Art and Controversy: Thomas Hart Benton, Herman B Wells, and the Indiana Murals

Content Note: This video reproduces a panel of art depicting the Ku Klux Klan. It appears at 10:55 in the video and continues to 11:55. Viewer discretion is advised.

Thomas Hart Benton, one of America’s premier artists during the twentieth century, painted series of murals about Indiana for the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair. A controversial collection of artworks, the Indiana Murals engaged viewers in a dialogue about Indiana’s complex history—a dialogue that continues to this day. The murals stayed in storage of the Indiana State Fairgrounds until someone believed they deserved a new home. That someone was Herman B Wells, the newly elected president of Indiana University.

Learn more Indiana History from the IHB: http://www.in.gov/history/

Search historic newspaper pages at Hoosier State Chronicles: www.hoosierstatechronicles.org

Visit our Blog: https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/

Visit Chronicling America to read more first drafts of history: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

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Credits:

Written and produced by Justin Clark. 

Music: “Fresno Alley” by Josh Lippi & The Overtimers, “Lazy Boy Blues” by Unicorn Heads, “Progressive Moments” by Ugonna Onyekwe, “Creeping Spiders” by Nat Keefe & BeatMower, and “Plenty Step” by Freedom Trail Studio

Continue reading “Art and Controversy: Thomas Hart Benton, Herman B Wells, and the Indiana Murals”

“Oh Boy! She’s Coming to Richmond”: Mamie Smith Brings the “Crazy Blues,” 1921

talking-machine-jan-1921
The Talking Machine World, January 15, 1921, 27, accessed archive.org.

Historians of blues music and folk culture consider Mamie Smith to be the first African American woman to record blues vocals.  In 1921, only a year after this historic recording, Smith performed to sold-out crowds in Indiana.  Newspapers covered the release of Smith’s records and her Indiana performances extensively. We were interested especially in a spring 1921 performance by this African-American star in Richmond, Indiana, a Ku Klux Klan stronghold at the time.

Before 1920, African American entertainer Mamie Smith, who was born in Cincinnati,  worked in Harlem as a chorus girl and cabaret singer. Here she met the black pianist, singer, and composer Perry Bradford who had found success in theater and minstrel circuits in New York.  Bradford, who was interested in preserving African-American musical traditions in recordings, convinced Fred Hager, recording director of the obscure label OKeh Records to take a chance on recording Mamie Smith.  Bradford convinced Hager that African American music lovers were an untapped market and that “they will buy records if recorded by one of their own, because we are the only folks that can sing and interpret hot jazz songs just off the griddle correctly.”

"A studio headshot portrait of American blues singer Mamie Smith," photograph, circa, 1923, Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images accessed "Mamie Smith and the Birth of the Blues Market," All Things Considered, NPR, http://www.npr.org/2006/11/11/6473116/mamie-smith-and-the-birth-of-the-blues-market
“A studio headshot portrait of American blues singer Mamie Smith,” photograph, circa, 1923, Frank Driggs Collection/Getty Images accessed “Mamie Smith and the Birth of the Blues Market,” All Things Considered, NPR.

In February 1920, Smith recorded “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” for OKeh Records. Blues music historians consider this to be the first blues recording by an African American woman. Record producer Hager received boycott threats if he recorded Smith or any other African American singer. In the face of the controversy, Bradford convinced Hager to continue backing Smith, as opposed to the white singer Sophie Tucker, who Hager was alternatively considering.  Bradford recalled:

Mr. Hager got a far-off look in his eyes and seemed somewhat worried, because of the many threatening letters he had received from some Northern and Southern pressure groups warning him not to have any truck with colored girls in the recording field. If he did, OKeh Products – phonograph machines and records – would be boycotted. May God bless Mr. Hager, for despite the many threats, it took a man with plenty of nerves and guts to buck those powerful groups and make the historical decision which would echo aroun’ the world. He pried open that old ‘prejudiced door’ for the first colored girl, Mamie Smith, so she could squeeze into the large horn – and shout with her strong contralto voice.

Smith recorded another set of songs penned by Bradford for Okeh in August of 1920. The track “Crazy Blues” became massively popular and in less than a year the record sold over a million copies. According to long-time music writer Jas Obercht, Smith’s “Crazy Blues” “could be heard coming from the open windows of virtually any black neighborhood in America.” Okeh Records called it “a surprise smash hit.” According to New Orleans jazz musician Danny Barker:

There was a great appeal amongst black people and whites who loved this blues business to buy records and buy phonographs.  Every family had a phonograph in their house, specifically behind Mamie Smith’s first record.

Image of "Crazy Blues" on OKey Records accessed: Jas Obrecht, "Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues," http://jasobrecht.com/mamie-smith-the-first-lady-of-the-blues/
Image of “Crazy Blues” on OKey Records accessed: Jas Obrecht, “Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues,”

This was certainly true in Indiana.

Indiana newspapers ran ads for Mamie Smith’s records not long after the release of “Crazy Blues.”  Often the ads for Smith’s records were also attempts to sell phonographs as Barker mentioned in the above quote. A downtown Indianapolis music store ran this advertisement in the Indianapolis News in November:

Indianapolis News, November 30, 1920, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles
Indianapolis News, November 30, 1920, 16, Hoosier State Chronicles.

The C. W. Copp Music Shop ran an advertisement in the South Bend News-Times in December for the hit “Crazy Blues,” but also let an interested public know that they stocked other Mamie Smith records. Hoosier interest in Smith’s records continued into the new year.  In March of 1921, the same South Bend music shop ran several advertisements for five new Smith records and the Hammond Times ran an advertisement for Okeh Records releases, featuring Smith, and to sell listeners the phonograph  to play them on:

Hammond Times, March 4, 1921, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles
Hammond Times, March 4, 1921, 5, Hoosier State Chronicles.

According to Obrecht, Mamie Smith recorded 22 songs this year and “between sessions, she kept a grueling schedule of concert appearances.” The Talking Machine World magazine reported that Smith and a revue of entertainers were going to perform in all the major U.S. cities. By April 1921, many Hoosier music fans were familiar with Mamie Smith, as we can see from the newspaper ads.  So when the news broke that she was booked to play in Indiana, the coverage continued almost daily until the performance.

According to the Talking Machine World she performed in Indianapolis and Evansville on this tour, but a search of Hoosier State Chronicles and our recent work to digitize the Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram shows that she also performed to sold out crowds in Richmond and South Bend. This is especially interesting considering 1920s Richmond was only about 5% African American, while perhaps as many as 45% of white males belonged at some point to Whitewater Klan #60, an active chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. We wondered, what brought Smith to Richmond and how was she received?

The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram ran a notice of Smith’s Saturday, April 23, 1921 performance at the Coliseum for weeks before the date.  Here are some great examples:

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921, 7.
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

And:

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 19, 1921, 7.
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 19, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

On April 21, 1921 alone there were three ads for Smith’s upcoming performance and records, including this extensive listing of popular songs:

Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram, April 21, 1921, 3.
Richmond Palladium and Sun Telegram, April 21, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.
"Famous Colored Star Sings Here Saturday," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. 9
“Famous Colored Star Sings Here Saturday,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Advertisements were not the only coverage of Smith’s upcoming appearance in Richmond. On April 18, 1921 the Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram reported on the “forthcoming appearance here of Mamie Smith, the popular phonograph star of the colored race, and her All-Star Jazz Revue next Saturday night at the Coliseum,” and called it “the greatest jazz concert that has ever been sent on tour.” The newspaper called Smith “a phonograph star of the first rank” and claimed that she “has done more than any other singer perhaps in America to popularize the genuine ‘blues’ song of the day.” The writer continued to laud Smith for her ability to make songs into “living, potent things charged with a pulsing and individual rhythm.” The paper reported that the popularity of her record had made Richmond residents excited to see her perform live and that they were expecting a “sold-out house when she reaches this city.”

Jazz Revue Seats On Sale Wednesday," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921, 4.
Jazz Revue Seats On Sale Wednesday,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 18, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

Perhaps the most interesting article in the Palladium was the one that appeared the following day, April 19, and covered not Smith but the revue company traveling with her. Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds were the headlining, crowd-drawing act, but her tour included other acts as well: dancers, vaudevillian comedians, and minstrel performers. The appearance of a newly-minted  blues and jazz star on the same stage as the historically popular minstrel performers marks and intersection of trends in African American music and performance history. While minstrel performers had both conformed to stereotypes out of employment necessity and defied them through their self-presentation (learn more), Mamie Smith’s rise to stardom ushered in a new era of music divas who presented themselves as upper class, educated, rich, and demanding of respect.

Obrecht writes:

While blues music had been performed in the American South since the very beginning of the twentieth century, no one had made recordings of it before, largely due to racism and the assumption that African-Americans couldn’t – or wouldn’t – buy record players or 78s. “Crazy Blues” changed all that, sparking a mad scramble among record execs to record blues divas. The stars they promoted in this short-lived era of “classic blues” were not the down-home country singers who’d record later in the Roaring Twenties, but the glittering, glamorous, and savvy veterans of tent shows, minstrel troupes, and the vaudeville stage. These mavericks defied stereotypes…

"Colored Star Wears Exprensive Creations," Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram, April 22, 1921, 11.
“Colored Star Wears Exprensive Creations,” Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 22, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

As if in response to this very idea, on April 22 the Palladium followed the coverage of the revue with an article detailing the glamorous appearance and presentation of Smith. The newspaper stated that through her record royalties “the popular young colored star is enabled to indulge her fancy in the latest creations both from Paris and New York, and in each city in which she has appeared a gasp of astonishment has greeted her every appearance, for her gowns are described as riots of color and beauty.”

In a telling sentence, the article called Smith “one of the most gorgeously dressed stars of the musical comedy world.”  This notes both the respect for her appearance and success and a misunderstanding of her role in music history.  While African American music fans were connecting to Smith’s sincere and authentic portrayal of the blues music that they grew up with, this white Midwestern newspaper still saw her as part of the vaudeville and perhaps even minstrel genres — understandably perhaps since it was marketed as such.  While Smith had come from such a tradition, through her work with the blues and and jazz performers she had transcended her past.  Black newspapers understood her importance much earlier than white newspapers.  On March 13, 1920, the Chicago Defender wrote:

Well, you’ve all heard the famous stars of the white race chirping their stuff on the different makes of phonograph records . . . but we have never – up to now – been able to hear one of our own ladies deliver the canned goods. Now we have the pleasure of being able to say that at last they have recognized the fact that we are here for their service; the OKeh Phonograph Company has initiated the idea by engaging the handsome, popular and capable vocalist, Mamie Gardner Smith.

Similarly, the African American gospel, jazz, and blues music Thomas A. Dorsey explained, “Colored singing and playing artists are riding to fame and fortune with the current popular demand for ‘blues’ disk recordings and because of the recognized fact that only a Negro can do justice to the native indigo ditties such artists are in demand.”

There were African American audience members at the Richmond performance, who likely had a better understanding of the significance of Smith’s success.  The Richmond Palladium Sun-Telegram reported: “The best seats are selling fast from the plat at Weisbrod Music company as white and colored folk alike are wager to see and hear the ‘Queen of the Blues,’ a capacity house is predicted for Saturday night.”

Unfortunately, there are no extant issues of the historic African American newspaper the Indianapolis Recorder for this period. It would be interesting to explore the differences in the coverage of Smith’s performances between a white and black newspaper and perhaps this could be accomplished using the Chicago Defender, but is outside the scope of this post.

As expected, Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds sold-out the Richmond Coliseum, which held 2,500 people, for the April 23, 1921 performance.  The next year, the KKK also sold-out the same venue.  The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram reported on December 12, 1922 that a crowd awaiting a Klan rally “taxed the space at the Coliseum waiting for the ceremonies quite a long time before the Klansmen finally arrived.”  So how was the white population of Richmond able to enjoy an African American musician one year and then attend a Klan rally the next?

While this contradiction may seem surprising, there was (and some argue still is) a tendency for white Americans to de-contextualize African American music from African American culture.  That is, the white residents of Richmond were able to appreciate black music while continuing to oppress black people.  There has been much written on this topic (two good places to start are Imamu Amiri Baraka‘s The Music: reflections on Jazz and Blues and Perry Hall’s “African American Music: Dynamics of Appropriation and Innovation“) and an extensive analysis of Smith’s career through this lens is outside the scope of this post.  However, advertisements continued after her performance, from which we can draw that she was a hit regardless of why.  Notice the advertisement claims that there was “a capacity audience.”

Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 25, 1921, 5
Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram, April 25, 1921. Hoosier State Chronicles.

While we were unable to find an article reviewing the Richmond performance or the crowd’s reception, it likely went well because she returned to Indiana the next month.  On May 31, 1921, she performed to another capacity crowd at the Oliver Theater in South Bend.  The South Bend News-Times covered her performance in much the same manner as the Richmond Palladium.  The paper noted in various articles, her fame, her genius, and her status as “the first colored girl artist to attain world-wide fame as a singer and phonograph record star.”

