Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
And always online at hoosierhistorylive.org!

You can listen to Hoosier History Live! live on the air each Saturday, or listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast on any computer with speakers, anywhere, or on a smartphone. We invite you to visit our website!

July 7 show

David Willkie on grandfather Wendell - and roof-living

A charismatic Wendell Willkie drew a huge crowd in his hometown of Elwood, Ind., for his speech to accept the Republican presidential nomination on Aug. 17, 1940.More than 50 years after his colorful grandfather, as a dark-horse, maverick presidential candidate, took on Franklin D. Roosevelt, David Willkie made his own headlines. In 1992, he lived for 60 days on the slate roof of the Athenaeum in downtown Indy as a fund-raising ploy to help save the historic structure from possible demolition.

So David will join Nelson in studio to share insights about two topics: the life of Wendell Willkie, the Republican Party's nominee for president in 1940, and the roof-living stunt as a recent college graduate atop the building that was designed in the 1890s by architect Bernard Vonnegut and became the hub of German cultural life in the Hoosier capital.

A caveat: David never personally knew his grandfather, who died suddenly in 1944 at age 52. He has fond memories, though, of his grandmother, Edith Willkie, who almost became the country's first lady. She was from Rushville, the town from which Wendell Willkie, a native of Elwood, based his rollicking presidential campaign. David, who grew up in Rushville, recently settled in Indianapolis after serving for several years on the staff of U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar.

David Willkie.During several Hoosier History Live! shows, studio guests have shared memories or anecdotes about the unlikely presidential campaign of Wendell Willkie, a self-made business leader who never had held elective office of any kind before his unsuccessful crusade to stop FDR from winning an unprecedented third term.

The chant "We want Willkie! We want Willkie! We want Willkie!" swept delegates to the 1940 Republican convention, which had been deadlocked on more traditional candidates.

"The miracle of modern politics," analysts called the upset nomination of Willkie.

Subsequently, his speech on a sweltering Saturday in Elwood drew a crowd of 215,000, making it one of the largest political gatherings in Indiana history. (By the time Willkie wound down on the 102-degree afternoon, nearly 360 people needed to be treated for heat-related disorders.)

Although Willkie had been sharply critical of aspects of FDR's New Deal and was defeated in the general election, he became a good friend of his rival. In fact, President Roosevelt even designated Willkie to be his personal representative to the Allied nations of Europe.

Das Deutsche Haus (now the Athenaeum) has long been a community hub in Indianapolis. This photo is from c. 1910.Decades after her husband's untimely death, Edith Willkie periodically brought her young grandson, David, to the Athenaeum, 401 E. Michigan St. So those visits were among David's personal connections when he camped out atop the building's roof in 1992, the 20th anniversary of which will be celebrated this fall during GermanFest.

During his 60 days of roof-living, David, then 22 years old and a recent Indiana University graduate, was interviewed by everyone from WFBQ-FM's Bob and Tom to national media. He says he even received a phone call from literary lion Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the grandson of the architect, who expressed concerns about David's health and safety.

On the roof, David lived in a metal shed. At that point, the Athenaeum was rapidly deteriorating. Not only did the roof leak, birds were seen flying inside the historic structure. David's roof-living stunt raised $157,000 for structural repairs, with the Lilly Endowment eventually contributing $645,000. David Willkie stands atop the roof of the Athenaeum in 1992. A recent Indiana University grad who wanted the building to be preserved, the grandson of Wendell Willkie lived for 60 days on the slate roof of the historic building in downtown Indianapolis. Photo courtesy David Willkie.(To salute the 20th anniversary, as well as to raise more funds, Cassie Stockamp, president of the Athenaeum Foundation, will live on the roof for a week in October.)

If roof-living sounds scrappy and adventurous, those traits also were attributed to David's grandfather. As a young man, Wendell Willkie held down a series of jobs, including working as a short-order cook and driving a bakery wagon. Eventually, though, he became an extremely successful attorney, then one of the country's top utility executives.

He tangled with FDR over the government's new Tennessee Valley Authority, which Willkie regarded as competing with his electric company's holdings in Tennessee. However, Wendell Willkie also was regarded as socially progressive, a champion of civil rights and as an internationalist. (After his defeat by FDR, he wrote a bestselling book titled One World.)

"I won't be dropped into a mold," he said several times. "I want to be a free spirit."

Tune in to our show to hear insights from the grandson of one of the most intriguing political figures in Hoosier history - as well as David's recollections about life atop a distinctive roof.

History Mystery

Wendell Willkie had a lifelong Hoosier rival. The rival, a Democrat who became Indiana's governor in the 1930s, had attended Indiana University with Willkie. On campus, Willkie's rival attained amazing success, serving as student body president, editor of the newspaper and several other leadership roles. He became dean of the IU School of Law at age 34, the youngest dean in the school's history.

The rival was touted as a Democratic presidential candidate (although he never was nominated by the party) and, after World War II, became ambassador to the Philippines. Two dormitories at IU are named in honor of Wendell Willkie and his rival.

