Listen to Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM. You also can listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast or you can join our new listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show. We invite you to visit our website!
June 5 show
Memoirs of farm life in the early 1900s
Journey with us to an era of rural schoolhouses heated by pot-bellied stoves, "party line" telephones with eavesdropping neighbors, chicken thieves, and kerosene lanterns used for nighttime walks to the hen house. Folks used slang and phrases that would perplex many of us today. Do you know what a "dewberry" is? And what kind of farm bird is a pullet?
Believe it or not, all of these - along with a sorghum mill, whooping cough epidemics and doctors who made house calls - were part of life 100 years ago in a corner of what today is the fastest-growing county in Indiana. For a glimpse of a bygone era in the Hamilton County village of Bakers Corner - typical in many ways of rural life across the state during the early 1900s - Nelson will be joined by a set of cousins, Ellen Swain and Carol Longenecker.
They are co-editors of a new book, Growing Up with Bakers Corner (Hawthorne Publishing). It's a collection of memoirs and vignettes told by a beloved ancestor, Mary Elizabeth Wilson, who was Carol's grandmother and Ellen's great-aunt. She was born in 1907 in Bakers Corner (the nearest "big city" is Sheridan), grew up on a farm, married a farmer, and enchanted people with her stories until her death in 2003.
She also was an artist. Mary Elizabeth's works include a painting of a historic covered bridge, over which she drove to attend Cicero High School in the 1920s. The covered bridge was demolished in the 1950s to make way for Morse Reservoir. The sorghum mill in Bakers Corner, which was the hub of much of the village activity, also is gone. It had been one of the country's last remaining, operational sorghum mills, but it burned down last summer.
Although the sorghum mill may have been distinctive, much of daily life in Bakers Corner during the early 1900s, as recounted in Mary Elizabeth's vignettes, will resonate with anyone familiar with rural and small-town Midwestern life during the era. Her family enjoyed eating a treat known as "mush". (Never heard of it? Tune in for a description.) At school, long hours were devoted to "penmanship" - in jarring contrast to recent news accounts about some Indiana schools that have considered phasing out instruction in cursive writing because so much activity today involves computer keyboards.
Mary Elizabeth's classmates often were felled by whooping cough; they also were among the first waves of children to receive the smallpox vaccine. And during the devastating influenza epidemic of 1918, Mary Elizabeth's mother became ill (she was pregnant at the time) during the Christmas holiday; she was so sick, according to Mary Elizabeth's account, that the doctor came to their home daily - sometimes twice per day. Eventually, young Mary Elizabeth also was stricken with the dreaded influenza, which was the focus of a Hoosier History Live! show in the summer of 2009.
Despite the illnesses and hardships, as Ellen and Carol will explain, their ancestor also shared stories filled with humor and warmth. Take her account about "party line" phones in which several families shared a single line. Every household had a distinctive ring ("two shorts and one long," for example), connections had to go through a local operator, and eavesdropping was rampant. According to Growing Up With Bakers Corner, the community did not convert from crank phones to ones with dials until the mid-1950s.
Families feasted on homemade delicacies such as gooseberry pie. And to help guide their hens about where to lay eggs, farmers used a fake product known as "nest eggs." As described by Mary Elizabeth, they were made of "white, smooth, heavy glass" and purchased in a local variety store. "It seemed the hen could not tell the difference between them and a real egg."
If these tales of party lines, nest eggs and other aspects of a bygone era and rural life ring a bell, call the show during our broadcast at (317) 788-3314. Nelson, Ellen and Carol would be delighted to hear anecdotes.
Ellen is an associate professor of library administration and an archivist at the University of Illinois. Explaining that she cherished listening to her Great Aunt Elizabeth's stories as a child, Ellen says they have directly influenced her current work in oral history. Carol, an ordained Wesleyan minister, is pastor of Bakers Corner Wesleyan. Like her grandmother, she lives on a farm in the area. The cousins will be the speakers at 7 p.m. on June 14 at the Sheridan Public Library. They also will be signing books at most events at the Sheridan Sesquicentennial from June 25 through July 4.
