THH Episode 12: Lincoln the Boy, the man, and the Myth

­­­­Transcript of Lincoln the Boy, the Man, and the Myth

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from research by Bill Bartelt

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss

Lindsey Beckley: Hey, this is your host Lindsey here. It’s hard to believe that we’ve been doing the podcast for over a year. And we’ve learned a lot in that time but we’re wanting to learn more. The best way for us to do that is to get feedback from you, our listeners. The number one thing you can do to help us is to let us know what you like…and what you don’t like….about the show. Review us on iTunes, post on our facebook, email us at, or even tweet at us on twitter. However you do it, we’d love to hear from you. Now, let’s get to the show.

[Folk style music]

Beckley: Abraham Lincoln once said, “It is a great piece of folly to attempt to make anything out of my early life.” In subsequent years, many, many people have attempted to make something out of his early life. And on this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we will, once again, attempt to make something out of his early life as we explore the myth, the man, and the grey area in-between.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier history. Now, it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

It was December, 1816. Indiana was a brand new state and the Lincoln family was moving to the Little Pigeon Creek Community in what later became Spencer County, Indiana. The Lincolns – parents Thomas and Nancy and their children, 9 year old Sarah, and 7 year old Abraham– had lived in Kentucky until then, but Indiana offered an opportunity not available to Thomas before: the chance to hold clear title on a tract of land without dispute. As an added bonus, Indiana was a free state, something which aligned with the Lincoln’s Baptist views.

[Sound effects]

Beckley: Once they arrived at their new home, the family set to work building a modest shelter and clearing the land to make way for crops such as corn and wheat. And Abraham, while young, did his fair share of the work and could wield an axe quite well. He later recalled that:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: He was large for his age, and had an ax put in his hands at once; he was almost constantly handling that most useful instrument.

Beckley: The work required to meet the basic needs of food and shelter took up much of the family’s focus, but they still made time for other pursuits.

[Transition music]

Both Abraham and Sarah learned to read and write while attending school in Kentucky and Abraham especially liked to practice his letters. One account said:

Voice actor reading from account: He scrawled them with charcoal, he scored them in the dust, in the sand, in the snow – anywhere and everywhere that lines could be drawn, there he improved his capacity for writing.

Beckley: Because of this fondness for writing, and because neither Thomas nor Nancy had ever quite mastered the skill, Abraham became the de facto letter writer of the family, penning letters to neighbors and family left behind in Kentucky.

Reading hearthside in the evenings, the children adventured with Robinson Crusoe, visited a faraway land with The Arabian Nights, and learned many valuable lessons through Aesop’s Fables and the Bible. Many people who knew Abraham in his youth recounted how much he loved to read and indeed, many images of Lincoln’s time in Indiana feature the young, lanky boy with a book in one hand and an ax in the other.

Literature may have opened a world of imagination to the Lincoln children, but there was much left to learn. Luckily, Andrew Crawford came to town around 1819 and took up the role of school master. Over the next 5 years, Abraham attended school under at least three different school masters, where he learned “readin, writin, and cipherin to the rule of 3.”

[Nature sound effect]

Beckley: Now a young man, it was time for Abraham to find employment. First, he labored on neighboring farms doing the same kind of work he did on his father’s farm – splitting rails for fencing, clearing land, helping with crops, and slaughtering hogs. While working for neighbor Josiah Crawford, Lincoln noticed that he owned a biography of George Washington which Lincoln had been longing to read. He borrow it, but while reading, he accidently left it on a windowsill, where it was soaked through by rain. Embarrassed by his carelessness, Honest Abe went to Mr. Crawford to tell him the truth – he had ruined the book and couldn’t pay for it. Instead, he worked the debt off with three days of hard labor.

For the most part, Abraham pursued jobs that gave him a chance to interact with new and interesting people. For example, he worked on a ferry taking people and cargo across the Anderson River. During this time, he also took the initiative to build a small row boat which he used to carry travelers from the banks of the river to catch passing boats. It was while doing this that he first made a whole dollar in one day – something he reminisced about later, saying

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: You may think it was a very little thing, but it was a most important incident in my life. I could scarcely believe that I, a poor boy, had earned a dollar in less than a day. The world seemed wider and fairer before me. I was a more hopeful and confident being from that time.

Beckley: Perhaps the most exciting and influential part of Lincoln’s time in Indiana was a two month span in 1828, when Abraham accompanied Allen Gentry on a flatboat trip to New Orleans. Lincoln seized the opportunity to get away from rural southern Indiana and see more of the world by travelling down the Mississippi River with a boatload of agricultural products such as corn, pork, and corn meal.

Abraham encountered many new things on this journey; settlements ranging in size from a few families to thousands of people, Spanish moss hanging from the trees, sprawling sugar plantations, and architecture much different than the rustic wooden structures he was accustomed to. One experience in particular from this trip made a lasting impression on the future president.

Once they had reached New Orleans, the two young men had a few free days to tour the city before they caught a steam ship back to Indiana. One day, while exploring the city, the two came across something else Lincoln probably had never saw before – a slave market.


Beckley: New Orleans was home to the largest slave market in America. In that district of the city, the streets were lined with African American men dressed in blue suits and women wearing in calico dresses. Behind the buildings, there were small, fenced in yards where fifty to one hundred men, women, and children waited to be torn from their families and sent to labor in strange and often cruel circumstances. The streets rang with the sounds of slave traders shouting about the attributes of the people being sold and the din of the crowd below, scrutinizing their appearance and making their offers.

Gentry later recalled visiting the market, saying

Voice actor reading from Gentry account: We stood and watched the slaves sold in New Orleans and Abraham was very angry…

Beckley: It’s hard to know how much this encounter by a 19 year old Abraham Lincoln informed the views of 52 year old President Lincoln, but such an experience surely made its mark on his later political beliefs.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Lincoln first found his interest in law and politics while living in the Hoosier state. The Lincoln farm was situated relatively near 2 different county court houses. It was common at this time for people to attend court hearings for socializing and hearing the latest news. Living near multiple courthouses, Lincoln had ample opportunity to witness skilled lawyers practicing their craft. He also borrowed law books and newspapers, both of which greatly influenced his political development. Nineteenth century papers were highly partisan and when Lincoln first ran for political office in Illinois, his views reflected political arguments he likely leaned from newspaper pages.

While Lincoln’s first forays into politics wouldn’t be in Indiana, he did here for 14 years before the family moved to Illinois in 1830. Long after his departure from the state, Indiana governor Otis Bowen said

Voice actor reading from Bowen: Lincoln made Illinois but Indiana made Lincoln.

Beckley: And that certainly strikes a chord. He came to Indiana a 7 year old boy and left a 21 year old man. While in the state, he learned the value of hard work and honesty, had his first up close encounter with the horrors of slavery, and developed an interest in law: all of which came together to build the character of one of the greatest US presidents of all time.

[Record scratch]

Now, you might be thinking that story I just told, with little exception, sounds very charming…idyllic, even. But, as is often the case, there’s another side to the story. Let’s start back at the beginning.

[Folk music blended with modern music]

The Lincoln’s left Kentucky for Indiana due to land disputes. Lincoln later said:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: This removal was partly on account of slavery; but chiefly on account of the difficulty in land titles in Kentucky.

Beckley: Given what Lincoln went on to do as president, many people play up the first clause of that statement and all but ignore the second. While the Lincolns were, in all probability, anti-slavery, the sentiment probably had less to do with moral outrage about the practice and more to do with economics. Nevertheless, the bigger issue for the family was land titles – 2 different times, Thomas Lincoln purchased property, only to have the titles challenged, and he lost money each time. He decided to move to Indiana over frustration with the lackadaisical way Kentucky land was parceled, rather than over any sort of moral problem with slavery.

[Folk music]

Beckley: Regardless of why they moved to Indiana, once they settled here, life was hard. Lincoln may have been “large for his age,” but the fact remains that he was a 7 year old who “had an ax put in his hands” to tackle the physically demanding task of clearing land for subsistence farming. What’s more, if he and his father failed to clear enough land, it could spell disaster for the family…the kind of disaster that ends in a slow, horrible death by starvation. The Lincoln’s were in a slightly better position than some, since Thomas was a skilled carpenter with an alternate source of income, but their Indiana existence was still one largely of subsistence farming and hunting.

[Music continues]

Beckley: And starvation wasn’t the only danger of frontier life. Lincoln remembered the area being populated with bears and panthers.

[Music continues]

Beckley: Even domesticated animals posed a risk; once Lincoln recalled that he was kicked in the head by a horse when he was 10 years old and was “apparently killed for a time,” which most likely means that he was rendered unconscious…in any case, he wasn’t seen by a doctor to assess the extent of the damage – most likely because there were no – or at least very few – doctors in the area.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Yet another ever present danger was illness. In the Autumn of 1818, the Little Pigeon Creek Community was struck by an illness which went by many names – puking fever, bilious fever, swamp fever, the slows, but most commonly, it was called milk sickness. The cause is now known to be drinking milk from a cow that ate a plant called white snake root, which contains the poison tremetol. But in 1818, they only knew that it seemed to come from drinking milk. That fall, several families in the area were plagued by the sickness, and soon it struck the Lincoln household; Nancy started showing the first symptoms of the illness in late September – that’s weakness, dizziness, and loss of appetite – and on October 5, 1818, Nancy died. Afterwards, 11 year old Sarah took on the duties of her mother, at least until Thomas married Sarah Bush-Johnston, a widow from Kentucky with three children, and that must have made things a bit tight in the household, what with the 3 Lincolns, 4 Johnstons, and 2 orphaned cousins all living in a one-room cabin with a single shared loft for sleeping.

[Transitional music]

Lincoln spent some time in his autobiographical sketches outlining his education…or lack thereof. While in Indiana, he attended subscription schools, where families in a community built a school house and paid the teacher directly. And even when there was a school to attend, children wouldn’t have gone as regularly as they do today. They went, as Lincoln later said, “by littles.” A week here, a month there…whenever they had the time and availability. The teachers weren’t necessarily professionally trained educators, either. Lincoln said:

Voice actor reading Lincoln: There were some schools, so called; but no qualification was ever required of a teacher, beyond “readin, writin, and cipherin to the rule of three.

Beckley: All told, Lincoln estimated that all of his schooling, when added together, didn’t even amount to a full year, and when he filled out his biographical survey for the Dictionary of Congress, he summed up his education with one word: defective.

[Transitional music]

The fact that Abraham Lincoln could read put him in the vast minority in frontier Indiana. Even 16 years after the Lincolns left Indiana, only 1 in 7 Hoosiers were literate. And, to set him apart even further, Lincoln enjoyed reading. Many relatives and neighbors recalled this unique trait, some with respect, like Nathanial Grigsby, who was a schoolmate of Lincoln’s. He recalled that Lincoln…

Voice actor reading from account: …would carry his books with and would always read whilst resting…

Beckley: during the work day and would…

Voice actor reading from account: …set up late reading & rise early doing the same.

Beckley: Others in the community, however, saw his penchant for reading and intellectual nature as signs of laziness. For example, one neighbor, when recounting Lincoln’s work ethic, said

Voice actor reading from account: Abe was awful lazy; he worked for me, was always reading and thinking…

Beckley: As most of Lincoln’s other employers described him as a hard, honest worker, it’s unlikely that Lincoln actually slacked off in his work; more likely, the neighbor equated traits of intelligence with poor work ethic. Being one of the few introspective, thoughtful people in the area must have been a fairly lonely and frustrating existence for the young Lincoln.

With all of this in mind, it’s no surprise that Lincoln sought employment on the river since it got him away from the small community and introduced him to people from a variety of backgrounds. I mean, who could blame him? And after his sister Sarah died in childbirth in 1828, who could blame him for taking the chance to get as far away from his grief as he could by accepting the position on Gentry’s flatboat trip to New Orleans. As I said earlier, this trip may have been the most influential part of Lincoln’s time in Indiana…and it wasn’t even in Indiana. While in the state, he probably felt surrounded by undereducated, uninspired people, being forced to do menial labor, all of which motivated him to “Escape the frontier,” as historian Mark Neely would put it. It was in spite of his Indiana roots that Lincoln became who he was, not because of them.

[Record scratch]

Beckley: Ok, That’s quite a different story than the first one, isn’t it? And yet, everything I said in both is supported by evidence. Each version of the story represents a different interpretation of Lincoln in Indiana. The first is, somewhat amusingly, called the “Chin-fly Theory” and is derived from author Ida Tarbell’s statement:

Voice actor reading Tarbell: The horse, the dog, the ox, the chin fly, the plow, the hog, these companions of his youth became interpreters of his meaning, solvers of his problems in his great necessity, of making men understand and follow him. Beckley: The second is, just as amusingly, called the dung-hill theory. That name comes from historian Chauncey Black’s remark:

Voice actor reading Black: It is our duty to show the world the Majesty and beauty of his character, as it grew by itself and unassisted, out of this unpromising soil…We must point mankind to the diamonds glowing on the dunghill.

Beckley: These two theories differ so much that both cannot be the correct interpretation of the facts. In reality, the truth of the matter is probably somewhere in the middle.

[Transition music]

Beckley: It’s hard to quantify Indiana’s impact on Lincoln as there are so many variables that come together to form someone’s character. But, we can judge the effect his time in the state had on his politics, as he first ran for public office just two years after leaving the Hoosier state. In his first known political address, the 23 year old candidate for the Illinois General Assembly chose to focus on three issues: high interest rate loans, internal improvements, and education.

While Lincoln specifies that the root of that first issue was a personal incident from his time in Illinois, the other two platform issues can be directly linked to his time in Indiana. The most obvious way Lincoln’s experience in Indiana influenced his politics was in his support of public education. In his 1832 address, he said:

Voice actor reading from Lincoln: I view [education] as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in. That every man may receive at least, a moderate education, and thereby be enabled to read the histories of his own and other counties, by which he may duly appreciate the value of our free institutions, appears to be an object of vital importance.

Beckley: This focus on education came directly from his sore lack of public schooling in southern Indiana.

Now, his support of internal improvements isn’t quite as obviously connected to his boyhood, but when you consider the fact that his means of access to the broader world was primarily through the Ohio River – and the goods, information, and people it transported – and that at this point in history “internal improvements” mostly referred to development of canals to connect small communities to large waterways, it’s reasonable to assume that seeing firsthand how that kind of access to the larger world could change lives influenced his stance on the matter.

Ultimately, it’s unreasonable to say that Lincoln wasn’t influenced by his time in Indiana. He was here from ages 7 to 21. It would be hard to walk away from a place you spent 14 years without being changed by that place. However, it’s also difficult to measure how Indiana shaped Lincoln’s character. His views changed dramatically after leaving Indiana due to life experiences and navigating major political events in American History.

He returned only once, in 1844, to his boyhood home. His visit brought back memories of the losses he experienced here, as well as some of the more joyous times. Inspired, he wrote the poem, “My Childhood’s home I see again.” I’ll leave you with a few stanzas.

Voice actor reading from Lincoln:

My childhood-home I see again,

And Gladden with the view;

And still as mem’ries crowd my brain,

There’s sadness in it too.

The very spot where grew the bread

That formed my bones, I see.

How strange, old field, on thee to tread,

And feel I’m part of thee!

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this had been Talking Hoosier History.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: To learn more about Abraham Lincoln in Indiana, check out the book “There I Grew Up: Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth” by William E. Bartelt. The featred song of this episode was “Living Things” by Bloomington songwriter Tom Roznowski. It’s from the album “Wilderness Plots.” Visit to learn more. As always, a huge thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire. And Tom Mackie, formerly director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University, who did an amazing job bringing life to the world of Lincoln in this episode. Also, thanks to Justin Clark for lending his voice to the show. Stay connected on social media…We can’t wait to hear from you. Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Lincoln the Boy, the Man, the Myth


Bartelt, William. “There I Grew Up.” Remembering Abraham Lincoln’s Indiana Youth. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2008.

Campanella, William. Lincoln in New Orleans: The 1828-1831 Flatboat Voyages and Their Place in History. Lafayette: University of Louisiana Press, 2010.

Warren, Louis. Lincoln’s Youth: Indiana Years, 1816-1860. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 1959.


Greenwald, Erin. “The Price of Life.” The Historic New Orleans Collections Quarterly, Spring, 2015.

Lighty, Chandler. “Research Summary.” Research file, Indiana Historical Bureau. July, 2008.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss Simins is the producer and sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She records the audio, chooses the music and samples, and engineers the mix.

Bill Mackie, formerly director of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum at Lincoln Memorial University, who voiced Abraham Lincoln in this episode.

Justin Clark, project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project, lent his voice to Lincoln’s neighbors and other “extra’s” in the episode.

Music Notes

Theme Song

The Talking Hoosier History Theme Song is “Rock and Gravel” by Indianapolis band Syd Valentine’s Patent Leather Kids. The trio recorded this song in Richmond, Indiana, in 1929. Used courtesy PublicDomain4U, accessed

Featured Song

The featured song of Episode 11 is “Living Things” by Bloomington songwriter Tom Roznowski. It’s off the album Wilderness Plots. Learn more about Tom and listen to more tracks at his website:

Other Audio

Ed Lewis, “I Be So Glad When The Sun Goes Down,” recorded Parchman Farm, Camp B, Mississippi, 1959, Association for Cultural Equity, accessed

Pat Ford, “Swedish Fiddle from Wisconsin Woods,” 1938, Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center, accessed

“Indiana Polka,” Edmud Jaeger, composer, Frederick Fennell, conductor, recorded September 1974, Library of Congress, accessed

Kevin MacLeod, “Sneaky Snitch,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed

Bensound, “Funny Song,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed

Ross Bugden, “Solstice,” Copyright and Royalty Free, accessed

AShamaluevMusic, “Free Romantic Background Music for Videos,” No Copyright Music, accessed

Ikson, “Walk,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed

Lobo Loco, “Visions of 2018,” Free Music Archive, ID 783, accessed

Lobo Loco, “All Night Long – Guitarversion,” Free Music Archive, ID 775, accessed

THH: Episode 11: Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings

Transcription of Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss

[Gospel music]

Voice actor reading newspaper headlines: Jackie Robinson hits bias in Monster Meeting talk. Secretary of State to talk at Monster Meeting at YMCA. Monster Meeting series schedule famous persons. Noted engineer to speak for YMCA. Martin Luther King like Moses. International singer to speak at Monster Meeting. Young Scientist on Monster Meeting. Educator of International fame opens Monster Meeting Governor Schriker to address Monster Meeting at YMCA.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now, it’s time to start talking Hoosier history. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]


Lindsey Beckley: Before we get to the topic on hand, I wanted to give a bit of a disclaimer. In this episode, as in most episodes, we’ll be using quotes from early and mid-twentieth century newspapers. Some of the language in those excerpts concerning race, while widely used at that time, would not be acceptable today. In the interest of preserving the historical authenticity of these sources, we have left them unchanged and uncensored, but please know that we do not condone nor would we use this language.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, young men flocked to the bustling metropolis of London, England in search of jobs in the growing industrial sector. While they found their way into the factories, they also discovered the city’s more unsavory gathering places, like brothels and taverns, and one suspects, a decent amount of trouble.

