Totem Poles, Movie Stars, and Power

The Home is Currently for sale, click to see the MLS page
The Home is Currently for sale, click to see the MLS page

Today’s post is about the house I consider to be the most beautiful and amazing one ever built here in the heartland. I’ve enjoyed watching its restoration, meeting the amazing craftsman who had the vision and hands-on skill to do it, and shared some amazing stories. All the photos are from the private collection of Jerico Properties, and these and many more can be viewed on the company’s Facebook page. Thanks John and Jodi!

Golden Hill is not just a neighborhood or its centerpiece home. Golden Hill is a beautiful footbridge–an umbilical tether to the storied past of Indianapolis–Crossroads of America.

The makings of dreams are never easily traced. That is how I describe finding the simple entrance to Golden Hill. Tucked behind a small play park, it hides hugging a stretch of a wide urban route running between newer suburbs and the commercial hub at the city’s center. You must navigate your way past history on all sides as you try to find the magical hidden gem, Golden Hill.

The owner/developer of Golden Hill with his son in a Parry Motor Car
The owner/developer of Golden Hill with his son in a Parry Motor Car

The entrance cuts away to the west off a wide thoroughfare bordering Crown Hill Cemetery. Here is the final resting place for an impressive roster of celebrities, inventors, politicians and war heroes since opened in the middle 1800’s. The White River and the old Canal Towpath serve as a scenic twin boundary lines to the West.

Across these waterways, in winter time, one can glimpse a world class velodrome, a public golf course. Just beyond the line of sight a private Catholic University, the old Marian College, and the adjacent Seminary count themselves as Golden Hill neighbors.

To the north Golden Hill’s property adjoins Woodstock, arguably the city’s most prestigious Country Club. Just past the legendary sweeping greens of the old club’s golf course comes another main thoroughfare of the city, 38th Street. Rather poetically named “Maple Road” in the 19th century, overtime it was renamed with only the number “38.”

Facing Woodstock is the grand gated entrance to the Indianapolis Art Museum. Of international renown, the IMA and its acres of woodland, formal gardens, and Clowe’s Hall theater are proud neighbors as well. Even prestigious Butler University and the Christian Theological Seminary are within reach of Golden Hill’s enclave. Look south as you near the entrance and you gaze upon the towering glint of the ever renewing Indianapolis skyline.

Once found, Golden Hill strikes stirrings of a miniaturized Biltmore Village in the heartland. It is an enclave of homes where the mythic Great Gatsby’s lawn parties were inspired by those hosted here in real life. The guests in attendance were the power brokers of the nation, stars of the silver screen, and darlings of the stage. Poets, playwrights, and novelists enjoyed all the ambiance of the most metropolitan cities of the world, while entertained by their Hoosier hosts and hostesses.

 

Clark Gable with his 3rd wife Lady Sylvia Ashley enjoying an evening at Golden Hill
Clark Gable with his 3rd wife Lady Sylvia Ashley enjoying an evening at Golden Hill

Houses here were inhabited by those of generational wealth like the fictitious Magnificent Ambersons. Here in Golden Hill, the long-monied lived happily next to neighbors who were new initiates to the growing Midwestern aristocracy. All the residents shared a common appreciation for finery and show.

At it’s center, the home on Spring Hollow Road is both the anchor and the original. This is a bold house; a home built for a man wealthy by virtue of hard work and an inclination towards tenacity. For years a Totem pole that once decorated the Alaskan pavilion at the 1876 Chicago Exposition–the World’s Fair in the White City–stood sentinel at the entrance. As the original, it was christened and named “Golden Hill” and then later lent the name to the neighborhood developed by the home’s owner around his own breathtaking manse.

The house DM Parry built for his family was meant to be more than an address. It is a central member of the family–a back story character witnessing growth and heartaches alongside the fortunate and privileged lives unfolding beneath its roof. The walls were built to be a sturdy rival to the massive monuments in Rome. Their purpose was well served as they were put up to impress, engulf, embrace and, yes, even protect those within them.