Mamie Smith’s importance to music history is hard to overstate, according to a story on NPR’s All Things Considered for which famed activist Angela Davis (now a professor at University of California/Santa Cruz ) was interviewed.  Davis summed up Smith’s importance succinctly:

“The recording of ‘Crazy Blues’ led the way for the professionalization of black music, for the black entertainment industry, and indeed for the immense popularity of black music today.”

Search Hoosier State Chronicles for yourself to find more on Mamie Smith in Indiana. For more on Mamie Smith’s long career see Jas Orbrecht’s well-researched article, “Mamie Smith: The First Lady of the Blues.”

“The Best of the Season:” Mark Twain’s Indiana Lectures

"America's Best Humorist," Mark Twain. Lithograph by Joseph F. Keppler, 1885. Library of Congress.
“America’s Best Humorist,” Mark Twain. Lithograph by Joseph F. Keppler, 1885. Library of Congress.

From James Whitcomb Riley to Kurt Vonnegut, Indiana is well-known for its literary heritage. This heritage developed, in-part, through personal appearances, where authors read from their works and shared new material with audiences. Of the lecturers, one of the most successful during the Gilded Age was Mark Twain. Born in Missouri as Samuel L. Clemens, Mark Twain became one of the late-19th century’s most popular and acclaimed authors. Alongside his successful career as a novelist and cultural critic, Twain crisscrossed the country, regaling packed theaters with stories, readings from new written material, and plain-old good jokes.

Map highlighting Mark Twain's lectures in the Midwest. Mark Twain Project.
Map highlighting Mark Twain’s lectures in the Midwest. Mark Twain Project.

One of his first visits to Indiana as a lecturer was January 4, 1869, when he performed a reading of “The American Vandal Abroad.”  As reported by the Indianapolis Daily Sentinel:

We caution our readers not to forget the treat prepared for them this evening by the Library Association. Mark Twain, one of the real humorists of the day, will deliver his lecture entitled “The American Vandal Abroad,” and his merits entitle him to a large audience. The lecture will be delivered at Metropolitan Hall, and reserved seats may be secured without extra charge at Bonham’s Music Store.

Mark Twain, circa 1860-1880. Indiana Memory,
Mark Twain, circa 1860-1880. Indiana Memory,

While the exact content of his performance from that night was not reported, he had repeatedly given the lecture through 1868-69, and a compiled version was published by literature scholar Paul Fatout, in his book, Mark Twain Speaking. In this lecture, Twain referred to the “American Vandal” as someone who “goes everywhere and is always at home everywhere . . . His is proud and looks proud. His countenance is beaming. He does not fail to let the public know that he is an American.” Twain’s lecture, like his broader work, represents an American voice that spoke to the Midwest, especially places like Indiana.

Indianapolis News, January 1, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis News, January 1, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

In 1872, Twain returned to Indiana and gave a lecture sharing snippets from his then-upcoming work, Roughing It. According to the Indianapolis News, Mark Twain gave his lecture at the Y.M.C.A. Association hall on January 1, 1872, at a cost of 50 cents at the door, 75 cents for reserved seats (what a bargain!).  As the News reported:

Mark Twain, the noted humorist and author, lectures here to-night [sic] on “Passages from Roughing It.” Mr. Twain has a national reputation and should appear before a hall of people; besides the Y. M. C. A., under whose auspices he lectures, are in absolute want through lack of means. Let Association Hall be crowded to-night [sic].

This lecture was a marked departure from “Vandal,” both in style and in subject. Twain shared with audiences his experiences out west, from camping in the outskirts of Carson City, Nevada to riding colt horses and getting in duels.

Terre Haute Evening Mail, January 6, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Terre Haute Evening Mail, January 6, 1872. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Twain’s stories were printed in newspapers during his time in Indiana in 1872 as well. For example, the Terre Haute Evening Mail published an article entitled “Mark Twain on His Travels.” Among the witty stories than were shared by the Mail, this one is golden:

When we got to Rochester I called for a bowl of bean soup. I send you the receipt for making it: “Take a lot of water, wash it well, boil it until it is brown on both sides; then very carefully pour one bean into it and let it simmer. When the bean begins to get restless sweeten with salt, then put it in air-tight cans, hitch each can to a brick, and chuck them overboard, and the soup is done.”

The above receipt originated with a man in Iowa, who gets up suppers on odd occasions for Odd Fellows. He has a receipt for oyster soup of the same kind, only using twice as much water to the oyster and leaving out the salt.

However, not everyone was taken with Twain’s sardonic lectures. The Indianapolis People wrote that “It is the decided opinion of all we heard speak of Mark Twain’s lecture that it read better than it was spoken.”

George W. Cable. Library of Congress.
George W. Cable. Library of Congress.

When Twain returned to Indiana in 1885, he came with a traveling lecture partner. George W. Cable, novelist of the southern-creole experience and an influence on William Faulkner, shared selections from his novels while Twain shared early pages from Huckleberry Finn as well as stories like “The Golden Arm.” Twain and Cable couldn’t have been more different. Twain was described by the Indianapolis Sentinel as “awkward and lanky” whereas Cable was more reserved. As Fatout observed, Twain often bristled as Cable’s religiosity and rigorous commitment to formality while Cable scoffed at Twain’s unorthodox and scattered disposition. To get a sense of their differences, review this blurb from the Indianapolis News: “Mr. Cable eats chocolate ice cream at midnight, after his readings, and still lives. His yoke-fellow, Mark Twain, hurls his bootjack at St. John, and uncorks a bottle or so of pale ale.”

Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 7, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 7, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Nevertheless, their joint appearance at Plymouth Church in Indianapolis, Indiana on January 7, 1885 was greatly lauded. The Indianapolis Sentinel reported that their performances was “the best of the season” and the Indianapolis News wrote that it was “one of the finest audiences that could be gathered.” The Greencastle Times even reported that efforts were underway to bring the two over to Greencastle to perform (alas, it was not to be).

Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 8, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, January 8, 1885. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

That evening, Twain shared with the audience his short story, “Dick Baker’s Cat,” a short tale about a special cat who had a propensity for mining. Here’s a short snippet from the story:

‘Gentlemen, I used to have a cat here, by the name of Tom Quartz, which you’d ‘a’ took an interest in, I reckon—, most anybody would. I had him here eight year—and he was the remarkablest cat I ever see. He was a large grey one of the Tom specie, an’ he had more hard, natchral sense than any man in this camp—’n’ a power of dignity—he wouldn’t let the Gov’ner of Californy be familiar with him. He never ketched a rat in his life—’peared to be above it. He never cared for nothing but mining. He knowed more about mining, that cat did, than any man I ever, ever see. You couldn’t tell him noth’n’ ’bout placer-diggin’s—’n’ as for pocketmining, why he was just born for it.’

The rest of story involves a hilarious scenario where the mining-savvy cat gets stuck in a quartz shaft, which explodes, and he flies out of there all covered in soot and his whiskers burned off. It was exactly the kind of zany, improbable yarn that Twain was so gifted at and the audience at Plymouth Church agreed.

Twain’s and Cable’s appearance would be the last time they would appear together in Indiana and Twain’s last lecture in the state. Over the next 20 years, Twain continued to travel the county and the world, going so far as India and New Zealand, to share his lectures and stories. His last known lecture, according to the Mark Twain Project, was a reading for Mary Allen Hulbert Peck on the Island of Bermuda on March 27, 1908. Mark Twain died on April 24, 1910 at the age of 74 from heart failure, at his home near Redding, Connecticut. An obituary in the Plymouth Tribune complimented Twain’s success as a novelist, humorist, and lecturer. It also cited the loss of much of his family, particularly his daughter, and friends as one of the main reasons for his passing.

Plymouth Tribune, April 28 1910. From Hoosier State Chronicles.
Plymouth Tribune, April 28 1910. From Hoosier State Chronicles.

Reflecting on what was referred to as the “American style” of humor, Mark Twain shared his thoughts to a reporter from the Detroit Post, later reprinted in the Terre Haute Express:

“Is the American taste for humor still growing, in your opinion?”

“Yes, I think so. Humor is always popular, and especially so with Americans. It is born in every American, and he can’t help liking it.”

“Is it true that the American style of humor is becoming very popular in England?”

“Yes, the liking of American humor over there has become immense. It wakens [sic] the people to new life, and is supplanting the dry wit which formerly passes for humor. American humor wins its own way, and does not need to be cultivated. The English come to like it naturally”

In his lectures in Indiana and elsewhere, Twain exhibited the type of natural humor “born in every American” that characterizes the American cultural identity.

Mark Twain, 1907. Library of Congress.
Mark Twain, 1907. Library of Congress.

“Go West, Young Man”: The Mystery Behind the Famous Phrase

Go west
Go West, Young Man! Movie Poster, Binged.com.

Newspaper history is full of myths, “viral” stories, and tall tales. Folklore and journalism are often close cousins, especially the colorful “yellow journalism” that sold outright lies to rake in subscriptions.  In the annals of Hoosier and American journalism, one persistent, tantalizing tale continues to baffle the sleuths at the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

Who wrote the famous slogan “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country”?  It’s one of the great catch phrases of Manifest Destiny, an exhortation that echoes deep in the soul of Americans long after the closing of the frontier.  But when you try to pin down where it came from, it’s suddenly like holding a fistful of water (slight variation on a Clint Eastwood theme) or uncovering the genesis of an ancient religious text — especially since nobody has ever found the exact phrase in the writings of either of the men who might have authored it.

“Go west, young man” has usually been credited to influential New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley.  A New Englander, Greeley was one of the most vocal opponents of slavery.  Antebellum Americans’ take on “liberal” and “conservative” politics would probably confuse today’s voters:  a radical, Greeley famously opposed divorce, sparring with Hoosier social reformer Robert Dale Owen over the loose divorce laws that made Indiana the Reno of the nineteenth century.  A religious man, he also promoted banning liquor — not a cause “liberal” politicians would probably take up today.  Greeley helped promote the writings of Margaret Fuller, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau and even took on Karl Marx as a European correspondent in the 1850s.  (Imagine Abraham Lincoln the lawyer reading the author of The Communist Manifesto in the Tribune!)  In 1872, the famously eccentric New York editor ran for President against Ulysses S. Grant, lost, and died before the electoral vote officially came in.  Greeley won just three electoral votes but was a widely admired man.


Horace Greeley -- Matthew Brady circa 1860
Greeley around 1860. Daguerreotype by Matthew Brady.

Though Greeley was always interested in Western emigration, he only went out west once, in 1859 during the Colorado Gold Rush. Originally a utopian experimental community, Greeley, Colorado, fifty miles north of Denver, was named after him in 1869. The newspaperman often published advice urging Americans to shout “Westward, ho!” if they couldn’t make it on the East Coast.  Yet his own trip through Kansas and over the Rockies to California showed him not just the glories of the West (like Yosemite) but some of the darker side of settlement.

“Fly, scatter through the country — go to the Great West,” he wrote in 1837.  Years later, in 1872, he was still editorializing:  “I hold that tens of thousands, who are now barely holding on at the East, might thus place themselves on the high road to competence and ultimate independence at the West.”

“At the West” included the Midwest.  Before the Civil War, Indiana was a popular destination for Easterners “barely holding on.”

A major cradle of Midwestern settlement was Maine, birthplace of John Soule, Greeley’s competitor for authorship of the mystery slogan.  As the logger, writer, and popular historian Stuart Holbrook wrote in his 1950 book Yankee Exodus, Maine’s stony soil and the decline of its shipping trade pushed thousands of Mainers to get out just after it achieved statehood in 1820.  The exodus was so bad that many newspaper editors in Maine wrote about the fear that the new state would actually be depopulated by “Illinois Fever” and the rush to lumbering towns along the Great Lakes — and then Oregon.


JBL Soule
J.B.L. Soule, courtesy Blackburn College Archives.

One Mainer who headed to the Midwest in the 1840s was John Babson Lane Soule, later editor of The Wabash Express.  Born in 1815 in Freeport, Maine — best known today as the home of L.L.  Bean — Soule came from a prominent local family.  His brother Gideon Lane Soule went on to serve as president of Phillips Exeter Academy, the prestigious prep school in New Hampshire.  Though the Soules were Congregationalists, a likely relative of theirs, Gertrude M. Soule, born in nearby Topsham, Maine, in 1894, was one of the last two Shakers in New Hampshire.  (She died in 1988.)

J.B.L. Soule — whom an 1890 column in the Chicago Mail claimed was the man who actually coined the phrase “Go west, young man” in 1851 — was educated at Bowdoin College, just down the road from Freeport.  Soule became an accomplished master of Latin and Greek and for decades after his move west published poems in New England literary magazines like The Bowdoin Poets and Northern Monthly.  A poem of his called “The Wabash” came out in Bowdoin’s poetry journal in August 1840, so it’s safe to assume that Soule had moved to Terre Haute by then.  By 1864, he was still writing poems with titles like “The Prairie Grave.”

The Wabash 1840 -- soule
Excerpt from “The Wabash”, Google Books.