One London newcomer, George Williams, dreamed of a more wholesome gathering place for these young industrial workers with the idea that, given a suitable alternative, they would steer clear of London’s underbelly. In 1844 those ideas came to fruition with the establishment of the Young Men’s Christian Association, otherwise known as the YMCA.

By 1851, less than a decade later the new association had spread around the world with chapters in Australia, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Two years later a formerly enslaved man, Anthony Bowen organized the first YMCA serving African American men and boys in Washington D.C. For nearly a century afterwards the United States YMCA would promote, but not mandate, segregated facilities for its black and white members.

White YMCA activities in central Indiana can be traced back as far as 1854. In the early years, up until the late 1880s, black men weren’t officially barred from membership, as in, there was no rule on the books saying they weren’t allowed…but none had actually tried to join so the issue hadn’t been raised. In 1888, two or three black men attempted to join the Indianapolis Y. When their applications were denied, the de facto segregation of the Indianapolis YMCA was brought into sharp focus and it became clear that African Americans would not be welcomed in the association, weather there was an official rule or not.

In 1900, a group of African Americans formed a Young Men’s Prayer Band in Indianapolis. Two years later, the band merged into a “colored Y.M.C.A.” The establishment of this YMCA provided facilities for those men who had been excluded from the central organization. In an Indiana Magazine of History article, Dr. Stanley Warren points out that “the necessity of finding a way to survive within a limiting system driven by segregationist tendencies has been the base from which many great African-American traditions and organizations have begun.” In the capital city, the organization then called “The Indianapolis Colored YMCA” is a shining example of this. Emerging due to the discriminatory practices of Indianapolis, this branch of the “Y” would become one of the largest and most influential black YMCAs in the country.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Before that could happen though, they needed a building able to accommodate their rapidly growing membership. By 1911, just 9 years after its formation, the YMCA outgrew its building located at California and North Streets in the city. To remedy this, they proposed the construction of a new building.

The estimated building cost was $100,000, a figure that seemed unobtainable to many in the community, where even the working professionals were barely getting by due to the limited job opportunities available to them. Fortunately, just as the YMCA members began planning their fund raising strategy, they gained a rather unlikely ally in a white, Jewish, Chicago businessman. Julius Rosenwald, part-owner of Sears, Roebuck, and Company, announced that he would give $25,000 to any community able to rise $75,000 towards the construction of a Colored Young Men’s Christian Association building.

With this motivation, the members of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA joined forces with the white members of the Central YMCA for what would be an incredible fund raising push. Two teams were formed, one for the white members and one for the black, and they set out on their mission. In just 10 days, the $75,000 goal was surpassed.

On July 28, 1912 with a crowd of over 5,000 people in attendance YMCA committee men broke ground on the site of the new building. Three months later another celebration with thousands of spectators was held for the laying of the cornerstone. Construction was completed on the building, located at the corner of Michigan Street and Senate Avenue in downtown Indianapolis, in July, 1913.

[Crowd noises]

Beckley: YMCA members held a week of festivities and ceremonies in celebration of the opening of the new Senate Avenue Y, including a ladies night, a fraternal night, and athletic night. The highlight of the week, though, was Tuesday July 8 – the official dedication, which featured an address by Booker T. Washington, civil rights activist and founder of Tuskegee institute.

In his address, Washington commended the citizens of the city, black and white, for banding together to make the Senate Avenue Y a reality. Then, he said:

Voice actor reading from Washington: I am proud of being a member of the Negro race and never more so than tonight. I spurn the men who sympathize with me because I am a member of the Negro race. We have work to do and difficulties to overcome…Let the white people know about the good deeds in our race. In too many cases white people hear only of crime. They do not hear about the hard-working, industrious, sober colored men, and Indianapolis has many of the latter class.

[Transition music]

Beckley: In many cases, African American churches were at the heart of the community. The Indianapolis Colored YMCA, itself a Christian organization, became another center of the African American community in Indianapolis. The Y opened at the tail end of a major influx of African Americans to the city following the Civil War and Reconstruction. In the 40 years between 1860 and 1900, the African American population of Indianapolis grew 3000 percent. White residents did not welcome these newcomers. Oftentimes, they were relegated to segregated areas of the city due to housing discrimination and exclusion from facilities. Indiana Avenue was at the center of the largest African American community in the city, with 30,000 black residents living within a 10 mile radius of the Avenue by the 1950s.

Majority black neighborhoods such as this did not have access to the same social, recreational, and charitable organizations as the white communities. Because of these segregationist policies, black communities had long provided these things for themselves, often led by their churches. This is where the Senate Avenue Y stepped in, building on and expanding the work of African American churches.  The Y was located in the heart of the Indiana Avenue African American community and offered adult education classes, held bible studies, provided meeting space for a variety of organizations, and even established an amateur basketball team. These programs, according to historians, “fostered self-respect and self-reliance and tried to provide young men with proper role models and male companionship…[they] served as sanctuaries which preserved African American Masculinity and prepared black men and boys for their leadership role in the struggle for equality that lay ahead.”

In order to reach more and more young men and boys, the Y held annual membership drives.

[Military music]

Beckley: These campaigns borrowed military organizational structures, dividing members into divisions of “enlisted men.” These men worked hard to recruit as many new members as possible. Those groups that enlisted the most new members were inducted into the Society of High Producers and The Royal Order of the Spizzerinktum which, I looked it up, and it’s a real word meaning “the will to succeed,” which is rather fitting. These tactics worked fabulously! Membership jumped from just 52 in 1903 to over 5000 by 1930.


These wildly successful membership drives turned the Senate Avenue Y into one of the largest African American YMCA branches in the country. But being large doesn’t necessarily make an organization important or influential. To understand the influence of the Y, we need to go right back to the very beginning of the branch, to the establishment of what were called Monster Meetings.

[Modern music]

The roots of what would become the Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings can be traced to the very early years of the Indianapolis Colored YMCA, and executive secretary Thomas Taylor. He instituted public forums where first men, and later all people, would gather on Sunday afternoons between November and March to listen to lectures on a wide variety of topics. Originally, Taylor wanted to call the forums “Big Meetings” but the proposal was rejected by the Central YMCA board because their annual meeting was already called the Big Meeting. So, Taylor one-upped them and labeled his forum series the Monster Meetings. Taylor couldn’t have known just how fitting that name would become.

In the Taylor years, the meetings featured local religious leaders speaking almost exclusively on religious matters but in 1916 a new executive secretary took the meetings to a whole new level. That executive secretary was Faburn Defrantz. Long time listeners of the podcast may remember from our first episode that DeFrantz led the campaign against the segregation of the Indiana University men’s basketball team in the 1940s. In 1916, he had been in Indianapolis for just 3 years and advanced to the top position of the Senate Avenue YMCA with ambitious goals.

During DeFrantz’s tenure, Monster Meetings continued to feature local ministers delivering religious messages. But they soon expanded to include some of the most well-known African American leaders of the nation speaking on a variety of hot-button issues. In his seminal article “The Monster Meetings at the Negro YMCA in Indianapolis,” Dr. Stanley Warren provides a list that sampled a few of the hundreds of speakers and topics featured at Monster Meetings during the DeFrantz years. When reading this list, the thing that initially jumped out at me was the variety of speakers included; there were authors, NAACP leaders, professors, University Presidents, politicians, newspapermen, famous athletes, religious leaders, and a former first lady.

When analyzing the list a bit further, I started to notice trends. You can see history unfolding before you just in the titles of the lectures.


Beckley: In early 1930, at the very beginning of the Great Depression, Freeman Ransom gave a lecture on…

Voice actor fades in: “Unemployment and How to Solve It.”

Beckley: In 1931, 11 years into America’s “great experiment” of prohibition, Reverend Charles H. Winders and Boyd Gurley debated the question

Voice actor fades in: “Prohibition: Shall Indiana Stay Dry?”

Beckley: In 1940, as World War II raged in Europe, Dr. Max Yergan spoke on

Voice actor fades in: “Democracy: A Goal to Defend.”

Beckley: And after US entry into World War II , Dr. Lorenzo Greene spoke on

Voice actor fades in: “The Negro in National Defense,”

Beckley: Phillip Randolph lectured on:

Voice actor fades in: “The Negro in War and Peace,”

and William Hastie talked on

Voice actor fades in: “The Fight Against Discrimination in the Armed Forces.”

Beckley: Then, in the post-war era, you see

Voice actor fades in: “The Colonies in the Post-War World”

Beckley: by Freida Newgabower, and

Voice actor fades in: “Implications of the Atomic Bomb”

Beckley: by Mordecai Johnson.

In 1947, one year after the Froebel School Board in Gary, Indiana voted for desegregation after hundreds of white students staged a walk out in protest of integration, Joseph Chapman spoke on “Democracy in Gary Schools.” Leading up to and during the Civil Rights movement, speeches such as “This is the Hour,” “Integrated Society or a Segregated Society,” “The Civil Rights Crisis and American Democracy,” and “The Civil Rights Resolution in America” demonstrate that the black citizens of Indianapolis were having the same discussions and debates as black citizens around the nation.

Unfortunately, there is no collection or archive of the speeches given at these monster meetings, at least not that I have been able to locate. Luckily, preserved in the pages of newspapers like the Indianapolis Recorder, there are snippets of some of the lectures. And there was no way we could do a podcast about Monster Meetings and not include the words of the leaders who spoke at those meetings. Now let’s reach back into the pages of the recorder and hear from a few of the powerful speakers to have graced the stage of the Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings.

Dr. Mordecai Johnson was a fixture of the Monster Meeting schedule, opening the meeting season for over 40 consecutive years. He became involved with the YMCA in 1916, when he served as a student secretary and was a life-long supporter of the association. Dr. Johnson became the first African American president of Howard University, one of the nation’s historically black universities, in 1926. He served in that capacity until 1960. During his decades speaking at the Monster Meetings, he covered a wide range of topics, including

Voice actor: “Anti-Semitism and the Negro Ministry,” “Civilization’s Civil War,” “Freedom’s Challenge,” “Implications of the Atomic Bomb,” “Ghandi and the Liberation of India,” “A Troubled World in the Middle East,” and “Segregation is Suicide.”

Beckley: Described as a man who “made people listen even when they did not believe,” Johnson was a powerful speaker and he lent his skill to important topics. For example, as Cold War tensions mounted, he spoke of the dangers American segregation posed to the nation. He said:

Voice actor reading from Johnson: Through our nation’s moral weakness caused by segregation, we are committing scientific and technical suicide. We are five years behind militarily due to this moral weakness. Oh my brothers, let us pray it is not too late – only Almighty God knows whether it is not too late already…:

Beckley: He went on to address the recent affirmation of Brown vs. Board of Education seen in the 1957 integration of Central High School in Little Rock.

Voice actor reading from Johnson: It is my judgement that the death knell of segregation has been sounded. I see no disposition on the part of the Supreme Court to yield to the opponents of integration. The Court is informed by a sense of world duty which is inexorable.

Beckley: Another name which appears more than once in the list of prominent figures featured at Monster Meetings is that of A. Philips Randolph. In 1925, Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, which was the first labor union comprised principally of African American workers. He was a major Civil Rights activist, and played a large part in pressuring President Franklin Roosevelt to issue an Executive Order that banned discrimination in World War II defense industries. He also pressured President Harry Truman to issue an Executive Order to end segregation in the armed forces. Randolph wasn’t satisfied with those successes, though. In 1955, he stood in the Senate Avenue YMCA and declared:

Voice actor reading from Randolph: Negroes are yet second class citizens. Civil revolution was never completed, free public schools were never established, Negroes cannot buy property where they wish, nor can they enter certain businesses. They cannot join all the various unions. The Negroes cannot vote in some parts of this county; therefore they are not yet free.

Beckley: Later, in 1963, Randolph organized the March on Washington, where Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have A Dream” speech, a speech which highlighted the injustice of many of the same racist, segregationist policies Randolph underscored in his Monster Meeting lecture.

In 1958, Martin Luther King Jr. himself, possibly the most widely recognized name of the Civil Rights Movement, also made an appearance on the YMCA Monster Meeting roster. Due to high interest in King’s lecture, the venue was moved to Cadle Tabernacle to accommodate a larger audience. In one of his first public appearances since he suffered a brutal attack, the Baptist minister kept his message of nonviolence, urging the use of love in the face of violence.

Voice actor reading from King: A new age of justice is challenging us to love our oppressors…We must not assume this new freedom with attitudes of bitterness and recrimination, for, if we do, the new age will be nothing but a duplicate of the old one…A new world is being born, and the old world will die. We must be prepared for the new world to come. Segregation is nothing but slavery covered up with certain niceties and complexities. If our democracy is to live, segregation must die.

Beckley: He went on, saying:

Voice actor reading from King: Use love. Love is a sure winner. Remember that as Christians we are working with god. If we do it the way God wants us to do it, we will be able to sing with pride, ‘My Country ‘tis of thee’ for Freedom must ring from every mountainside.


Beckley: The Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings played a central role in not only educating members about topics of local, national, and international importance, but also in galvanizing the community into action. According to Dr. Warren, “As the popularity and importance of these mass education meetings grew, both the public and YMCA members exhibited a higher level of community activism.”


For those who regularly attended Monster Meetings, the YMCA became a foundation for the changes that they worked towards in the coming decades. The meetings were a place where, in the words of Dr. Mordecai Johnson,

Voice actor reading from Johnson: The redcap and the lawyer, the laborer and the doctor, seek together to find answers to social and political questions…


[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this had been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about the Senate Avenue YMCA or Monster meetings, check out Dr. Stanley Warren’s book “The Senate Avenue YMCA for African American Men and Boys.” A special thanks this episode to Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, for being the voice of the various civil rights leaders quoted in this episode. And as always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, for bringing our words to life. Stay connected by liking us on facebook or following us at @TalkHoosierHist on twitter and if you like what you hear, subscribe, rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Senate Avenue YMCA Monster Meetings


Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Mjagkij, Nina. Light in the Darkness: African Americans and the YMCA, 1852-1946. University Press of Kentucky, 1994.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. The Negro in Indiana: A Study of a Minority. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1957.

Thornbrough, Emma Lou. Indiana Blacks in the Twentieth Century. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.


                Pierce, Richard. “’Little Progress Happens’: Faburn E. DeFrantz and the Indianapolis Senate Avenue YMCA.” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 108, Issue 2, June 2012.

Warren, Stanley. “The Monster Meetings at the Negro YMCA in Indianapolis.” Indiana Magazine of History, Vol. 91, Issue 1, March 1995.


                “Martin Luther King ‘Like Moses of Old.” The Indianapolis Recorder, December 20, 1958.

“New Y.M.C.A. Opened.” The Indianapolis Freeman, July 2, 1913

“Voice of the Eastside.” The Indianapolis Recorder, November 26, 1955.

                “Segregation Is Suicide, Mordecai Johnson Warns.” The Indianapolis Recorder, November 16, 1957.


Senate Avenue YMCA Historical Marker File, Indiana Historical Bureau

Special Thanks

             Frank Thomas

A special thanks this episode to Frank Thomas, director of the PhD in African American Preaching and Sacred Rhetoric program at the Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis for giving voice to the Civil Rights leaders quoted in this episode.

                Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing.

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music and Audio Notes

Featured Songs

“We Are Americans, Praise the Lord,” performed by Bertha Houston, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed

“Oh Jonah,” performed by Golden Jubilee Quartet, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed

“Death Is An Awful Thing,” performed by Middle Georgia Four, recorded by James Willis, June-July, 1943, Fort Valley, Georgia, Recordings, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed

“Recording of A Capella Singing Convention at Stranger Homer Baptist Church, Part 1,” recorded by Beverly J. Robinson, Chicago, Illinois, May 22, 1977, Chicago Ethnic Arts Project Collection, American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, accessed

Other Music

“Hip Hop Instrumental (Crying Over You),” Chris Morrow 4 No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed

“Better Days,” Bensound No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed

“Acoustic Inspiring,” OrangeHead No Copyright  / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed

“Crossing the Divide,” Kevin MacLeod No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, published by Filmmaking Free Music, YouTube, accessed

“Days Are Long,” Silent Partner No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed

“March to Victory,” Silent Partner No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube Audio Library, accessed

“Military March,” Monviando Royalty Free Production Music, YouTube, accessed

“Upbeat Jazz Music (New York, 1924),” Ross Bugden No Copyright / Royalty Free Music, YouTube, accessed

Other Audio

Clip of Booker T. Washington accessed “Voices from the Past: Booker T. Washington,” Talk of the Nation, NPR, accessed

Clips of A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King Jr. accessed “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” Open Vault, WBGH Media Library and Archives, accessed

Clip of Marian Anderson singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” accessed “Denied A Stage, She Sang for a Nation, Morning Edition, NPR, accessed

THH Episode 10: Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book

Transcript of Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Gospel music]

Lindsey Beckley: Zerelda Wallace, described as “the sweet-tonged apostle of temperance,” The “Rarest, noblest woman of her generation,” and “Indiana’s Best Loved Woman,” arrived on the national political stage rather late in her life. She had been married and widowed, raised nearly a dozen children, and attended the same church for 41 years, all before becoming one of Indiana’s most distinguished and respected social reformers of the 19th century. During the 14 years she was active in local and national reform movements, Wallace co-founded the Indiana Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association. She spoke at conferences and conventions across the nation. And affected change in the Disciples of Christ church on a national level. During her time on the lecture circuit, she developed an approach which enabled her to address and influence people with vastly different political ideas than her own. With these methods, she personally brought many people to the causes of suffrage and temperance, proving once and for all that it’s never too late to become politically engaged and effect change.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now, it’s time to start talking Hoosier history. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Born Zerelda Grey Sanders on August 6, 1817 in Millersburg, Kentucky, Zerelda was raised in an environment that fostered intelligence and a deep commitment to faith. She attended boarding school in nearby Versailles, Kentucky, before the family moved to the newly established city of Indianapolis in 1830. Her father, John Sanders, was a physician, a profession in high demand in Indiana as the young state wouldn’t have its own medical college for over a decade. Dr. Sanders took his eldest daughter along on some of his more serious cases to act as his nurse, and soon Zerelda found herself acquainted with prominent citizens of the city who encouraged her to study works by great thinkers such as philosopher John Locke and writer Harriet Martineau.