In contrast, the wide ornate doors were placed skillfully to invite in others of the same mind. Those who had a vision for a better way of living amid the cornfields and prairie lands along the White River found it here. The movers and shakers, the barons of the industrial revolution in the newly birthed Tin Lizzy marketplace all longed to live amid the bucolic curving lanes of Golden Hill.

Golden Hill, the Parry Mansion is now restored to its proper glory by Jerico Properties
Golden Hill, the Parry Mansion is now restored to its proper glory by Jerico Properties

Did Anyone Ask Laura Nelson ? An Update

About 2 years ago, I posted this rather (understatement) disturbing art image and posed the question “Did anyone ask Laura Nelson,” the woman portrayed in the image, if she wanted to be remembered that way? Now, a couple of years have passed and I am no less disturbed by this “art.” But, I am re-posting it in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. I am also adding the odd and far-reaching twists and connection that I have learned about this lynching. It seems that one of the people who was in the mob and a highly willing participant was the father of folksinger Woody Gutherie, famous for singing “This Land is your Land” and also in turn for fathering Arlo Gutherie of Alice’s Restaurant fame. Life is weird. History is weirder. The truth of our pasts and presents is weirder still…  This was first on my blog January of 2013 20792708_BG2Today I had planned a very different post, but last night’s local NBC affiliate station WTHR here in Indianapolis ran this story as a “night cap.” I tossed and turned quite a bit thinking about this poor soul, Laura Nelson, and her image, taken from a 1911 photo, hanging from our city’s fancy new library’s  ceiling…quite awkwardly coincidental since  the subject of the photo is her lynching, and brashly portrayed  as “art”on fabric.

It’s a painful image to see.

Meant as a piece of the Black History Month observance display, I “get” that this quilt is not meant to be pretty.  It’s about a painful fact of our History.  Most importantly (in my opinion),  the vignette is about the pain of Laura Nelson herself.  How awful.  How unspeakably awful.

The reporter interviewed several library visitors and the Arts Curator as well.  The comments were understandably mixed…one man (literally) applauded the portrait for its representation of what happened so commonly.  Others expressed concern over it’s potential to emotionally terrorize children stumbling onto this life-sized  image of a horrible death. Not just any death, a cruel and ugly death.

There were idiots interviewed too...I hope I don’t get attacked just for being white after someone sees this…

Perhaps the most telling part of the story though was captured by the news station’s photographer who caught the unfiltered reactions of those who “happened upon” the display with no warning.

I wonder how Laura herself would feel about this “art project”?  Would she be proud, humbled, hurt…would it make her sad to be remembered 100 years later only as a photo representing terror and wrong doing by others who were also “human.”

Last night I was finally able to drift off to sleep when it occurred to me that maybe somewhere on the same night, someone was becoming inspired to write the bigger story of this woman.  The story of Laura. The life of Laura Nelson.    Maybe a Grandchild, or a distant cousin, or cherished neighbor, or friend.

  Maybe, no, I am sure…

Someone should write that down…

This link will take you to the full story, it is disturbing, or it is beautiful ~it is as you perceive it.  One thing is for sure, it is not easily forgotten.

http://www.wthr.com/story/20792708/lynching-quilt-shocks-some-central-library-visitors

Uncle Joe

   untitled-holytrinity According to Parish records from Holy Trinity Church, John and Mary Urbanski had 10 children.  Of  10, only 2 girls and 2 boys survived to adulthood. Francis, Joe, Annie and Mitz were born , christened,communed, confessed and confirmed as Urbanskis.  Suddenly, around 1915, they all became “Casters” an Americanized name, and a generic term describing John’s occupation at the time.    The ugliness of anti-German sentiment had overtaken people’s everyday lives and had crept  along the National Road  and deep into Indianapolis.  Suddenly, old street names like Germania were changed from German words and towns-names to  more “appropriately” American ones like Belmont Avenue.   Coinciding with the German hysteria, the KKK was recording its biggest membership surge since the days of the old South.  Thus being Catholic, being immigrants, sounding German (colloquially called Hunkies ) while speaking their Slovene native tongue all became rather lowly and dangerous.   Our  family was among many who changed their surname to blend in.  In those early years of the 20th century, being different or being “less” was both a social hindrance and potentially treacherous.

