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Commerce, Execution, and the Black Corpse: Injustice and Sherman Arp

On March 10, 1893 Sherman Arp stood before a crowd that had gathered at 5:35 AM to witness his execution in Centre, Alabama. Arp had been convicted of murdering George Pogue in 1891 and was sentenced to death for the carriage-maker’s murder. In the pre-dawn twilight Arp sang spirituals in the moments before he was hung with a rope that had dispatched seven Black men before Arp. Sherman Arp’s execution, the sale of his corpse, and the suggestion that Arp was hung with the same noose used in an 1888 lynching underscore the breadth of anti-Black injustice in late 19th-century America.

Sherman Arp was born in Georgia in about 1868 and by his own account went to Alabama in 1880, where he married in September 1885. Arp and his wife had two children when Sherman was charged with the July 1891 murder of George Pogue. The Coosa River News reported in July that Pogue had been ill and his “death had been expected sooner or later, from his diseased condition, but on inspection by Dr. Elliott it was found that Mr. Pogue had been foully murdered with an axe.” Initially the murder was reported as a robbery, but in October one account identified a Black “man engaged in illegal whiskey selling,” Will Cantrell, murdered Pogue “to prevent Pogue from reporting him.” Cantrell was arrested in Georgia in early October, but he had been released by October 23rd, when it was reported that Sherman Arp was one of five men who had conspired to rob and murder Pogue. Three Black men–Arp, Alf Glenn and Abe Dixon–had been identified as conspirators with a pair of white moonshiners, Alex Burkhalter and Green Leath. Newspaper reports provided contradictory accounts of Pogue’s murder, but Glenn and Dixon had apparently had no role in the crime at all; Arp reportedly indicated he killed the elderly man in a robbery instigated by Burkhalter and Leath while at the two moonshiners’ gunpoints.

Arp was captured in Rome, Georgia, and the Centre Alabama newspaper reported that the Rome Sheriff “refuses yet to give up Arp to the authorities here, as he (Arp) claims he fears lynching if brought into this section.” A day later, though, the Sheriff took Arp back to Cedar Bluff, Alabama, where he joined Glenn, Dixon, Burkhalter, and Leath; however, the judge released the other four and committed Arp to jail to await trial. As Arp feared, “Immediately upon the announcement of the decision, the large crowd which was present, made a dash for Arp and attempted to kill him, but Sheriff Blair and Deputy Angel drew their guns and stood the would be lynchers off, until the officers got the negro in a buggy and drove rapidly out of Cedar Bluff. The mob was unmasked and would have dealt short justice if they could have got their hands on Arp.”

A month before his execution date, Arp had suffered frostbite (Coosa River News 10 February 1893)

In July 1892 Arp went to trial, and on July 29 he was found guilty of murder and it was “recommended that he be hanged by the neck until he is dead, dead! dead!” He was to be hung within the week, but Arp was spared by a state Supreme Court review. The State Supreme Court rejected Arp’s appeal on January 26, 1893 and set his execution for March 10.  As Arp awaited his execution he was a witness in the February trial of Burkhalter and Leath, when the two accused conspirators were found innocent. A week after their trial Arp was being imprisoned in an unheated chicken coop where his feet and hands had suffered frostbite. By February 23rd he could hear the gallows being constructed in earshot of the jail cell he had been moved to in preparation for his execution. Arp did indeed go to the gallows on March 10th, with one witness declaring that “He was as game a human as ever stood upon scaffol [sic].”

A week before his death Sherman Arp told the Coosa River News that he was prepared for death.

Arp reputedly was hung by a “historic rope” owned by Floyd County, Georgia that had been used to hang seven other men before Arp. The Coosa River News reported that the “rope with which Arp was executed, was the instrument of seven hangings prior to its use upon Sherman. One of these was a lynching at Summerville, Ga.” It is not clear if Arp was indeed hung by the same rope used in previous murders or executions, but in May 1888 Henry Pope was lynched in Summerville, Georgia after being seized from the Chattooga County jail. Pope had been charged with rape, twice stood trial, and was convicted for a second time in March 1888. Pope was scheduled for execution in May, but five white citizens testified that Pope had not been at the scene of the rape, and he was given a reprieve by Georgia Governor John Brown Gordon. Hearing that news, a mob raided the jail on May 1, 1888 and hung Pope. Regardless of whether Arp had shared the same noose as Pope, the invocation of the lynching cast Arp’s own execution as part of a justice system that included lynching.

Montgomery Alabama’s Weekly Advertiser reported four days after Sherman Arp’s death that his corpse had been sold for dissection by a local physician.