The most important book in the household, though, was always the Bible. The early 19th century was a time of religious revival in the United States. Often referred to as the Second Great Awakening, this religious resurgence reflected the sentiments of romanticism – it emphasized emotion and feeling over logic and reasoning. One popular tenet of the Second Great Awakening was the pursuit of Christian perfection. Zerelda grew up right in the midst of this movement – both in time and place. Stretching from around 1790 to the early 20th century, it had several hot spots, one of which was just 10 miles from Zerelda’s hometown, in Cane Ridge Kentucky.

Eventually, the ideals expressed in the movement would be central to her social reform activities. From a young age, she was encouraged to memorize bible passages and some sources say that she had memorized the first 14 books of the bible by age twelve. In 1833, when Zerelda was 16, she and her parents were among the 20 charter members of the Church of Christ in Indianapolis. Zerelda’s faith was the foundation upon which her social activism rested…but that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves in the story.

[Transition music]

Beckley: In December 1836, at just 19 years old, Zerelda Sanders married lieutenant governor of Indiana David Wallace, a widower 15 years her senior with 3 children. One of those children would grow up to be the bestselling author of Ben-Hur, General Lew Wallace, who wrote of the first time the three boys met their new step-mother,

Voice actor reading from General Wallace: I was inclined…to have nothing to do with this mother which our father was giving us. We were not given time enough to wash our hands and to put on clean clothing, which probably had something to do with our ruffled feelings. Our stepmother was then very young, but she seemed to know exactly what to do under the circumstances and just how to talk to us. She showed us infinite gentleness and tact and made us feel that she was interested in us for our own sakes.

Beckley: The next year, David Wallace became the governor of Indiana. He later served a term in the US House of Representatives and as a judge in the Marion County court of common pleas. While not much has been written about this time in Zerelda Wallace’s life, it is said that she advised her husband on political issues and reviewed and critiqued his speeches and writings, something which almost certainly helped to hone her rhetoric. Pair that experience with the fact that she glimpsed the inner workings of government at the state, and national level during these years and there is little doubt that this time in her life facilitated her later political activism.

In 1859, 42 year old Zerelda Wallace was widowed and left with few financial assets. Even with young children to care for, she declined her family’s offer of financial help and relied instead upon her own initiative and resources by taking in boarders to make ends meet. Eventually, children were out of the house and she began turning her attention to improving society.

Wallace’s adherence to the ideals of her faith – in particular the aspiration to Christian perfection – made the church the ideal place to make her first forays into social reform. In her mind, and in the mind of many reformers, a root of many societal ills was intemperance, making it the perfect problem for her to tackle. On March 3, 1874, Wallace and other reformers organized the Indiana branch of the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, or WCTU, in Indianapolis. Wallace served as the first president of the Indiana chapter and held the position for 7 years. The constitution of the association stated their goals – to provide support for victims of intemperance and to educate the public about the “evils” of alcohol sales, distribution, and especially, consumption. In pursuit of these objectives, they declared that they would “religiously employ all the means which God has placed within our reach, and constantly invoke His aid and guidance.” In conclusion, they called “upon all good men to join hands with us in our work, and with each other in the endeavor to secure temperance laws thoroughly enforced.”

In comparison to more…radical…figures like Carrie Nation, the members of the Indiana WCTU were fairly reserved. While Nation would gain wide spread fame through her rather violent tactics, such as using rocks, bricks, and (most famously) hatchets, to destroy the liquor supplies in saloons and put an end to drinking, Indiana’s WCTU used literature, missionary outreach, and petitions to reach that same goal.

It was during this time of growing activism in Wallace’s life that, at the age of 57, she delivered her first public address.


Beckley: One source claims that “her first attempt to speak in public…was a fiasco when she managed only to choke and then sit down, overcome.” While this may have been true, she very quickly found her courage; after one of her earliest forays into lecturing, she said:

Voice actor reading from Wallace:  the moment I began to speak all terror left me, and the devotion I felt for my theme gave me an almost superhuman confidence.

Beckley: Almost at once, Wallace became widely known as a powerful and eloquent public speaker. One Washington D.C. Newspaper described her during a speech given at the National Suffrage Convention of 1887:

Voice actor reading from newspaper: As she stood upon the platform, holding her hearers as in her hand, she looked a veritable queen in Israel in the personification of womanly dignity and lofty bearing. The line of her argument was irresistible, and her eloquence and pathos perfectly bewildering. Round after round of applause greeted her as she poured out her words with telling effect upon the great congregation before her…

[Transition music]

Beckley: Wallace did not live to see the prohibition era. However, through her temperance work, she became the catalyst of a similar outcome, on a much smaller scale, within her own church. Years into her temperance crusade, Zerelda Wallace stood up in her Disciples of Christ church service and announced that she found it inconsistent with the congregation’s beliefs to use wine for communion and that she would no longer take communion unless unfermented grape juice was substituted. The church council, which Wallace was a member of, met and it was decided that the Indianapolis church would no longer use fermented wine for communion. In short order, all Disciples of Christ churches in America followed suit.

Temperance wasn’t the only cause Zerelda Wallace dedicated the later years of her life to. We’ll get to Wallace’s work in woman’s suffrage after we take a quick break.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: We’re always looking for ways to learn, improve, and grow here at Talking Hoosier History. If you’d like to help us in that goal, please consider taking our online survey! You can find the survey on our website at For the survey, we’ll ask you to re-listen to 3 of our episode and answer just 2 questions about each. Once you complete the survey, you’ll be entered for a chance to win a FREE copy of The Notorious Mrs. Clem: Murder and Money in the Gilded Age, the book featured in the author interview episode. That’s right: you could win a free book for answering just 6 questions. Once again, to find the survey visit Now, let’s get back to the show.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: When first reading about Zerelda Wallace, one thing that really stuck in my mind was her dramatic transformation from temperance worker to suffragist. This “conversion story,” as it’s called in some sources, depicts the one moment when she shifted from a temperance leader to a suffrage leader. In doing more research on her life, I’ve found that it wasn’t so much a conversion; that word implies that she left one cause behind when she took up the next. In reality, her suffrage work developed out of her temperance work, just as her temperance work developed out of her faith. Nevertheless, suffragists discussed this watershed moment in Wallace’s political involvement even many years after her death.

Her “great awakening” as some have called it, took place in 1875 in the Indiana State House. Wallace and other Indiana WCTU leaders presented a petition signed by 10,000 women from around the state. Wallace took the floor and delivered what was by many accounts a very persuasive and moving argument for temperance. She was met with open contempt and derision from the senators; one senator rose and declared that her petition “might as well have been signed by ten thousand mice.” He went on, saying that the lawmakers were there “not to represent their consciences, but to represent their constituents.” Wallace walked away from the experience changed. She later described it as a light breaking over her…Why wasn’t she a constituent? She was an adult citizen of Indiana. She was affected by the laws these men were making. So why did she not have the right to influence those laws? She later summed up these thoughts beautifully,

Voice actor reading from Wallace: If we women are citizens, if we are governed, if we are a part of the people, according to the plain declarations of the fundamental principles which underlie this nation, we are as much entitled to vote as you, and you cannot make an argument against us that would not disfranchise yourselves.

Beckley: So, on that day, she added suffrage to her agenda, as she saw that temperance wouldn’t be achieved if women didn’t have the vote. Before leaving the State House, she found the offending senator and thanked him for making her a suffragist.

[Modern music]

Wallace’s suffrage work, much like her Temperance advocacy, was very moderate. To modern ears, some of her speeches are maddening. She often massaged the egos of the men she was speaking to, expounding on their accomplishments and expressing gratitude to them for building the great world around her. But it’s important not to bring a modern bias into analysis of a 19th century figure. Wallace’s views may best be understood through the lens of republican motherhood.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: Republican motherhood is a term used by historians to describe ideas that go back to 18th century philosophers, including John Locke, whose work, as previously mentioned, Wallace was familiar with. Simply put, republican motherhood turned woman’s domestic and moral roles into an argument for political power. The thinking went like this: Women raise boys into men and so presumably have a hand in shaping their political and moral identities. Surely, then, women who are able to participate in the political system not only raise more politically savvy men, but also introduce into politics that same morality that they instill into their children. It was a way for women to gain more political power without threatening the existing patriarchal system. Wallace’s background fit perfectly into this school of thought; it was only after she fulfilled her duties as wife and mother that she began devoting her time to social reform. She didn’t shirk her domestic responsibilities to take up politics. And it was only for moral betterment that she took up the cause at all. In short, she was a perfect picture of republican motherhood.

[Transition music]

Beckley: We can see many of these ideas reflected clearly in speech she delivered in 1890:

Voice actor reading Wallace: …pre-eminently woman is the teacher of the race; in virtue of her motherhood she is the character builder; she forms the soul life; she rears the generations. It is not part of woman’s work to contend with man for supremacy over the material forces. It was never told to woman that she should earn her bread by the sweat of her brow.

Beckley: Using these sentiments, Wallace attempted to steer Indiana and the nation towards greater equality. In May 1875, just months after she had stood in front of the Indiana senate with her temperance petition, Wallace began to incorporate suffrage sentiments into her temperance speeches. She presented a resolution at the second temperance convention in Cincinnati calling for a national vote of men and women on the issue of prohibition, subtly calling for universal suffrage. Due in large part to her astute manner of speaking on the issue, the measure passed, and even gained support from anti-suffragists. From there, Wallace began traveling the country stumping for the cause of universal suffrage. These activities both increased her prominence within the movement and provided her with a much needed income.

Wallace was by no means a pioneer in the fight for suffrage equality. As far back as 1851, there was enough interest in the cause to warrant the formation of the Indiana Woman’s Rights Association. Unfortunately, though, the movement had stagnated due to the Civil War. In March 1878, May Wright Sewell, probably Indiana’s most prominent suffragist, discreetly circulated a summons to Hoosiers with “advanced ideas” about women’s rights to a meeting where a new organization would be formed. Ten people, including Zerelda Wallace attended that first, rather secretive meeting. The only matter decided, though, was the name; The Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association, a name which the group agonized over, debating whether to state their goal openly in the name or to mask their intentions. Obviously, they decided on the first option and set another meeting for April, in Wallace’s living room.

That second meeting was much more fruitful; the 26 attendees drafted a constitution and elected Zerelda Wallace president. Unsurprisingly, this new organization shunned the more radical approaches taken by other entities, such as open protest and rabble-rousing speeches. Rather, they worked within the established system, one which Wallace became familiar with through her late husband. The Association turned to lobbying, organized letter-writing campaigns, well-reasoned speeches, and projected an overall reserved version of the suffrage movement in order to achieve their goals.

In 1881, their calm determination paid off; The Indiana General Assembly voted in favor of woman’s suffrage. However, the proposed amendment required the resolution to pass in the next General Assembly and by 1883, the close connection between suffrage and temperance swayed enough assembly members away from the cause that the measure failed to pass. With that great disappointment behind her, Wallace kept at her work on both the state and national level.

In the late 1880s, the national suffrage movement was split over ideology. On one side, there was the National Woman Suffrage Association, or NWSA, which sought a constitutional amendment giving women the right to vote. The NWSA also campaigned for other issues, not directly related to suffrage. On the other side was the American Woman’s Suffrage Association, or AWSA, which fought solely for suffrage on a state to state basis. Until this point, Wallace and the Indianapolis Equal Suffrage Association had stayed apart from any other suffrage group but, perhaps due to the continued failure of the group, despite monumental effort, to get suffrage passed in Indiana, it was decided that The Association would join the NWSA in the fight for a constitutional amendment in 1887. Soon after, Wallace was elected the vice-president of the NWSA. In a speech at the National Suffrage Convention of 1887, Wallace made quite the impression, saying:

Voice actor reading from Wallace: It took a hundred years and a Civil War to evolve the principle in our nation that all men were created free and equal. Will it require another century and another Civil War before there is secured to humanity the God-given inalienable right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?’” “Men say women are not fit to govern because they cannot fight. When men live upon a very low plane so there is only one way to manage them and that is to knock them on the head that is true. It probably was true of government in the beginning, but we are able to grow up out of this low state.” “I have nothing but pity for that woman who can fold her hands and say she has all the rights she wants.

Beckley: Wallace continued to travel the US speaking in favor of universal suffrage until she was forced to retire to her daughter’s home near Cloverdale, in Putnam County after collapsing on-stage in 1888.

Unfortunately, Wallace did not live long enough to see the actualization of the two causes she had dedicated her life to as she died on March 19, 1901. On January 1, 1920, the United States of America went dry after the passage of the 18th amendment. Less than a year later, on November 2, 1920, the first presidential election in which all Americans, regardless of gender, could legally vote, was held.

Wallace’s republican motherhood-esqe take on the suffrage issue may not fit well into today’s views of women’s roles in politics, but her measured, thoughtful, and principled approach to the subject is what made her such an effective advocate. She could, and did, go into a room full of anti-suffragists and give a speech appealing to their hearts, to their minds, and, most importantly, to their morality and leave some changed opinions in her wake. Someone more radical, who pushed more boundaries, may not have had such success.

After Wallace’s 1901 death, a “meeting of women” was organized to pay tribute to the respected reformer. One speaker explained how she was able to accomplish so much: “This woman, with her wonderful clearness of vision, was able to see the end from the beginning. She organized, encouraged, and inspired her comrades. She infused loyalty into the ranks by her own loyalty – loyalty to husband, children, loyalty to the thing she believed…loyalty in Christ.”

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been talking Hoosier History. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, in this episode, she had her voice acting debut as Zerelda Wallace. And thanks to Justin Clark, the voice of all newspapers here on the podcast. Remember you have a chance to win a FREE book by taking our survey. You can find the survey at Stay connected on by liking us on facebook or following us at @TalkHoosierHist and if you like what you hear, subscribe, rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening.

Show Notes for Zerelda G. Wallace: Temperance, Suffrage, and the Good Book


Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Pg. 1708-1409

Cady, Elizabeth and Anthony, Susan. History of Woman Suffrage, Volumes I-V. Rochester: Anthony, 1887-1902.

James, Edward. Notable American Women 1607-1950: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume III. Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971. Pg 535-536.

Riker, Dorothy. Messages and Papers of David Wallace. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1963.

Rudolph, L.C. Hoosier Faiths: A History of Indiana’s Churches and Religious Groups. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. Pg 61-106.


Kerber, Linda. “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment: An American Perspective.” American Quarterly, Vol. 28, No. 2 (Summer, 1976): 187-205

Vogelgesang, Susan. “Zerelda Wallace: Indiana’s Conservative Radical.” Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History, Vol4 No. 3 (Summer 1992): 34-41


Zerelda G. Wallace Historical Marker File, Indiana Historical Bureau

Special Thanks

                Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing. In this episode, Jill also played the part of Zerelda Wallace, making her voice acting debut.

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music Notes

Featured Historical Songs:

Edwin Christie, “Daughters of Freedom,” performed by Music for the Nation Singers, Library of Congress, accessed

Jimmie Rodger and Andrew Jenkins, “A Drunkard’s Child,” Victor Records, Discography of American Historical Recordings, accessed

Other Audio:

Hyde, “Acoustically Driven Instrumental,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube

Joakim Harud, “Say Good Night,” Audio Library – No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube

Myuu, “You,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube

Crimson Mourn, “Your Heart Beats Like Mine,” Music for Creators, accessed YouTube

OrangeHead, “Acoustic Inspiring,” No Copyright Music, Royalty Free Music, accessed YouTube

AShamaluevMusic, “Cinematic Background Music,” No Copyright Music, accessed Soundcloud

Roby Ardiyansah, “Cinematic Film Scores” Framelens AudioVisual, accessed YouTube

Huma-Huma, “Clouds,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube

Jingle Punks, “The Story Unfolds,” Audio Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube

Kevin MacLeod, “Americana,” Free Music Library, No Copyright Music, accessed YouTube

THH Episode 8: Haunted Hoosier History: Ghost Stories for the Pages of History

Transcript for Haunted Hoosier History: Ghost Stories from the Pages of History

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from original research

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss:

[Wind howling, fire crackling]

Lindsey Beckley: Ghost stories go back…way way back into the depths of history. All the way back through oral traditions and to ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. In the Torah, King Saul has the witch of Endor summon the ghost of the prophet Samuel. And Roman Author Pliny the Younger of the first century A.D. penned one of the earliest widely known ghost stories.

[Creepy music]

Beckley: In the late 19th and early 20th century, American newspapers were one means of spreading popular ghostly tales. With the rise of spiritualism, which is a belief in the possibility of communication between the world of the living and that of the dead, interest in paranormal activity in general was on the rise, making ghost stories very popular with readers. In this episode of Talking Hoosier History we will share just a few of the many tales of terror hidden in the pages of historical newspapers.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Hello and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier history. Now, it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be guiding you through some of history’s ghost tales…if you dare…

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Now, before we get started, I wanted to give a bit of a warning. I’ll be telling some rather spooky stories in this episode and a few do include violence. If you don’t like scary stories, perhaps this episode isn’t for you. If you do like scary stories…well, get some popcorn and shut off the lights and brace yourself for some historical horrors!


Beckley: Let’s turn the clock back to the late nineteenth century. First, we visit the The Society for the Advancement of the Belief in Ghosts, in Montgomery County, Indiana. Otherwise known as the Crawfordsville Ghost Club. The following account of the club was found in the October 31, 1891 issue of the Sacramento, Record-Union.