While Soule’s conventional, classical poetry might be hard to appreciate today, he was hailed as “a writer of no ordinary ability” by the Terre Haute Journal in 1853. Additionally, Soule and his brother Moses helped pioneer education in Terre Haute, helping to establish the Vigo County Seminary and the Indiana Normal School (precursor of Indiana State University) in the 1840s. J.B.L. Soule taught at the Terre Haute Female College, a boarding school for girls.  The Soule brothers were also affiliated with the Baldwin Presbyterian Church, Terre Haute’s second house of worship.

John Soule later served as a Presbyterian minister in Plymouth, Indiana;  preached at Elkhorn, Wisconsin, during the Civil War; taught ancient languages at Blackburn University in Carlinville, Illinois; then finished his career as a Presbyterian pastor in Highland Park, Chicago.  He died in 1891.

He seems like a great candidate to be the author of “Go west, young man,” since he did exactly that.  But it’s hard to prove that Soule, not Horace Greeley, coined the famous appeal.

In November 1853, the Soule brothers bought the Wabash Express from Kentuckian Donald S. Danaldson, who had acquired it in 1845.  Danaldson tried to make the paper a daily in 1851, but it failed in less than a year.  John Soule and Isaac M. Brown worked as editors on Danaldson’s paper from August to November 1851, when it went under the name Terre Haute Daily Express.  By the time J.B.L. Soule’s name appears on its front page for the first time on November 16, 1853, the paper was only being printed weekly and was called The Wabash Express.  Soule, who also edited the Courier in nearby Charleston, Illinois, served as editor of The Wabash Express for less than a year.


Wabash Express 11-16-1853
The Wabash Express, under Soule’s leadership, was “Devoted to the Whig Policy, News, Commerce, Literature, and Good Morals.” A piece written in first-person by Horace Greeley on the front page of Soule’s very first issue suggests that the New York Tribune editor might have visited Tippecanoe County in 1853 to see the Indiana State Fair. Courtesy of Chronicling America.

Four decades later, in October 1891, an anonymous writer in the Chicago Mail reported a tale from an equally anonymous “old-timer,” told in an anonymous Chicago bar.  The “Dick Thompson” of this story is Richard Wigginton Thompson.  Originally from Culpeper, Virginia, Thompson moved out to Bedford, Indiana, to practice law, and settled in Terre Haute in 1843.  During the Civil War, Dick Thompson commanded Camp Dick Thompson, a training base in Vigo County.  Oddly for a man from almost-landlocked Indiana, he served as Secretary of the Navy under President Rutherford B. Hayes from 1877 to 1880.  He died in Terre Haute in 1900.


Richard W. Thompson
U.S. Navy Secretary and Terre Hautean Richard W. Thompson around 1880. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Supposedly based on Thompson’s own memory, the story showed up in a column called “Clubman’s Gossip” in the June 30, 1890, issue of the Chicago Mail.

“Do you know,” said an old–timer at the Chicago club, “that that epigrammatic bit of advice to young men, ‘Go west,’ so generally attributed to Horace Greeley, was not original with him? No? Well, it wasn’t. It all came about this way: John L.B. Soule was the editor of the Terre Haute Express back in the 50’s, and one day in ’51, if I remember right, he and Dick Thompson were conversing in the former’s sanctum. Thompson had just finished advising Soule to go west and grow up with the country and was praising his talents as a writer.

“‘Why, John,’ he said, ‘you could write an article that would be attributed to Horace Greeley if you tried.’

“‘No, I couldn’t,’ responded Mr. Soule, modestly, ‘I’ll bet I couldn’t.’

“‘I’ll bet a barrel of flour you can if you’ll promise to try your best, the flour to go to some deserving poor person.’

“‘All right. I’ll try,’ responded Soule.

“He did try, writing a column editorial on the subject of discussion—the opportunities offered to young men by the west. He started in by saying that Horace Greeley could never have given a young man better advice than that contained in the words, ‘Go West, young man.’

“Of course, the advice wasn’t quoted from Greeley, merely compared to what he might have said. But in a few weeks the exchanges began coming into the Express office with the epigram reprinted and accredited to Greeley almost universally. So wide a circulation did it obtain that at last the New York Tribune came out editorially, reprinted the Express article, and said in a foot note:

“‘The expression of this sentiment has been attributed to the editor of the Tribune erroneously. But so heartily does he concur in the advice it gives that he endorses most heartily the epigrammatic advice of the Terre Haute Express and joins in saying, ‘Go west, young man, go west.'”

Though the story shook the foundations of the slogan’s attribution to Greeley, even on the surface the Chicago Mail piece is doubtful.  What would Dick Thompson — no literary man — have to get J.B.L. Soule (a graduate of Phillips Exeter and Bowdoin College and one of the best writers in Terre Haute) to get over his modesty? The story also makes Thompson out to be a patriarch giving advice to the young.  In fact, he was only six years older than Soule.  It’s hard to imagine Thompson acting the father figure and “advising Soule to go west and grow up with the country” while they sat in a “sanctum” in Terre Haute — which was the West in 1851.  Soule, from Maine, had already come farther than Thompson, from Virginia.  And he kept on going.


Greenfield Daily Reporter, October 16, 1939. Newspapers.com.

The bigger problem is that there’s only a few surviving copies of the Terre Haute Express from 1851, and nobody has ever actually found the exact phrase “Go west, young man, and grow up with the country” in its pages or in any of Horace Greeley’s extensive writingsIt would be understandable if the “old-timer” of the Chicago Mail or Richard W. Thompson got the date wrong after forty years, but researchers who have scoured all extant copies of the Terre Haute papers and Horace Greeley’s works have never found a single trace of the famous slogan in its exact wording.

J.B.L. Soule got mentioned in East Coast papers at least once:  the Cambridge, Massachusetts Chronicle lauded his wit in their September 30, 1854 issue.  So it’s plausible that a “Go west” column by him could have made it back East from Terre Haute.  If so, it hasn’t appeared.

The exact phrase probably never got written down at all, but entered popular memory as short-hand for Greeley’s exhortations to migrate. Iowa Congressman Josiah B. Grinnell, a Vermont expatriate, used to be identified as the “young man” whom Greeley urged to get out of New York City and go west in 1853.  But Grinnell himself debunked claims that he got that advice from Greeley in a letter.  Even the oral advice Greeley gave Grinnell wasn’t the precise phrase we remember him for.  Instead, he said “Go West; this is not the place for a young man.”

Wherever the phrase originated, as late as 1871, a year before his death, Greeley was still urging New Englanders and down-and-out men tired of Washington, D.C. to hit the western trails.  However, the editor himself mostly stuck close to the Big Apple, venturing only as far as his Chappaqua Farm in Westchester County, New York during the summertime. While only at the big city’s edge, Greeley continued to play the role of western pioneer.

Greeley at Chappaqua Farm, 1869
Horace Greeley at Chappaqua Farm in New York, 1869. Wikimedia Commons.

Will Hays and the Hollywood Production Code

At just 110 pounds, Sullivan, Indiana-native Will Hays was not exactly the imposing figure you’d expect to be the film industry’s regulator, but he nevertheless left a substantial mark on the movie industry during the first half of the twentieth century.

To learn more about Will Hays and the MPPDA, check out Stephen Vaughn’s article from the Indiana Magazine of History.

Learn more Indiana History from the Indiana Historical Bureau: http://www.in.gov/history/

Search historic newspaper pages at Hoosier State Chronicles: www.hoosierstatechronicles.org

Visit our Blog: https://blog.newspapers.library.in.gov/

Visit Chronicling America to read more first drafts of history: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/

Learn more about the history relevance campaign at https://www.historyrelevance.com/.

Please comment, like, and subscribe!

Credits:

Written and produced by Justin Clark.

Footage of Will Hays and Irene Dunne courtesy of the Indiana State Library. 

Music:  “Days Are Long”, “7th Floor Tango”, and “Time Stops” by Silent Partner

Continue reading “Will Hays and the Hollywood Production Code”

The Love Story That Built St. Mary Catholic Church

Tony Valainis, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 2008, IUPUI Image Collection, accessed Indiana Memory.

St. Mary Catholic Church is an architectural gem. Its gothic towers help define the downtown Indianapolis skyline, while its bells call the faithful to worship. For its congregation certainly, but also for those dining and shopping in the Mass. Ave. Cultural District, the cathedral provides a moment of stately beauty in the urban landscape. But St. Mary’s is more than an elegant building. It is a love story—one set into motion by a kind matchmaking priest.

Hermann Joseph Gaul, n.d., personal collection of Lisa Dillman Wright, accessed AncestryLibrary.com

Herman (also spelled Hermann) J. Gaul was born in Germany in 1869 and immigrated to the United States in the late 1880s.[1] He was a devoted Catholic who loved the architecture of Germany’s churches, especially the Cathedral of Cologne. From an early age, he aimed to bring this gothic vision to the Midwest. In the early 1890s, he began an apprenticeship with the renowned Chicago architect Louis Sullivan.[2] In 1891, Sullivan’s Chicago firm sent Gaul to Indianapolis for several months to supervise the building of a new plant for the Home Brewing Company.[3]

Home Brewing Company Brew-House, 1900-1910, Ray Hinz Collection, courtesy of Indiana Album, accessed Indiana Memory.

The beer company incorporated in the summer of 1891 with $200,000 in stocks from notable residents. Construction, at a cost of $70,000, began soon after. The company was influential enough to garner city permission to construct a switch that would allow shipping via railroad right out of its backyard—not without some objection over this “bow to the brewers” from temperance factions in the city. The Home Brewing Company began operations early in 1892 and was a huge financial success.[4]

Indiana Tribüne, July 24, 1892, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

For the local business community, this ambitious and visible project made Gaul a young architect to watch. For the ladies of Indianapolis’s German Catholic community, it would have made him a fetching romantic prospect. And luckily for Gaul, the 1890s were actually a great time to fall in love.

Romance Card, 1912, Greeting Car Collection, Vigo County Historical Society, accessed Indiana Memory.

In previous eras, women’s labor was necessary for a couple’s survival and a man seeking a wife looked for someone who would make an economic contribution to the farm or family business—regardless of his personal feelings for her. On the flip side, a young woman’s family would make a similar financially-minded decision, using her to link two families together to build wealth — regardless of the bride’s feelings for her groom. Of course, financial concerns never disappeared from matchmaking, but by the eighteenth century, love became more central to a match, and romantic marriage became more common.

Nineteenth century conventions placed more emphasis on the husband as breadwinner and wife as homemaker. And while this social construct had some serious political and economic disadvantages for women, it did allow for the consideration of romantic love in choosing one’s spouse. [5] Gaul’s luck at being born in this period and his dedication to his faith soon led to his own romantic match.

Anthony Scheideler, German-Language Family Bible, 1830-1885, Indiana State Library Genealogy Collection, accessed Indiana State Library Digital Collections.

When he arrived in Indianapolis in 1891, Gaul knew that he wanted to stay in the home of a respectable German Catholic family as opposed to a hotel or boarding house. He was also eager to find a spiritual home. He looked to St. Mary, the heart of the German Catholic community, located at that time on Maryland Street. Indianapolis German Catholics and regional Catholic leadership had organized this church for German-speaking congregants in the 1850s. In addition to serving the community’s spiritual needs, St. Mary was also the cultural hub for the local German immigrant community, hosting concerts, theatrical performances, and festivals featuring traditional German food and entertainment.[6]

Rev. Scheideler, Indianapolis News, October 11, 1918, 18, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

Gaul’s first stop in his new city was the home of Father Anthony Scheideler, pastor at St. Mary since 1874. Father Scheideler knew his congregants well. So when Gaul asked him to recommend a nice family who might take him in as a boarder and who lived near the Home Brewing Company construction site, Scheideler immediately had the right fit: the Seiter family. They were also of German origin and described by Scheideler as “one of the best families in my parish.”[7] Christopher Seiter, the patriarch, owned a saloon, while his wife, Cecelia, took care of the home and their children. In his two months with the Seiters, the young architect fell in love with their daughter, Mary, who was about sixteen years old, seven years younger than Gaul. He was smitten but would have to be patient for several more years. With a smile on his face that the pastor remembered decades later, Gaul told Father Scheideler:

I am going back to Chicago, but I shall return soon. I have found the oldest daughter of Mr. Seiter very interesting.[8]

Father Scheideler was pleased with the match. It’s not clear how often Gaul returned to visit Mary or if they stayed in touch mainly by mail, but he kept his promise to return. On April 22, 1896, Father Scheideler officiated the wedding of Herman Gaul and Mary Seiter at St. Mary Catholic Church.[9]

“Personal and Society,” Indianapolis Journal, April 14, 1896, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

On his wedding day, Gaul thanked the pastor for connecting him “to such an estimable family” and told him he would never forget his kindness. He vowed:

If you ever build a new church, Father Scheideler, I will be the architect.[10]

It seemed like the kind of lofty promise a young man would make on an emotional day, and the pastor “laughed and thanked the enthusiastic young architect but gave no further thought to his promise.”[11]

R.W.R. Capes, Sacred Heart Church, n.d., architect: Herman J. Gaul, Building a Nation: Indiana Limestone Photograph Collection, Indiana University Bloomington, accessed Indiana Memory.

