, there was still no trace of the portrait. Without paperwork, the name of the artist who completed the portrait, or even an image of the painting itself, it seemed difficult to know where else to look. However, there was one source left to check.

Perhaps one of the best places to find information at the Indiana State Library is the trusty clippings files, collected in the 1920s and having grown to nearly 250 linear feet since then. The library maintains a vertical file of clippings from newspaper and magazine articles, pamphlets, and various publications on a number of Indiana topics for public perusal. There are folders dedicated to broad subjects, such as women or health, and others for specific individuals, events, places, and organizations.

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Jennie Ralston’s niece, Ruth Cravens (left) presents the portrait of Jennie at IU’s Sycamore Hall girls’ dormitory at. This photo led us to the portrait’s current location in the IU Campus Art Collection. Image courtesy of Indy Star.

Luckily, Samuel and Jennie Ralston had a folder dedicated to them in the biography section of the clippings files. Ironically, the first clipping in the folder was a small captioned photo cut from the Indianapolis Star, dated May 22, 1956. The photo showed the portrait of Jennie Ralston presented at the Sycamore Hall girls’ dormitory in Indiana University-Bloomington. Apparently, Jennie’s brother John Cravens, worked at the university as a registrar for many years.

Eventually, we connected with the Campus Art Collection at Indiana University. After sending a scan of the article, Amy Patterson, Campus Art Collection Manager and Registrar at Indiana University told us Jennie’s portrait was indeed in their collection. SUCCESS!

The portrait is currently in storage to undergo restoration and will be rehung next summer. Moral of the story; always check the ISL Clippings Files. You never know what you’ll find in there.

James Overall: Indiana Free Person of Color and the “Natural Rights of Man”

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Prior to the Civil War, Indiana experienced a swell in its African American population due to the migration of free persons of color from other states. The arrival of recently emancipated people and freedom seekers also contributed to the growth in Indiana’s black population. As population increased, so did discrimination against African Americans. The Indiana General Assembly passed laws requiring African Americans to register with county authorities and pay a bond as guarantee of good behavior. They were also prohibited from voting, serving in the state militia, testifying in court cases against white persons, and their children were banned from attending public schools.

Certificate of Purchase, image courtesy of the Indiana Archives and Records Administration.

Land ownership offered African Americans the opportunity to circumvent this oppression. James Overall, a free black man, purchased land in Corydon, Indiana as early as 1817 before moving and acquiring land in Indianapolis in 1830. The ownership of land afforded him prominence in his community, as did his work as a trustee for the African Methodist Episcopal church.

Overall was also notable for his efforts to aid escaping slaves. One such slave from Tennessee, Jermain Loguen, was told to seek the help of “Mr. Overrals of Indianapolis.” After escaping slavery, Loguen became a well-known New York Underground Railroad activist. He described Overall as “an educated man, and had a large character and acquaintance among colored people; and was much respected by white ones, for his probity, industry and good sense. He received and befriended the fugitives, as was his custom with all other who came to him.”

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Jermain Wesley Loguen, image courtesy of Documenting the American South.

Indianapolis in the 1830s was a violent place, as described by early Indianapolis historian Ignatius Brown:

The work on the National road . . . had attracted many men of bad character and habits to this point. These, banded together under a leader of great size and strength, were long known as ‘the chain gang,’ and kept the town in a half subjugated state. Assaults were often committed, citizens threatened and insulted, and petty outrages perpetrated.

The events of the night of March 18, 1836 reflected the tense atmosphere. According to Overall, David Leach and other members of a white gang came to Overall’s door carrying arms and fence rails, trying to break into the home and threatening to kill Overall and his family. Overall defended his property and family by shooting the white gang member. White allies came to Overall’s aid and his testimony was corroborated by prominent white Indianapolis citizen Calvin Fletcher.

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Transcription of Surety of Peace document, courtesy of the Indiana Archives and Records Administration.

Despite an 1831 Indiana law that barred black testimony against whites in court, Overall sought legal protection from further attack. His affidavit of the attack put Leach in jail for a short time. He was released on bond, pending a hearing in Marion County Circuit Court. On the first day of the Term, May 2, 1836, Overall declined to proceed with his complaint against Leach. However, public outcry about whether Overall, a black man, could “make an oath against Leach, a white man,” prompted Marion County Circuit Court Judge William W. Wick to write a lengthy statement that was printed May 7, 1836 on the front page of the Indianapolis Journal.

The judge’s opinion affirmed Overall’s “natural rights” to defend his family and property from attack. He wrote:

The sages who formed our constitution did not leave those rights undefined. On the contrary they have declared them in language so clear as to set at defiance the mystification of sophistry, and all perversions, but the blind misapprehensions of visionary philosophy, stupid bigotry, or mistaken violence. The rights thus secured are, 1st. The defence of life and liberty. 2d. The acquisition, possession and protection of property; and 3d. The pursuit and obtention of happiness and safety.

However, Judge Wick’s interpretation of an Indiana law in 1836 did not affect any change in the actual law. African Americans in Indiana continued to be without legal recourse in causes where only black testimony was available against a white party.

*Check back with us for information about the September 29, 2016 dedication ceremony of a historical marker commemorating Overall.