The society was founded on All Hallows eve in 1887. Every year, new members were inducted on the anniversary of its founding, and each new member had to meet one qualification: they had to swear to have seen, with their own two eyes, an apparition…a spook…a specter…a haunt…a ghost. At the meetings, held every two weeks, club members gathered to hear a new tale of a spectral encounter recited by one of their fellows. As if the topic of the talks wasn’t eerie enough, the club-room or “ghost lounge” as they called it, was downright spine-chilling. Walls, floors, ceilings, and even windows were covered in white. In contrast, every piece of furniture was “black as midnight.” In each corner of the room there was a skeleton and in the skull of each skeleton, a lamp glowed red. These ghastly watchmen provided the only light of the chamber.

It was in these ominous surroundings that believers shared stories of ghosts and poltergeists. One member shared a story of a haunted mill in Yountsville. Through a series of unfortunate events, a man had been separated from his hunting partners and caught in a storm. He took refuge in an old abandoned mill. The Record-Union relayed what happened next in vivid detail:

Voice actor reading account from Record-Union: “It must have been almost midnight when I was awakened by hearing my horse in the room below give a terrified scream which sounded almost human. Before I was fairly awake I heard him tearing from the mill-room out into the night. The rain had ceased to fall, and the last beams of the declining moon lighted up the large room through its one great window with an unearthly glow. Startled by the commotion made by my horse, I sat up in my corner, and was in the act of raising my hands to rub my eyes when I fell back in a helpless heap, for coming up the stairway from below I saw a ghost!

An old man with a set and care-worn face, a fierce, haunted light shining in the eyes, which seemed to see nothing, a trembling hand which drew tightly around his slight, bent form a bright scarlet cloak – that was a ghost. Overpowered with conflicting emotions I sat breathlessly watching my strange companion from another sphere. He saw me not, but, murmuring and gibbering to himself, began to pace the room. I could not distinguish all his speech, but “ruin! Ruin! Ruin!” was the burden of the self-communication. At first he passed quite close to me as he walked about the musty wareroom but gradually his circle became smaller and smaller as he nearer the center. Finally he paused almost at the edge of the chute and groaned. I was gazing intently at him, when suddenly he took a forward step, and like a flash shot down the chute with a shriek, which still is ringing in my ears. This cry broke the spell which bound me, and leaping to my feet I rushed down the stairs and fled out through the bushes, which were dripping with water, and which cut and chilled me as I brushed them hurriedly aside. I paused not until I reached out camp, and fell almost fainting among my companions, who had been awakened by the arrival of my horse some time before, and who were just preparing to set out in search of me.

Beckley: The next day, the narrator returned to the mill with two companions. Upon examining the room where the episode occurred, they found the scarlet cloak discarded on the floor. One of his companions declared that it had been no ghost but a distraught and deranged man the narrator had encountered. Looking for proof, he prodded a stick down the chute. He encountered an obstruction, which he investigated further by prying open the chute. There, long dead and mummified, they found the corpse of the miller, his skin yellowed and his face still bearing the traces of the agony which filled him in the last moments of his life.

In our next story, we visit another hunting party. But unlike the narrator of our last story, this party is hunting not game…but ghosts. But first, let’s take a quick break.


[Advertisement music]

Beckley: If you’d like to read stories similar to those we’re sharing today, you can find many many more with Chronicling America, the Historic American newspaper digitization program from the Library of Congress. For example, the article “How We Explored a Haunted House” appears in the October 25, 1919 issue of the Richmond Palladium. This, along with over 12 million pages of newspapers can be keyword searched, online for free at That’s Read yesteryear’s news today.

[Advertisement music]

[Thunder and ominous music]

Beckley: In January, 1909, the town of Goshen, Indiana was plagued by a spectral being, or perhaps even a host of them, as the descriptions of the so called “specter spook” varied wildly in different telling’s. The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette covered the story. First reports described the phantom as a tall woman dressed all in white. Residents claimed that when they addressed the apparition, it would respond in a “subdued and quiet manner.” Later, the wraith returned clad in black with a fashionable head covering upon her head. Many residents claimed to have witnessed her nighttime prowling’s; one newspaper headline even declared “Hundreds Saw the Goshen Ghost.” Two Goshen locals had such a close encounter with the visitor, they were able to describe her to The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette as: “a short woman, heavy set, of dark complexion, with neat-fitting clothing, and prominent nose, with sharp, black eyes.”

Later, the citizens of Goshen banned together for a ghost hunt:

Voice actor reading from the Journal-Gazette: Wednesday night was moonlight and the young men and boys organized for a ghost hunt. They surrounded the district and closed into a common center, a pair travelling through every alley and street. Two saw the ghost…both fired point blank at it. Others drawn by the shots and shouts joined in the pursuit in vain. The ghost led the crowd a chase of five blocks, making no sound, and disappeared.

Beckley: Perhaps the hunt succeeded in driving the ghost away as there were no further reports of ghostly activity in the Journal-Gazette. But the Hoosier hauntings continued elsewhere.


Beckley: The citizens of Goshen weren’t the only ones who thought gunshots could solve their ghostly problems. Next, we visit a farm on the outskirts of Yorktown in Delaware County where the paranormal activity was a daily occurrence for the 1901 residents.

[Ominous music]

Beckley: That November, two newspapermen from the Indianapolis News were discussing the topic of ghosts. In their conversation, a house where “all kinds of funny things” happen was brought up and decided that that was just the sort of place they needed to visit for their next story.


Beckley: Upon their arrival at the infamous home, which was located about a mile from the village of Yorktown, they saw one of the handsomest buildings in the area, despite it being rather lonesome looking.  They introduced themselves to the Burgess family, a young couple and their 6 year old son. The family had lived there for over 6 years and had amassed quite the collection of spooky stories in that time.

Long before the young family took up residence in the home, a village doctor named Cyrus Black lived there. The story of the doctor’s death, which was printed in the newspaper, is too graphic for us to share here; it is enough to know that his life came to a tragic end at his own hand in that rather lonesome, yet stately house near Yorktown. However, the doctor never left the home. The Burgesses told reporters,

Voice actor reading from newspaper account: There are a lot of people around here that have seen the ‘haunt’ and they all believe in it. Of course, I don’t know what it is, but some strange things have happened since we have lived here… I have heard groans coming from that room upstairs, and I have heard things rolling over the floor and the sound of music, just like someone was playing the violin. And I have heard people laugh and foot-falls on the stairs as of someone were coming down, but no one ever appeared.

[Violin music and thunder]

Beckley: Aside from these occurrences, there was a more physical reminder of the tragic event which occurred in the home. At the top of the narrow, dark, winding stairway, there was a storeroom. The investigators gathered in the dimly lit room and Mr. Burgess stated that it was in that very room that the tragic events unfolded on that night so long ago, and it was from that room that most of the sounds emanated. Pulling back an old mattress, a large, dark stain was revealed. Burgess claimed that the stain was from the lifeblood of the good doctor pooling on the hardwood floors.

[Creepy sound effects]

Reports of a headless horseman in Yorktown were also connected with the death of good doctor Black, although he was buried with his head still attached so it’s unclear how he came to be a headless haunt, so perhaps the rider was a different spirit altogether. When asked if he had ever seen the headless horseman, Mr. Burgess replied

Voice actor reading newspaper account: A number of times…I have shot at him often, but I never have been able to hit him. He rides a sort of dark horse, just like the doctor used to ride, and he is sort of thin and misty like, and has no head. He generally starts at the barn, but I have seen him out in the road there in front of the house.

Beckley: When the newspapermen asked if he or his family are afraid of the ghostly entities he answered:

Voice actor reading newspaper account: Not a little bit. A ghost can’t hurt anyone, and as long as I know it can’t hurt anyone I am not afraid of it.

Beckley: It seems to me, though, that a man so confident that a spirit cannot hurt him would not waste good bullets shooting after a galloping ghost.

Another haunting that originated with a tragic death can be found in the pages of The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in 1907.

Well known Hartford city farmer Edward Preston Sanderson went missing on October 22, 1904. Nine days later, on October 31st, fittingly enough, his body was found in a nearby pond, weighed down with stones. Several people were arrested, charged, and convicted of his murder, but that’s not where his story ended. Over 2 years after his untimely death, reports of a haunting began to surface.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Sunday night at about 1:30 George Upton… and a young lady were returning in a buggy from a visit to friends in the country. When they reached the place, near the water street bridge, where shortly after the finding of Sanderson’s body in the Croninger pond spots of blood showed the body had been dragged in order to reach the pond, Upton saw what seemed to be a man crouching down by the fence at the side of the road. Before he reached the bridge he saw the man standing erect at the roadside but as he came opposite the figure it crouched down as if to escape observation.

Beckley: He may have thought nothing of the incident, except for the fact that his companion, sitting right next to him, saw nothing of the figure lurking in the dark.

Voice actor reading from newspaper fades in: Upton was positive that he saw it and the more he thought of it, the more mysterious it seemed. What made him the more confident that his eyes had not deceived him was that his horse shied at the object and came near running away.

Beckley: Once Upton came told of his experiences, several other residents came forward with similar stories; they were riding at night and passed a lurking figure that seemingly only one person in the group could see. Two different theories were put forward to explain these experiences. One, the restless spirit of Edward Sanderson was returning to the place his body was dragged across the road. And two, the figure was actually a human being, Sanderson’s murderer who escaped justice while others were tried for his crimes. He was returning to the scene of the crime either in remorse or in order to relive his crime. Either way, I’d certainly stay off that stretch of road in the wee hours of the morning.

[Creepy music]

That’s all the time we have today for spooky stories; remember, you can read more ghost stories from the pages of history with the newspaper digitization program Chronicling America at

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. As always, thanks to Jill Weiss, our sound engineer extraordinaire, and to Justin Clark, the voice of all newspapers here on the podcast. If you want to stay connected, you can find us on facebook at Talking Hoosier History and on twitter at @TalkHoosierHist that’s H-I-S-T. And if you want to help us grow, please subscribe, rate and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Haunted Hoosier History: Chost Stories from the Pages of History


                “Body Found in Pond and Weighted Down.” The Star Press, November 1, 1904.

“Death Frees Cook From Reformatory.” Muncie Evening Press, April 6, 1907.

“Tale of a Hoosier Haunted House.” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901.

“The Ghost Club.” The Record-Union, October 31, 1891.

“The Haunted Farm-House.” The Indianapolis Journal, July 24, 1892.

“Hundreds Saw The Goshen Ghost.” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, February 7, 1909.

“See Pres Sanderson’s Ghost?” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, March 3, 1907.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the outstanding sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. From selecting awesome music and sound effects to setting up equipment to uploading content, Jill is a Jack of all trades!

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. Justin is the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. In this episode, you heard his very best Vincent Price impression! If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

THH Episode 7: Spanish Influenza: The Dread Malady Hits Indiana

Transcript for Spanish Influenza: The Dread Malady Hits Indiana

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from research by Jill Weiss Simins

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Military music and marching]

Lindsey Beckley: Imagine this: it’s the year 1918. You’ve got a job, a family, a home. You’ve put down roots in an Indiana town. Suddenly, there are reports of an unexpected threat looming on the horizon. At first, public officials downplay the danger but you can hear the whispers of coming attacks. You read newspaper reports on how best to keep you and your loved ones safe. You see reports of the first casualties. Next, you hear the call to service. Knowing all too well the dangers involved, you answer that call. You leave your home, your family. You wear a uniform to serve your county. The nation is at war, but you’re no soldier. You’re a nurse. And the enemy isn’t a mass of men in some foreign land. It’s the flu. And it has come to Indiana. On this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we’ll discuss the 1918 Influenza Epidemic in Indianapolis.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now, it’s time to start talking Hoosier history. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your host.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: In his memoirs, Doctor Victor C. Vaughan wrote that

Voice actor reading from Vaughan:[Influenza] encircled the world, visited the remotest corners, taking toll of the most robust, sparing neither soldier nor civilian, and flaunting its red flag in the face of science.

Beckley: While his words are accurate, they fail to capture completely the death and destruction wrought by this malady. It’s hard, really, to convey the magnitude of the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic. The numbers are almost too high to comprehend; even conservative estimates say 50 million people succumbed to the flu itself or to the pneumonia that often followed in its wake.  That’s almost 5 times the number of military deaths in all of World War 1, in just half the time.

Not only unique for the extraordinarily high number of people it killed, the 1918 strain of influenza was also unusual for who it killed. Historically, influenza is only deadly to the very young, the very old, and those already weakened by another illness. In contrast, the 1918 strain often killed healthy individuals from 20 to 40 years old, making it seem as though no one was safe from the ravages of the disease. This unique characteristic had another consequence; those men and women who were tasked with caring for the sick and dying were themselves susceptible to the illness.

Scientists now believe that the origin of the pandemic was most likely at a crowded army camp in Fort Riley, Kansas. As the troops from that camp were shipped out to join “the war to end all wars” they came into close contact with other soldiers, spreading the virus throughout Europe.

While the governments of most European nations censored reports of the outbreak, Spain did not. As a result, newspaper reports made it seem as if Spain was particularly hard hit by the first of the three waves of the virus, Thus, the strain was dubbed “The Spanish Flu.” Indiana was untouched by that first wave of the pandemic, which started in March 1918. We wouldn’t be so lucky during the next wave.

[Somber music]

Beckley: In August 1918, the War Department announced that the majority of Fort Benjamin Harrison, just 9 miles north east of Downtown Indianapolis, would be converted into General Hospital 25. Workers began to make accommodations for the care of a few hundred soldiers who would be returning from the European front wounded and “shell shocked.” But those beds would not be filled with causalities of war. Instead, they began to fill with soldiers who were falling ill.

On September 26, the Indianapolis News reported influenza outbreaks at 2 Indianapolis area military training detachments; 125 cases were reported at the detachment station at the State School for the Deaf and 60 cases at Fort Benjamin Harrison. While the Deaf School was quarantined, state and city officials reassured citizens that this was not the deadly Spanish influenza, and that an epidemic was not feared. While those reassurances were on the front page, page 22 of the same paper told a bleaker tale.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: [Spanish Influenza] is not yet epidemic in Indiana – only a few mild cases reported and no deaths. It has invaded several of our training camps and will doubtless become epidemic in civil life.

Beckley: And just below that, the secretary of the State Board of Health, Dr. John Hurty, gave advice on how to prevent the flu:

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Don’t worry, don’t feast, don’t hurry, don’t fret…Eat only plain foods avoid riotous eating of flesh.

Beckley:  Despite such advice and the efforts made to stop the epidemic before it started, the city would be teeming with infected individuals in just a matter of weeks. Newspaper reports provide a near daily account of the epidemic in the city and in nearby military camps throughout September and October 1918. Each day, the reports from the Indianapolis News grew more dire.

Day one – September 26, 1918 – Fort Benjamin Harrison reports 60 cases. No infected Indianapolis citizens.

Day two – September 27, 1918 – Indianapolis Mayor Charles Jewett directs preventative measure be taken to prevent the spread of the disease.

He ordered:

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  All public places – hotel lobbies, theatres, railway stations, and street cars – placed at once in thorough sanitary condition by fumigation and cleansing.

Beckley: He also directed the Indianapolis police chief to strictly enforce an ordinance against spitting on the sidewalks, a practice thought to spread influenza. Despite city officials’ best efforts, the flu had spread to the civilian population.

Day 5 September 30, 1918 – Four civilian influenza cases are reported in Indianapolis; 500 cases of “respiratory disease,” which may be influenza are reported at Ft. Benjamin Harrison:

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Dr. Herman G. Morgan, secretary of the city board of health, said the reporting of only a few cases should convince the public of the urgent need of co-operating with the health authorities to the fullest extent in the effort to keep the disease from spreading.

Beckley: Dr. Morgan urged the public to avoid crowds and called on anyone who developed a cold to take steps to cure it “before it gets to the stage where influenza germs have easy sailing.”

At Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Military officials reported a shortage of trained nursing staff to newspapers. With 500 cases of “respiratory disease”, the hospital was already well over their 300 bed capacity and was pulling from the ranks of medical personnel stationed at the base to care for the sick since only 20 nurses were left in the camp; the others had been sent to help at a different camp which was also in the throes of the epidemic.

Day 6 – October 1, 1918 – 10 new civilian influenza cases reported, bringing the total to 14. At Ft. Benjamin Harrison, officers are confident that the outbreak is under control. Citizens rush to buy disinfectants to combat the spread of disease.

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  Medical officers were confident the disease is under control and will soon be overcome. There have been no deaths. In fact, many of the cases recorded as influenza, under other circumstances would be regarded bad colds.

Beckley: A mere one percent drop in newly reported cases prompted the officers at Ft. Ben to release that statement to the Indianapolis news, most likely to reassure the civilian population that all was under control and to quell their fears. Although no deaths had been publicly reported in the city or even in the fort, Indianapolis newspapers ran stories of uncontrollable outbreaks of disease in other cities, outbreaks which often started at an outbreak at a military base. And the reports were starting to hit close to home; Hoosier soldiers stationed at a base in the Great Lakes region had contracted the flu, and several had already died.  Perhaps it was understandable, then, that community leaders were attempting to keep people calm while encouraging them to take steps to protect themselves. Unfortunately, the methods used were not up to the task of warding off the escalating crisis.

Day 12 – October 7, 1918 – Death tolls begin to rise. Public meetings are forbidden. Civilian nurses volunteer to treat the sick at Ft. Harrison

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  A sweeping order prohibiting public gatherings of five or more persons was issued today…as part of the program to prevent an epidemic of influenza in Indianapolis.

[Crowd noises]

Beckley: As the number of cases increased and death tolls rose, the city board of health took action by banning public gatherings. This was a bold move which affected theatres, churches, and even schools. Learning from the mistakes other cities had made, Indianapolis city officials took decisive, cohesive action in the face of mounting tragedy. While their actions almost undoubtedly saved lives, at least 10 civilians had died by this point as well as 41 soldiers in the military camps. Ten of those deaths occurred all in a single night at Fort Harrison.

The medical staff shortages were becoming more problematic as more and more young people fell ill. The Indianapolis News reported that “soldier boys are dying for lack of trained help.” To try to fill the void, newspapers began to print pleas for trained nurses to volunteer at Fort Harrison and other military bases. Many Indiana women responded to that call.