History Mystery question
In recent years, the restoration of a historic cabin in Sheridan, Ind., has won acclaim for the Hamilton County town. Built in the 1830s, the cabin was the home of a Virginia-born abolitionist who became a fugitive from justice in his home state. He secretly had been working to help a rebellion of slaves.
After the plan was discovered, he was thrown in jail. He managed to escape (although he was chased by bounty hunters) and fled to the Indiana wilderness, settling in what today is the town of Sheridan. The abolitionist's restored cabin sits on Pioneer Hill in Sheridan Veterans Park.
Question: Name the historic cabin.
The call-in number for the correct answer is (317) 788-3314, and the prize is four tickets to any Indianapolis Indians baseball game this summer at Victory Field, courtesy of the ICVA.
Chris Gahl of the ICVA suggests that we take in the 55th annual Talbot Street Art Fair coming up on June 12 and 13. Samuel Henderson, the first mayor of Indianapolis, was also the first owner of the land now encompassing the historic Herron-Morton neighborhood, where the fair takes place.
Henderson did not believe Indianapolis would ever amount to much, and he later sold his substantial real estate here to pursue the Gold Rush in California. In 1859, Indiana's State Board of Agriculture purchased the land to create a permanent Indiana State Fairgrounds.
With more than 270 artists from across the nation, this juried art fair continues to be ranked as one of the finest fairs in the country. Fair hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. And you can walk a few blocks over to the adjacent neighborhood of Fall Creek Place for its annual neighborhood sale on Saturday, June 12.
Your friends in Hoosierdom,
Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, tech and web director
Garry Chilluffo, consultant
Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support:
Indiana Landmarks, The Fadely Trust, Indiana Historical Society, Lucas Oil and Story Inn.
Acknowledgments to Scott Keller Fine Art and Antiques Appraisals, Print Resources, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities Council, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Drew Pastorek and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through sponsorships and through individual tax-deductible contributions through the Indiana Humanities Council. Visit our website to learn more.
June 12 show
French Lick and West Baden Springs hotels history
With a heritage that includes mineral waters renowned for their supposed curative powers, an atrium with one of largest free-standing domes anywhere (it was touted as the "Eighth Wonder of the World"), a series of colorful owners and a roster of distinguished guests for more than 100 years, the two lavishly restored hotels in French Lick and West Baden are troves for history lovers.
To explore the rollicking history of the French Lick Springs and West Baden Springs hotels, Nelson will be joined in studio by a gem of a guest: distinguished Hoosier historian Jim Fadely, widely regarded as the ultimate expert on flamboyant Tom Taggart, the former Indianapolis mayor who purchased the French Lick hotel in the early 1900s and made it an international showplace.
A descendant of early Indiana pioneers, Jim is the author of Thomas Taggart: Public Servant, Political Boss 1856-1929 (Indiana Historical Society Press) and a top administrator at University High School near Carmel.
Jim and Nelson have rotated the microphone on tours of the historic hotels in Orange County, where illegal gambling flourished for decades and Taggart's masterful promoters touted a sulfur-based water they marketed as Pluto Water. (At the rival West Baden Springs Hotel, mineral water was marketed as Sprudel Water.)
Some fun facts courtesy of Jim and others: Taggart built a hilltop home for his son on the second-highest point in Indiana; he designed the residence, called Mount Airie, to recreate a Taggart home on Hyannis Port, Mass, which pre-dates the Kennedy family's compounds there. (Mount Airie today serves as the clubhouse for the spectacular golf course at French Lick designed by nationally renowned Hoosier Pete Dye.)
And since the sensational restorations of the hotels - projects that involved historic preservationists Bill and Gayle Cook, as well as Indiana Landmarks Foundation - the French Lick Springs has 25 miles of hallways and the largest spa in the entire Midwest.
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