Gaul and his new wife moved to Chicago. He opened his own architecture firm and grew his career over the following decade, building a half dozen churches as well as schools, orphanages, and hospitals for German institutions around the Midwest. One major commission, St. Nicholas Church in Evanston, Illinois, stood proudly on an elevated site with “romantic ambience.”[12]

Over the following years, Herman and Mary Gaul welcomed seven children. Unsurprisingly, Mary’s name doesn’t appear in newspapers outside of a real estate transfer (along with Herman’s name). She seems to have been busy taking care of her large family with little time to lead a literary or church club that would have landed her coverage in newspapers. But we can assume their marriage was a happy one, since Gaul still felt inspired by it to fulfill the promise he made in Indianapolis.[13]

Turn Verein Eiche, n.d., American Turners Local Societies Collection, IUPUI Digital Collections, accessed Indiana Memory.

Meanwhile in the Circle City, the German immigrant population continued to grow, as did the congregation of St. Mary Catholic Church. Father Scheideler knew he would soon need a bigger building. In 1906, the pastorate purchased land at the intersection of Vermont and New Jersey as a future investment with “no thought of building immediately entertained.”[14] Nonetheless, local newspapers printed news of the transfer.

Sanborn Insurance Maps of Indianapolis, Vol. 1, 1914, Library of Congress, accessed Historical Information Gatherers via Indiana State Library.

Father Scheideler may have “practically forgot Herman Gaul and his promise to draw the plans for a new St. Mary’s,” but Gaul had not forgotten. When the architect read about the new St. Mary property in the newspaper, he quickly left for Indianapolis. Father Sheideler opened his door and there was Gaul, again wearing that memorable smile. The architect said, “I have come to make good my promise to draw plans for a new St. Mary’s.” Father Sheideler told him that unfortunately they did not yet have the funding to build, but Gaul was undeterred. He replied, “Well, I am going to draw the plans anyhow, true to my word.”[15]

James Palik, Cologne Cathedral, Germany, photograph, n.d., UNESCO World Heritage Centre, accessed https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/292/.

The two men spent hours chatting and catching up and soon discovered that they were both born near the Cathedral of Cologne in Germany. Gaul shared that he had dreamed of building a church like it since he was a boy—a building that would “bear the stamp of its beauty.” Father Sheideler doubted that such a feat was possible but the architect said simply, “Well, we shall try.”[16]

Several months later the driver of an express wagon arrived at the pastor’s door bearing a large package: Gaul’s plan for “a miniature cathedral of Cologne” in Indianapolis. Father Scheideler shared the plans with leading St. Mary congregants and “Herman Gaul’s dream for a new St. Mary’s spread through the parish.”[17]

Indianapolis News, September 9, 1912, 11, accessed Newspapers.com.

In spring 1910, clergy and parishioners, assisted by hundreds of Catholic school children, broke ground on a new location for St. Mary’s at Vermont and New Jersey Streets.[18] That fall, the congregation laid the cornerstone.[19] By July 1912, the new building was complete. The Indianapolis News ran a feature on its architecture with the headline: “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge to Plan for the St. Mary’s Parish a Miniature Cathedral of Cologne.”[20]

Indianapolis News, July 6, 1912, accessed Newspapers.com.

While we don’t have a record of Herman’s love for his wife Mary in letters or diaries, we see their love reflected in his tribute to her and to his faith. Recorded for posterity in the architecture of St. Mary is one German immigrant’s joy at finding a partner to share his Catholic faith and German traditions, and with whom he built a family and home in addition to a church. And he owed it all to one savvy matchmaker, Father Scheideler, who just might have known what he was doing from the start.

Notes

[1] Passport Application, September 7, 1893, No. 4331,  Roll 410, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com;  Twelfth Census of the United States, June 14, 1900, Chicago Ward 14, Cook County, Illinois, roll 262, page 13, National Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com. On his passport application, Gaul declared he immigrated to the U.S. in 1886.

[2] Edward R. Kantowicz, “To Build the Catholic City,” Chicago History 14, No. 3 (Fall 1985): 14, accessed Chicago History Museum.

[3] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge to Plan for the St. Mary’s Parish A Miniature Cathedral of Cologne,” Indianapolis News, July 6, 1912, 13, accessed Newspapers.com.

[4] “Articles of Incorporation,” Indianapolis Journal, June 23, 1891, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Minor City Matters,” Indianapolis Journal, August 26, 1891, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Bow to the Brewers,” Indianapolis Journal, November 3, 1891, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Industrial Notes,” Indianapolis Journal, January 4, 1892, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[5] “The History of Romance,” February 13, 2017, National Women’s History Museum, accessed https://www.womenshistory.org/articles/history-romance.

[6] “Religious Ceremony,” Indianapolis State Sentinel, August 26, 1857, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Laying of the Corner Stone of the German Catholic Church,” Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, September 1, 1857, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; No title, Indianapolis Daily Sentinel, May 14, 1858, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “The German Catholic Church, Maryland,” Daily State Sentinel, August 13, 1858, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; McEvoy’s Indianapolis City Directory and Business Mirror (Indianapolis: H. N. McEvoy Publisher, 1858), 219, accessed IUPUI Library Digital Collections; “Dedication,” Daily State Sentinel, September 12, 1859, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[7] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[8] Ibid.

[9] “Personal and Society,” Indianapolis Journal, April 14, 1896, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[10] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Kantowicz, 14.

[13] Conclusion gleaned from searching census records and Chicago newspapers.

[14] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

[15-17] Ibid.

[18] “Church Ground Broken,” Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1910, 3, accessed Newspapers.com.

[19] “Lays Cornerstone of New St. Mary’s,” Indianapolis Star, October 24, 1910, 12, accessed Newspapers.com.

[20] “After Twenty Years Herman Gaul Makes Good His Wedding Day Pledge,” 13.

Foster the People: How One Entrepreneur Cultivated a More Equitable Indianapolis

Andrew Foster, Crispus Attucks High School, January 1, 1938, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, accessed digitalindy.org.

“Someone once suggested that the black man pull himself up by his bootstraps.”

“The black man agreed that it was a good idea, but he wasn’t exactly sure of how to go about it. First of all, he had no boots, and secondly, he considered himself lucky to be wearing shoes.”

Andrew “Bo” Foster perhaps related to the figurative Black man described by Skip Hess in his 1968 Indianapolis News article.[1] Foster’s adolescence was marked by hardship and instability. Despite this, he became a prominent entrepreneur and civic leader in Indianapolis. Not only did he manage to procure “boots,” but went on to ensure that others in the community had a pair. In doing so, he created opportunities for socioeconomic advancement.

According to his grandson, Charles Foster Jolivette, Foster was born along an alley near Riley Towers in 1919.[2] His father, Edward, died when Foster was a young child. For reasons that are unclear, he was not raised primarily by his mother, Eva. When not staying with father figure William W. Hyde, a local Black attorney, he spent his childhood in the Indianapolis Asylum for Friendless Colored Children, which had a history of corporal punishment and unsanitary conditions.[3] Nevertheless, Foster kept up with his education, graduating from Crispus Attucks High School in 1938.[4]

Foster during World War II, courtesy of the Foster family.

The Indianapolis News reported that after graduation he “hauled scrap iron on a tonnage basis.”[5] Shortly before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Foster was sent to Camp Wolters, an infantry replacement training center in Texas.[6] By 1943, he had graduated as a second lieutenant from officer candidate school at Camp Hood and went on to serve on a tank destroyer unit.

After Foster’s service, he established a lucrative Indianapolis trucking company, enabling him to open and manage several businesses that served Black patrons in the segregated city.[7] His work ethic was second to none, as he worked most holidays, and reportedly said “You must be willing to work 26 hours a day if you want to be in business.”[8] Reflecting on his prolific career in 1983, Foster told the Indianapolis Recorder that he had no formal training, “just high school, the Army and common sense. I came out of the Army and started hauling trash. I saw a need for a black hotel, then added a motel three years later in order to survive.”[9]

Postcard, Evan Finch Collection, accessed Indiana Album.

By 1949, he opened Foster Hotel and the Guest House at North Illinois Street.[10] Both were listed in The Negro Travelers’ Green Book, which published the names of safe, welcoming businesses and accommodations across the country.[11] At a time when Black Americans were turned away from hotels, Foster’s were one of the only in Indianapolis to serve them. In addition to Foster Hotel and Guest House, he opened the Manor House, Motor Lodge, Carrollton Hotel, and private rooming houses.[12] These businesses accommodated tourists, “permanent guests,” and famed customers, such as Muhammad Ali, LaWanda Page, Lionel Hampton, Nat King Cole, and Redd Foxx.[13] Unless these celebrities had friends or family in the city, they all stayed at a Foster establishment.

Patrons praised the facilities for their cleanliness, modern features, and hospitable staff. Foster opted against “frills” because “Negroes travel on a pretty tight budget” and he chose not to build a pool because of the liability insurance fees.[14] The Recorder attributed his “steady rise in the scale of fortune” to his “integrity, foresight, business acumen and high sense of fair play in his dealing with others.”[15] His bachelor pad reflected this burgeoning fortune. According to a 1954 Jet magazine profile, it was outfitted with “walls of black glass, a full-mirrored ceiling, monogrammed glass-enclosed tub and shower, and double lavatories in pink. The floor is pink and black marble and Foster had a lifelike nude painted on one wall.”[16]

Women dancing at Pearl’s Lounge, courtesy of the Foster family.

In addition to financial success, Foster founded his businesses to meet the need for a communal space in which to socialize, politically organize, and host civic and philanthropic events. According to the Recorder, Foster “saw blacks holding meetings at white-owned establishments ‘where they couldn’t always speak their peace’” and sought to provide a venue where they could.[17] Pearl’s Lounge, opened by 1970, did just that. Named for his wife, whom he married in 1962, the cocktail lounge at 118 West McLean Place (adjoining Foster Hotel). Foster later told the Recorder, “‘Many a black group has gotten its start here.”[18]

The Recorder considered the new addition “just about the most beautiful eating and drinking emporium in the Hoosier capital,” praising its “dim lighted lovers’ rooms of oriental design” and “beautiful mahogany bar with electronic stereo component for continuous music.” In a word, Pearl’s was “fantabulous.”[19]

Voting drive outside of Pearl’s, courtesy of the Foster family.

Pearl’s banquet hall and ballroom facilitated numerous events. These included a fashion show, voter registration program, and IU alumni meeting regarding how to best serve Black students. Pearl’s also hosted numerous NAACP events, including a businessmen’s luncheon, at which executive director Roy Wilkins spoke in favor of busing as a means to educational equality.[20] Pearl’s also served as a venue for furthering race relations. For example, the Recorder reported in 1975, “In their first major attempt to acquaint the owners, coaches and players with the black community, the Indiana Pacers will host a reception and a buffet dinner” at the lounge.[21]

Robert Briggs (far left), Huerta Tribble (fourth from left), Richard Lugar (fifth from the left), Andrew Foster (sixth from the left, Indianapolis Recorder Collection, Indiana Historical Society, accessed https://images.indianahistory.org/digital/collection/p0303/id/409/rec/3.

Pearl’s lounge hosted numerous political campaign events and debates—including those of Mayor William Hudnut, Judge Rufus C. Kuykendall, Senator Julia Carson, and Senator Richard Lugar.[22] It accommodated events for groups across the political spectrum, including Indiana Black Republican Council meetings and a Socialist Workers Party rally.[23]


Indianapolis Star, February 17, 1970, 26, accessed Newspapers.com.

Foster not only uplifted the community through his businesses, but also as president of the Indianapolis chapter of the National Business League (NBL) in the 1960s and 70s. Through the NBL—described as the “chamber of commerce of Negro enterprise” and a “type of professional group therapy”—Foster mentored Black business owners.[24] He helped them obtain grants and matched minority-owned businesses with “established corporate buyers.” Under Foster’s leadership, the NBL worked with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Operation Breadbasket to provide entrepreneurs with seminars about topics like accounting trends and business law.

Of this work, Foster said “We’re living in a new day and working with a new Negro who is more professionally and economically mature . . .  Negro businessmen today realize that they can not stand a chance individually. They must unite and mobilize their resources for a stronger voice and larger economic base.”[25] He also worked to increase capital for minorities by co-founding the Midwest National Bank in 1972. The bank publicly objected to redlining practices, issued “inner-city” loans, and appointed women to several leadership positions.[26]


Despite cultivating a small empire and a reputation as a civic-minded leader, Foster’s proverbial boots were nearly confiscated. In 1974, he was arrested for allegedly operating an interstate heroin ring.[27] His arrest followed a “‘super secret'” investigation conducted by the FDA and Indianapolis Police Department narcotic squad, which purported that he violated the Indiana Controlled Substances Act. The following year, the Indianapolis Star reported that a Marion County grand jury exonerated Foster, claiming in an eight-page report that his arrest was “‘politically motivated.'”[28] The report concluded that he was arrested because two informants were promised leniency in other cases against them if they would implicate Foster. Jurors opined, “‘We believe Andrew Foster has personally suffered a great deal as a result of these indictments.'”