In perhaps the final dehumanization of Sherman Arp, he sold his body to a local physician. By most accounts he hawked his body by the pound. A Montgomery newspaper reported that in the week before his execution Arp informed local physicians he “desired to be weighed like a hog and sold by the pound” following an auction between those doctors. Of those physicians, “Dr. Will Darnell raised the bid to 8 cents per pound and the trade was closed. Arp went on a pair of scales and was weighed. He tipped the beam at 158 pounds. Dr. Darnell then figured up the amount and paid over to Arp $12.48 in cash and Arp gave the doctor an order for his body. Arp then proceeded to blow the money for good things to eat and drink and while it lasted he had a rousing big time.” However, one report a week later indicated that the auction tale was fictional and Arp had instead received a flat fee of $10. A week after Arp’s execution the newspaper provided an unsettling aside on masculinity and the Black corpse when it reported that “The physicians have been desecting [sic] Arp’s body since his execution. He was a well developed specimen of physical manhood.”

This narrative witnessing to Sherman Arp’s fate risks fixating only on the final tragic part of his life, but his story underscores the ways racism constrained and valued Black life. Exacting justice on Arp by inflicting frostbite before his execution—and then hawking his corpse for dissection—underscores the ways that racist justice was projected onto Black bodies. The fascination with the rope that had reputedly served as both hangman’s and lynchers’ noose reflected the ways execution and lynching were both accepted sentences in a racist justice system. In 1964, a historical account in Centre’s Cherokee County Herald confirmed the interchangeability of execution and lynching in historical memory. Clyde Walden Reed reminisced that “We had a few lynchings in those days, also hangings by court order. I remember when Sherman Arp was hanged Oct. 10, 1893 [sic].” Rather than suggest that Arp’s story is an aberration in the American experience, it instead is precisely the sort of dehumanizing indignity that racist injustice imposed on many now-anonymous targets even as it delivered an implicit warning to Black observers.

Retreating to Exclusivity: Diversity and Place at Newfields

In 1964 New York designer Edward Durell Stone advised the Art of Association of Indianapolis to move the John Herron Museum of Art from its location at 16th and Pennsylvania Streets. The Association managed the Herron Museum, and they hired Stone and a team of consultants to assess the expansion or renovation of their aging 1906 facility. Yet when Stone told a Columbia Club audience that the museum should be moved to the western edges of the Butler University campus, he was greeted with a chorus of complaints that revolved around museum access, equity, and urban preservation. One person complained “Should it be some mysterious privilege of a few people to make the cultural blessings of the arts less accessible to all the people? A museum should be a busy place, centrally located near public transportation, near office buildings, near schools, near hotels and meeting and eating places near all the people in our community.” This was perhaps idealistic, but it actually was not a new sentiment: when the museum was dedicated in November 1906 a speaker argued that “an art museum should be an institution for the masses rather than for the classes.”

In September 1914 the Parry family invited prospective home-owners to inspect the Golden Hill subdivision (Indianapolis Star 18 Sept 1914)

Now part of a complex renamed Newfields, the Museum is today struggling with equity and inclusion challenges that are certainly rooted in its institutional culture and common to many other art museums. Nevertheless, the institution’s 21st-century exclusivity also reflects the heritage of the landscape where the museum sits today. Today Newfields is located in what was an elite White area throughout the 20th century, not far from the location Edward Durell Stone advocated in 1964. Nevertheless, predominately working-class and middle-class African-American neighborhoods sit in walking distance of the museum campus. The contemporary experience of Newfields and the perception of its exclusivity is shaped by a broad range of factors, but it is firmly based in its own place-based heritage. A sober assessment of that landscape history should be an essential dimension of Newfields’ ambitions to be an inclusive museum.

Edward Durell Stone’s 1964 proposal came in the midst of rapid suburban growth, highway construction, and urban displacement, and those dramatic transformations in class, color, and place intersected with planning for the museum. Stone’s favored location was in the 4600 block of Michigan Road, which in 1964 was the home of executive Samuel M. Harrell (today it is a private residential compound). Today most observers would consider that location to be the heart of the city, but in 1964 one critic argued that “The suggested move of our art museum to the fringes of suburbia seems to be anachronism, completely out of context with the spirit of our times.” Another observer questioned moving the museum north of 30th or 38th Streets, arteries that still lingered as residential redlining boundaries between White neighborhoods to the north and Black neighborhoods to the south: “Must the city be divided with 30th or 38th the Mason-Dixon Line, below which the urban untouchables live? Our art museum must be for the people and easily accessible to all. It should be readily available to inspire those in need of contact and familiarity with art and beauty.”