[Inspirational music]

Beckley: Student nurses from the Lutheran hospital in Fort Wayne were among the first to answer the call, as reported in the Fort Wayne Sentinel.

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  Willing to risk their lives in the nation’s service in helping combat the ravages of Spanish Influenza, ten Lutheran hospital nurses left the city…for Fort Benjamin Harrison…where they will enter service in the military base hospital, which is very urgently in need of qualified nurses…as fifteen of the army medical officers…are stricken with the dread malady.

Beckley: The story of these nurses who volunteered to care for the sick, knowing full well that they risked their lives doing so, must have been a familiar one to readers of the day – indeed, thousands of young people were doing just that when volunteering for the war effort – but to me, this is perhaps the most poignant moment in this story. Dozens of young women were willing to jeopardize their lives to help the sick. In fact, two of the 10 nurses from that article did lose their lives to the “dread malady.”  Yet, while soldiers returned home to parades in the streets, these women quietly returned to their lives. They weren’t the only ones to stand against the flu. Regular citizens from across the state banded together to combat the illness. But before we get to that, let’s take a quick break.

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If you’re listening to this, you probably love Hoosier history as much as we do. Can’t get enough? Check out our blog, Blogging Hoosier History for compelling, informative posts covering a wide range of topics. If you want to read more about the Spanish Influenza in Indiana, look no further. Much of the content of this episode comes from the post “War, Plague, and Courage: Spanish Influenza at Fort Benjamin Harrison & Indianapolis.” If you’re interested in other affects the epidemic had on Indiana, “Guns, Germs, and Indiana Athletics, 1917-1920: How Did the Great War and the Great Pandemic Affect Indiana Sports?” might be the post for you! Find those posts and more at Now back to the show.

[Advertisement music]

[Transitional music]

Day 13 – October 8, 1918 – “Citizens Join Hands to Stamp out Flu.” Officials are optimistic that compliance with meeting ban will keep illness in check.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: They believe the situation is well in hand and it is felt that the prohibition of all meetings and gatherings will be a definite step toward arresting the epidemic.

The citizens of Indianapolis banded with the city officials in the efforts to stave off the epidemic. Normal life in the city must have ground to a halt with so many establishments closed. Bulletins printed by the Indiana State Board of Health contained useful recommendations and give a glimpse into what it must have been like to be ill in Indianapolis at the time. Here is an example of such a bulletin:

Voice actor reading from newspaper:   INFLUENZA: How to avoid it – How to care for those who have it. The Following suggestions of the Indiana State Board of Health may prove of immeasurable value to any man or woman who will read, remember and act upon them in the present great emergency…What to do until the doctor comes: If you feel a sudden chill, followed by muscular pain, headache, backache, unusual tiredness and fever GO TO BED AT ONCE…

Open all windows in your bedroom and keep them open at all times, except in rainy weather.

Take medicine to open the bowels freely.

Take some nourishing foods such as milk, egg-and-milk or broth every four hours.

Stay in bed until a physician tells you that it is safe to get up.

Allow no one else to sleep in the same room,

Insist that whoever gives you water or food or enters the sick room for any other purpose shall wear a gauze mask, which may be obtained from the Red Cross or may be made at home…

Beckley: These instructions were posted in public places, reprinted in newspapers, and even reproduced in pocket sized folders to be distributed throughout the state and country. While many are good suggestions, the contagion, it seemed, could not be stopped.

Day 17 – October 12, 1918 – 6000 cases of influenza in the state. Restrictions of businesses increase. The influenza epidemic is peaking in Indianapolis.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: All retail stores in the district bounded by North, South, East, and West streets…will open at 9:45 a.m. and close at 6:15 p.m.….under orders issued today by the city board of health…the purpose of the order is to prevent crowding of the street cars

Beckley: With the plague still spreading, Indianapolis officials expanded the ban on public meetings to so called “dry saloons” which were Prohibition Era gathering spots. All businesses, with the exceptions of wartime production plants, grocery stores, and pharmacies, had their hours restricted in order to stagger arrival and departure times of commuters to the city; factory workers, grocers, and druggists would arrive first, followed by retail workers and shoppers. Stores were forbidden to have sales, yet another measure to prevent crowding in the city. At this point in the epidemic, Indiana State Board of Health officials also started carrying cards reading “Quarantine, Influenza,”, and would post them on the doors of the sick. While the cards did not put the homes under a strict quarantine, as was done in some other cities, they did serve as a warning to anyone contemplating a visit.

Day 24 – October 19, 1918 – Civilian and military deaths continue to mount

Voice actor reading from newspaper:

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  The Influenza-pneumonia record among the civilian population of Indianapolis and in the army camps in and near the city follows, the figures on new deaths and new cases being for the last 24 hours: Civilian population: New cases: 252. Total: 2,942; new deaths; 28. Total: 198. Ft. Benjamin Harrison; New cases: 12. Total: 2948; new deaths, 4. Total: 165.

Beckley: Day 29 October 24, 1918 – First signs of the end of this wave the epidemic surface, despite rises in new civilian cases.

Voice actor reading from newspaper: A decrease in the number of new influenza patients admitted at Fort Harrison was shown for the 24 hours ending last night, only four being reported.

[Hopeful music]

Beckley: Finally, there appeared a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. Fort Benjamin Harrison reported a vast decrease in the number of new cases reported. Since the Fort was struck before the city, citizens must have looked to this as a sign of hope. Still, the malady persisted; while only 4 new cases and 4 new deaths had been reported at the fort, the city reported 275 new cases and 12 new deaths. Ever cautious, city health officials urged flu victims to stay at home for treatment if possible. With hospitals overburdened and rooms crowded with as many beds as possible, it was often more safe and more comfortable to be cared for in the home…as long as proper precaution was taken by caregivers, of course.

Day 35 October 30, 1918 – Bans and restrictions are lifted. New case numbers dwindling.

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  The ‘flu’ ban will be lifted in Indianapolis tomorrow morning and business will resume its normal course with only the minor health rules enforced.

Beckley: Twenty-four days after the ban was first instituted, residents of Indianapolis were free to go about business as normal after the ban on public gatherings was lifted on November first. For the most part, the lifting of the ban signaled the end of the epidemic. There were some small resurgences of the illness in the coming months but nothing near as devastating as the October 1918 calamity. Just days later, the war which, at least in part, had facilitated the rapid spread of this dreaded disease, ended on November 11, 1918.

As the city began its return to normalcy, the damage was assessed. In just one month, Indiana had lost 3,266 lives to influenza. More than half of these people died in their prime, many with spouses and children. As a result, 3,020 children were orphaned in the state during the month of October.

While those numbers are grim, they could have been much worse. City leaders, business owners, and common citizens of Indiana and Indianapolis came together in a time of crisis, put away their differences and worked towards two common goals; keep people from contracting the flu when they could and treat those who had the flu as well as they could. This resulted in Indianapolis having one of the lowest epidemic death rates in the nation.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. This episode was based almost exclusively on the work of Jill Weiss. You can read her Blog Post “War, Plague, and Courage: Spanish Influenza at Fort Benjamin Harrison & Indianapolis” online at Jill also does all of the recording, editing, and mixing on the show. Basically, without her, I’d just be in a room talking to myself about Indiana History. Also, a thank you goes to Justin Clark of Hoosier State Chronicles who is the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. And thanks to you for listening! If you haven’t already, please subscribe, rate, and review us on iTunes. It really helps us get our name out there!

Show Notes for Spanish Influenza: The Dread Malady Hits Indiana


                “Body Found in Pond and Weighted Down.” The Star Press, November 1, 1904.

“Death Frees Cook From Reformatory.” Muncie Evening Press, April 6, 1907.

“Tale of a Hoosier Haunted House.” Indianapolis News, November 2, 1901.

“The Ghost Club.” The Record-Union, October 31, 1891.

“The Haunted Farm-House.” The Indianapolis Journal, July 24, 1892.

“Hundreds Saw The Goshen Ghost.” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, February 7, 1909.

“See Pres Sanderson’s Ghost?” The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, March 3, 1907.

Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the outstanding sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. From selecting awesome music and sound effects to setting up equipment to uploading content, Jill is a Jack of all trades!

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. Justin is the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. In this episode, you heard his very best Vincent Price impression! If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music Notes


Indiana State Fair Highlights: Velocipedes, Lady Aviators, and “Better” Babies

Map of the 1852 Indiana State Fairgrounds. The first State Fair was held in what is today Military Park in downtown Indianapolis. Photo courtesy of “Indiana’s Best: An Illustrated Celebration of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.”

Indiana is, and always has been, an agricultural state. Nearly 50% of men were listed as farmers on the 1850 census and nearly thirteen million acres of farmland stretched across the Hoosier state. In order to foster the advancement of agricultural techniques, Governor Joseph Wright urged the Indiana General Assembly to establish the State Board of Agriculture, which it did in 1852. “An Act for the Encouragement of Agriculture” was approved on February 17, 1852 and read, in part:

“Be It Enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Indiana…that it shall be the duty [of the societies formed under the provisions of this act] to offer and award premiums for the improvement of soils, tillage, crops, manures, improvements, stock, articles of domestic industry, and such other articles, productions and improvements, as they may deem proper…”

In order to “offer and award premiums,” the board needed to establish somewhere for farmers across the state to gather and display both their skills and the products of their skills. To this end, the first Indiana State Fair was held from October 20 to October 22, 1852. While the fair was established for the advancement of agriculture, many other attractions have graced state fair bulletins in the 165 years since that first state fair. Here, we explore just a few.


Illustration demonstrating the various forms of velocipedes in the late 19th and early 20th century. Image from Brockhaus’ Conversations-Lexikon: allegemeine deutsche, Volume 16. Accessed google books.

In 1869, one of the attractions found on the fairgrounds was “Velocipedestrianism.” A velocipede is any human-powered vehicle with wheels. Today, we might call them bicycles, though there were velocipedes with anywhere from one to five wheels. Early forms required the rider to propel the vehicle with their feet, but in the 1860s pedals were added, making them faster. There were nine entries in the “Mile Trial” at the 1869 state fair. The winner, W.V. Hoddy of Terre Haute, finished in 8 minutes, 45 seconds and took home a $50 premium for his efforts. There was also a competition for the “Most Artistic Management of [a] Velocipede” which only had three entries. Unfortunately, there is no mention of what made Willie Domm’s management of his velocipede so exceedingly artistic.

Illustration of 1860s Velocipede. The Plymouth Democrat, January 28, 1869, page 4, accessed

Mr. McGowan’s High Diving Horses

Advertisement for “World’s Famous” high diving horses. The Indianapolis Journal, June 1, 1901, page 6. Accessed

“Mr. E. J. McGowan was present and presented a bill for extra expense in connection with the diving horses contract.” This is the only hint found in the State Board of Agriculture Report of one spectacle which occurred at the 1904 Indiana State Fair: high diving horses. Newspapers give the story a bit more color; local business man Hugh McGowan bought two horses, named King and Queen, who had been trained to dive from a forty-five foot platform into a pool of water.

According to one article, “the method of training the animals was unique. When sucking colts, each was placed on a bluff overlooking a pond, on the other side of which were placed their mothers. At dining times, they were glad enough to make the leap and they have had to keep up the practice ever since.” The horses were a regular attraction at Fairview Park in Indianapolis as early as 1901 and were still doing regular dives as late at 1907.

Example of high diving horses. While this photo was not taken at the State Fair, the set-up was similar to that of the 1904 fair. Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail.

Ruth Law: “Lady Aviator”

Newspapers announced the arrival of Ruth Law, an early American aviator, for the 1915 state fair with headlines like “Ruth Law, Lawless Skimmer of the Sky.” Most articles concentrated on her gender, noting that “she is just an ambitious, darling, feminine little slip . . . ” Unarguably ambitious, Law was one of only two female pilots in 1915 and had earned her flying certificate less than ten years after the Wright brother’s famed first flight. In fact, she bought her first biplane from Orville Wright himself. At the 1915 fair, she put on a grand show, performing “loop-to-loops,” daring dives, and buzzing the audience. She brought with her George Mayland, the “miraculous human fly,” who would accompany her on her flights to jump from the plane at a height of 2,000 feet and float to the ground on a parachute, to the amazement of the crowd. Law went on to break several flying records in her career, challenging gender stereotypes and encouraging a new generation of women to take to the skies.

Newspaper announcement of Ruth Law’s presence at the Indiana State Fair. The Brookville Democrat, August 12, 1915, page 7, accessed

“Better” Babies for Indiana

Better Babies Building on the Indiana State Fairgrounds. Today the building houses Hook’s Historic Drug Store and Pharmacy Museum. Photo courtesy of IUPUI.

The state fair of the 1920s facilitated the Better Babies Contest, overseen by the Board of Health and managed by Dr. Ada Schweitzer. These were not the baby contests of today, where babies are judged on their personalities and appearance. Rather, they were meticulously scored based on health and hygiene criteria. In her 2007 article “’We Cannot Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear’ Eugenics in the Heartland,” Alexandra Minna Stern described the contests:

“Before the event, infants were separated into groups based on age (12-24 months or 24-36 months), sex, and place of residence. Those categorized as city babies lived in places with 10,000 inhabitants or more, and those remaining were rural entrants. Once their children were registered, parents-usually mothers-came to the contest building at a designated time. As the mothers entered the building they handed their enrollment form to an attendant, who recorded their names. Then the baby was whisked to the next booth, where its overall health history was taken by a nurse. Mental tests designed for each age group followed, as psychologists observed if infants could stand, walk, speak, how they manipulated blocks and balls, and responded to questions such as “How does the doggie do?” and “Who is the baby in the mirror?” Mental tests completed, the babies were then undressed and their clothes placed in a paper bag and tagged. Identically robed in shaker flannel togas, each toddler was now weighed and measured. From here the baby was examined by an optometrist, a pediatrician, and an otolaryngologist, then weighed and measured a second time, and lastly, presented with a bronze medal on a blue ribbon, courtesy of the Indianapolis News.”

Doctors complete the physical examination of prospective better babies, 1931. Photo courtesy of Indiana Archives.

The scoring was scrupulous; each baby began the process with 1000 points and along the way, points were deducted for “physical defects” such as scaly skin, delayed teething, and abnormal ear size. Awards were given to those babies who scored the highest. Most “best babies” scored over 990. The highest score ever given was to Alma Louise Strohmeyer in 1923; she scored a whopping 999.92813.

Better Baby Contest advertisement, 1930. Courtesy of the Indiana State Library, accessed Indiana Memory.

On the surface, Dr. Schweitzer and the Indiana State Board of Health had admirable goals: to “lower infant and maternal death rates and to convince Indianans of the importance of scientific motherhood and child rearing.” However, underlying implications are less admirable. Through these contests, Dr. Schweitzer hoped to “breed” a new, better generation of Hoosiers. Many of her ideas came directly from the eugenics movement, which was popular across America in the early 20th century. The exclusion of African American and immigrant babies from the contests endorsed the widespread nativist and xenophobic ideas of the time. The assumption that socioeconomic standing was determined by genetics, and not environment, was central to sterilization laws implemented in the state. While Better Baby Contests ended in 1933, the eugenics movement persisted in the state for decades; Indiana’s last compulsory sterilization law was not repealed until 1974.

For more snippets of Indiana State Fair history, check out Episode 6 of Talking Hoosier History, “Stories from the Indiana State Fair.” In it, we explore five fair occurrences: when farmers gathered in 1852 to learn about the latest innovations and compete for prizes; the Victorian moral controversy behind treating people like objects via sideshows; the 1964 Beatles performance; Jessop’s Butterscotch Corn and the young woman who built the business out of the back of a wagon; and Hook’s Drug Store Museum.

THH: Episode 6: Scenes from the Indiana State Fair

Transcript of Scenes from the Indiana State Fair

Jump to the Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from original research

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss

[Circus music]

Lindsey Beckley: The history of the Indiana State Fair is made of millions of scenes. Fascinating, incredible, and shocking scenes… witnessed in exhibit halls, from the stands of the colosseum, and in the cloth tents of the sideshows.  Scenes of friends and families enjoying a day of leisure, of farmers learning about the most recent innovations, of couples winning giant stuffed animals, and of kids trying cotton candy for the very first time.  So, in this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we bring you just a few of those scenes that, when put together, will give a glimpse into the rich and vibrant history of the Indiana State Fair.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Hello, and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier history. Now, it’s time to start, Talking Hoosier History. I’m Lindsey Beckley and I’ll be your guide through the fair.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Scene one: The First Fair

In 1850, nearly 60 percent of all men in Indiana were farmers. Twelve million, seven hundred ninety-three thousand, four hundred and twenty two acres of fertile farmland stretched across the Hoosier state. It’s no surprise, then, that Indiana Governor Joseph Wright was concerned with the advancement of agriculture in his state. In order to encourage steady progress, Governor Wright urged the Indiana General Assembly to pass an act establishing the State Board of Agriculture, whose mission was to move Indiana to the forefront of farm production. One way in which the board fostered development was by establishing a place for farmers to share new ideas and theories as well as exhibit the products of their hard work. To facilitate such a gathering, the first Indiana State Fair was held in 1852 in what is today Military Park in Indianapolis. From October 20st to October 22nd, over 1000 farmers gathered to display over thirteen hundred exhibit entries. Cash premiums were awarded in such categories as “best 3 year old bull,” “best stallion for heavy draft,” “best manure fork,” and “best lot of butter made from 5 cows in 30 consecutive days.” Unfortunately, no award was given that year for “best pair men’s cowhide shoes.”

The fair was a rousing success. Attendance was estimated at 30,000, an impressive number considering that this was well before automobiles and paved roads made travel fast and convenient. One Monroe County farmer wrote about the fair

Voice actor reading fron newspaper:…It reflects honor upon all, and must make every ‘Indianan’ more proud of his state, for its inventive genius and skill’ its preserving industry and energy…No one doubts that important results will flow from this exhibition.

