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A live weekly radio adventure through Indiana history with host Nelson Price. Airs live on Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET at WICR 88.7 fm in Indianapolis.

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May 13, 2023

Speedway medical care: a sequel

Last May, Hoosier History Live explored the first infield hospital at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, medical treatment, advances in care and safety issues by time traveling to the opening of the world-famous racetrack in 1909. But we only covered the first 50 years, stopping in 1959.

Now we are roaring back with a sequel that will begin in 1960 with the appointment of a new medical director at the Speedway. Dr. Thomas Hanna, who would serve in that capacity for 21 years, received a baptism by fire in 1960 because his first year involved a spectacular tragedy during the Indianapolis 500. In the infield, privately constructed scaffolding collapsed, killing two spectators and injuring 76 others.

For this new show, our guest last May will return. Norma Erickson, the education manager at the Indiana Medical History Museum, is a long-time Indy 500 enthusiast who has undertaken extensive research about medical care at the Speedway. Although the racetrack opened amid much fanfare in 1909, the first Indy 500 wasn't held until two years later in 1911. As Norma has explained, medical teams, including nurses and ambulances, were at the Speedway beginning with the first races.

Even though Dr. Hanna didn't become the top medical officer until 1960, he had been assisting with health care at the racetrack since the early 1930s when he was a resident physician at Methodist Hospital, where he later became a trustee. For much of his career, Dr. Hanna was a general practitioner in the town of Speedway, where his patients included many expectant parents. "He used to ask his patients to please not have their babies during May," Norma says.

He certainly had his hands full at the Speedway, where attendance on race day often swelled to more than 250,000 people. "True, there may have been cities with a larger population than the race day crowd, but they all weren't doing things that are potentially dangerous at the same time," Norma notes.

Even aside from dealing with life-threatening injuries to drivers, mechanics and spectators, medical crews were kept busy treating a range of issues, including some that were the result of, as Norma puts it, "poor choices". She notes that many spectators ignored warnings not to walk around barefoot with the result that "every year a significant number of injuries were foot lacerations because of broken glass."

The scaffolding collapse in 1960 occurred during the pace lap of the Indy 500. The scaffolding in the infield involved seating for about 125 spectators, Norma says. Another mass casualty event happened in 1971, when a pace car driver failed to brake quickly and crashed into a viewing stand at the end of the pits. About 20 photographers from across the United States and foreign countries were injured, some critically.

During his long stint as medical director, Dr. Hanna oversaw many advancements at the Speedway. In 1963, a helicopter was provided to whisk patients who needed urgent care to Methodist Hospital. "This was not a Lifeline helicopter like today's," Norma says. "It had no special outfitting for patients. That would come in the 1970s."

In 1970, a helicopter landing pad was installed on the roof of Methodist Hospital. According to Norma's research, it was partially funded by Tony Hulman, the long-time owner of the Speedway. He was the passenger in the helicopter when it made its first landing on the rooftop pad during a trial run in early May 1970.

Also during the 1970s, new events necessitated medical services. They included the 500 Festival Mini Marathon, which began in 1977 with a route for runners that includes the racetrack. During our show, Norma will discuss the medical issues, including exhaustion, that were involved during the early "Minis".

Dr. Hanna died at age 72 in 1981, several months after the Indy 500 that year. For many years, he was assisted at the racetrack by his son, Dr. Thomas Hanna Jr., who died in 2015.

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Roadtrip: Historic Cold Springs Resort in Steuben County

Guest Roadtripper Tim Shelly of Elkhart, who is a partner with the law firm of Warrick & Boyn, LLP, suggests a visit to the 125-year-old seasonal Cold Springs Resort, which sits on the northeast shore of Steuben County's Hamilton Lake in northern Indiana. The historic resort and hotel is currently operated by the fifth generation of the Watkins family. Named for the natural springs originally found on the grounds, the resort's history traces back to the 1870s when the Watkins' first developed a campground, catering primarily to fishing and lake activities. The next two and a half decades saw cabins, concession stands, and boathouses added. In 1897, a hotel was constructed expanding entertainment options to include bowling, golf and baseball.

Religious orators preached and politicians delivered campaign speeches at the resort, including William Jennings Bryan during his 1900 presidential campaign. Seventeen years later, the hotel was expanded with the addition of a third floor and the introduction of electricity. Important at this time, the expansion converted the bowling lanes to a dance pavilion. For decades following, dance music resounded during the summer months; first, jazz, then the big band sounds, including Woody Herman, Glenn Miller, and the Dorsey brothers, all playing Cold Springs. Those bands ultimately gave way to early rock and roll performers; The Beach Boys, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny and the Hurricanes all performed at the dance hall. 

Today, bands still play six times a summer, slightly less than the six times weekly that Cold Springs Resort experienced in its heyday. In addition to offering rooms, golf and lake activities, the hotel also hosts weddings and reunions. Open Friday through Sunday, the resort's restaurant continues to serve its famous frog legs!


Trivia prizes and southside restaurant sought

Would your business or organization like to offer prizes for our trivia on air question? Or, are you a restaurant on the southside of Indy, or near the University of Indianapolis, and open on Saturdays at 1 pm? Would you like to host Hoosier History Live guests for lunch after the show on Saturday? Contact molly@hoosierhistorylive.org for details.  


New Felrath Hines historical marker installed, and yes, we have the podcast!

Indianapolis native Felrath Hines (1913 to 1993) was the first African-American conservator of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery, worked during the Great Depression in a segregated company of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) based in Bloomington. Before that, he graduated from Attucks High School in 1931; he was a member of the first four-year class at Attucks, which was created in the late 1920s as a separate high school for black students in Indianapolis. After his stint as a laborer with the CCC, Hines worked as a dining car waiter on railroad cars at night while attending the Art Institute of Chicago during the day.

Today, paintings by Hines (1913-1993) are exhibited at museums across the country, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. and the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. For several years, Hines worked with Georgia O'Keeffe as her private paintings restorer.

CLICK HERE to listen to our show podcast about Hines, originally recorded in April of 2019. Our two studio guests were Rachel Berenson Perry, author of The Life and Art of Felrath Hines: From Dark to Light, and Mark Ruschman, senior curator of art and culture at the Indiana State Museum.

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We'd like to thank the following recent individual contributors who make this show possible. For a full list of contributors over the years, visit  Support the Show on our website.

  • Mark Ruschman
  • Robin Winston
  • Phil and Pam Brooks
  • Rachel Berenson Perry
  • Kevin Murray
  • Susan Bielawski in memory of Jane Bielawski
  • Jill Lough Chambers
  • Sandra Hurt
  • Tom Swenson
  • Peggy Hollingsworth
  • Mike Freeland and Sharon Butsch Freeland 
  • Dr. William McNiece

Molly Head, executive producer (317) 506-7164 
Nelson Price, host and historian
Corene Nickel, web designer and tech manager

Richard Sullivan and Ryan DeRome, tech consultants
Cheryl Lamb, administrative manager
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer


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Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page.Twitter logo for Hoosier History Live.Acknowledgements to WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Monomedia, Henri Pensis, Leticia Vasselli, Heather McIntyre, and many other individuals and organizations. We are independently produced and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship and through individual contribution at the yellow button on our newsletter or website. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in the show, contact Molly Head at (317) 506-7164 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org.

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