Resistance to moving the museum was dismissed in November 1966, when the family of Josiah K. Lilly, Jr. donated the Oldfields mansion and grounds to the Art Association of Indianapolis for the former Herron museum. In November 1968 the Art Association announced it would soon begin building the new museum, which became the Indianapolis Museum of Art in 1969. The Indianapolis Star once again enthusiastically championed the museum as a community institution, declaring that “the new art center will not be exclusive territory for artists. Everyone will be encouraged to participate in museum activities. The art center will be truly a community affair.”

Despite such rhetoric, for much of its recent past the museum has struggled to turn the exceptional collections and surrounding grounds into an inclusive place (compare Ben Valentine’s 2013 assessment of the IMA’s shifting mission). After seven years of free general admission, in 2014 the museum instituted an admission fee “to maintain long-term financial stability,” and free admission to the grounds and bike access ended in 2015. In 2017 the museum rebranded itself as “Newfields,” referring to the whole complex of buildings and gardens on the museum grounds. Perhaps the most unsettling moment came in July 2020, when curator Kelli Morgan left the museum after labeling it a “toxic” working environment and questioning the institution’s commitment to inclusivity. Morgan wrote after her resignation that through “very deliberately racist and sexist practices of acquisition, deaccession, exhibition and art historical analysis, museums have decisively produced the very state of exclusion that publicly engaged art historians and curators like me are currently working hard to dismantle.” In February 2021 the museum came under renewed criticism when it posted a job notice seeking a candidate who would “attract a broader and more diverse audience while maintaining the Museum’s traditional, core, white art audience.” That clumsy admission of the museum’s racial homogeneity fueled a response by 85 staff members advocating assertive partnerships with diverse community constituencies and seeking the resignation of the museum’s director. The director desperately reaffirmed the museum’s “core commitment to inclusion,” but he resigned a few days later.

In the early 20th century the future museum grounds rapidly became an exceptionally affluent community at the margins of the city. Perhaps the first seed was planted at the end of the 19th century when the Indianapolis Country Club opened on the south side of Maple Road (now 38th Street). The club included the city’s most wealthy families, and when the first clubhouse was dedicated in November 1891, the Indianapolis Journal reported that there “was an unusual display of elegant diamonds, nearly every one’s costume being resplendent with these gems.” Indianapolis’ high White society gathered at the club for 20 years for golf, tennis, bowling, dancing, and fine food. The Country Club decided to move west of the city in 1912 (where it remains today), and Linnaes C. Boyd, Hugh McKennan Landon, Louis Cass Huesmann, and Arthur V. Brown purchased the roughly 48-acre property for $48,000. They initially planned to build “a high class residence district” (or a “preparatory school for boys”) on the tract that neighbored Hugh and Suzette Landon’s own home to the north. Today known as Oldfields, Landon’s home was built between 1911 and 1913 in an area that became known as Woodstock, and in 1932 the Landon home was purchased by Josiah K. Lilly, Jr.

Hugh and Suzette Landon’s Oldfields mansion completed in 1913 is today the heart of the Newfields campus (Indiana Landmarks H. Roll McLaughlin Collection, IUPUI University Library).

After the Indianapolis Country Club moved west, the property became the new Woodstock Club, which was incorporated in May 1915. Woodstock was incorporated as a town in November 1920, with just seven families living on 48 acres. Shooter’s Hill sat just east of Woodstock, and like Woodstock it was a very small and elite community. When Shooter’s Hill incorporated as a town in November 1925, it had just 14 residents, and in 1935 there were just three estates in the town. This pattern of affluent and small enclaves was repeated a series of times in the surrounding area: in July 1927, for instance, Crow’s Nest would file to become the 10th incorporated town in Indianapolis, a list that eventually included Spring Hills (incorporated in 1927 near Cold Spring and Michigan Roads) and Wynnedale (incorporated in March 1939, along Cold Spring Road on the west banks of the White River). Nearly all of these incorporated towns were composed of a handful of quite affluent residents: in 1940, for instance, the census recorded 19 people living in four households in Shooter’s Hill, including three people identified as servants, two as maids, and one as a houseman; a fourth household was a gardener, his wife, and two children renting one of the four residences, so there were essentially nine residents in three homes being served by 10 on-site laborers. The homes in Shooter’s Hill were purchased along with the complete 22-acre town by Christian Theological Seminary in 1963.

A map of the neighborhoods and incorporated towns, 1945 (Historic Indiana Maps IUPUI University Library).