[Transition music]

Beckley: Scene two: “Curiosities, Rarities, Oddities…”

In 1870, all non-educational attractions were banned from the Indiana State Fair. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. Throughout the early years of the fair, board members struggled to strike a balance between educational exhibits that would advance the state’s agricultural progress and attractions that would draw in enough people to offset the fair costs… whether the board liked it or not, sideshows were among the most popular attractions for the average Hoosier. At the first fair, there were reports of grizzly bears, a learned pig, and trained seals on display. But it wasn’t always just strange or exotic animals that were showcased in these traveling sideshows. Sometimes, the recipients of the pointing fingers and the wide eyes were entirely human.

[Somber music]

Beckley: This era of show biz history is sometimes called the “freak show era,” after the so called freaks who were often billed as their main attraction. In reality, those called “freaks” were just regular people with visible differences from the average person. Some were discriminated against because of the way they were born. They were called “born different” people. Some were gawked at due to some strange skill or physical feat they could perform. Show runners said those people were “made freaks.” Some were simply very tall, very short, obese, or from a different land. Promoters labeled them as “curiosities, rarities, oddities, wonder, mistakes, prodigies, special people, and sometimes even monsters.” Sometimes, these people had chosen to join the show but more often, they were driven to do so out of desperation after being turned away from society or even sold into the shows as children.

Knowing this, it’s not too surprising that sideshows were such a controversial topic. What may be surprising, though, is why they were controversial. Victorian morality is often cited as the root of the contention, but not in the way that I assumed when doing my research; oftentimes, it was the people thronging in to see the sideshows that moral authorities were concerned with, rather than the performers themselves. For example, in his argument for the 1870 ban on sideshows, fair board superintendent John Sullivan did not express concern about the human beings in the shows being treated as no more than objects of curiosity, rather, he was concerned that the shows would detract from the educational aspects of the fair, asking

Voice actor reading from Sullivan: Does the young lad remember more of Fine Art Hall than of the snake show? Are the impressions formed in the first as lasting as in the second?

Beckley: He also expressed disgust towards the type of people that would attend such a show, saying:

Voice actor reading from Sullivan: They bring in their trail the worst classes of thieves and scoundrels of low and high degree.

Beckley: Similarly, in 1901, the State Board of Agriculture endeavored to

Voice actor reading from Sullivan: make this fair of such a character as would appeal to the best element of society- a fair where the most refined and Christian lady could take her children and enjoy a day in viewing the wonderful progress displayed

Beckley: and so the fairgrounds and the surrounding area were cleared of “anything that would offend refined tastes,” and that included the sideshows.

Time and again, the prohibition of sideshows at the fair came with admonishments about the moral influence of the people in the shows, instead of moral outrage at the treatment of those people. It would be decades before the sideshows closed for good. Some sources link the rising consciousness of equality for people with disabilities and the establishment of the Americans with Disabilities Act with the close of this dark chapter of the Indiana State Fair.

[Crowd noises]

Beckley: Scene three: “Hush! Those Beatles are in Indiana”

If you run a search of digitized Indiana Newspapers from 1960 to 1963 for the term “The Beatles” you get a little over 50 results. Running that same search for 1964 brings up over forty-five hundred results. It’s safe to say that Indiana, along with the rest of America, caught Beatle-mania in 1964 when the pop group launched their first American tour. The mania reached a crescendo in Indiana when, on September 3, the Fab Four came to the Indiana State Fair.

The news was announced on April 8 and was accompanied by headlines like:

Voice actor reading from newspaper:  Singing Beatles will appear at Indiana State Fair

Beckley: and

Voice actor reading from newspaper: Hoosiers and the Beatles

Beckley: and lots of “Yeah Yeah Yeah’s.” Tickets to the two shows, one in the Indiana State Fair coliseum, and one in front of the grandstand, were sold out even before they were printed, leading one teen to write to an Indiana Congressman pleading for help in obtaining a ticket. “If I cannot see the Beatles,” she wrote, “I’ll surely wither away.”

The preparations for the band were extensive. After seeing the group mobbed by crazed fans in other cities, security was made a top priority; a security force of over 150 police officers and State Troopers were assigned to guard the Beatles and the stage. After hearing of young girls fainting and collapsing during other concerts, plans for the medical care of fans were formed, including strategically placed stretchers and ambulances as well as the presence of medical personnel.

Finally, all that was left to do was welcome the “mop-heads” and the madness that seemed to accompany them wherever they went.


Arriving early on September 3, the group was whisked away to the Speedway Motel in Indianapolis by their security escort. A small group of fans had gathered at the hotel but they were mostly well behaved except for one young man who, impersonating a hotel waiter, snuck into what he thought was the Beatles room only to find it empty.

Fans began arriving early for the coliseum show and the crowd surged with excitement each time someone thought they had glimpsed one of the band members. After tolerating several opening acts, it was the moment all those star struck teenagers had been waiting for.

[Recording from concert]

Beckley: The Band took the stage and opened with “Twist and Shout.”

[Recording from concert]

Beckley: The screaming was so loud that it all but drowned out the music. As girls were overcome by their excitement and fainted, Red Cross workers wound their way through the crowd to administer treatment. All told, 35 fans were treated at the Fairgrounds Red Cross hospital that day, all with Beatle related ailments.

[Recording from concert]

Beckley: After the 5 o’clock show, the English rockers were taken to the fair’s communications center for one of their famously droll press interviews which featured some real zingers, such as when, in response to the question “How do you stand on the [Vietnam] Draft?” John Lennon said, “About five foot, eleven inches.”

Once the interview was complete, they had the pleasure of meeting the Indiana State Fair Queen, Cheryl Lee Garrett, who later said that while she had enjoyed meeting the Beatles, she had been more impressed with country music singer Tennessee Ernie Ford.

[Transition music]

Beckley: The second show went smoothly and it was late when the quartet made it back to the Speedway Motel with their police escort. In the wee hours of the morning, some of the state troopers found Ringo Starr sitting poolside. The troopers asked if Starr would like to go for a ride, and Starr accompanied them on a tour of the city. With dawn fast approaching, the group decided to stop at one of the troopers’ homes for breakfast but found that there was no food to be had. Instead, they had coffee while the trooper’s children snuck furtive peeks at the English rocker. The cup Starr drank from that morning sat in the family home for years to come, one of many keepsakes fans across the state treasured to remind them of the only time the Beatles ever made it to the Hoosier state.

[Transition music]

Beckley: Scene 4: Caroline Jessop: The Lady Confectioner

Caroline Jessop started her business by hauling candy making-equipment from county fair to county fair in a trunk on a horse drawn carriage. It being a simple enterprise, not necessarily legally recorded, it’s not surprising that pinning down an exact start date for The Lady Confectioner’s stand is a difficult task. Reports of the date of its creation vary wildly; from as early as 1850 to as late as the 1870s. Considering Caroline Jessop was all of 11 years old in 1850, I think we can guess that she started a bit later. What is certain, is that by the early 20th century, Caroline Jessop had made a name for herself as one of the best candy makers in the Midwest and Jessop’s Candy became a staple of the Indiana State Fair.


[Transition music]

A magazine published by the Indiana State Fair Board called Hub of the Universe wrote that Jessop’s candy was “always known for its purity, her tent for its cleanliness.” Jessop’s most famous creation, butterscotch popcorn, was made from a recipe so secret, so safe, that it was eventually lost to time, although the sweet treat is still made using a recipe as close to the original as possible. Caroline Jessop and her family branched out from the confectioners business to other fair related industries. In her will, Caroline Jessop left her “fair ground outfit and confectionary outfit…to her three sons, Edward, Charles, and Joseph Jessop”  and her “share of my Farris Wheel to her son Edward Jessop to be used or disposed of as he wishes.”

As the family tree grew, they took on different fair routes, making the Jessop name nationally known. One 5th generation Jessop claimed that he had handed butterscotch corn to the likes of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and President Harry S. Truman. At some points in the history of the Indiana State Fair, the Jessop’s had as many as 7 stands scattered across the fairgrounds. In recent years, ever more bizarre food can be found at the State Fair. But right there alongside the deep fried Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches and deep fried BBQ bacon are the same Jessop classics: Butterscotch corn, saltwater taffy, and candy apples. All treats that the family has been selling to Hoosier fairgoers for generations.

[Advertisement music]

Speaking of Hoosier Women hard at work just like Caroline Jessup in that last scene,  we’re excited to announce a Call for Papers for the third annual Hoosier Women at Work conference.

The symposium will focus on the history of Indiana women in the arts and will be held at the Harrison Center for the Arts in Downtown Indianapolis on April 6, 2018.

We hope you will submit your paper or panel idea by December 1 and help us expand the knowledge of Hoosier women’s work in the arts.

Go to to find out more or call the Indiana Historical Bureau at 317-232-2536.

Now, back to the show.

[Advertisement music]

Beckley: Scene 5: Hook’s Dependable Drug Store

[Transition music]

Beckley: For over half a century, history loving fairgoers have had the opportunity to walk through the doors of the Hook’s Historic Drug Store Museum and be transported to a 19th century pharmacy and soda fountain. For all the times I’ve visited the building, located just inside gate 1 of the fairgrounds, I’ve never stopped to wonder why it was there until now. As a lover of history and of the Indiana State Fair, it only made sense for me to look into the only official Museum on the Fairgrounds while researching this episode dedicated to the Indiana State Fair.

[Transition music]

Beckley: While some younger listeners may never have heard of Hook’s Dependable Drug Store, Hoosiers of a certain age have memories of visiting their local Hook’s for not only their medicinal needs, but for candy, comics, soda, and more. John Hook opened his first apothecary in 1900 on the southeast side of Indianapolis. Eight years later, he partnered with Edward Roesch to open a second store, also in Indianapolis. The chain expanded to include 53 stores by Hook’s death in 1943. Hook’s returned to the hands of the family when “Bud” Hook took over as president after the death of his father’s business partner in 1956. It was under Bud that the chain expanded into one of the largest regional drugstores in America.

The 1966 State Fair saw the opening of the Hook’s Historical Drug Store and Pharmacy Museum, originally planned as a temporary exhibit contributing to the Fair’s celebration of Indiana’s Sesquicentennial of statehood. Located in what was once the better babies building, the walls of the recreated apothecary were lined with mid nineteenth century pharmacy cabinets and the museum filled with antique drug store artifacts. At the time of its opening, newspapers reported that it was “the nation’s most complete and elaborate restoration” of a late 19th century drugstore. Highlights of the original store and museum included a collection of early patent medicines, advertising signs, and surgical and dental instruments.

With visitation estimated at 130,000 visitors, the exhibit, which also functioned as a small drugstore, was wildly popular during the 1966 state fair. So popular that Bud Hook, along with the State Fair Board, decided to make it permanent. In the intervening years, upwards of three million people have visited the attraction and the museum claims it’s the most visited pharmacy museum in America.

[Transition music]

While you can’t see the Beatles at this year’s Indiana State Fair, you can see the latest agricultural innovations, taste Jessop’s original butterscotch corn, and take a walk through Hooks Drug Store Museum!

I hope you enjoyed our tour through the 165 year history of the Indiana State Fair.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. As always, a big thanks goes to sound engineer Jill Weiss and Justin Clark, the voice of newspapers here on the podcast. Find us on Facebook at Talking Hoosier History and on twitter at @TalkHoosierHist, that’s H I S T. And finally, please subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Scenes from the Indiana State Fair


                Avery, Julie. Agricultural Fairs in America

                Barrows, Robert and Bodenhamer, David. Encyclopedia of Indianapolis. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. Pg 748-750

Cross, Gary. Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America. New York City: Charles Scribners & Sons, 2004.

Miner, Paul. Indiana’s Best: An Illustrated Celebration of the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Academic Journals

Barker-Devine, Jenny. “Agricultural Fairs During the Nineteenth Century,” Iowa State University Center for Agricultural History and Rural Studies. Accessed 6/5/2017.

Devlin, Philip.A Rich History: American Agricultural Fairs,” Durham Patch. Accessed 6/5/2017.

Harris, Betty, “The Beatles at the Indiana State Fair,” Traces Magazine of History, 14, No. 4 (2002): 24-35.

Kniffen, Fred. “The American Agricultural Fair: The Pattern,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 39, no. 4 (1949) : 264-282

Stringer, Katie. “The Legacy of Dime Museums and the Freakshow: How the Past Impacts the Present,” American Association for State and Local History 68, No. 4 (2013) : 13-18.


                Annual report of the Indiana State Board of Agriculture Catalog Record. Accessed Hathi Trust.

                Will of Caroline Jessop, deceased. Fayette, Wills, Vol G, 1915-1923. Page 90-91. Accessed 7/24/2017

Special Thanks

                Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She does everything from set up the recording equipment to selecting the music featured in each episode as well as actually mixing. Without Jill, Lindsey would just be sitting in an empty room talking to herself about history.

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project who was recently awarded a two year grant for further work in newspaper digitization! He is also the voice of newspapers here on Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles or the many wonderful blog posts Justin has researched and written using those newspapers, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Music Notes

THH Episode 5: The KKK, Political Corruption, and the Indianapolis Times

Transcript for The KKK, Political Corruption, and the Indianapolis Times

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from the research of Casey Pfeiffer

Produced by Lindsey Beckley and Jill Weiss Simins

[Ku Klux Klan Music]

Lindsey Beckley: Thanksgiving night, November 25, 1915. Fifteen men climb Stone Mountain in Georgia. Once at the peak, the men, led by William Joseph Smith, hoist and burn a wooden cross. With this act, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan is reborn. Smith had been inspired to resurrect the reconstruction era fraternal order after watching D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation, which romanticized the Klan as a heroic force. Five years later, the Invisible Empire reached Indiana. In this episode of Talking Hoosier History, we’ll discuss the effects and influences the KKK had on the Hoosier State.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Hello and welcome to Talking Hoosier History, brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now, it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m your host, Lindsey Beckley.


The phrase “Knights of the Ku Klux Klan” often conjures up the image of a vicious, mysterious, secret group riding through the countryside in the moonlight to hold meetings in the dead of night. A group of hooded and robed figures, carrying a whip or club or, more frightening still, a hangman’s noose. While these images may be accurate for the Klan of reconstruction era America, the Klansmen of the 1920s were a different breed.


Beckley: While they maintained the strange uniform and racist, bigoted ideals of their predecessors, you were more likely to see a newspaper ad for a parade hosted by the local Klan chapter, or even hear a protestant preacher speak favorably of them from the pulpit, than to see them galloping through the dark wielding weapons. In fact, in his book “One Hundred Percent American” historian Thomas Pegram said “The Invisible Empire in Indiana was so tightly interwoven into the fabric of society that newspapers regularly advertised Klan events. Klan members there felt comfortable marching in public without masks, and many former participants expressed the view that ‘everyone was in the Klan.’”

[Klan music]

Beckley: That’s not to say that the Klan of the 1920s was any less frightening than that of the 1860s. For one, it was no longer a poorly organized fraternity isolated in the antebellum south. The second wave Klan was a multi-level organization, a national fraternal order with recruiters in all parts of America. The net of hatred they cast was wider, too. While their forbearers had focused their bigotry towards the newly free African Americans, the new iteration broadened their animus to include immigrants, political radicals, feminists, intellectuals, gamblers, bootleggers, Asian Americans, Jews, Catholics and any group they deemed to be “un American.” And while the reborn Klan wasn’t as overtly violent as their ancestors, they certainly weren’t above using violence and intimidation to get their point across.

While the South had been the stronghold of the 1860s Ku Klux Klan the American Midwest contained the most fertile soil for the Klan of the early 20th century. The KKK came to Indiana through the Ohio River town of Evansville in the fall of 1920. While it started out as little more than a curiosity, Evansville Klan No. 1 would grow to have a membership of more than 5,000 members-or 22 percent of all native white males in the county within just a few short years. That incredible surge in membership was not isolated to Vanderburgh County, though.

More than 250,000 men eventually joined the Klan in Indiana. As astounding as that number is, it doesn’t even include the members of their auxiliary group, Women of the Ku Klux Klan, or of their children’s organization, the Junior Klan.

[Angry crowd noised]

[Klan music]

Beckley: The phenomenal expansion of the Klan in Indiana is often credited to one man in particular; David Curtis Stephenson, more commonly known as D.C. Stephenson. A travelling salesman, arrived in Evansville the same year as the Klan, 1920.

[Jazz music]

Beckley: By 1921 he had joined the Klan and was making great strides in expanding the local membership. He soon moved to Indianapolis and opened a Klan recruitment office. There, too, he met success; in late 1922, he reported to have recruited 2264 new members in just one week. After backing Hiram Evans when Evans successfully overthrew William Smith for the highest office of the KKK nationally, Stephenson became the Grand Dragon of Indiana, the highest office in the state. Stephenson had high hopes for the Klan, both politically and otherwise. Soon after Stephenson being named Grand Dragon, the Indiana Klan entered into talks with Valparaiso University in hopes of buying out the floundering school and creating a “Ku Klux Kollege”. And yes, that’s “Kollege” with a K. While the talks ultimately failed, this episode demonstrates the all-encompassing ambitions of the Klan in the 1920s.  Soon after that deal fell through, Stephenson and Evans, the new Imperial Wizard had a falling out over ideology and Stephenson split from the National Klan, taking much of Indiana’s membership with him to form a new independent Indiana Klan.

In the midst of this upheaval, Stephenson set about shaping his Klan into the true Invisible Empire of Indiana government. Although there were no state-wide elections in 1923, Stephenson started fine tuning the Klan’s political machine in local elections across the state, hoping to be prepared for the upcoming gubernatorial primaries. By jumping party lines and backing individual “sympathetic” candidates, the Klan was able to influence several local elections. It seemed like Stephenson’s machine had done its job.

[Somber music]

Beckley: In 1923, the Chicago based anti-Klan newspaper Tolerance began publishing Klan membership lists from around the country. One name in particular caught the eye of the Indianapolis Newspaper, the Indianapolis Times, which ran a story titled “‘Tolerance’ Says Ed Jackson is Member of Klan.” Jackson, Indiana’s secretary of state, had reportedly received a telegraph giving instructions in regards to a vacant political position that had been signed “Old Man.” The mysterious ‘Old man’ was none other than D.C. Stephenson, who had formed a close relationship with Jackson, often taking the Secretary of State yachting. This was the first of many stories the Times published featuring Jackson and the ‘Old Man’ in the following years but before we get to that, let’s pause for a quick break.

