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January 25, 2020

A collector's guide to Indianapolis memorabilia

A china plate from the long-demolished Claypool Hotel in Indianapolis makes up just one piece of Charles Alexander's staggering collection of hundreds of rare items of Indianapolis memorabilia and ephemera. Courtesy Charles Alexander.

Where do you start in describing a staggering collection of hundreds of rare items of Indianapolis memorabilia and ephemera?

Charles AlexanderA private collection owned by antiques dealer Charles Alexander includes miniature models of iconic structures like the Soldiers and Sailors Monument; he owns two replicas created as the landmark was being constructed during the 1880s and '90s. The historic models differ in appearance because the monument's design was still evolving.

His private collection also includes historic photos and postcards depicting the Woodruff Place neighborhood and bygone Riverside Amusement Park; architectural sketches of the Murat Shrine Temple (now the Murat Theatre at the Old National Centre) and the World War Memorial; embossed silverware from the long-demolished Claypool and Lincoln hotels; Amaco art pottery made in Speedway during the Great Depression; and yearbooks from Shortridge and Arsenal Tech high schools.

Although Charles owns a booth at Midland Arts & Antiques Market, none of his rare Indianapolis memorabilia and ephemera is for sale there. Or anywhere else.

"I love the Indianapolis collection too much to sell any of it," says Charles, 63, who began collecting artifacts related to his hometown's heritage as a teenager in the early 1970s.

Alexander's collection includes miniature models of iconic Indianapolis structures like the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Courtesy Charles Alexander.In addition to describing cherished items in his vast collection (it includes 150 dinner spoons from the Indianapolis Athletic Club, long before it was converted into luxury condos), during our show Charles will offer advice for folks who enjoy hunting at garage sales, flea markets, antique booths, auctions and estate sales.

He's been a full-time antiques dealer for more than 35 years. At Midland, he primarily sells china, silverware and vintage furnishings not made in Indianapolis. He also has moonlighted at auction houses including Christy's of Indiana in Indianapolis, Heimel's Auction in Beech Grove and Burgess Auctions in Knightstown. Those gigs often enable him to get first dibs on rare Indy memorabilia to add to his ever-expanding collection.

Some listeners may recall Charles from his memorable appearance on the PBS series Antiques Roadshow when the program was filmed at the Indiana Convention Center in 2000. Charles, who emphasizes that he's not an appraiser, showed up with a rare World War I poster for which he had paid $35. It turned out to be worth an amount that Charles describes as "far, far more than that."

Fortunately, his Arts & Crafts-style house, which was built in 1917 in the Meridian Park neighborhood, has an attic, a basement and spare bedrooms for storage of his Indianapolis memorabilia and ephemera.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Charles has won the History Mystery prize several times on Hoosier History Live, sometimes drawing on knowledge gleaned while finding local treasures.

He also has put his knowledge to use at the Indiana State Fair, where he has judged 18 categories, primarily pottery and china. In addition, Charles has taught classes in antique china, pottery, glass and silver at various auction houses.

He offers up this tidbit of advice for collectors, using the popular Woodruff Place Flea Market as an example:

"Don't go expecting to find a specific item or treasure. Go to Woodruff Place to enjoy the historic neighborhood that it is. If you find something wonderful, that will be the icing."


History Mystery

This 1928 photograph of Riverside Amusement Park in Indianapolis includes serpentine roller coaster tracks in the background. Can you name one of the two roller coasters that were among the park's most popular attractions?

Riverside Amusement Park, the iconic entertainment center northwest of downtown Indianapolis that opened in 1903, was depicted in dozens of postcards, including some in the collection of guest Charles Alexander. For many decades, among the most popular attractions at Riverside were two massive roller coasters. Children and teenagers often debated which of the two roller coasters was more frightening.

After flourishing for more than 60 years, Riverside closed in 1970. The two dueling roller coasters were removed from the site, along with the other rides and attractions, which included a Ferris wheel, a miniature railroad and a water slide.

Question: Name at least one of the two roller coasters at bygone Riverside Amusement Park.