Foster elaborated on this suffering. He told the Indianapolis Star that his wife was afraid to stay at home, fearing that the allegations would induce individuals in the drug trade to “‘kidnap one of our children or break into our home to rob us.'”[29] Another ramification of the indictment was Foster’s resignation from the board of the Midwest National Bank. He told the Star, “‘I was a successful black businessman and the younger blacks could look up to me and see a model for success,'” but after the arrest and prosecutors’ statements “some of the younger blacks felt I was discredited.'”[30] In his pursuit of accountability, Foster filed suit against Marion County Prosecutor Noble Pearcy and Chief Trial Deputy Leroy New for defamation.[31] Over the course of years and various appeals, the state ruled against Foster, concluding that “‘the prosecutor and his assistant were immune from being sued for anything they said in their official capacity.'”[32] The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the state.

Broadcasters Hall of Famer Amos Brown (right) celebrating “Bo Foster’s Day” with Bo (seated) in 1982, courtesy of the Foster family.

The arrest ultimately failed to tarnish his reputation, which he went to various length to defend, including voluntarily taking a lie detector test.[33] He certainly felt a sense of gratification when hundreds gathered to celebrate “Bo Foster Day” on August 24, 1982.[34] At the event, the Marion County Sherriff’s Department presented him with a plaque, and Joe Slash, the city’s first Black deputy mayor, presented him with a letter from Mayor William Hudnut. Foster was also bestowed with the prestigious Sagamore of the Wabash, which Governor Robert Orr awarded in recognition of his civic contributions.[35] The Indianapolis Recorder profiled the event and predicted “In the years to come the children and grandchildren of Mr. and Mrs. Foster will remember him as a man who contributed endlessly to the well being of the Hoosier state and of his admiring contemporaries . . . a man who lived the American Dream.”[36]

Foster’s relatives at the 2023 historical marker dedication, former site of Foster Motor Lodge and Pearl’s Lounge, photo taken by author.

Andrew “Bo” Foster passed away in 1987, having increased capital and equity for Indianapolis’s Black community.[37] In the 1990s, Foster Motor Lodge and adjoining Pearl’s Lounge were demolished.[38] Fittingly, the site was replaced with the Hamilton Center, a non-profit mental health organization. This would be the location of a historical marker installed in 2023 to commemorate Foster. His family shares his sense of stewardship. His grandson, Charles, applied for the marker and manages a robust Instagram account documenting Foster’s life to ensure his legacy endures.

The marker dedication was a joyous occasion, one that resembled a family reunion. Relatives flew from across the country to commemorate the patriarch and learn about the Indianapolis of his time. Also in attendance was Joe Slash, who was effusive in his praise of Foster and his enduring impact. He and family members passed around a microphone, sharing memories and anecdotes that affirmed the Recorder‘s prediction.

Notes:

[1] Skip Hess, “No ‘Bootstraps,’ So NBL Evolves,” Indianapolis News, June 27, 1968, 56, accessed Newspapers.com.

[2] Andrew Foster Legacy Inc. Instagram account, managed by Charles Foster Jolivette. The account includes several primary sources, including newspaper clippings and images.

[3] Robert Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, August 26, 1969, 24, accessed Newspapers.com; “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 22, 1983, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[4] Photograph, Andrew Foster, January 1, 1938, Crispus Attucks High School Collection, accessed Indianapolis Public Library Digital Collections; Photograph, Crispus Attucks Alumni, December 9, 1983, accessed Indiana Historical Society Digital Image Collections.

[5] Robert Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, August 26, 1969, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.

[6] “Andrew Daniel Foster,” U.S. World War II Draft Cards, Young Men, 1940-1947, Registration Date: October 16, 1940, accessed Ancestry Library; “Service Roll: Inductions and Enlistments into U. S. Forces,” Indianapolis News, October 21, 1941, 8, accessed Newspapers.com; Indianapolis Star, March 2, 1943, 22, accessed Newspapers.com; Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, 24.

[7] The Saint, “The Avenoo,” Indianapolis Recorder, April 27, 1957, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, 24; “Andrew D. Foster, Owned Motor Lodge,” Indianapolis News, June 25, 1987, 39, accessed Newspapers.com; “The ‘New’ Pearl’s Management is Sponsoring Andrew ‘Bo’ Foster Memorial/Appreciation Day May 28,” Indianapolis Recorder, May 21, 1988, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[8] “Andrew Foster,” 1950 United States Federal Census, accessed Ancestry Library; George Vecsey, “For Many, It was Just Another Weekend,” New York Times, February 15, 1971, 13, accessed timesmachine.nytimes.com; Andrew Foster Legacy Inc. Instagram account.

[9] “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, 1.

[10] Indianapolis Recorder, February 5, 1949, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “’House of Strangers’ at Walker Sunday,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 8, 1949, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[11] “Indianapolis,” The Negro Travelers’ Green Book: The Guide to Travel and Vacations (1955 Edition): 20, accessed New York Public Library Digital Collections; “Indianapolis,” Travelers’ Greek Book (New York City: Victor H. Green & Co., 1966-1967): 24, accessed New York Public Library Digital Collections; Alexandria Burris, “How the ‘Great Book’ Helped Black Motorists Travel across Indiana,” IndyStar, February 16, 2022, accessed indystar.com. (Foster Hotel and Guest House were printed in issues from 1955 to 1977).

[12] “Foster Opens Hotel in Downtown Section,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 22, 1955, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; Indianapolis Recorder, August 13, 1955, 7, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; The Saint, “The Avenoo,” Indianapolis Recorder, April 27, 1957, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; The Saint, “The Avenoo,” Indianapolis Recorder, June 29, 1963, 12, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Ad, Indianapolis Recorder, July 8, 1967, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[13] Ad, “Welcome Permanent Guest,” Indianapolis Recorder, February 6, 1954, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; The Saint, “The Avenoo,” Indianapolis Recorder, September 24, 1966, 10, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, 24; “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 22, 1983, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[14] Robert Corya, “Dust Nothing New to Andrew Foster,” Indianapolis News, August 26, 1969, 24, accessed Newspapers.com.

[15] “Foster Opens Hotel in Downtown Section,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 22, 1955, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[16] Jet (November 11, 19540): 46, submitted by marker applicant.

[17] “Marriage Licenses,” Indianapolis Star, May 1, 1962, 30, accessed Newspapers.com; Ad, “Pearl’s Cocktail Lounge,” Indianapolis Recorder, May 9, 1970, 11, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, 1; “The ‘New’ Pearl’s Management is Sponsoring Andrew ‘Bo’ Foster Memorial/Appreciation Day May 28,” Indianapolis Recorder, May 21, 1988, 3, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[18] “Success Hasn’t Spoiled Bo,” Indianapolis Recorder, 1.

[19] Indianapolis Recorder, October 17, 1970, submitted by marker applicant.

[20] Renee Ferguson, “NAACP Leader Denounces Bills Prohibiting Busing,” Indianapolis News, February 23, 1972, 10, accessed Newspapers.com; “Women’s Luncheon Every Monday at Pearl’s Lounge,” Indianapolis Recorder, August 17, 1974, 5, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; Indianapolis Recorder, October 9, 1976, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Let’s Go: Leisure Time Calendar,” Indianapolis Star, February 27, 1983, 83, accessed Newspapers.com; “Special Notices,” Indianapolis News, October 26, 1984, 33, accessed Newspapers.com.

[21] “Pacers Get-Acquainted Buffet at Pearl’s Nov. 3,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 25, 1975, 4, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[22] “Black Republicans Enjoy Reception,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 2, 1971, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; “One Man in Life,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 6, 1973, 15, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Group Raises $67,075 for Lugar Campaign,” Indianapolis News, March 13, 1974, 20, accessed Newspapers.com; “Hudnut, GOP Mayoral Candidate, Plans Active Recruitment Program for Blacks,” Indianapolis Recorder, October 4, 1975, 1, 17, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Black Republicans Cite Kuykendall, Ms. Holland,” Indianapolis Recorder, February 28, 1976, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “C. Delores Tucker Arranges Series of Weekend Talks,” Indianapolis Star, October 10, 1976, 86, accessed Newspapers.com; William J. Sedivy, “Socialist Workers Vice Presidential Candidate in City,” Indianapolis Star, September 15, 1984, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.

[23] “Black Republicans Enjoy Reception,” Indianapolis Recorder, January 2, 1971, 4, accessed Newspapers.com; Sedivy, “Socialist Workers Vice Presidential Candidate in City,” Indianapolis Star, 22, accessed Newspapers.com.

[24] Pat W. Stewart, “Operation Breadbasket Ministers Outline Broad Program for Action in the City,” Indianapolis Recorder, December 30, 1967, 1, 14, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; John H. Lyst, “Negro Firms to Get Push,” Indianapolis Star, May 2, 1968, 73, accessed Newspapers.com; L. J. Banks, “NBL Ready to Aid Negro Businessmen,” Indianapolis News, December 4, 1968, 78, accessed Newspapers.com; “Opportunity Fair to Aid Minorities,” Indianapolis News, July 29, 1970, 25, accessed Newspapers.com.

[25] Banks, “NBL Ready to Aid Negro Businessmen,” Indianapolis News, 78.

[26] Robert Corya, “80,000 Shares OK’d for Newest City Bank,” Indianapolis News, April 20, 1971, 5, accessed Newspapers.com; “New Midwest National Bank Gets Approval to Sell Common Stock,” Indianapolis Recorder, April 24, 1971, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “The Best Kept Secret in Town: Midwest National Bank,” Indianapolis Recorder, November 28, 1981, 22, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[27] “Health Board Member Among 7 Arrested on Drug Indictments,” Indianapolis Star, September 7, 1974, 6, accessed Newspapers.com.

[28] Joseph Gelarden, “Jury Calls Indictment ‘Politics,'” Indianapolis Star, May 24, 1975, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid.

[31] “Judge is Ordered to Consider Suit,” The Herald [Jasper, MI], June 21, 1978, 18, accessed Newspapers.com.

[32] “From Libel Suit: Court,” The Times [Munster, IN], April 4, 1979, 9, accessed Newspapers.com; “High Court Denies Hoosier’s Appeal,” Daily Reporter [Greenfield, IN], April 15, 1980, 1, accessed Newspapers.com.

[33] Andrew Foster Legacy Inc. Instagram account.

[34] “Bo Foster’s Day,” Indianapolis Recorder, September 4, 1982, 1, 8, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[35] William “Skinny” Alexander, “Time for Talk,” Indianapolis Recorder, September 4, 1982, 2, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles.

[36] “Bo Foster’s Day,” Indianapolis Recorder, 1, 8.

[37] “Andrew Daniel Foster, Sr.,” Indiana State Board of Health Medical Certificate of Death, June 23, 1987, Indiana, U.S., Death Certificates, 1899-2011, accessed Ancestry Library; “Andrew D. Foster, Owned Motor Lodge,” Indianapolis News, June 25, 1987, 39, accessed Newspapers.

[38] Mary Francis, “McLean Place was Truly Foster’s Place, and Now It’s Official,” Indianapolis Star, November 16, 1994, 2, accessed Newspapers.com; Howard M. Smulevitz, “New Mental Health Center will Stand on Site of Historic Lounge and Lodge,” Indianapolis Star, September 7, 1996, 16, accessed Newspapers.com.

“The Gentlest Memory of Our World”: Robert Ingersoll and the Memorialization of Abraham Lincoln

Indianapolis Journal, May 4 1893, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Abraham Lincoln is one of the most written-about subjects in all of human history; thousands of books, articles, and speeches have been published about his life and legacy. As such, there is an interesting interplay between history and memory that manifests whenever the sixteenth President is discussed. Historian David Herbert Donald, one of the foremost Lincoln scholars of the 20th century, wrote in his essay, “The Folklore Lincoln,” that “the Lincoln cult is almost an American religion. It has its high priests in the Lincoln ‘authorities’ and its worshippers in the thousands of ‘fans’ who think, talk, and read Lincoln every day.” What we know about him is interpolated through decades of stories, recollections, and reflections that separate Lincoln “the man” from the Lincoln “the myth.” None of this is necessarily wrong, as all historical figures are subject to mythologizing and memorialization. The task of the historian is to identify the difference between myth and reality, but in a countervailing twist, recognize the historical importance of the development of myths.

President Abraham Lincoln, from Great Speeches of Ingersoll, Internet Archive.

One such figure who mythologized Lincoln while humanizing him was the orator Robert Green Ingersoll. Among the most sought-after public speakers and intellectuals of the late nineteenth century, Ingersoll is best remembered today for his excoriating lectures on religion. Known as the “Great Agnostic,” Ingersoll became the outstanding leader of the “Golden Age of Freethought,” the era between the Civil War and World War I which saw a groundswell of religious criticism and secular activism. But his lectures, which were attended by thousands over the decades, were not limited merely to religion. In fact, he spoke on a variety of subjects, from William Shakespeare to the history of the United States. As a veteran of the Civil War, Ingersoll’s life deeply intertwined with arguably the most important event in the history of nineteenth century America.

Robert Ingersoll, from Great Speeches of Ingersoll, Internet Archive.