[Advertisement music]

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[Sound effects]

Beckley: Ed Jackson’s name was soon front and center in Indiana politics; he was the 1924 Republican nominee for governor. The Indianapolis Times worked to make sure that his Klan affiliations were front and center as well. They declared that:

Voice actor reading from the Indianapolis Times: No Secret Order Shall Rule Indiana! A vote for Jackson is a vote for the Invisible Empire.

Beckley: And just two days later, the front page of the paper read: Voice actor Voice actor reading from the Indianapolis Times: CHOOSE…Secrecy. Suspicion. Hate. Racial Bitterness. Religious Intolerance. Neighbor against Neighbor. Old Friendships Broken. Invisible Empire. The Mask. Herrin. Miles. Super-Government…OR…Government of the People, for the People, and by the People. Democracy. Peace. WHICH? DECIDE TUESDAY. VOTE.

Beckley:  In that same issue, the Times reported that the Grand Dragon of Indiana had signed a proclamation calling the Klansmen and women of Indiana to action, saying:

Voice actor reading from the Indianapolis Times: The time is now when we must mobilize and perfect the necessary machinery for the purpose of voting all our people and for the purpose of influencing white Protestant voters to vote for the Republican ticket; National, State and county, whom we know to be favorable to our cause, principle and program.

Beckley: The causes, principles, and programs to which those politicians had pledged themselves included limiting foreign immigration, the supremacy of the white race, the segregation of African Americans, especially in schools, and the appointment of only Klansmen, Klanswomen, or “sympathizers” to any public position.

Despite the Times’ declaration that “No Secret Order Shall Rule Indiana!” Ed Jackson won the election, a great success for Stephenson. He had very little time to influence the new governor’s policies, though. On April 14, 1924, just 4 months into Jackson’s term, Stephenson was arrested for the kidnap and murder of Madge Oberholtzer, a 29 year old Irvington woman whom he had met at Jackson’s inauguration party.

[Somber folk music]

Beckley: Oberholtzer, who managed the Indiana Young People’s Reading Circle,  had been helping Stephenson write and sell a book when he drunkenly lured her to his home, kidnapped and assaulted her, then waited until she was at deaths door two days later to return her to her home for medical treatment. Stephenson was convicted of his crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment on November 16, 1925.

[Somber folk music fades]

Beckley: Fully expecting a pardon from Governor Jackson, Stephenson bided his time in his cell at the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. Meanwhile, an investigation into corruption in the government was under way. In September of 1926, the Indianapolis Times announced:

Voice actor reading from the Indianapolis Times: Revelation of a gigantic super government within the State of Indiana over which David C. Stephenson at the zenith of his power as grand dragon of the Hoosier Ku Klux Klan held sway was promised today by Thomas Adams of Vincennes, head of a probe committee of the Indiana Republican Editorial Association.

Those “revelations” were coming directly from D.C. Stephenson who, after a year of waiting, had given up his hopes for a pardon and was exacting his revenge on Jackson.

More revelations came when the Times published the transcripts of a 4-page letter which Stephenson had smuggled out of the Indiana State Prison. The letter was titled “What Stephenson Could Tell” and was filled with thinly veiled threats directed at those he put into power. It read in part:

Voice actor reading from D.C. Stephenson: What D.C. Stephenson, now serving a life sentence in Indiana State Prison, could tell the taxpayers of Indiana about graft in public office would fill a rather large library with interesting data…He could tell who furnished $120,000 in the campaign of 1924 and what interest was to be protected…He could explain how favorable political decisions were induced from certain courts…He could explain why certain men were placed in public positions from which there is an enormous profit, and he could tell who gets a fifty-fifty cut in the money…Briefly stated, if D.C. Stephenson could and would talk his knowledge of dishonesty in public affairs would create a State Scandal.

[Modern music]

Beckley: The Times’ investigation continued into 1927. An article in May of that year finally carried news of a denial from Governor Jackson of the charge:

Voice actor reading from Jackson:  Governor Ed Jackson today filed a written denial to charges that he has property belonging to D.C. Stephenson…The Governor declares he holds no money, property or credits of Stephenson’s and is in no way indebted to him.

The next month, after a “whitewashed” report of his alleged mistreatment in the Indiana State Prison was released, Stephenson released a statement declaring:

Voice actor reading from Stephenson: I have been double-crossed for the last time and I am ready to talk. You can tell Prosecutor Remy of Marion County that I have numerous things that I am prepared to talk about freely and they are matters which I believe will start a much needed cleanup in Indiana politics.

Beckley: And talk freely he did. After hearing his tale, one deputy said “the story told by Stephenson was most amazing.” The convicted ex-grand dragon told of documents he had in his possession which would corroborate his statements and for the next few days, the pages of the Times were crammed with updates on the efforts of authorities to find those documents.

On July 9, the Times was still reporting that the authorities were searching for Stephenson’s so called “Black Box” of documents. By July 11, however, the story had changed.

Transition music]

Beckley: On that day, he headline read “Black Box Yields Check from Steve to

Jackson for Primary Expense Use” and was accompanied by a copy of a check for two thousand five hundred dollars to Ed Jackson signed by D.C. Stephenson. Above the check was a note written by Stephenson saying

Voice actor reading from Stephenson:  This check is the first one-fourth of ten thousand dollars given Jackson personally for primary expense.

Beckley: Stephenson, instead of revealing the location of his personal documents to authorities, had decided to leak them to the Times.  All in all, the Times received 33 incriminating checks (although only one made out directly to Jackson), along with several letters, from the ex-Grand Dragon. In response to this, Jackson released a statement to the press, saying,

Voice actor reading from Ed Jackson: I want to state to the public that the check for $2,500 given to me by D.C. Stephenson was in payment for a very valuable saddle horse and equipment, a legitimate business transaction.

Beckley: When asked if he still had the horse for evidence of the transaction, he claimed that the horse had choked to death on a corn cob. He would make no other statements regarding any of the other documents which the Times released.

Jackson’s dealings with the Klan weren’t the only shady spots in his political past. On July 25, 1927, the Times ran a story accusing Ed Jackson of offering former governor Warren McCray $10,000 to influence his appointment for prosecuting attorney in 1923. Jackson denied the charges.

The Times reported on July 25 that they had turned over Stephenson’s “Black Box” to the Marion County grand jury for examination. As a result, the Marion County Grand Jury indicted Governor Jackson on charges of bribery in September.

At the trial in early 1928, former Governor McCray testified that the accusations made by the Times were truthful; Jackson and his associates had indeed offered him a bribe of $10,000 as well as immunity from charges pending against McCray in exchange for his nominating a prosecuting attorney of Jackson’s choosing. The consensus, both in the newspaper headlines and the courtroom, was that the Governor was guilty. Unfortunately, the statute of limitations had passed, preventing Judge Charles McCabe from passing down a guilty verdict. Despite calls for his resignation from all around the state, Governor Jackson refused and served out the remainder of his term, albeit with a dark cloud hanging over his head.

While the Times’ crusade against the governor fell short of their ultimate goal, they were more successful in weeding out corruption in the Indianapolis City Government.

[Transitional music]

In a 1928 article reviewing the “History of [the] Crusade Waged by the Times against Corruption in State Government,” the paper claimed that due to evidence they had produced:

Voice actor reading from the Indianapolis Times:  “Mayor John Duvall was indicted and convicted of violation of the corrupt practices act. He was forced to resign…six of the city councilmen were indicted for accepting bribes…and recently pleaded guilty to a minor charge…and resigned their jobs.”

Beckley: In the same article, they proclaimed:

Voice actor reading from the Indianapolis Times: the first duty of a newspaper is to print the facts about that institution in which all are interested most, the government itself.

Beckley: In their estimation, and in the estimation of the Pulitzer Prize committee, they had done their job well. The Times won the Pulitzer Prize in journalism for outstanding public service in 1927 for its work in exposing political corruption in Indiana… [Fade out]

Voice actor reading from the Indianapolis Times fading in: prosecuting the guilty and bringing about a more wholesome state of affairs in civil government.

Beckley: The downfall of the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana began when D.C. Stephenson split from the National organization, fracturing the foundation of the Indiana Klan. Their downward spiral continued when D.C. Stephenson, leader of this organization which claimed to promote Protestantism, morality, and prohibition, was arrested for drunkenly assaulting and ultimately causing the death of Madge Oberholtzer. Finally, the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan lost any remaining political power in the state when the officials who had been corrupted by their influence had been exposed by the Indianapolis Times.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, visit to view IHB marker manager Casey Pfeiffer’s research for the Indiana State Historical Marker on this topic. As always, a big thanks goes to sound engineer Jill Weiss and Justin Clark, the voice of newspapers here on the podcast. A special thanks this episode goes to Indiana Historical Bureau Director Chandler Lighty who voiced D.C. Stephenson. Find us on Facebook at Talking Hoosier History and on twitter at @TalkHoosierHist, that’s H I S T. And finally, please subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History wherever you get your podcasts! Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for The KKK, Political Corruption, and the Indianapolis Times


Scharlott, Bradford. The Hoosier Newsman and the Hooded Order: Indiana Press Reaction to the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1978.

Lutholtz, M. William. Grand Dragon, D.C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1991.

Moore, Leonard. Citizen Klansmen, The Ku Klux Klan in Indiana, 1921-1928. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.

Pegram, Thomas. One Hundred Percent American. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2011.


McVeigh, Rory. “Structural Incentives for Conservative Mobilization: Power Devaluation and the Rise of the Ku Klux Klan, 1915-1925.” Social Forces, 77, no. 4 (Jun. 1999): 1461-1496.

Smith, Ron. “The Klan’s Retribution Against an Indiana Editor: A Reconsideration.” Indiana Magazine of History, 106, Issue 4: 381-400.

Blog Posts

Taylor, Stephen, “KU KLUX U: HOW THE KLAN ALMOST BOUGHT A UNIVERSITY” accessed Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana State Library.


                The Indianapolis Times Marker File, Accessed Indiana Historical Bureau.

Special Thanks

                Chandler Lighty

                                As the Director of the Indiana Historical Bureau, Chandler makes Talking Hoosier History possible. Up until now, he’s stayed behind the scenes but in this episode he made his voice acting debut as the voice of D.C. Stephenson. Thank you, Chandler, for joining us in the recording studio!

    Jill Weiss

                                Jill is the sound engineer for Talking Hoosier History. She also assures Lindsey throughout the recording process that she’s not doing any worse than usual and she can salvage at least one good take from all of those many many bad takes.

Justin Clark

                                Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. In this episode, he played the parts of newspaper announcer and Ed Jackson. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.


100% American “Mystic City,” accessed Valerie Rogotzke “Songs of the KKK,” Lesson Plan,

Clayton McMichen, “Grave in the Pines,” accessed

John Philip Sousa, “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” accessed

Tiny Parham and His Musicians, “Washboard Wiggles,” accessed

Bensound, “Tomorrow,” YouTube Audio Library, No Copyright Music,

Bensound, “Better Days,” YouTube Audio Library, No Copyright Music,

Jorge Méndez, “Cold,” JMendezMusic,

Kevin MacLeod, “Atlantean Twilight, YouTube Audio Library, No Copyright Music,

Grapes, “I Dunno,” YouTube Audio Library, No Copyright Music,

GoSoundtrack, “War, YouTube Audio Library, No Copyright Music,


Featured Track: “Mystic City” recorded by 100% American,
Words and Music: John M. Nelson and Noah F. Tillery (1882-1943)

Information on “Mystic City” accessed: Valerie Rogotzke “Songs of the KKK,” Lesson Plan.

Song Background

The song “Mystic City” was one of the most widely distributed songs of the KK in the 1920s. Harry F. Windle first published the sheet music in 1922, and the song was so popular, it was republished multiple times through the decade. Multiple singing groups recorded this tune, often placing it on the B side of recordings of “The Bright Fiery Cross.”

Suggested Recording
This quartet called themselves the 100% Americans. The recording uses a quartet and soloist for the choruses and verses, and is accompanied by a small orchestra with brass instruments.

Verse 1

Lived there in the mystic city of the empire that’s unseen

A grand and noble wizard who once had a wondrous dream.

In this dream he saw Old Glory and the cause of liberty

Being supplanted by a people who had come across the sea,

Bringing with them flags and customs belonging to primeval lands

To affix and plant them firmly in this, our native land.


Klansmen, Klansmen, of the Ku Klux Klan,

Protestant, gentile, native-born man,

Hooded, knighted, robed and true,

Royal sons of the Red, White, and Blue,

Owing no allegiance we are born free,

To God and Old Glory we bend our knee,

Sublime lineage written in history sands,

Weird, mysterious Ku Klux Klan.

Verse 2

With a sudden start, he wakened, opened wide his seeing eyes,

Crying, “Room for one flag only underneath American skies!”

Then the fiery cross, he lighted and from that symbolic charm

Were united all the Klansmen from cities, towns, and farms,

Bound by bonds of Klansmenship are stronger than bonds of steel

For their country’s flag and heritage, they would die before they yield.


Klansmen, Klansmen, of the Ku Klux Klan…

THH Episode 4: Midwestern Making of Poet Kenneth Rexroth

Transcript for Midwestern Making of Poet Kenneth Rexroth

Jump to Show Notes

Written by Lindsey Beckley from Research by Jill Weiss Simins

To most, Kenneth Rexroth’s influence is confined to the literary realm. Seeing as his work proceeded and inspired the Beat Generation poets of the 1950s, this isn’t all that surprising. And yet, the first edition of his autobiography ends when he is just 22, and a full 13 years before his first poetry collection was published in 1940. In this Episode of Talking Hoosier History, we’ll explore the Midwest roots of this literary icon and his connections with anarchists, burlesque dancers, criminals, and the leading thinkers of his age.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Lindsey Beckley: Hello and welcome to Talking Hoosier History this episode features the 2016 and 2017 Indian poet laureate Shari Wagner reading the works of Kenneth Rexroth. This podcast is brought to you by the Indiana Historical Bureau. For over a century, we’ve been marking Hoosier History. Now it’s time to start Talking Hoosier History. I’m your host, Lindsey Beckley.

[Transition music]

Beckley: Kenneth Rexroth was born on December 22, 1905 in South Bend, Indiana. According to his sometimes colorfully embellished autobiography, his birth was something of an adventure. He wrote:

Voice actor reading Rexroth: My mother was well past her time. She was sitting in a cabaret, eating breast of chicken on whole-wheat bread with a piece of lettuce and drinking a glass of champagne, as she always did in cabarets, and wondering when I was going to show up when she began to feel labor pains. My parents were visiting in Elkhart, but they had the curious idea of hurrying up to Chicago for the baby’s birth. My mother was taken off the train in South Bend, and I was born there.

Beckley: That scene, so rich in detail for an event Kenneth wasn’t even around to witness, is fairly typical for his autobiographical novel. While many of the broad strokes of his story can be corroborated with primary sources, some of these finer details we just kind of have to take his word on. Something to keep in mind when I refer back to his autobiography.

The Rexroth family; Charles, Delia, and Kennethenjoyed an upper middle class lifestyle in the early years of Kenneth’s life. They lived first in a house on Park Avenue in South Bend, described as “substantial and comfortable” and later, on Beardsley Avenue in Elkhart, where “all the best homes in the town were in those days.” Charles worked as a traveling pharmaceutical salesman and Delia began to see to Kenneth’s education, and something she did quite enthusiastically. According to Rexroth, she taught him to read between the ages of three and four, and he had read 100’s of books, including Charles Dickens,  at an early age. This early influence of his mother was a lasting one; he was a prolific reader for the rest of his life.

Circumstances soon changed for the small family, though. Charles suffered from alcoholism and Delia from a an unknown chronic illness.

In 1910, when Kenneth was 5, the family was forced to leave that Avenue where “all the best homes in the town were” due to financial difficulties. They moved more often thereafter, but young Kenneth continued to immerse himself in classical literature. He also learned French, explored the neighborhood, and, when he was just 6 or 7, fell in love with Helen, “the little girl next door.”

Charles’ drinking and Delia’s illness had a deteriorating effect of the couple’s relationship. When Rexroth was 9, the family moved briefly to Battle Creek Michigan, then to Chicago the following year to live with relatives. Around this time, Charles’ alcoholism had him on death’s doorstep and he left the family, likely going to some sort of sanitarium for treatment. Rexroth and his mother moved into a small apartment and rarely saw Charles. In 1916, Delia succumbed to what was most likely tuberculosis. Even in her last days, she was a positive influence in Kenneth’s life, stressing the importance of never allowing anyone to deter him from becoming an artist and writer. After his mother’s death, Rexroth went to live with his father and grandmother in Toledo, Ohio. Here, Rexroth began to seek trouble, and with little adult supervision, there was plenty of trouble to be found.

In Toledo, he ran errands for brothels and sold popcorn to the working girls. Although he was only 11, he frequented burlesque shows and set up side hustles all over the city. He ran with a gang of other boys, who did “a regular business in hot bicycles and automobile accessories” and spending their days “drinking homemade beer [they] had stolen from [their] parents cellars.” During this time he also witnessed the violent and deadly Willys Overland strike of 1919, a conflict where young Rexroth stood firmly on the side of the workers and which he considered his introduction to the labor movement. In that same year, perhaps when Rexroth most needed an authority figure in his life, his father succumbed to his alcoholism.

The 15 year old, now orphaned, Rexroth went to Chicago to live with his aunt. He enrolled in Englewood High School but, by his own account “had become a consummate master in the art of plausible hooky” and was soon expelled for his poor attendance. That was the end of his formal schooling, but he found a much more profound education awaited him outside the confines of the classroom.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: He gained access to the clubs of poets and writers gathered in Chicago during the second wave of the Chicago Literary Renaissance. His favorite of these was the Washington Park Bug Club. Also known as Bughouse Square, this club was a widely recognized center of free speech and Rexroth encountered radical political views of all types at the meetings held there.

While Bughouse Square expanded Rexroth’s political horizons, the amusingly named Dill Pickle Club helped him develop artistically. The Club hosted independent theater productions, lectures on various topics, and, on Saturday nights, the Jazz music and dancing lasted all night long. In these Chicago cultural hotspots, Rexroth started performing his poetry and rubbed elbows with political and literary giants.

