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

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March 19, 2016 show

James Alexander Thom on 1865 steamboat tragedy

This photograph of the Sultana paddleboat, overloaded with former Union prisoners of war, was taken at Helena, Ark., on April 26, 1865. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.

One of Indiana's most acclaimed novelists will be our studio guest to share insights about the Hoosier state's links to a tragedy on the Mississippi River during the aftermath of the Civil War and President Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

The fire and explosion in 1865 of the Sultana - a steamboat carrying about 2,000 passengers, including many Union Army soldiers who had survived the horrific Andersonville prisoner-of-war camp - has been called "America's worst maritime disaster."

Author James Alexander Thom.It's the focus of Fire in the Water (Blue River Press/Cardinal Publishing), the newest novel of historical fiction by James Alexander Thom, 82, whose great-grandfather survived the infamous Andersonville camp in Georgia.

Jim and his wife, author Dark Rain Thom, will be Nelson's guests for a show that also, as a salute to the state's bicentennial this year, will include insights about the Native American presence here in 1816, when Indiana became the 19th state. Dark Rain, a Shawnee, is the co-author with her husband of Warrior Woman (2004), a novel about the life of a real Shawnee leader of the 18th century.

The Thoms are renowned for the extensive historical research they undertake in writing their books. For several years, they provided riverboat commentary on the Delta Queen as historical lecturers.

Fire In the Water, by James Alexander Thom, book cover. It shows a wooden steamboat and an image of Abraham Lincoln.The Sultana, a wooden steamboat, exploded near Memphis, Tenn., while transporting five times the legal maximum of passengers; Jim describes them as "a pathetic human cargo of 2,000 sick and ragged survivors" of Andersonville. The explosion on April 27, 1865, happened the day after John Wilkes Booth was killed. The protagonist in Fire in the Water boards the Sultana to travel from the Deep South to Illinois to meet up with Lincoln's funeral train.

Some chapters in Fire in the Water also are set in Madison, the scenic Indiana town on the Ohio River. In addition, Madison is the hometown of some major characters in the novel.

Jim and Dark Rain Thom live in a 170-year-old log cabin in Owen County that he reconstructed on ancestral property.

He was the recipient of the inaugural Indiana Authors Award in 2009 by the Indianapolis Public Library Foundation. The byline "James Alexander Thom" first gained national fame with his novel Follow the River (1981), which landed on The New York Times bestseller list.

His other works of historic fiction include Long Knife (1979), which focuses on the exploits of George Rogers Clark during the Revolutionary War, and Panther in the Sky (1989), which focuses on the great Shawnee Leader Tecumseh.

Along with Dark Rain, Jim was a Hoosier History Live guest on April 2, 2011, for a show that tapped their advice about writing historic fiction. Jim had recently written The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction (Writers Digest Books, 2011), for which he has subsequently won awards. He also has been inducted into the Indiana Journalism Hall of Fame.

In Fire in the Water, the protagonist, a war correspondent, describes the Sultana as a "Tub of Doom." Of the 2,000 passengers aboard the tremendously overcrowded steamboat, about 1,700 died - more fatalities than occurred with the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912. (Hoosier History Live explored the Titanic tragedy - and the 14 passengers aboard the ocean liner with Hoosier connections - during a radio show in 2010.)

James Alexander Thom and wife Dark Rain Thom sit under a 300-year-old oak outside their 170-year-old remote Owen County cabin.According to historians, the significance of the Sultana disaster was overshadowed by other enormously consequential events that also happened during April 1865, including the Lincoln assassination. Fire in the Water opens with news of the assassination reaching people in the Deep South, including the war correspondent, who is on his honeymoon. To cover the slain president's funeral, he decides to board the Sultana with his bride in Vicksburg, Miss.

Hundreds of POWs recently released from the Andersonville camp, including many Hoosiers, also boarded the Sultana in Vicksburg. As one of the largest Confederate military prisons, Andersonville held more than 45,000 Union Army soldiers. Nearly 13,000 died, even though the camp existed for only 14 months; fatalities were attributed to malnutrition, disease and poor sanitation.

The fire on the Sultana, which occurred seven miles north of Memphis, began with the explosion of the boilers on the side wheel steamboat.

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History Mystery

Our distinguished guest, historical fiction author James Alexander Thom, was a Marine during the Korean War. So was an Indianapolis native who later became a well-known political figure. Question marks printed on pieces of paper.Like our guest James Alexander Thom, he was sent to Korea during the war. He was a Marine from 1950 to 1952, saw combat and endured two fierce winters in Korea.