Question: Name the lifelong rival of Wendell Willkie.

To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show and be willing to be placed on the air. Please do not call if you have won a prize from any WICR show during the last two months. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and please do not call until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air.

This week's prize is two admissions to Conner Prairie Interactive History Park, courtesy of Conner Prairie, and two admission to Symphony on the Prairie, courtesy of the ICVA.

Roadtrip: Indianapolis City Market Catacombs

The catacombs beneath Indianapolis City Market.With Roadtripper Chris Gahl of the ICVA out on assignment, we thank Garry Chilluffo of Chilluffo Photography for stepping in to tell us about a mysterious Roadtrip with new, regularly scheduled tours that are open to the public.

Indianapolis City Market and Indiana Landmarks have joined forces to offer public tours of the City Market Catacombs, the still-existing basement beneath what was once Tomlinson Hall, the huge public building built in 1886 by architect Dietrich Bohlen just west of the City Market. Tomlinson Hall burned to the ground in 1958, but the catacombs remain, and their exact purpose remains a bit of a mystery, although we expect Garry to be able to tell us more.

Fun fact: According to Historic Indianapolis, in 1912, the mayor of Indianapolis, Samuel Shank, allowed homeless men to sleep in the catacombs, and donations of food and clothing also were offered.

Public tours are offered every Wednesday during the weekly Farmers Market in front of City Hall and on the fourth Saturday of each month.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director

Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, grant consultants
Joan Hostetler, photo historian
Dana Waddell, volunteer-at-large


Author Connie Nordhielm Wooldridge's book, Just Fine the Way They Are From Dirt Roads to Railroads to Interstates.Story Inn

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Lucas OilIndiana Historical Society logo.Indiana Pioneers logo.

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support: Aesop's Tables | Just Fine the Way They Are, a children's book about the National Road | Indiana Historical Society | Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library | Lucas Oil | The Society of Indiana Pioneers | Story Inn.

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo and Research Services, Conner Prairie, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through Indiana Humanities. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.

July 14 show

Pan Am Games of 1987 with Mark Miles, Bill Benner

It's been called Indy's "coming-out party" on an international stage. More than 4,000 athletes from 38 countries in the western hemisphere - along with 900,000 spectators - descended on the Hoosier capital in August 1987 for the colorful Pan American Games, the second-largest multi-sport event in the world. (Only the Olympic Games are larger.)

Kathy Callaghan (standing on bench) cheers as the U.S. team wins the gold medal in women’s handball at 1987’s Pan Am Games in Indianapolis.Jumping the gun on next month's 25th anniversary of this milestone in Indy history - which also had ramifications across the sports world - two "heavy hitters" will be Nelson's guests to share insights about the Pan Am Games, which drew an astounding 36,000 Hoosiers as volunteers.

Mark Miles, president of PAX/I (Pan American Games Ten/Indianapolis), will be one of our guests. (Of course, Mark went on to serve as chairman of the host committee of the 2012 Super Bowl, the only Indy event to eclipse Pan Am in magnitude.)

Nelson also will be joined by sports columnist Bill Benner, who covered Pan Am's basketball competition for The Indianapolis Star. (Today, Bill is a senior associate commissioner for the Horizon League, as well as a columnist for the Indianapolis Business Journal.)

The dazzling Pan Am Games featured 30 sports, ranging from boxing, field hockey and baseball to tae kwon do, archery and gymnastics. As a writer at The Indianapolis News, Nelson covered two of the marquee sports, swimming and diving. In fact, he reported the triumphs of one of Pan Am's superstars, Greg Louganis, who still is considered to have been the best diver in competitive history. (Louganis made history in Indy by becoming the first to pull off a "triple double" - that is, win both of diving's gold medals in three consecutive Pan Am games.)

Indy was designated as the host late in the game - and only after Chile, then Ecuador, bowed out.

An ID badge for one of the 36,000 Pan Am Games volunteers in 1987.Countless stories unfolded after that, culminating with concerns from the American Legion, which is headquartered in Indy, about the spotlight that would fall on communist Cuba during the closing ceremonies, which were planned for American Legion Mall. (Closing ceremonies were moved to the stadium then known as the Hoosier Dome.)

The opening ceremonies, a sensory bombardment that featured everything from parachutes and balloons to roller skaters and fireworks, were held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and staged by Walt Disney Productions. (Spectators included then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.)

Emotional scenes unfolded at the finals of basketball when Brazil beat the United States and in baseball, when Cuba came from behind to pull out a victory, also over the U.S. During the games, Fort Harrison served as the Athletes Village, complete with lodging, a dining hall and a nightclub.

To highlight the 25th anniversary of the sports spectacle, the Indiana Sports Corp. and Indiana Humanities are launching a series of events and forums about Pan Am memories and the continual impact of the historic games. Nelson is among those who have shared reflections in the sports corporation's blog.

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