Oldfields was probably the most palatial home in the adjoining neighborhoods, and Golden Hill had the largest residential community. The Woodstock Club sat just north of Golden Hill, which had been a sparsely settled late-19th century resort spot. In October 1872, property began to be offered on a new subdivision marketed as “Clifton on the River,” but by June 1877 the area was being referred to as Golden Hill. In June 1879, for instance, a church picnic drew about 700 people to Golden Hill, and the Indianapolis News concluded that “No other place in this vicinity combines more of beauty and advantage than Golden Hill.” In April 1896 the Indianapolis Journal indicated that “Golden Hill has been one of the more popular picnic spots near here for many years,” reflecting that Golden Hill remained almost completely unsettled until the very end of the 19th century (the oldest home still standing in Golden Hill was built in about 1895).

In April 1892 John C. Shaffer purchased Golden Hill property adjoining the country club with plans to build a country estate, but in 1900 he sold his undeveloped tract to David M. Parry, who gradually purchased most of Golden Hill to create a family estate. Parry finished his Golden Hill home in 1904. Most of the streetscape and landscape planning in Golden Hill was done by Scottish immigrant George MacDougall, who landscaped Parry’s estate grounds beginning in 1908. After Parry’s death in 1915 his family hired MacDougall to plan the subdivision around Parry’s home; MacDougall also designed Stoughton Fletcher’s “Laurel Hall” estate, the streetscape for Woodstock in 1909, the Hugh McKennan Landon estate “Alverna” off Spring Mill Road, and the Nicholas and Marguerite Lilly Noyes home “Lane’s End” in Crow’s Nest.

This image of the Parry home was taken sometime between 1910 and 1920 (Indianapolis Special Collections Room, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library).

In 1914 Parry and his family sold roughly 80 acres of Golden Hill to Arthur V. Brown, who planned to build “suburban homes,” and in September prospective residents were invited to visit the planned community. In April 1915 170 lots in the subdivision went on sale, and David Parry died just a month late. Lots sold relatively rapidly, with house construction occurring in the 1920’s and into the mid-1930’s by many of Indianapolis’ most noted architects. The Golden Hill Historic District now includes 54 residences.

The affluence of the neighborhood is suggested by the density of live-in service staff in the Golden Hill homes: in 1940, for instance, 15 live-in servants (and one nurse) were residents of Golden Hill in 13 different homes. Like all residential neighborhoods in the city, Golden Hill was racially segregated, though some of the elite estates were supported by live-in African-American service laborers. In 1910, for instance, John and Belle Kuykendall were living at 1306 West 36th Street in a home on David Parry’s estate, where John was working as a butler for Parry. The Kuykendalls moved out in about 1913, and only a handful of other Black service laborers would live in the neighborhood until after World War II. When the Home Owners Loan Corporation executed its residential security map for Indianapolis in 1937, Golden Hill was described as “Attractive location for property known as `small estates,’ yet not far from city center,” with no foreign-born or Black residents.

Golden Hill’s southern border is 36th Street, and south of 36th Street is now a neighborhood of predominately vernacular residences, most of which was originally known as the Armstrong Park Addition. Originally the home of the Armstrong family farm along Northwestern Street (i.e., Martin Luther King, Jr. Street), in May 1892 James Armstrong appealed to the Citizens Street Railway stockholders to improve streetcar access to his family’s newly opened park in north Indianapolis. Armstrong pled to the streetcar company that “With the help of the company I intend to make Armstrong Park the most attractive spot around Indianapolis. A large sum of money is to be spent in making it a beautiful place. Nature has made it the most desirable spot for a park around Indianapolis. … It is to be made a place where the best people of Indianapolis will go.” The Park invited urbanites to take the streetcar to Armstrong Park for picnicking, food, concerts, and boating, and church groups and even healers held meetings in the Park, but in June 1900 northside residents filed an injunction against public drunkenness in the park. In September investors tried to sell the whole tract as one property, but in October 1900 the Armstrong Park Land Company began to subdivide the tract into residential lots. The Indianapolis News reported in May 1901 that 550 of 689 lots had been sold, though most were purchased by real estate speculators and there was very little immediate construction. Five years later the News reported that 105 homes had been built in 1904, but about 40 families were living in tents on lots for which they had not completed payments. In 1908 the addition remained relatively sparsely settled, but by 1916 it had become relatively densely populated.

In 1908 “Armstrong Park Add” [i.e., Addition] appeared along the south side of the David Parry estate, which would become Golden Hill (Indianapolis Sanborn and Baist Map Collection, IUPUI University Library).