His memorialization of Lincoln and the Civil War era started in earnest within a matter of years after the war ended. In September of 1876, Ingersoll delivered one of his most influential speeches in Indianapolis, referred to as the “Vision of War” speech. Introduced as “that dashing cavalry officer, that thunderbolt of war, that silver tongued orator” by Brevet Brigadier General Edward F. Noyes, Ingersoll commemorated the sacrifices of Union veterans, as well as stumped for Republican presidential candidate Rutherford B. Hayes in his remarks. Throughout his speech, Ingersoll used the memory of Lincoln to hit home his partisan political message. One such example: “Every man that cursed Abraham Lincoln because he issued the Proclamation of Emancipation—the grandest paper since the Declaration of Independence—every one of them was a Democrat.” Clearly the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was a contentious document in its time, of which many politicos disagreed with. Nevertheless, Ingersoll’s rhetorical flourish used Lincoln’s political prescience to elevate the Republican party, which Ingersoll saw as the party of freedom and progress.

In the middle of his speech, Ingersoll’s tone shifted from partisan (and somewhat rancorous) to poetic and solemn as he reflected on the horrors of war, its fallen soldiers, and the society those who fought had left behind. “These heroes are dead,” he began:

They died for liberty — they died for us. They are at rest. They sleep in the land they made free, under the flag they rendered stainless, under the solemn pines, the sad hemlocks, the tearful willows, and the embracing vines. They sleep beneath the shadows of the clouds, careless alike of sunshine or of storm, each in the windowless Palace of Rest. The Earth may run red with other wars — they are at peace. In the midst of battle, in the roar of conflict, they found the serenity of death! I have one sentiment for all soldiers living and dead: cheers for the living; tears for the dead.

As a man who fought at the Battle of Shiloh, who experienced horrors as a prisoner of war, Ingersoll’s words were not mere flights of rhetoric. He intimately understood the sacrifices his generation made in the service of saving the Union, and he wanted every person hearing his words that day to recognize those sacrifices.

The title page of the illustrated version of Ingersoll’s “Vision of War Speech,” published in 1899, Google Books.

His remarks received an immediate public reaction. The Indianapolis News praised his speech, albeit with slight criticism, writing “the orator justified all expectations by delivering a speech, bitter in perhaps of arraingment [sic], but comprehensive, eloquent, and inimitable.” The ‘vision of war’ section was later reprinted as a pamphlet with illustrations that reiterated many of its core themes. It was one of the orations that made Ingersoll a nationally-renowned public speaker.

By 1880, then a more accomplished orator, Ingersoll began to tackle Lincoln as a subject more directly, publishing a laudatory sketch of the president that was published in pamphlet form. This version focused less on biographical details and more on character impressions of the president. Right from the outset, Ingersoll was keenly aware of how Lincoln’s memory is shaped by the public, often to the negation of the real person. As he wrote, “Hundreds of people are now engaged in smoothing out the lines of Lincoln’s face—forcing all features to the common mold—so that he may be known, not as he really was, but, according to their poor standard, as he should have been.” The metaphor of “smoothing out” is certainly apt; upon his assassination in 1865, Lincoln’s visage appeared in countless artistic depictions which removed him from the realm of mortals and into the hands of providence. He became more of a symbol than a man.

A pamphlet of Ingersoll’s Lincoln Speech, 1880, Internet Archive.

Ingersoll sought to counter this with his 1880 pamphlet, reminding Americans that “Lincoln was a many-sided man, acquainted with smiles and tears, complex in brain, single in heart, direct as light; and his word, candid as mirrors, gave the perfect image of his thought. He was never afraid to ask—never too dignified to admit that he did not know.” Ingersoll’s portrait, while still quite laudatory, nevertheless centered Lincoln’s humility and complexity, reaffirming his humanity rather than attempting to deify him. Additionally, Ingersoll emphasized Lincoln’s dedication to education, despite the latter’s known history of scant instruction. “Lincoln never finished his education,” he noted, “To the night of his death he was a pupil, a learner, an enquirer, a seeker after knowledge.” This was in stark contrast to those who Ingersoll called “spoiled by what is called education. For the most part, colleges are places where pebbles are polished and diamonds are dimmed.” This revealed an influential parallel between Ingersoll and Lincoln. Both were Illinoisans who received little formal education and became lawyers through independent study, rather than going to a university. Ingersoll saw much of himself in Lincoln, which one suspects impacted the orator’s portrait of the president as a self-educated, self-made man unsullied by the indulgences of the established ways of acculturation. In all, Ingersoll’s 1880 pamphlet depicted Lincoln as a moral, and even righteous, figure, but still relatable— a man dedicated to education, honesty, and self-improvement.

Indianapolis News, April 29 1893, Hoosier State Chronicles.

By the 1890s, Ingersoll’s renown for oratory made him constantly in demand, and for the 1893 Lincoln Dinner of the Republican Club of New York on February 11, he delivered a revised version of his speech as a keynote speaker. While much of the text is similar to the 1880 version, Ingersoll added a section of Lincoln’s own oratory as a means of memorialization. The passage, which Ingersoll described lovingly as “sculptured speech,” was taken from Lincoln’s remarks in Edwardsville, Illinois on September 11, 1858, during his run for the Senate against Stephen A. Douglas:

And when, by all these means, you have succeeded in dehumanizing the negro; when you have put him down and made it impossible for him to be but as the beasts of the field; when you have extinguished his soul in this world and placed him where the ray of hope is blown out as in the darkness of the damned, are you quite sure that the demon you have roused will not turn and rend you? What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling seacoast, our army and our navy.

These are not our reliance against tyranny. All of those may be turned against us without making us weaker for the struggle.

Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defence [sic] is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere.

Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage and you prepare your own limbs to wear them.

Lincoln’s words placed liberty, not mere power, at the heart of the American experiment of self-government, a heart which would be torn asunder by the barbarism of slavery. In reflecting on Lincoln’s use of language, Ingersoll declared, “The orator loves the real, the simple, the natural, and he places thought and feeling above all. He knows that the greatest ideas should be expressed in the shortest words. He knows that a great idea is like a great statue, and he knows that the greater the statue the less drapery it needs.” Among other attributes, Lincoln’s use of simple, but poetic language during a time of deep of crisis, in Ingersoll’s estimation, cemented his place in American history.

Robert Ingersoll delivered his speech on Lincoln during a nationwide tour in 1893, with one of the stops being Indianapolis. He had spoken many times in Indianapolis since his “vision of war” speech in 1876, but the venue in 1893 was the illustrious English Opera House, which was located on Monument Circle and was a mainstay of the entertainment industry during the era. The Indianapolis News and Journal ran flashy advertisements in advance of his appearance, with the latter stating “Colonel Ingersoll’s treatment of the subject is said to be one of those rarely intellectual things that is to be heard but a few times in a lifetime.” Ingersoll arrived in Indianapolis at noon on May 4, 1893, mere hours from his scheduled performance, according to the News. The Journal ran a final advertisement in its early edition, noting that it would be Ingersoll’s “only appearance this season.”

Ingersoll’s Lincoln Speech in Indianapolis,1893, Indiana Memory.

The Standard Publishing Company of Indianapolis reproduced his speech, with commentary, in pamphlet form (a digital version is available via Indiana Memory). Ingersoll opens his speech with a fascinating coincidence of history: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were born on the same day, February 12, 1809. “Eighty-four years ago two babes were born,” he began:

one in the woods of Kentucky amid the hardships and poverty of pioneers; one in England surrounded by wealth and culture. One was educated in the university of nature, the other at Oxford. One associated his name with the enfranchisement of labor, with the emancipation of millions, with the salvation of the Republic. He is known to us as Abraham Lincoln. The other broke the chains of superstition and filled the world with intellectual light, and he is known as Charles Darwin. Because of those two men the nineteenth century is illustrious.

Ingersoll viewed Darwin and Lincoln as emancipatory figures, with Lincoln the emancipator of people and Darwin the emancipator of minds. As one of the first to popularize the theory of evolution in America, Ingersoll comprehended the profound implications of Darwin’s ideas in a deeply religious country. Perhaps Ingersoll linked Darwin with Lincoln in an attempt to soften the intellectual blow of his concepts; conversely, linking Lincoln with Darwin emphasized the importance of the former’s contributions to humanity, ones with transformative consequences for his nation.

Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln, Galapagos Travel Center/Wikipedia.

Later in his lecture, Ingersoll painted a portrait of Lincoln as a man of contradictions who nevertheless transcended them. “The sympathies of Lincoln, his ties, his kindred, were with the South,” he noted, “His convictions, his sense of justice and his ideals were with the North.” Born of upland southern ancestry and marrying into a southern aristocratic family, Lincoln could have easily given into the currents of his experiences. Yet, “he knew the horrors of slavery, and he felt the unspeakable ecstasies and glories of freedom,” Ingersoll continued, and “he had the manhood and independence of true greatness, and he could not have been a slave.” Lincoln’s abhorrence of slavery, and the political road that conviction took him on, made him, in Ingersoll’s eyes, a statesman rather than mere politician. “A politician schemes and works in every way to make the people do something for him,” the orator declared, while “A statesman wishes to do something for the people. With him place and power are the means to an end, and the end is the good of his country.” For Ingersoll, Lincoln’s sense of higher purpose allowed him to transcend his age and become a leader for the ages.

Near the end of his speech, Ingersoll directly addressed the question of memory in regards to the “Great Emancipator.” “The memory of Lincoln,” he said, “is the strongest, tenderest tie that binds all hearts together now, and holds all States beneath a nation’s flag.” With this passage, Ingersoll positioned Lincoln as the force which connected the Union and transformed the United States from a loose conglomeration of states into a single, unified nation. The nationalism of late-nineteenth century America was on full-display, with Lincoln as the catalyzing agent melding heart and hearthstone across the land. (This is an image of Lincoln that persists to this day; in times of crisis, politicians and the media often look to Lincoln for insights on how to unify and connect the people of America.) To reaffirm the importance of memory, Ingersoll ended his speech with the moving words, “Lincoln was the grandest figure of the fiercest civil war. He was the gentlest memory of our world.”

Indiana State Sentinel, May 10 1893, Hoosier State Chronicles.

Ingersoll’s appearance was a resounding success, with the Indiana State Sentinel writing, “English’s opera house was packed from gallery to pit Thursday to hear America’s greatest orator in his famous lecture, ‘Abraham Lincoln’.” Of his performance, the Sentinel also said, “Col. Ingersoll has lost none of his great ‘personal magnetism’ that enables him to move his audience to the feeling of his every emotion.” Its publication in pamphlet form ensured more people would consume his lecture, thus furthering Ingersoll’s memorializing of the sixteenth President.

Despite his success with audiences and readers, Ingersoll caught the ire of critics concerning his treatment of Abraham Lincoln’s religious views. Ingersoll, a religious skeptic who gave public speeches denouncing Christianity, was accused of asserting that Lincoln was a nonbeliever. As a March 26, 1893 editorial in the Indianapolis Journal remarked, “The assertion of Colonel Ingersoll in his address on the character of Abraham Lincoln, to the effect that he was a freethinker after the manner of Voltaire and Paine, challenged emphatic contradiction which was no more conclusive than the Ingersoll declaration.” The article then provides numerous quotations which give credence to the claim that Lincoln was a believer in God, such as the speech he gave in 1861 in Springfield before he left for Washington, wherein he said:

A duty devolves upon me which is, perhaps, greater than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded except for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same Divine aid which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support, and I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive that Divine assistance without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain.

At the same time, Lincoln may have not accepted the mainstream consensus on Christianity, which the editorial granted. “Abraham Lincoln may not have troubled himself about dogmas,” the Journal acknowledged, “but no man was ever more devout in his reliance upon the great power which controls human acts and events, or whose conduct was more thoroughly in harmony with the truths of the Sermon on the Mount.”

The Religion of Abraham Lincoln, a dialogue between Ingersoll and Gen. Charles H.T. Collis, Internet Archive.

Ingersoll addressed these concerns head on in a series of letters between himself and Colonel Charles H. T. Collis, an Irish immigrant to the United States who also served in the Civil War. A book compiling their correspondence was published in 1900, shortly after Ingersoll’s death. Collis attended Ingersoll’s performance of the Lincoln speech in New York on February 11, 1893 and immediately wrote to him challenging his conclusions on Lincoln’s faith. With passion and conviction, Collis wrote, “no man invoked ‘the gracious favor of Almighty God’ in every effort of his life with more apparent fervor than did he, and this God was not the Deists’ God, but the God whom he worshiped under the forms of the Christian Church, of which he was a member.” Ingersoll retorted in a follow up letter, writing, “Lincoln was never a member of any church,” and that “he denied the inspiration of the Scriptures, and that he always insisted that Christ was not the Son of God, and that the dogma of the Atonement was, and is, an absurdity.”

