Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
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Dec. 21 show

Victorian-era and ethnic holiday traditions

Period decorations adorn the Christmas tree in the front parlor of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.Buckle up for a time-traveling sleigh ride with Hoosier History Live! as we explore holiday traditions of earlier eras - as well as yule-season and new year customs brought to this country by various ethnic heritage groups.

Did your family or ancestors ever set out a pair of shoes for St. Nick? That footwear-shuffling Christmas season tradition was an Eastern European custom.

Ever wonder about the evolution of holiday greeting cards and what they would have been like during the Victorian era? An immigrant from an ethnic heritage group started the mass printing in America of holiday cards during the 1870s. (You will have to tune in to learn details.)

To share insights about ethnic immigration holiday traditions - cherished, bygone or transformed in various ways - Nelson will be joined in studio by a diverse group of guests. They also will share insights about folk traditions associated with the holidays during the Victorian and Edwardian eras stretching from the mid-1800s through the early 1900s.

Nelson's guests will be:

  • Nancy Grant. Photo by Jim Battles.Nancy Grant, a journalist, photographer and speaker based in Louisville. During her career, Nancy has written about a wide range of topics, including the history behind some of the most popular Christmas traditions. Her book Christmas in America (1991) described the evolution of greeting cards, holiday trees decorated with lights and other traditions.
  • Olga Imperial Keegan of Carmel, whose parents immigrated from the Philippines. A past president of the Association of International Women, Olga is a real estate agent and mother of four. She also has been a volunteer host for the International Center of Indianapolis.
  • And Rosaleen Crowley, a Carmel-based artist and poet who immigrated from Ireland in 1990. A painter, Rosaleen has just opened Roscro & Co., a new studio in Carmel, and has had a long career in education, speech and drama. She is a graduate of the National University of Ireland and the London College of Music. For 10 years, she owned a business that helped families adjust to their new communities and adapt to their host culture.

The Christmas and New Year's traditions that we will explore range from festive to poignant.

Rosaleen Crowley.According to Rosaleen, Irish families on New Year's Day often set a place at the table in remembrance of those who have died.

She also will describe an Irish twist on the seasonal "kissing under the mistletoe" tradition: On New Year's Eve, some single Irish women slip mistletoe under their pillows. That means they will meet their future husbands during the new year, according to folklore.

Our guest Nancy Grant, whose areas of expertise include energy technology (she writes a monthly “Future of Electricity” column for Kentucky Living magazine), reports that the tradition of putting lights on holiday trees began in 1882.

Olga Keegan.Fun fact: As regular listeners of Hoosier History Live! - or visitors to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site - may recall, the only American president elected from the Hoosier state has a yule-season claim to fame. Benjamin Harrison (who served from 1888 to 1892) and First Lady Caroline Scott Harrison became the very first First Family to have a decorated Christmas tree in the White House.

We explored this aspect of their heritage during a holiday season show in 2011 with Jennifer Capps, curator of the presidential site. During the show, Jennifer noted that President Harrison, who had a beard and a slightly stocky frame, portrayed Santa on at least one occasion.

During our upcoming show, our guest Olga Kenner will describe a five-pointed star that Filipino families often place on their front doors (similar to the way Americans hang wreaths) during the Christmas season.

Noting that the Philippines was under Spanish rule for generations, Olga estimates about 80 percent of the population in her ancestral homeland is Catholic. That means many Filipino traditions, including attending midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, derive from Spanish and/or Catholic traditions.

Nancy Grant's 1991 book "Christmas in America" highlights holiday traditions in the United States."When I was a girl, we would go to midnight Mass, then come home and there would be our presents," Olga said. "It was late in the evening, but we would open the gifts right then, not wait until morning."

Also during our show, Nancy Grant will describe how enterprising merchant F. W. Woolworth began importing glass ornaments from Germany in 1880. Then he sold them across the country.

The Eastern European tradition of setting out shoes happens on Dec. 6, St. Nick's Day.

Our guest Rosaleen, who also is a member of the Association of International Women, will describe Irish activities related to St. Stephen's Day (Dec. 26), setting a table with "Christmas crackers" and what typically happens on the Feast of Epiphany (Jan. 6).