The neighborhood was quite densely populated in 1940, but there was not a single Black household in the neighborhood (though a Black family was settled at 3732 Northwestern Street). A few African-American residents had begun to settle homes immediately south of Armstrong Park, though, and the 1937 Home Owners Loan Corporation “redlining” map rated the neighborhood “definitely declining.” That “decline” was certainly based on the apparent “Encroachment of inharmonious groups (negro)” and the “Possibility of negro purchasers from territory south of 30th street.” The neighborhood began to include Black residents in the early 1950s, with sales notices for homes appearing in the Indianapolis Recorder by 1954.

The Armstrong Park neighborhood was overwhelmingly African American by the time the northwestside was targeted for construction of the northwest leg of Interstate-65. A plan for the route for I-65 through the near-Northside was proposed by engineers in January 1960, and surveying had begun by 1961. Residents of both Golden Hill and the African-American neighborhoods to their south were already contesting the highway plan in September 1959, when the highway department met with community. However, an engineer dismissed resistance and told the audience that “If the expressway is not built `Indianapolis will be a dying city. You can’t make a cake without breaking eggs … If it is so bad you can’t stand it, you’ll just have to move.’” The Indianapolis Recorder had already bitterly concluded in 1961 that “The battle is lost. Many Northside residents who, earlier last year, tried in vain to get Interstate 65 built anywhere except on the route proposed by the State Highway Department, are chiefly concerned now with the relocation and depreciation value of their homes.” In July 1963 the planned route from 38th Street south to 16th Street was expanded from four to six lanes, and in April 1964 Indianapolis Recorder article outlined the favored path for the interstate, crossing White River just south of Golden Hill at roughly 36th Street. In September 1966 a city planner acknowledged that the proposed Interstate-65 pathway bent around Golden Hill but cut through Armstrong Park, admitting “that Golden Hill is white and that these neighborhoods are Negro. The idea is prevalent in these neighborhoods that the route has more to do with race than with cost. … Another idea prevalent in these neighborhoods is that the projects are planned and scheduled to benefit the slum landlords” (who were profiting from re-housing displaced residents in very poorly maintained homes).

By 1972 Interstate-65 cut across the White River south of Golden Hill and through the Armstrong Park addition.

The most prominent voice against the highway came from Golden Hill resident Alan Clowes, who formed a group known as Livable Indianapolis for Everybody (LIFE) opposing the interstate. Clowes formed LIFE in December 1964 and lobbied against the interstate, calling the elevated roadway a “`Chinese wall of dirt’ which will do untold harm to this city’s future.” LIFE favored a northwest leg that ran along the western banks of the White River, cutting through Municipal Gardens and Belmont Parks, a route that would completely bypass Golden Hill and Armstrong Park. Clowes appealed to the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee, a community advisory group that Mayor John Barton formed in December 1964. In June 1965, though, GIPC backed the proposed interstate plan, joining the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce and rejecting Clowes’ case for a different route or a below grade (a.k.a., “depressed”) interstate. By 1966 houses were beginning to be sold in the highway’s path through 31st through 36th Streets, a path that bisected Armstrong Park and the neighborhoods north of 30th Street; the interstate path would cut the formerly contiguous neighborhood into two sections separated by the elevated roadway.

In 1964 one critic of the plan to move the Herron Art Museum presciently predicted the transformation of conventional art museums beyond traditional gallery fare. He lamented that “An art museum on Michigan Road would degenerate into a place of weekend diversion rather than function as a place to see paintings.” Nearly the same argument was made in 2019 by Bill Watts, who complained that the renamed Newfields had shifted its focus from the arts to “curated outdoor experiences,” like putt-putt golf and holiday light shows. Newfields has perhaps insulated itself by restricting access to the grounds, imposing a steep admission fee, and focusing much of its programming on bourgeois suburbanites, and what may be most disappointing is that these shifts effectively retreat to the area’s 20th-century heritage of White elite exclusivity. The museum’s ability to fulfill its century-long commitment to serve a breadth of the city and embrace a diverse expressive culture is of course dependent on institutional transformations. Nevertheless, much of the story of the museum’s heritage is rooted in place-based exclusivity and requires Newfields develop a rigorous consciousness of their own landscape.

Sources

David Alan Ripple

1975 History of the Interstate System in Indiana: Volume 3, Part 1 – Chapter VI: Route History. Publication FHWA/IN/JHRP-75/28-1. Joint Highway Research Project, Indiana Department of Transportation and Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana.

Trent Spence

1996 Nicholas H. Noyes: An Historic Landscape Master Plan, Indianapolis, Indiana. Landscape Architecture Thesis, Ball State University.

Bradley D. Vogelsmeier

2013 Upper Class Enclave Identity: A Case Study of the Golden Hill Community. Undergraduate Honor’s Thesis, Butler University.