As with much of history, Lincoln’s religious beliefs fall somewhere between Ingersoll’s and Collis’s. It is true that he never formally joined a church or was baptized, but he often asked for counsel from religious leaders and infused his speeches, especially the Second Inaugural, with meditations that bordered on theology. As historian and Lincoln biographer David R. Contosta has written, “he was no Christian in any conventional sense of the term, since there is no evidence that he ever accepted the divinity of Christ or ever joined a church,” but “what he had come to embrace in the end was the inscrutable omnipotence of a God who worked his will in history though persons and events of his own time and choosing.”

Lincoln’s Meditation on the Divine Will, September, 1862, Brown University.

One striking piece of evidence to support Contosta’s conclusion is Lincoln’s “Meditation on the Divine Will,” written in September of 1862. “The will of God prevails,” Lincoln reflected:

In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party – and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true – that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.

Lincoln’s theology centered the agency of God in human affairs, using people as agents of his divine plan. These musings emphasize Lincoln’s belief in fate, a holdover from his Primitive Baptist upbringing, which, Contosta noted, stressed “predestination and human sinfulness.” Lincoln was not an Agnostic like Ingersoll, but he also wasn’t the kind of Christian the Collis portrayed him as. As with many aspects of his life, Lincoln was a complex, often contradictory figure whose idiosyncratic religious views highlighted these tensions.

Lincoln’s Tomb, in Great Speeches of Ingersoll, Internet Archive.

The Civil War, with Lincoln as its central protagonist, was the defining event of Ingersoll’s life. It shaped his view of politics, oratory, and even religion. He placed a high priority on telling this story with eloquence, mastery, and tactfulness. As a result, it is not surprising that his lectures on Lincoln became so popular, as well as lauded. In commenting on his speech in Indianapolis, a pamphlet noted, “No man in the world could do justice to the memory of Abraham Lincoln with the same force and eloquence as Colonel Robert G. Ingersoll.” While many books and recollections were published during Ingersoll’s time, he kept the public memory of Lincoln alive as only an orator could do. In some respects, it was a logical outgrowth of Lincoln himself, who was one of the most influential public speakers in American history. Robert Ingersoll’s orations on Lincoln, while somewhat forgotten now, nevertheless provided a unique contribution to the memorialization and mythologization of the sixteenth President—a vast tapestry of remembrance which exists to this day.

“I’m Lonely! Please Write:” The Search for Solidarity and the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE)

Members of IXE, Courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

A note on terminology: This post examines gender non-conforming or gender-questioning individuals. This includes those who identified as “cross-dressers [CDs],” male/female “impersonators,” “transvestites [TVs],” “transsexuals [TSs],” and, in modern terminology, “transgender.” When unsure about how individuals identified or what pronouns they preferred, they will be referred to as the name that appears in relevant publications.

For gender non-conforming Hoosiers, the pursuit of kinship and shared identity was often fruitless, if not outright dangerous. Before the connectivity of the internet and the advocacy of organizations like Indiana Youth Group and GenderNexus, many were bereft of social opportunities and emotional support. Beginning in 1987, the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE) served these Hoosiers by providing social forums and offering resources to individuals struggling with gender identity. The group also challenged instances of discrimination within and outside of the LGBTQ community.

The Works newsletter provides a bit of insight into early Hoosier female impersonators (at least in predominantly-white areas of Indianapolis), who performed at bars along Virginia Avenue from the early 1900s until World War II. Articles in 1982 remarked on the resurgence in popularity of impersonators, noting that the Alley Cat Lounge and Disco had begun hosting weekly shows. By the mid-1980s, however, The Works reported that the queer community had been gatekeeping gender non-conforming or gender-questioning individuals, approximately 20,000 of whom lived in Indianapolis. In a 1984 Works article, Jim Chaffin—a gay, cisgender man—chastised the “drag queen” mentality among Indiana’s LGBTQ community. He implied that because society considered gay individuals too effeminate “more ‘normal’ acting gays” needed to come out. Couching his criticism in masculine rhetoric, Chaffin alleged of those who kept their identities private: “you guys don’t have the b*lls to just go ahead and say what you are.”

In the following issue, Roy Pershing, also known as LaNora Takie, fired back at Chaffin’s narrow view of queerness and Chaffin’s insistence that masculine gay men live publicly. The author noted that while Chaffin likely had good intentions, it is the “individuals’ business and no one else’s,” that:

‘We are told that we are wrong everyday by straights and others; so is it necessary for this kind of behavior to go on within the community?’ Furthermore, ‘Could you please tell me what your idea of a normal acting gay person is? Is it an overweight, big mouth who runs a male wh*re house or is it someone who dresses in leather from head to toe? . . . To me, a normal acting gay person is a person who is himself and doesn’t run around forcing him or her lifestyle’ on others.’

The author also felt that Chaffin’s use of “drag queen” was derogatory, and that Pershing/Takie considered themself to be an “entertainer” and “impersonator.”

Facing alienation in the Indianapolis area, some Hoosiers like Betty and Lori attended meetings in Cincinnati hosted by Cross-Port, a group that provided support and social opportunities for gender non-conforming people. According to Cross-Port’s newsletter InnerView, Lori was one of the first Hoosiers to attend these meetings, where she “stood close to seven foot in those spike heels, and spent much time ducking the beams in Heather’s basement.” By early 1987, Betty and Lori helped form a similar group in Indianapolis, called Iota Chi Sigma, better known as the Indiana Crossdresser Society (IXE). About thirteen people attended this first meeting, presided over by Chairperson Laura, who “received special recognition for wearing a dress.” In a Q&A published in InnerView, IXE described itself as a “gender group interested in helping gender conflicted persons in the context of a social meeting.” This included a broad range of individuals, who could “be anybody from the transvestite who just wants to wear womans [sic] panties to the transexual person who believes themselves to be of the opposite sex.” Cross-Talk, the “gender community’s news and information monthly,” remarked that IXE members, feeling that the “gender community was always too hard on itself,” sought to “show a ‘happier’ side.”

Kyle Niederpruem, “Cross-dressers Seek Society’s Acceptance,” Indianapolis Star, 1989, H1, accessed Newspapers.com.

After their first gathering, IXE met the first Thursday of every month at the 21 Club, and within a year, attendance outgrew that of Cross-Port. InnerView noted that Cross-Port members sometimes traveled from Cincinnati to Indianapolis to attend IXE meetings and Christmas parties. While in town, visitors shopped at Glendale Mall and Stuart’s Shoes, and participated in fashion shows at the downtown Hyatt Regency. One self-conscious visitor reported that they were treated courteously at these shops.

By 1989, IXE had over 100 members residing in the tri-state area—which included Kentucky—helping forge a social network of support for the marginalized community. According to an Indianapolis Star piece entitled “Cross-dressers Seek Society’s Acceptance,” most members were heterosexual men experiencing “gender conflict,” and came from a variety of professions, including carpentry, business, and law enforcement. The paper noted that once a month, about thirty members socialized at a Westside apartment clubhouse, many bringing their spouses. At one meeting, cosmologists gave members make up tips. At another, police officers advised them on how to avoid a “scene” in public.

The Star piece profiled IXE member Sharon Allan, who spent about 30% of his life dressing as a woman, undergoing “painful electrolysis” to achieve smooth skin, perming his hair, and piercing his ears. Sharon married his high school sweetheart, Ann, who knew about his cross-dressing from the beginning of their relationship. On their first date, she removed the choker from her neck and placed it around his. Ultimately, the couple divorced because Ann felt that although Sharon “is a wonderful person . . . his cross-dressing left no room for me as a woman in the marriage.'” Despite this blow, Sharon chose to be transparent about his identity with his young son in order to facilitate trust, stating, “‘I came to decide there was nothing wrong with what I was doing. There was nothing wrong with feeling feminine, inside or out.'”

Adam, a middle-aged health care professional, did not share Sharon’s perspective. According to the Star article, he began wearing women’s clothes as a teenager, but reported, “It’s not something I want to do. I got tired of feeling bad about myself. There were times I couldn’t control it.” Despite undergoing aversion therapy, Adam continued to dress in feminine clothing. His wife divorced him when she found out, and Adam noted, “It felt degrading to her and me as well. The discovery certainly was unpleasant. And it didn’t feel good to me. It was shaming.” Rita could empathize with Adam’s despair, having experienced two painful divorces. The northern Indiana police officer considered ending his life. Unlike Adam, Rita ultimately concluded that, despite having to keep the crossdressing aspect of his life private, “I wouldn’t give it up. If there was a magic pill, I wouldn’t take it.” The Star profile noted that Rita had begun wearing feminine clothing in elementary school. While in the Marines, he was able to shave his arms and legs “without attracting undue attention from his fellow leathernecks.”

Despite their personal struggles with shame and acceptance, gay bars afforded gender non-conforming Hoosiers a degree of shelter from harassment and discrimination. The Star noted that the venues were particularly important to this minority group because they provided a “place where men won’t try to pick them up.” However, these spaces dwindled when the 21 Club and G.G.’s closed, which according to the New Works News, prompted an influx of gender non-conforming patrons to other local gay bars. As demographics changed, some bar owners implemented exclusionary policies, perhaps reflecting the assertion of transgender activist Evan Greer in her 2018 piece for The Washington Post, that historically “the predominantly white, cis, gay, male leadership saw trans people as a threat to their slowly but surely growing social and economic political power.” Perhaps these discriminatory measures were an attempt to safeguard this hard-fought increase in social “legitimacy.”

In 1989, the New Works News reported on the fallout of the bar closings. Articles reported instances in which bar owners refused to serve cross-dressing and transgender individuals like Roberta Alyson and Kerry Gean. Dressed as the “woman I am deep inside of my biological male self,” Gean and friends went to the Varsity Lounge in February 1989. After they were seated, their server singled out Gean with a request for identification. The server then informed her that she was breaking the law because the photo on her I.D. did not identically match her face. Humiliated and hurt, she returned home, changed into “male” clothes, and upon return was immediately served.

Roberta Alyson, courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 1, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

By June, things were no better for Roberta Alyson, described by The Works as a “pre-operative transsexual.” Alyson was denied entrance to the gay bar Our Place on the grounds of not meeting dress code and identification not matching Alyson’s face, despite having a doctor’s note confirming the necessity of dressing as a woman. Bar officials got an off-duty officer who worked security to check the 31-year-old’s ID. The officer crumpled up the doctor’s note and Alyson “regrettably began to panic,” walking away from the parking lot. The officer pursued and arrested Alyson, who later said one of the back-up officers was abusive and tried to lift Alyson’s skirt. Alyson was charged with and fined for fleeing an officer. Alyson addressed the implications of such discrimination in a letter to the editor of The New Works News, noting Our Place’s dress code “flies in the face of the Stonewall Riots and sends a terrifyingly repressive message to the ‘straight’ community.”

Alyson received assistance from IXE, of which she was a member. That year, IXE had “joined Justice, Inc., a statewide umbrella organization for support and activist groups working in and with the gay/lesbian community. Justice has a full time lobbyist at the state capital.” Forging such partnerships would prove critical in challenging discrimination. With Justice’s help, IXE initiated a series of meetings with bar owners, excise police, and allies like the Indiana Civil Liberties Union. These gatherings provided a forum to exchange perspectives and to gain a better understanding of excise laws.

The groups initially gathered in July for a meeting facilitated by police officer and community liaison Shirley Purvitis. Remarking on the conflict within the queer community, she noted in the Star profile that crossdressers are “‘professional people with good jobs. They’re taxpayers. A lot of them have families. It’s time we started learning about them.'” As expected, the meeting was tense. Some owners claimed that they implemented policies, like denying entrance to those whose photo I.D.s did not reflect their apparent gender, because they feared breaking excise laws and making their businesses vulnerable to legal issues. Responding to these concerns, Excise Chief Okey reassured that “the only requirement that excise has for a person being served alcohol is that they be 21 years of age or older. . . . crossdressing, either male or female, is not grounds for refusal of service.”

Courtesy of The New Works News (August 1989): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

Other bar owners stated blatantly that they refused to admit these patrons because they intended to “‘preserve the established atmosphere of their bars.’” A 501 Tavern spokesperson stated that these individuals “‘were not wanted there,’ and if they had been admitted violence might have resulted. The bar owners also voiced the fear that if they admitted people in drag their regular patrons might leave.” Our Place owner David Morse sympathized with the 501 Tavern representative. He complained at a later meeting that new patrons had filled his bar with “boisterous, outrageous drag queens in double Dolly Parton wigs and that their presence was very disruptive” to the bar’s masculine ethos.

Works writer E. Rumbarger came away from this first meeting with a greater understanding of those who had been excluded from gay bars. Prior to attending, he had mused, “Did they eat their young? . . . Did they have two heads?” However, he was “very surprised and pleased to find that they were simply a group of very relaxed and congenial people who were ‘doing their own thing. . . . These men quite simply looked and acted like women or to be more precise—ladies.” He added that he could not fathom how any establishment would “object to their presence” and urged that “Greater knowledge and understanding is needed (and quickly) in the gay community regarding the wide diversity of groups that make up the community.” Similarly, Stan Berg, Works publisher and owner of the Body Works bath house, addressed Dee Gordon’s editorial, which criticized the push for greater inclusion. Berg opined that Gordon had articulated the:

feelings and actions of another owner of a gay business who, at one time, and for many years, kept out drags. Now, whether old age, an increasing tolerance for gays of all persuasions, or just the realization that bigotry was wrong, actually changed this business owner’s mind, I can’t tell you. But, that business owner is me. The bottom line is that your arguments are bigoted bullsh*t. My own reasons for keeping drags out of THE WORKS for seven years were also bigoted bullsh*t.