Nancy Grant is convinced that various Christmas aromas from the kitchen provide clues about a family's ethnic heritage. Cinnamon: maybe British for figgy pudding. Licorice or anise: German for springerles. Also in terms of seasonal goodies, Olga will describe the variety of home-made sweets that Filipinos typically serve this month.

You are invited to call in and describe your "Old Country" traditions - and also share ways you have given them a special flair for the 21st century.

Roadtripper: Jeffersonville

Guest Roadtripper and public historian Glory-June Greiff tells us that it doesn't have to be Christmas time to head to Schimpff's Confectionery in Jeffersonville (347 Spring Street), a candy store, soda fountain, and lunch counter that is more than 120 years old! (Jeffersonville is, of course, just across the Ohio River from Louisville.)

Glory-June Greiff points to her “take” from Schimpff’s Confectionery in Jeffersonville, Ind. Image courtesy http://gloryjune.com/wordpress.But at Christmas especially, Schimpff's is a fantasy land filled with jars and glass cases of its yummy candy. You can even watch them making it in the adjoining space, which also houses their candy museum. After you consider your many choices of candy for gifts and a few for yourself, have an old-fashioned lunch - maybe an egg salad sandwich and a chocolate phosphate. Then take a stroll down historic Spring Street, with its many interesting shops.

Are needle arts your thing? There is a wonderful yarn shop with the bizarre name of Grinny Possum across the street from Schimpff's.

A little farther south is a novelty shop, with every kind of costume, favor, decoration, etc. you can possibly imagine. Horner Novelty at 310 Spring Street touts itself as the world's largest party store, and it may well be.

A few blocks north at 723 Spring Street is the new location of the Vintage Fire Museum, but currently it is open only on Fridays and Saturdays, so plan accordingly.

If all that isn't enough, not too far off to the southeast is the Howard Steamboat Museum on Market Street along the river. It's a great pile of a house with a fantastic collection of artifacts and ephemera telling the history of steamboats in general and those built in Jeffersonville in particular. It's an easy drive down I-65 from Indy to enjoy this scenic river town.

History Mystery

A nationally known department store that became associated with the holiday season had its beginnings during the 1840s in Vincennes, Indiana's oldest city. Most Americans associate the retailer with New York City, where it opened a flagship store that flourished for generations of shoppers. But the retailer's founder, a Bavarian immigrant, actually began in business with a general store in Vincennes. Eventually, he moved his business to Milwaukee, then expanded it considerably for 40 years and achieved success in other cities.

Second-story façade of mystery department store in Vincennes, Ind.The New York City department store opened in 1910. It had a fierce, decades-long rivalry with another retailer that even became a major aspect of the plot of a classic movie with a Christmas theme. When the department store chain closed during the 1980s, it had 36 stores across the country.

Question: What was the department store chain that traces its beginnings to Vincennes?

The call-in number is (317) 788-3314. Please do not call into the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win the prize if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months.

The prize is a gift certificate to the Rathskeller Restaurant in Indianapolis and two admissions to the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home, courtesy of Visit Indy.

By request, we are publishing the answer to the last live History Mystery, in case you didn't catch it on the air. The Dec. 14 show History Mystery: What is the name of the dinosaur, which is also the first name of the paleontologist who discovered it?

Answer: SUE.

Paleontologist SUE HENDRICKSON was born in Chicago in 1949 but grew up in Munster. While working for the Black Hills Institute, Sue Hendrickson discovered the remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex on a Native American reservation in South Dakota. Now known as "Sue" in her honor, the dinosaur remains are considered to be the largest and best-preserved T-Rex ever discovered.

After the entire skeleton was assembled, it was 40 feet long from its nose to its tail. For more than 13 years, "Sue," the T-Rex skeleton, has been exhibited at the Field Museum.

Sue Hendrickson also been credited with discovering other important fossils and artifacts.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
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


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Year-end note

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Dec. 28 shows

Union Station history in Indy and Political cartoon heritage: Two classic shows

For generations of Hoosiers traveling by rail, Union Station in Indianapolis was at its bustling peak during holiday seasons. And iconic images created by political cartoonists (albeit non-Hoosiers) have included Santa Claus and Uncle Sam.