Images

Indianapolis Baist Atlas Plan # 33, 1908 Indianapolis Sanborn Map and Baist Atlas Collection IUPUI University Library

Indianapolis Baist Atlas Plan # 33, 1916 Indianapolis Sanborn Map and Baist Atlas Collection IUPUI University Library

Indianapolis George F. Cram Company, Inc., 1945. Historic Indiana Maps IUPUI University Library.

Oldfields, Indiana Landmarks H. Roll McLaughlin Collection, IUPUI University Library.

Parry Mansion in Golden Hill, from scrapbook created by librarian Alice K. Griffith, circa 1910-1920, Indianapolis Special Collections Room, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library

Circle City Confederates: Family and Rebellion in Civil War Indianapolis

This circa 1887 chromolithograph captured the Union victory at Fort Donelson (Library of Congress).

On February 16, 1862 the Union Army captured more than 7000 Confederates at Fort Donelson, Tennessee. Many of the Confederates were serving in the First Kentucky Brigade, the largest Confederate unit recruited from Kentucky, and about 3700 of the captured rebels were escorted to Indianapolis to be held in the newly opened Camp Morton prisoner of war camp. There were numerous Hoosiers who had Southern sympathies or had even sided with the rebellion, and some of the captured Confederates actually knew Indianapolis quite well. Greenup B. Orr, for instance, was born in Kentucky in about 1826 and served in the Fifth Indiana Volunteers during the Mexican-American War. Orr enlisted in Madison, Indiana in October 1847, served in Company F in Mexico, and mustered out in July 1848. He returned to Gallatin, Kentucky, where he was living in 1850 and married a year later in March 1851. By 1855 Orr had moved to Indianapolis and was working as a brick mason at the corner of Indiana Avenue and Tennessee Street (now Capitol).

Greenup Orr was still living in Indianapolis on the eve of the war in 1860, but as Orr’s neighbors began to enlist for the Union cause, Orr traveled to Camp Boone Tennessee, where the 35-year-old joined the Confederacy’s 2nd Regiment Kentucky Infantry on July 13, 1861. The 2nd Kentucky Infantry was organized in July 1861 at Camp Boone, so Orr was among its earliest volunteers. Orr was joined by Indianapolis resident Alfred (Alf) McFall, who volunteered the same day as Orr. McFall was born in about 1838 in Ohio, and in 1850 the 12-year old was living in Indianapolis with his mother Ann, older sister Margaret (age 14), and brothers George (10), William (8), and Oscar (5). It is not clear where the McFalls were living in 1850, but Ann was listed in the 1857 Indianapolis City Directory living on Market Street between East and Liberty Streets. Read the rest of this entry

Dehumanization, Dignity, and Development: Contemporary Cemetery Preservation

The Women’s Ward (often called the “Seven Steeples” building) at Indiana Hospital for the Insane in about 1903 (Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society).

In July 1905, Martha Spinks was buried at the Central Indiana Hospital for the Insane, laid to rest among hundreds of patients to die at the hospital since it opened in 1848. Like many of the men and women treated in the hospital, Spinks’ story has been forgotten as she quietly rested on the grounds of what became known as Central State Hospital and eventually closed in 1994. Spinks was among the last patients to be buried on the grounds of the hospital, which indicated in 1908 that 4,704 patients had died since the hospital opened in 1848. If patients’ bodies were not claimed by their families they were buried in the northwest corner of the hospital grounds, and some were used for medical training. In 1889 the Hospital’s yearly report announced that the administration planned to place posts with the name of each deceased patient at the head of their grave, but this plan does not appear to have been systematically followed. In the early 20th century patients began to be buried at the neighboring Mt. Jackson Cemetery, with the last burial on the hospital grounds around 1905 but perhaps as late as August 1909. Read the rest of this entry

The “Blank Slate” of Pastness and African-American Place

Contemporary planners, developers, and proponents of 21st-century city life routinely celebrate cities’ historicity. Urban boosters extol the appeals of historical architecture, and where that historic built environment has been destroyed those urban champions applaud new designs inspired by local architectural heritage. Few neighborhoods would seem to lay a stronger claim on such history than Indianapolis’ Indiana Avenue. Home to residences as early as the 1820s, the Avenue became a predominately African-American business and leisure district at the outset of the 20th century only to witness postwar urban renewal projects that razed nearly all of the stores, clubs, and homes along the Avenue.

Buckingham Companies Concept Art Proposal for the 700 block of Indiana Avenue.