Kyle Niederpruem, “Cross-dressers Seek Society’s Acceptance,” Indianapolis Star, 1989, H1, accessed Newspapers.com.

While the initial meeting spurred greater understanding among certain individuals, it failed to resolve turmoil within the broader community or result in specific policy reform. Upon IXE’s request, Justice, Inc. conducted a survey of those parties involved in the conflict and hosted a subsequent workshop in September. This workshop provided an opportunity to discuss injustices experienced by various groups within the community. Many voiced their anguish about discrimination within the lesbian community, against persons with AIDS, and along racial lines. At the center of the meeting, however, remained the exclusion of gender non-conforming individuals. IXE vice president Sharon Allan detailed the trials faced by crossdressers and drag queens, noting that they “are currently experiencing problems which the gay community faced years ago.”

However contentious, these meetings led to the reversal of policies at some bars and helped open the door to acceptance for other gender non-conforming individuals in Indianapolis. IXE members reported in September that they encountered less hostility at local establishments. Although bars like The Varsity maintained stringent policies, Tomorrow’s was much more welcoming. And while Jimmy’s did not reverse its I.D. policy, employees were more lenient about its enforcement. Roberta Alyson patronized the bar with a friend, who was also dressed in “female attire.” When the server approached, this friend instinctively searched their purse for identification, to which their server said “’Don’t worry about that, honey, we don’t do that kind of discriminating here.’” The Works noted that this action “on the part of Jimmy’s shows that people can change their mind” and should be commended for doing so.

Booth at Pride Week Picnic, New Works News, August 1989, 13, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

As the 1980s came to a close, the queer community seemed more tolerant—and perhaps welcoming—of gender non-conforming individuals. The Works announced in January 1990 that the owner of the 21 Club was opening 3535 West, which would “cater to all segments of the gay community.” The piece added, “Now that Indianapolis will finally have a gay meeting place where everyone is welcome, perhaps our gay visitors from out of town who have avoided coming here in recent months because of all the discriminatory nonsense taking place in some of the local bars, will once again return to Indy for a renewal of good times shared in the past.”

In 1990, at the first large outdoor Pride celebration, which took place on Monument Circle, people who staffed IXE’s booth reported that they were generally accepted, if not entirely understood. An unidentified member mused in the Works:

‘We all had lots of fun watching and talking. More often than not people would come up to our table and say hello and then look at what was on display and read the titles of the magazines and books, see the word ‘crossdressing’ and then look up at us and then down at the book and then back at us as a look of surprise and realization passed across their faces. . . . One girl was talking with Emily for five minutes before she looked down and saw the title ‘Understanding the Crossdresser’ and said with utter surprise, ‘Oh, I get it! You’re a guy! That’s cool. You know, I never understood why I can wear anything I want and guys can’t wear skirts.’

Similarly, public acceptance of crossdressers increased slightly following media profiles like that published by the Indianapolis Star about IXE. The feature’s author marveled that not only did she not receive vitriolic phone calls from readers after its publication, but got calls asking for more information about IXE. Indeed, Genny Beemyn contended in “Transgender History of the United States,” that in the early 1990s a “larger rights movement” emerged. Beemyn noted that this movement was “facilitated by the increasing use of the term ‘transgender’ to encompass all individuals whose gender identity or expression differs from the social norms of the gender assigned to them at birth.”

Dan Riley, courtesy of Tapestry: The Journal for All Persons Interested in Crossdressing and Transsexualism 58 (1991): 129, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

Reflecting this movement, the Louisville Gender Society was formed in 1992, serving people living in southern Indiana and Illinois, as well as Kentucky. At the same time, IXE’s membership notably increased, as gender non-conforming Hoosiers searched for solidarity. In a 1991 Tapestry issue, Gloria C., a 33 year-old “transvestite” who lived in a small town, pleaded “I’m lonely! Please Write.” The auto racing and fishing fan hoped to meet “TV/TS” friends. IXE drew members like Michelle Michaels, a 40-year-old self-described transvestite who struggled with addiction resulting from the “guilt, shame, & confusion” of crossdressing. After getting sober, Michaels—who had three children and a supportive wife—joined IXE because of an ongoing struggle with “acceptance, self-esteem and balance.” Member Vickie Mansfield, “a young 47,” was involved in the Catholic Church, enjoyed “fine wines,” and was only “recently out of the closet.” Dan Riley, a 40-year-old “female-to-male” crossdresser, who enjoyed hiking and t’ai chi, joined the organization, in part, because Dan liked “helping others ‘coming out.’” Indianapolis funeral service supplier Yvonne Cook was not only a lifetime member IXE, but a leader and board member of the International Foundation for Gender Education.

IXE served such members until at least 2005. Although, no longer an organization as of 2023, IXE provided solidarity to so many Hoosiers in distress or suffering from loneliness. Additionally, its members’ activism and willingness to facilitate discussion helped change public perceptions about gender non-conforming individuals and contributed to greater inclusivity within the LGBTQ community. The struggle to obtain societal acceptance and secure civil rights in Indiana endures, as evidenced by recent debates about gender-affirming medical practices. Like the Indiana Crossdresser Society, groups like Trans Solutions Resources and Research, continue to fight, in the words of Sharon Allan, for “‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It’s a fundamental right.'”

 

Sources:

Genny Beemyn, “Transgender History in the United States,” in ed. Laura Erickson-Schroth, Trans Bodies, Trans Selves, p. 28, accessed UMass Amherst.

Cross-Port InnerView (March 1987, June 1987, July 1987, August 1987, December 1987, July 1988, November 1988, January 1991, August 1991, September 1991, December 1992, June 1995, June 1996), Digital Transgender Archive.

Cross-Talk: The Transgendered Community’s Newsletter (September 1991, July 1992), Digital Transgender Archive.

Editorial, Jim Chaffin, “‘Hoosier Gay Boy, Come on Down!,'” The Works (October 1984): 7, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

“Indiana,” Tapestry: The Journal for All Persons Interested in Crossdressing and Transsexualism 78 (Winter 1996): D38, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

“National Gender News,” Renaissance News 3, no. 1 (January 1989): 9, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

Kyle Niederpruem, “Cross-dressers Seek Society’s Acceptance,” Indianapolis Star, November 26, 1989, 115, accessed Newspapers.com.

“North American Support Groups,” Lady Like (Winter 2005): 44, accessed Internet Archive.

Editorial, Roy Pershing/LaNora Takie, “Darts from a ‘Drag,'” The Works (November 1984): 6, accessed Chris Gonzalez GLBT Archives, IUPUI Library.

JoAnn Roberts, “The Iconoclast,” Renaissance News 6, no. 9 (September 1992): 7, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

Tapestry: The Journal for All Persons Interested in Crossdressing and Transsexualism 58 (1991): 129-130, accessed Digital Transgender Archive.

Nicole Poletika, “’Walk a Mile in Their Pumps:’ Combating Discrimination within Indy’s Queer Community,” October 7, 2020, accessed Untold Indiana.

Draft, Nicole Poletika, “’Walk a Mile in their Pumps:’ Combating Discrimination within Indianapolis’s Queer Community,” 2022 Queer History Conference paper, accessible here.

When Harry Refused to Serve Harry: Belafonte’s Visit to Purdue

Clipping, Debris (Purdue University’s yearbook), 1957, p. 27, accessed Purdue University Libraries, Archives and Special Collections.

In 1956, Black activist Harry Belafonte was one of the top performers in the United States and his album, Belafonte, reached #2 on the Billboard Chart. When he performed two shows of “Sing, Man, Sing” at the Purdue University Hall of Music on May 5, it was a major hit. Before the first performance,  Belafonte visited Purdue’s famous drinking establishment, Harry’s Chocolate Shop. However, proprietor Harry J. Marlack refused to serve him due to the color of his skin.

Born in Harlem to Jamaican parents, Belafonte experienced discrimination throughout his life. In 1944, while serving in the U.S. Navy, Belafonte was denied entry to New York’s famous Copa Cabana because he was Black. When Belafonte achieved stardom in the 1950s, the Copa Cabana offered him a lucrative contract to perform there. He infuriated the owner by spurning the offer, citing the discrimination he faced at their door years earlier in his decision.

In Spring 1956, Belafonte met Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time in the basement of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. Belafonte committed to “help [King] in any way I could. And for the next twelve years, that’s what I did.”[i] When he concluded the first show at Purdue, Belafonte kept his promise to King and addressed the audience about the discriminatory act and what he thought of it. His words angered Purdue officials and the campus buzzed. While Purdue students and staff talked about the incident at Harry’s Chocolate Shop and Belafonte’s speech for weeks afterward[ii], nothing was written about the incident. This prompted a Ph.D. student, David Caplan, to write a letter to the editor of The Exponent, Purdue’s student newspaper. Caplan wrote:

Many Purdue students and staff members have been talking about a recent incident that took place in ‘Harry’s Chocolate Shop’ when Harry Belafonte and his troupe were in town. Why has no mention been made of this in the Exponent? Certainly an incident of such scope deserves at least a news item, if not an editorial. Burying one’s head in the sand does not change the facts that have occurred. Why has this story not been reported?

The Exponent editor responded to Caplan by writing, “the Exponent has followed and will continue to follow the accepted journalistic practice of not publishing ‘cold’ news or facts that have been distorted by personal opinion or hearsay. The Exponent staff refuses to yield to ‘rabble-rousers’ or free-publicity seekers.”[iii]

Behind the scenes, Purdue University officials had zero tolerance for Belafonte’s civil rights message. In a 1977 interview with the Lafayette Journal & Courier, former director of Purdue Musical Organizations, Al Stewart, talked about many famous people he had met during his long career. Of Belafonte, Stewart opined:

He finished a 7 p.m. show with an angry jab at racial discrimination at a local drinking place. I warned him never to do that again or he’d never get another booking anywhere in the U.S. Second show, Dr. Hovde (Purdue President Frederick L. Hovde) and I sat in the front row and tape-recorded the whole thing as evidence if we needed it. It was a beautiful show.

Stewart’s comments demonstrated stunning hubris. Belafonte was on top of the entertainment world in 1956. He had the #2 album in the United States. In June, he released a second album, Calypso, that spent a record ninety-nine weeks on the Billboard Chart. He headlined Broadway shows and top-tier venues across the country. He played the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles and the Palmer House in Chicago. He broke Lena Horne’s attendance record at the Venetian Room in San Francisco, and broke the color barrier and Frank Sinatra’s attendance record at Waldorf’s Empire Room in New York City. Furthermore, it’s impossible to imagine Stewart belittling Sinatra or Elvis Presley—Belafonte’s peers at the time.

By the time Stewart made his remarks in 1977, the Civil Rights Act had become law thirteen years earlier. Belafonte had recorded a campaign ad for John Kennedy, mediated between Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., helped organize the 1963 March on Washington, appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show ten times, hosted the Tonight Show for a full week, had four gold records, starred in movies, and was a world-renowned civil rights leader. For Stewart to think he could have curtailed this superstar’s career is laughable, had it not been so bigoted. In response to racism, university officials told a Black man “Shut up and sing.”

Belafonte (right) at the National Black Political Convention, cover of William Greaves’s Nationtime film.

Harry Belafonte would refuse to “shut up and sing.” Rather, upon his return visits to Indiana, he used his voice to advance racial justice. He donated significant funds to Gary candidate Richard Hatcher’s mayoral campaign and vocalized his support for the unlikely candidate in national media outlets. Belafonte’s efforts helped make Richard Hatcher one of the first Black mayors of a major American city. In 1972, Belafonte returned to Gary to perform at the unprecedented National Black Political Convention, taking the opportunity to implore the massive audience to engage in political reform.

In January 2017, Belafonte returned to Purdue University, serving as keynote speaker for the university’s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s celebration, themed “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Where Do We Go From Here?” At age 89, he knew his life’s work was unfinished and he delivered a rousing speech on justice, civic engagement, and meaningful art. Audience member Sandra Sydnor told the Journal & Courier “’I was overwhelmed by his presence. . . . We were just staying rooted in spot, not wanting to leave after he left because of his persona, because of his spirit.’” Belafonte passed away April 25, 2023, but this spirit would endure, along with his legacy of racial justice and equal rights activism.

* This piece will be featured in the author’s upcoming book, Dispatches from a Northern Hoosier.

 

Notes:

[i] Harry Belafonte and Michael Shnayerson, My Song: A Memoir  (New York: Penguin Random House, 2011), 150.

[ii] Conversation between the author and All-American football player Bernie Flowers, 1995.

[iii] The Purdue Exponent, May 23, 1956.

[iv] Lafayette Journal & Courier, November 13, 1977.
Stewart’s judgment is questionable. Belafonte referred to Sing, Man, Sing as “my one indisputable career bomb.” My Song: A Memoir, 142.