Rexroth soon outgrew the “hustles” he ran as a youth and began working odd jobs. One of these jobs was at the Green Mask. There, Rexroth was able to see and perform poetry with some of the era’s best poets and jazz musicians, eventually combining the two art forms into what would later be recognized as jazz poetry. However, the club was raided by police and the owner arrested for being the “keeper of a disorderly house.” Rexroth was arrested in the same raid and sentenced to a year in jail. He emerged after a winter in The Chicago House of Correction having grown “a little closer to the underworld,” as he put it.

In late December 1926, after months spent pursuing various young women, Rexroth met the artist Andrée Schafer through friends. Although they had met just briefly, Rexroth pronounced that he intended to marry her afterwards. After just a few weeks, that pronouncement came true and the two were wed. Soon after, the couple left Chicago for a new life on the West Coast. After arriving in San Francisco in the summer of 1927, Rexroth wouldn’t just experience a cultural Renaissance, he would create one. But before we get to that, let’s pause for a quick break.

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Beckley: Since you’re listening to this, chances are, you love Hoosier history just as much as we do. If you’re interested in conducting your own research, but don’t know where to start, check out Hoosier State Chronicles, Indiana’s digital historic newspaper program, at The project is operated by the Indiana state library with financial support from the US institute of museum and library services, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities National Digital Newspaper program. You’ll find many great resources at Hoosier State Chronicles. You can explore yesteryears newspapers at your fingertips at Now, back to the show.

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Beckley: Upon their arrival on the West Coast, Kenneth and Andree found exactly what they had hoped for: a rich cultural environment without the stuffiness they had sensed in the East Coast artistic communities. They settled into the San Francisco art community, living what he called “a sort of semi-monastic life devoted to writing and painting.” The duo also took time to explore the unique flora and fauna of the area surrounding them, feeding Rexroth’s love for nature. This deep seated respect for the natural world influenced Rexroth’s writing and by the mid-1930s his poetry was gaining notoriety for combining natural imagery with his radical political and anti-war sentiment.

While he was being published more and more regularly, it wasn’t enough to fully support the couple, even in their semi-monastic lifestyle. So, in the midst of the Great Depression, Rexroth was employed by the Work’s Progress Administration’s writing program.

The steady income provided by the WPA allowed Rexroth to continue focusing on his poetry, leading to the 1940 publication of his first major collection called In What Hour, in which he continued exploring his two passions, nature and politics. One reviewer from the Oakland Tribune lauded the work as something entirely different from everything that had come before it, saying “Rexroth is wholly and essentially a poet in the new manner…Rexroth’s poetical parents, if he has any, are not known.”

While his writing career was taking off, his marriage was dissolving. He and Andree fought often over politics and she began an affair. Rexroth moved out and began a relationship with Marie Kass, who he later married. While the marriage didn’t last, he was devastated when Andree died on October 17, 1940. Here is Shari Wagner reading an excerpt from the poem “Andree Rexroth.”

I know that spring again is splendid
As ever, the hidden thrush
As sweetly tongued, the sun as vital —
But these are the forest trails we walked together,
These paths, ten years together.
We thought the years would last forever,
They are all gone now, the days
We thought would not come for us are here.


Beckley: The idea expressed in that excerpt, that love and nature could serve as spiritual refuge in troubled times, became more poignant with the outbreak of the US entry into World War II the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Rexroth maintained his pacifist, anti-war stance and applied for Conscientious Objector status in 1943. He backed his beliefs with action by working with several pacifist groups and organizations providing aid to camps of conscientious objectors. He took his activism further by stepping in to help Japanese Americans avoid internment after President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, authorizing the relocation of Japanese Americans away from the West Coast to internment camps in the interior of the nation.

Rexroth explained how he and Maria had saved several Japanese-Americans from internment in his autobiography. He recounted that he contacted the Midwest Art Academy in Chicago, a school which he called a phony correspondence school. He convinced the school to sign registration papers for Japanese American students for a fee. He then contacted the colonel in charge of the “evacuation” in San Francisco, who agreed to provide educational passes for these students. Rexroth wrote, “We started shoveling people out of the West Coast on Educational passes.”  Since no official records were kept of this, it’s hard to say how many people were saved in this way. But the fact that the operation happened was corroborated by colleagues of Rexroth.

Rexroth incorporated his strongly held beliefs about pacifism, nature, and the power of love into his writing. In his 1944 work, the Phoenix and the Tortoise, he pondered the horrors of the recent war and holocaust but still maintained hope for humanity despite its failings.  The end of the war saw an influx of new artists and writers into the San Francisco area. Rexroth himself believed that their arrival was a direct result of the war itself. In the San Francisco Magazine, he wrote, “Just as London under the buzz bombs enjoyed a literary renaissance and a profound change of social relationships…so San Francisco during the War woke up from a long provincial sleep and became culturally a world capital.” Rexroth became the architect of that cultural world capital by hosting weekly gatherings at his home where he introduced poets to each other and hosted readings. Much like the Chicago Renaissance, the budding San Francisco Renaissance combined political discussion, poetry, and jazz. Over the next decade, the foundation laid by Rexroth gave rise to the Beat Generation and although Beat poetry was being produced on the east coast as well, San Francisco was the heart of the movement in the early 1950s.

The Beat Generation, much like Rexroth himself, rejected mainstream culture and politics and expressed themselves through new and non-conventional forms of poetry. One of those non-conventional forms of poetry was another hold over from his days in Chicago; jazz poetry. Rexroth was gaining fame for this form of poetry at this time and was integral in establishing jazz as an essential element of Beat poetry. He concluded with imagery of the ocean as sanctuary, and the love of his wife as sublime, cleansing, saving, and immortal. Again, Shari Wagner reading Rexroth, edited for length.

Shari Wagner Reading Rexroth:

And out of this
Shall I reclaim beauty, peace of soul,
The perfect gift of self-sacrifice,
Myself as act, as immortal person?

My wife has been swimming in the breakers,
She comes up the beach to meet me, nude,
Sparkling with water, singing high and clear
Against the surf. The sun crosses
The hills and fills her hair, as it lights
The moon and glorifies the sea
And deep in the empty mountains melts
The snow of Winter and the glaciers
Of ten thousand thousand years.


Beckley: The end of the war saw an influx of writers and artists into the San Francisco area. Rexroth himself believed that their arrival was the direct result of the horrors of the war. In the San Francisco magazine, he wrote:

Voice actor reading from Rexroth: Just as London under the buzz bombs enjoyed a literary renaissance and a profound sense of change in social relationships, so San Francisco during the war woke up from a long, provincial sleep and became culturally a world capitol.

[Transitional music]

Beckley: And Rexroth became the architect of that cultural world capitol by holding weekly gatherings where he hosted readings and introduced poets to each other. Much like the Chicago renaissance, the budding San Francisco renaissance combined political discussion, poetry, and jazz.

Over the next decade, the foundation laid by Rexroth gave rise to the Beat generation. And while Beat poetry was being produced on the East Coast as well, San Francisco became the heart of the movement in the early 1950s. The Beat Generation, much like Rexroth himself, rejected the mainstream culture and politics and expressed themselves through new and non-conventional forms of poetry.

One of these non-conventional forms of poetry was decendend from Rexroth’s days in Chicago: Jazz Poetry. He was gaining fame for this kind of poetry at the time and was integral in establishing jazz as an element of Beat poetry. This melding of jazz and poetry can be heard in this clip from the Black Hawk in 1955.

Recording of Rexroth: We were falling like meteor. Down two black holes toward each other. Then compact, blazing through air into the earth.

Beckley: Rexroth was influential in the early years of the Beat Generation. In fact, he was at the October 7, 1955 poetry reading at the Six Gallery where Allen Ginsberg read his revolutionary poem “Howl.”

Recording of Ginsberg: I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness. Starving, hysterical…[fades out]

Beckley: Scholars point to this as a culminating event of the San Francisco Renaissance and solidification of the Beat movement.

This resulted in his gaining the title “Father of the Beat Poets,” a title he eventually rejected. Ultimately, he rejected the movement as a whole, claiming that it had turned from a literary movement into a “hipster lifestyle” of pursuing fashionable trends rather than larger truths and he distanced himself from it.

Eventually, the Beat movement melted into the counterculture movements of the sixties and rock and roll replaced poetry and jazz as the dominant outlet for rebellious youth. Nonetheless, Rexroth continued to be a central figure in American literature. He continued writing poetry as well as cultural and literary criticism and began dedicating more of his time to translating poetry from other languages, primarily Japanese and Chinese. He paid special attention to translating the works of women poets starting in the 70s, a practice which has a lot of influence on his own original works from that time.

It’s hard to summarize such a complex individual with such varied interests. After his death in 1982, Kenneth Rexroth received acclaim from both mainstream and radical literary circles. While he’s probably best known for the influence he had on the voice and worldview of some of the country’s best poets, it’s his own unique voice that will forever hold his place in America’s literary cannon.

[Talking Hoosier History theme music]

Beckley: Once again, I’m Lindsey Beckley and this has been Talking Hoosier History. If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, visit Blogging Hoosier History to read the two part post by Jill Weiss. Her research for the Indiana state historical marker formed the basis of this episode. And thanks again to the Indiana poet laureate Shari Wagner, who read the poems in this episode. If you would like to hear more from Shari, visit our website, As usual, thanks to Jill for engineering the sound and Justin Clark for lending his voice to this podcast. Follow us on our brand new Facebook and twitter accounts, both at @TalkingHoosierHist, that H-I-S-T. And finally, please subscribe, rate, and review Talking Hoosier History on iTunes, stitcher, soundcloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!

Show Notes for Midwestern Making of Poet Kenneth Rexroth

Blog Posts

Jill Weiss, “The Midwestern Making of Kenneth Rexroth: Robbing Cash Registers and Reading the Classics” and “Kenneth Rexroth: Poet, Pacifist, Radical, and Reluctant Father of the Beat Generation” accessed Blogging Hoosier History, Indiana Historical Bureau


Academy of American Poets, “Kenneth Rexroth,” accessed

Poetry Foundation, “Kenneth Rexroth,” accessed


Kenneth Rexroth, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth: An Autobiographical Novel, (Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1966).

Linda Hamalian, A Life of Kenneth Rexroth, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1991).

Kenneth Rexroth, The Phoenix and the Tortoise, (Norfolk, Connecticut: New Directions, 1944).


Special Thanks

Jill Weiss

Jill wrote the blog posts “The Midwestern Making of Kenneth Rexroth: Robbing Cash Registers and Reading the Classics” and “Kenneth Rexroth: Poet, Pacifist, Radical, and Reluctant Father of the Beat Generation” which formed the basis of the research for this episode. Jill is the Digital Outreach Manager for the Indiana Historical Bureau. She also serves as the recording engineer, editor, and general master of the recording room.

Justin Clark

Justin is a project assistant with the Hoosier State Chronicles newspaper digitization project. In this episode, he read for Kenneth Rexroth. If you’re interested in reading historical newspaper articles, visit Hoosier State Chronicles online.

Shari Wagner

Shari is the 2016-2017 Indiana Poet Laureate. In this episode, we were honored to have Wagner read excerpts of poetry by Kenneth Rexroth.

Music Notes

Mermaids, Giant Turtles, and Wild Men…Oh My!

EDITOR’S NOTE: While the Indiana Historical Bureau does not research folklore and cryptozoology, in the course of doing historical research in newspapers about other topics, we sometimes come across odd stories like we have collected here. We thought some people would find these strange accounts from historical records interesting.

A cryptid is defined as “An animal whose existence or survival is disputed or unsubstantiated.” The most famous cryptids include Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, the Pacific Northwest’s Bigfoot, and the Chupacabra of Central and North America. These mysterious animals tend to inhabit mysterious places; deep, dark lakes, impenetrable forests, and wide open desserts. It’s a bit surprising, then, that there is such a long and rich history of Hoosier cryptids. From Ohio River “mud mermaids” in southern Indiana to a Michigan City “wild child” up north, historic newspapers are riddled with reports of unexplained (and mostly unconfirmed) creatures in the wilds of Indiana.

Some of the most commonly reported sightings fall into the category of humanoid creatures. The most widely known of these is Bigfoot and while they’re most often associated with the Pacific Northwest, there have been some sightings here in the Hoosier State. Stories of Bigfoot have their roots in the legends of Native Americans and predate the arrival of Europeans to the continent. These stories existed long before there was one single term to describe all large, hairy, humanoid creatures, making it difficult to suss out reports of early sightings in newspapers. Reports of “wild men,” are probably the predecessors to modern Bigfoot sightings. Here, we will examine four of these reports which span over a century.

The Adams Sentinel, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, 30 Dec 1839, pg 1. Accessed

In late 1839, a Pennsylvania newspaper picked up the story of a “Wild Child” sighting in Michigan City, Indiana. About four feet tall and covered in light brown hair, the child apparently was a very fast runner and swimmer and very fond of water. The report theorizes that the “creature” may have been the child of immigrants who wandered too far from camp and, left to his own devices, grew wild and (apparently) very hairy. The report concludes by declaring “It would be nothing but an act of Humanity on the part of our young men to turn out and help to capture it.”




The Weekly Republican, Plymouth Indiana. June 14, 1860, p1. Accessed

Twenty-one years later, in 1860, the young men of Carroll County had
turned out to help capture another “Wild Child.” This article from The Weekly Republican in Plymouth, Indiana reports that a search party of 300 has formed to help look for a male child between the ages of 7 and 10 who had been sighted several times. Since this is the only account of the sightings found in newspapers and there are no reports indicating that this child had an unusual amount of hair, it’s quite possible that this was nothing but a lost child rather than a small Bigfoot. Even the newspaper expresses doubts, saying “we think we smell a rat.”

The Daily Reporter, Boonville IN, Aug 16, 1937, p.2. Accessed


It was suggested that the Boonville monster was actually a giant sloth, or Megatherium, pictured here.

In 1937, an animal alternately described as a “monster hairy ape,” a “giant sloth,” a “cross between an ape and a sloth,” and simply a “monster” was reported in Boonville, Indiana. In some articles, the beast was described as harmless but in one article, it was said that the beast “mauled a police dog so bad it had to be shot.” Community members banded together to search for the beast, mothers kept their children inside, and traps with raw meat in them were laid with hopes of luring the creature in. All was for naught as on August 19 newspapers announced that the search was being “temporarily abandoned” and no mentions of resuming search was found in the following months. One article, written about a month later, points out that the rumors began to spread just as blackberry season started and suggests that “Boonville folk” spread the tale to keep people away from their blackberry patches.

Linton Daily Citizen, Linton, IN July 18, 1949, pg 3. Accessed

Twelve years later, there was a rash of sightings of a large, hairy, humanoid animal around Thorntown, in Boone County. The papers
reported nearly 30 and claim the town was so terrorized that residents weren’t venturing out at night. An article ran on June 22, 1949 in the Lafayette Journal and Courier reporting that the “Thorntown Gorilla,” as it was being called, was nothing more than a hoax planned by members of the Sportsmen and Wild Life club. The mystery apparently persisted because on July 17, the Richmond Palladium headline read “Safari Seeks ‘gorilla’ at Thorntown.” This “safari” consisted of four posses, including State Conservation officers and nearly 30 Thorntown residents. What they found wasn’t a gorilla. Nor was it a hoax. What they found was much more tragic; a woman described as “deranged” and “mentally ill.”

Big Foot-like creatures aren’t the only kind of humanoids in the cryptozoology field. Mermaids also fit into the subdivision. It may seem unlikely for a land locked state like Indiana to have produced mermaid stories, but in late 1894 Ohio newspapers reported that a pair of “mud mermaids” had taken up residence on a sand bar in the Ohio River near Vevay, Indiana. The Cincinnati Enquirer gave a very detailed description of the rather monstrous sounding creature:

Artist rendering from the description given of the Mud Mermaids, from “Weird Indiana: Your Travel Guide to Indiana’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets.”

“The beast is about five feet in length…Its (sic) general color is yellowish. The body between the four legs resembles that of a human being. Back of the hind legs it tapers to a point…The extremities resemble hands and are webbed and furnished with sharp claws…it is devoid of hair…Its (sic) ears are sharp-pointed and stand up like those of a dog…”

While newspapers report that sightings of the duo had started four year earlier, no newspaper reports can be found recounting earlier sightings and the mermaid craze ends as quickly as it began, with the first report in September and the last just under two months later in November.

The Telegraph, Logansport, IN, August 11, 1838 pg 1. Indiana State Library microfilm.

Of course, humanoid creatures aren’t the only kind of cryptid that has been reported to dwell in Indiana. Eye witness reports of a lake monster have been coming out of Lake Manitou, near present day Rochester, for many years. In an 1838 article, the Logansport Telegraph described a “well known tradition of the Indians respecting the Monster in the ‘Devil’s Lake.'” Witnesses estimated the monster “measured sixty feet” and described the Lake Manitou monster as having a head about three feet across with the contour of a cow’s head, a tapering neck, and being “dingy” colored with large bright yellow spots. Below is a depiction of the terror of Manitou Lake, published August 11, 1838 in the Logansport Telegraph.

Welcome to Churubusco sign, still taken from video “Churubusco, Indiana”

Perhaps the most famous Indiana cryptid, definitely the one most thoroughly covered by newspapers, is a giant turtle called the “Beast of Busco” which was reported to live in a 10 acre lake near Churubusco, Indiana. Also called Oscar, the turtle’s shell was said to be as big around as a dining room table. Gale Harris, the owner of the lake Oscar called home, first saw the beast a year after purchasing the farmland the lake sat on, 1948. In early March 1949 the Columbia City Commercial Mail demanded a hunt for the reptile, running headlines like “Five Hundred Pound Turtle Would Make Lots of Good Turtle Soup.” The residents of the small town turned into turtle hunters; they proposed building a turtle house in the middle of town to display him in if they caught him. They tried everything to get the turtle out of the lake including using a crane, bringing in divers, draining most of the water from the lake, and using a female turtle to lure it out. They even offered a $1,800 reward for the capture of the beast, all to no avail. Eventually, it was concluded that the Beast of Busco either never existed or escaped to another lake. Dubbed “Turtle Town USA,” Churubusco still celebrates its famous reptilian resident with the annual Churubusco Turtle Days festival. 

These are just a few of the many unexplainable creatures that have been sighted in Indiana. So, the next time you’re hiking in the woods or swimming in the Ohio River, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might find.