Last week a Development Project Manager for Buckingham Companies enthused about the developer’s proposal to build a 345-unit five-story apartment complex in the 700 block of Indiana Avenue, calling the site a “blank slate.” The parking lot and an undistinguished 1989 office building on the site indeed reflect none of the Avenue’s rich heritage. The asphalt parking lots and a functional but forgettable office building are yet more evidence of the city’s historical uneasiness with appearing to deter development after they had been vocal advocates for extensive urban displacement projects, Indiana University’s establishment and growth, and highway construction that collectively depopulated the predominately African-American near-Westside. American urban planners launched numerous similar projects after World War II that targeted African-American communities under the guide of slum clearance or community renewal, uprooting residents and then razing much of the Black urban landscape. These postwar planners hoped to build new cities, launching a host of ideologues’ fantasies for a reimagined city that would serve segregated White suburbanites who would work, play, and shop in the urban core. Read the rest of this entry

Disenfranchised Design: Development and African-American Placemaking on Indiana Avenue

A 1950’s view of the 700 block of Indiana Avenue (image O. James Fox Collection, Indiana Historical Society, click for expanded view).

In January 1968 a group of African-American entrepreneurs and community activists gathered in the Walker Theater with the Director of the Indianapolis Redevelopment Commission to determine the future of Indiana Avenue. Alarmed by the decline of the businesses along the historically African-American Avenue and frustrated by their inability to defy urban renewal projects, the group hoped to encourage investment in Avenue enterprises. Advocating strategies that have since become common in placemaking discourses, entrepreneurs had ambitious plans championing “a renewed civic and business vitality in the area of Indiana Avenue.” Their proposals included promoting cultural tourism focusing on the Avenue’s jazz history, proposing to create “a `Bourbon Street’ type entertainment and shop section … in the fashion of New Orleans’ famed `Bourbon Street’ long a mecca of Dixieland jazz.”

Yet business people were justifiably reluctant to invest their own capital because of the unpredictable effects of “slum clearance” displacements, highway construction, and the growth of the joint Indiana University and Purdue University campus that became IUPUI. The Indianapolis Recorder soberly reported on the absence of funding for such development, noting that “insurance and loans are virtually impossible for business-men on Indiana Avenue to secure since this section is considered a `high risk’ area.” The certainty of more renewal projects led one Avenue businessman to complain that “`We’ve seen from past experience that when these people come and take your property they pay as little as possible. I just can’t see how we could recover the money we might spend to fix up the area.’” Read the rest of this entry

Escaping the Noose: A Near-Lynching in Late-19th Century Boone County

An 1878 illustration of the Boone County Courthouse where Frank Hall was tried in 1894 (image Historic Indiana Atlas Collection, IUPUI)

On the morning of February 5, 1894 a crowd “of seven hundred or more Boone county farmers struggled and battled fiercely in the courthouse yard” in Lebanon Indiana eager to exact justice against Frank Hall. The 22-year-old African American was being held in the Boone County jail accused of an assault on a White woman on the evening of February 3rd. Hall protested that he had been at a watch raffle with scores of witnesses at the time of the assault, but the Sheriff arrested Hall the next morning and brought him to the jail. A crowd instantly gathered intent on hanging him, and as Hall was taken from the jail to the adjoining Courthouse the crowd got him in the noose three times. Hall and the Sheriff fought them off each time, and when Hall reached the Courthouse he was half-conscious, bloodied by the mob’s assault, and “several chokings had given his skin the purple hue of a grape.” Hall hastily agreed with the Prosecutor “to enter a plea of guilty and take the maximum penalty of the law for such offenses, twenty-one years in prison. He was afraid that he would be taken from jail and summarily executed.” Read the rest of this entry

Memory-Making and Civility: Removing the Garfield Park Confederate Monument

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced his plan to remove the Garfield Park monument on twitter on June 4th, and it had been dismantled by the end of the day on June 8th (click for a larger image).

Last week in the midst of protests against racially motivated police violence, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett somewhat surprisingly announced that the city would remove a 1909 Confederate monument in Garfield Park. In a series of tweets Hogsett indicated that “The grave monument was commissioned in 1912 for Greenlawn Cemetery to commemorate Confederate prisoners of war who died while imprisoned at Camp Morton in Indianapolis.” The memorial was actually installed in 1909, but it was indeed erected to memorialize roughly 1616 Confederate prisoners of war who died in Indianapolis, as well as perhaps 20 sympathizers and at least one enslaved man identified only as “Little Toe” who was captured at Fort Donelson in February 1862 with most of these prisoners. Mayor Hogsett’s tweets indicated that “The grave monument was then relocated to Garfield Park in 1928 following efforts by public officials, active in the KKK, who sought to `make the monument more visible to the public.’” The Mayor concluded that “Whatever original purpose this grave marker might once have had, for far too long it has served as nothing more than a painful reminder of our state’s horrific embrace of the Ku Klux Klan a century ago.” Read the rest of this entry

Consuming Indiana Avenue: Memory, Marketing, and Jazz Heritage in Indianapolis

In 1953 guests gathered on Indiana Avenue at the Sunset Terrace (Indiana Historical Society, click for expanded view).