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. You must be willing to give your name and address to our engineer and be willing to be placed on the air.

The prizes this week are a gift certificate to Story Inn in Brown County, courtesy of Story Inn, and two admissions to the Indiana State Museum, courtesy of the Indiana State Museum.


Celebrating a century of women's suffrage

Guests Sally Perkins (left) and Jill Chambers joined host Nelson Price for our January 18 show to talk about "Women's suffrage crusade in Indiana and beyond." Courtesy Molly Head.


Nelson Price, host and historian
Molly Head, producer/general manager, (317) 927-9101
Michael Armbruster, associate producer

Cheryl Lamb, administrative manager
Richard Sullivan, senior tech consultant
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, consultant

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February 1, 2020 - coming up

Studebakers: the brothers, the cars and the legacy

The Studebaker brothers. From left, seated: Clement, Henry and J.M. Standing: Peter and Jacob. Although all of the brothers were involved in the South Bend, Ind., vehicle manufacturing business, Clement, J.M. and Peter were most closely associated with it.

For many generations of South Bend residents, Studebaker Brothers - which later became the Studebaker Corp. - was the largest employer in town.

It all began in 1852 when the two oldest of five Studebaker brothers - Henry and Clement - opened a blacksmith shop, pursuing a trade they had been taught by their father. By the 1880s, Studebaker was the largest maker of vehicles - wagons, carriages and sleds, at that point - in the world.

This 1927 Erskine Landau model Studebaker was photographed at Leeper park in South Bend. Courtesy Studebaker National Museum.Then came the heyday of auto production, with models like the Commander, the President, the moderately-priced Erskine and the luxurious Pierce-Arrow during the 1920s; the Land Cruiser in the 1930s; Champion Regal coupes in the 1950s; and the Avanti and the Daytona during the 1960s. 

Although the final Studebaker car to be assembled in South Bend rolled off the production line in 1963, thousands of aficionados around the world continue to drive them.

Among the most popular destinations for visitors to South Bend is the three-story Studebaker National Museum, where galleries include exhibits of U.S. presidential carriages. Among the crown jewels displayed at the Studebaker museum: the Barouch carriage that transported the Lincolns to Ford's Theatre on the night of the president's assassination in 1865.

For a motoring excursion through a broad landscape of Studebaker history, our two guests will be:

  • Andy Beckman of South Bend, the archivist for the Studebaker National Museum and past president of the Society of Automotive Historians. The museum, which has 55,000 square feet and galleries of vintage cars and wagons, also houses the archives of the Studebaker Corp. and other South Bend businesses dating to the 1850s.
  • Bob Palma of Brownsburg, who writes Studebaker columns for auto collector publications, including Hemmings Classic Car magazine; he also serves as the technical editor for the Studebaker Drivers Club's magazine, Turning Wheels. The owner of a fleet of four Astra white 1964 Daytona models (the last model year of South Bend production), Bob is retired from a career that included teaching auto mechanics at Arsenal Tech High School and editing industrial arts textbooks. During the mid-1950s, his father co-owned a Studebaker dealership.

In 1966, the Studebaker Corporation gave its 33-vehicle collection to the City of South Bend; this collection formed the nucleus of the current Studebaker National Museum. Courtesy Studebaker National Museum.Family connections have been part of the Studebaker heritage since the beginning. The fortunes of the wagon-making business are said to have been jump-started when John Mohler (J.M.) Studebaker, the third of the five brothers, returned from California to invest in his siblings' company. J.M. (1833-1917) had become wealthy by selling wheelbarrows to miners during the Gold Rush.

At various times, all five Studebaker brothers were involved in the business, although Clement (1831-1901), J.M. and Peter (1836-1897) were most closely associated with it. Clement's mansion, built during the 1880s and christened Tippecanoe Place, is now home to a popular restaurant in South Bend.

During World War II, Studebaker manufactured trucks and other vehicles used by the military. After the war, the company returned to making popular cars for middle-class Americans; our guest Bob Palma notes their 1947 models were touted with the slogan "first by far with a postwar car."

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