So as a holiday season treat, Hoosier History Live! will broadcast encore shows focusing on those two topics. Instead of a one-hour program, you will be able to enjoy two back-to-back, half hour shows from our archives of more than 270 programs in nearly six years of covering all aspects of our Hoosier heritage.

Union Station history in Indy

Union Station's grand reopening in 1986 featured balloons being released. Photo by Lauren Basile.During the first classic show (original air date: March 3, 2012), we explore an aspect our heritage that became a national "first." For the first time in American history, railway lines came together in a single central Indiana train depot, the country's first "union" station. It happened in Indy in 1853, six years after the first railroad reached the Hoosier capital.

The opening of Union Depot helped account for explosive growth in Indy and the city's longtime "Crossroads of America" nickname. In the 1880s, the initial depot was replaced by a nearby, majestic Union Station designed in Romanesque Revival architectural style with elegant Rookwood tiles in its interior and a 185-foot clock tower that became a city landmark.

Santa Colossal “spoke” holiday greetings to passengers at Union Station in 1949. Image courtesy Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society.To discuss the history of the station listed on the National Register of Historic Places - as well as the impact of the railroads on Indy - Nelson is joined in studio by architectural photographer Garry Chilluffo of Chilluffo Photography. Garry, who often is a commentator on tours of the station, also is the corporate photographer for Crowne Plaza Union Station.
Today the historic train shed houses a Crowne Plaza luxury hotel, and the restored grand hall is a ballroom, with rooms in the former concourse serving as convention meeting rooms. Hotel guests may stay in historic Pullman cars that have been converted to suites and named after famous people who traveled through the train station, such as Winston Churchill, Cole Porter and Amelia Earhart.

During the show, Garry shares insights about how train travel initially was considered unsafe - with good reason. Even so, its popularity soared, with Indy serving as a major cross-country hub.

Fun holiday history fact: During the late 1940s, a 51-feet-high Styrofoam replica of Santa Claus - known as "Santa Colossal" - was positioned in the train terminal to greet passengers. Santa Colossal "spoke" yuletide greetings and was so popular that postcards with his image were handed out at Union Station for years afterward.

Political cartoon heritage with Gary Varvel

Pictured is a signed 1911 Abe Martin cartoon by Indianapolis-based humorist Kin Hubbard.Whether creating visual commentary about tragedies such as the 9-11 terrorist attacks or creating mythical characters such as Brown County's cracker-barrel philosopher Abe Martin and whimsical Raggedy Ann, Hoosier political cartoonists have been at the cultural epicenter.

To explore the rich heritage of political cartooning - including images that range from lighthearted to poignant to controversial - Nelson is joined in studio on this classic show by Gary Varvel, the award-winning political cartoonist for The Indianapolis Star. (This classic show's original air date was Aug. 13, 2011.) Gary, whose work is syndicated to more than 100 newspapers through Creators Syndicate, has created dozens of images that have made readers' blood boil, provoked them to laugh or inspired them to think.

During the show, Gary explains the derivation of Santa Claus as a newspaper cartoon character.

Nelson and Gary also explore the impact of Abe Martin, the fictional character (sample quip: "You can take a voter to the polls, but you can’t make him think") created in 1904 by Indianapolis News cartoonist Frank McKinney "Kin" Hubbard (1868-1930). His homespun wisdom became enormously popular across the country.

Gary Varvel.As for Gary, his best-known cartoon probably has been one drawn in reaction to the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. A depiction of a weeping Uncle Sam holding a limp firefighter while the smoldering skyline of New York City crumbles in the background, the cartoon resulted in requests for copies from thousands of readers. The Star printed his 9-11 cartoon as a poster for sale and raised $130,000 for relief efforts in New York.

As for Raggedy Ann: The book series and dolls were created by former Indianapolis Star cartoonist Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938), who grew up near the Lockerbie neighborhood in Indy. Names and traits of his famous creation were inspired by blending two of his favorite James Whitcomb Riley poems: "The Raggedy Man" and "Little Orphant Annie."

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Hoosier History Live!
P.O. Box 44393
Indianapolis, IN 46244
(317) 927-9101