In 2004 a typical Indianapolis Star celebration of jazz history fantasized performers and audiences united by music, suggesting that Indiana Avenue “was known for an atmosphere of camaraderie. … What’s most notable is that this was the only place in which blacks and whites could mingle socially prior to integration.” Jazz history is routinely invoked in Indianapolis to suggest that music has long been an expression of White and Black peoples’ common humanity. African-American expressive culture has an undeniably rich heritage in the theaters, clubs, churches, schools, and homes dotting the near-Westside. From the end of the 19th century, ragtime, vaudeville, blues, gospel, minstrelsy, dance, theater, burlesque, and drag were all part of an African-American performance tradition that flourished along Indiana Avenue until urban displacement razed the last clubs in the 1970s. Yet history-makers uneasy with the heritage of racism and segregation routinely gravitate toward romantic accounts of music as a democratic space in the midst of a segregated world.

On December 5th 1921 the Indianapolis Star reported on police raids seeking to eliminate White guests from Archie Young’s cabaret.

Jazz is now celebrated as Hoosiers’ cultural patrimony, but jazz and life on the Avenue inspired decades of anxiety among city officials. Rather than nurture an “atmosphere of camaraderie,” ideologues were eager to patrol inter-racial leisure and morality along the Avenue and leery of music’s potential to subvert segregation. For instance, during a December 1921 raid on the Golden West Cabaret, police arrested White customers who “were found in the place listening to the jazz orchestra that plays the syncopated music, as it is only found on `de Avenoo.’” Prohibition had forced African-American entrepreneur Archie Young to transform his saloon at 532 ½ Indiana Avenue into a soda parlor known as the Golden West Cabaret, and jazz performers often played the club. In 1921 the Indianapolis Star complained that Young’s club was known to be “frequented by both colored and white persons who are seeking night life in Indianapolis.” The Indiana Daily Times reported that “orders were issued to put the lid on the `avenue’” because “of “fear that trouble may be the result of white persons visiting negro cafes and dance halls in the `black belt.’” Archie Young argued “there is no law under which the police can stop white persons from visiting the cabaret.” The Police agreed that “they are aware there is no law to prevent white persons from visiting the cabarets, but they contend they can take names and search those who are found there … until the white persons are eliminated.” Read the rest of this entry

Romanticizing Racist Landscapes: Segregation and White Memory in Riverside Amusement Park

The Indianapolis Recorder advertised 3-Cent Milk Day picnic at Riverside Amusement Park in August 1939 (click for larger image).

In July 1971 Indianapolis News columnist Mayer Maloney mourned the closing of Riverside Amusement Park. Opened in 1903, the park had been the summer leisure venue for generations of Indianapolis residents, and proms, wedding receptions, and workplace picnics had met at the urban amusement park for nearly 70 years. Maloney lamented that the “excited screams of the kids, the calliope music of the merry-go-round and the china-faced kewpie dolls are gone. Indianapolis has said farewell to an old friend. Riverside Amusement Park is closed and all that remains are memories.” Maloney toured the empty park with John Lewis Coleman, whose family had managed the park for a half-century, and Maloney wrote that the “area that once had laughter echoing from all corners, where many kisses were stolen in the tunnel of love and cotton candy clung to the cheeks of little kids, now stands as the skeleton of a once proud amusement park. As he walked around the 20 acres covered with high grass and weeds Coleman looked up and said, `You know, this reminds me of going to see my best friend at the funeral home.’”

Indianapolis Recorder columnist Andrew Ramsey was more than willing to read the last rites to the amusement park. Ramsey dismissed Maloney’s “very touching human interest story on the closing of Riverside Amusement Park. As is so usual among white observers, he failed to mention the role which black Indianapolians played or were denied playing in the almost seventy year history of the famed institution.” Ramsey recounted his own childhood experience in the segregated park in the 1920s, when the Coleman family managed the park and “signs everywhere about the park read `White patronage only solicited.’” While Maloney was mourning, Ramsey celebrated that “the closing of Riverside Amusement Park will bring no tears from local Negroes who grew up in the Hoosier Capitol during the four decades when it was one of the bastions of white supremacy. The passing of such racist landmarks and the holding of many important funerals are necessary landmarks on the road to interracial democracy in Indianapolis and else where in this state and nation.” Read the rest of this entry