The future politician had been born in Indy in 1932. He graduated from Shortridge High School in 1949, then served in the Marines. After that, he enrolled in Indiana University. In addition to a long political career - he held public office almost without interruption from 1964 until retiring in 1997 - he worked as a deputy sheriff in Marion County, a lawyer, an author and a college instructor.

Question: Who was he?

Please do not call in to 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. You must also give your first name to our engineer in order to be placed on the air. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314.

The prize pack includes a gift certificate to the Greek Islands Restaurant, courtesy of the Greek Islands, and two tickets to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Track Tour, courtesy of Visit Indy.

Roadtrip: Falls of the Ohio State Park

Aerial view of Falls of the Ohio State Park shows a railroad bridge in the foreground, with the falls and park downstream.

Guest Roadtripper and Indy-based history writer and enthusiast Jeff Kamm suggests we enjoy spring at the beautiful Falls of the Ohio State Park on the banks of the Ohio River in Clarksville, Ind., across from Louisville.

The Falls were an early river navigation landmark for Ohio River traffic, and Merriwether Lewis and William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition met for the first time at this location, and they set off westward just past the Falls.

The exposed fossil beds of the Jeffersonville Limestone, dated from the Devonian period, also are a major feature of the park. Click here to read Jeff's articles in Historic Indianapolis.

8 years on the air!

Party photo of the week

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett and host Nelson Price share a laugh at the Hoosier History Live 8th-anniversary party on Feb. 25, 2016. The mayor, a long-ago college schoolmate with Nelson, has been a history trivia call-in winner on the radio show. Photo by Lorraine Vavul.

Our Feb. 25 Hoosier History Live party celebrated eight years on the air. Won't you consider a donation or sponsorship to keep this unique-in-the-nation project going? Contact producer Molly Head at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org or (317) 927-9101 for details. Your support literally keeps us going!

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, media+development director


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Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support: Indiana Authors Award | Indiana Historical Society | Indiana Landmarks | Lucas Oil | Scott Keller Appraisals | Society of Indiana Pioneers | Story Inn | Yats Cajun Creole Restaurant

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.Acknowledgments to Monomedia, Visit Indy, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Heritage Photo & Research Services, Derrick Lowhorn and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships and individual contributions. We do not receive any government funding. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially. Also, see our Twitter feed and our Facebook page for regular updates.

March 26, 2016 show

Monika Herzig on Indiana women jazz musicians

Monika Herzig.Plenty of Hoosiers - and certainly many WICR-FM listeners - are aware of Monika Herzig, one of Indiana's best-known and most acclaimed jazz musicians.

But Monika, a jazz pianist and composer, emphasizes that many of her predecessors (including some whose accomplishments came during the ragtime era of the early 1900s) and peers have been overlooked. So, during Women's History Month, Monika has been paying tribute in performances across the state to an array of women jazz musicians, particularly composers and instrumentalists who often were overlooked.

She will be Nelson's studio guest to share insights about the women musicians, including some who were part of the heyday of the Indiana Avenue jazz scene in Indianapolis.

A native of Germany, Monika has been a faculty member at Indiana University since 2002, has toured internationally (opening for the likes of Bette Midler and Sting) and has performed at countless jazz festivals, including Indy Jazz Fest. Her upcoming release is titled The Whole World in Her Hands.

During our show, Monika will share insights about jazz musicians, including:

  • May Aufderheide (1888-1972), an Indianapolis native who is generally considered to have been the most important woman composer of ragtime music. Her compositions included The Thriller, Dusty, The Richmond Rag (she lived in Richmond for several years) and Novelty Rag.
  • Flo Garvin, an Indianapolis-based pianist and singer who enjoyed a devoted fan base beginning in the 1950s. (During the late 1950s, she often performed on Channel 6, then WFBM-TV.) A fixture at clubs on Indiana Avenue and at other piano bars, Flo Garvin was considered a pioneer for African-American women musicians. She died in 2005.
  • The Hampton Sisters were an Indianapolis jazz institution, along with their brother "Slide" Hampton. Clockwise from left: Carmelita, Dawn, Aletra and Virtue.The Hampton Sisters. The beloved sisters - Aletra, Virtue, Dawn and Carmelita - enjoyed a long career that also was intertwined with the Indiana Avenue jazz scene. Their recording of Route 66 often is played on WICR-FM.
  • And Cathy Morris, a contemporary Indy-based violinist, composer and arranger. She has performed at the Indianapolis 500 and has opened for such notables such as Burt Bacharach and George Benson.

Our guest Monika Herzig has organized more than 40 concerts with internationally known artists. Regular and upcoming performances include:

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