Mom note: somethings just never change…

Neighborhood assimilation centers were set up to help all children and adults learn to be more American and to turn their backs on the lives they had left behind in “the Old Country”. The Ku Klux Klan was deeply entrenched in the small counties ringing the big city of Indianapolis, and there was a simmering contempt for anyone or anything that may have been in allegiance with the Kaiser.

John and Mary were raising their children in between the country folk to the west, and the eastward cultured city dwellers just across the White River bridge. Considered West Indianapolis at one time, their small neighborhood was now called Haughville named after the metals manufacturers plant located there by Haugh Brothers in the 1880’s.    Soon Haugh’s foundry was joined by the modern refrigerated packing business Kingans and the immigrant workers flooded in to take the jobs and simple frame housing.  They had been recruited and imported from their bergs and villages in places like Slovenia, Serbia, and Croatia. That’s how the Urbanskis had come to Indianapolis and that’s how they earned their daily wage too.

 Grandmother Mary saved every penny she could spare to buy up boarding houses.  For years  the parlor floor in the family’s own house was  “bedded up” for newly arrived workers who needed temporary lodging.  They had taken the long transatlantic ocean liner trip, paid in full by “the Company”,  made a connection by train and found themselves in Haughville on John and Mary’s floor…working in the mill, or the packing house, renting a space on the floor to sleep on, and in turn,  saving every penny they didn’t drink to bring their families over too.

Joe wasn’t the oldest of the children, but he was probably the tallest at about 6′. He was athletic and tough,a simple and hard-working man who chain smoked and stirred cream and sugar into his coffee in ritualistic trance-like manner. He played bush league baseball and was the big hitter on Holy Trinity’s men’s team. When he was 18, Joe was drafted into the army. When his hitch was up he joined again to serve in the place of his brother who was about be wed. I often wonder if he didn’t rejoin just for something bigger to do than spend his life running gutted pig carcasses from the slaughter hooks into the cold lockers at Kingans. After all, being big and strong, that’s likely where he would be headed for life.

Note: he is the tallest in the center of the back row in the photo. 

I’ve heard a tale or two of Joe in his younger rougher days.  Especially one about him and some buddies getting into a fist fight with some men from “somewhere else” passing by the corner tavern. All was regular Saturday night fun, when one of the outsiders added a 2×4 into the fray and started swinging. In Haughville it was considered “off-limits” to use weapons in a fist fight…a real sign of ungentlemanly behavior.   By the time the cops arrived, the crowd had disbursed and a half-dozen guys were laid out neatly along the gutter.  Bloody and semi-conscience the “strangers” were helped to their feet and sent on their way back toward the bridge.  To the frustration of the officers,  the tavern was filled with only law-abiding citizens enjoying an evening out. As a matter of fact, they were all having such a lovely time singing and carrying on, none had even noticed a ruckus outside on the steps.  The interlopers never bothered to visit Haughville again… with or without their 2x4s .

 Joe discharged from the army after a couple of tours.  He had spent most of his time driving big supply trucks across the swampy roads of the Philippine islands.  Sometimes, at Grandpa’s he would start stirring his coffee and speaking about the giant black snakes… hundreds of them that would be all over the lonely roads at night when he was driving convoy.  He talked of how they must have needed the heat left in the road to warm their cold blood at night. Sometimes he described the thumping sounds of them hitting the bottom of the big trucks.  ” The sound never let up some nights, like all the snakes in the world were there in the Philippines.” I hung on every one of Joe’s words, and had the nightmares to prove it!

Headed home, Joe had saved up some money and following the wisdom of his  mother began buying rental properties.  He had small homes and duplexes and eventually bought a couple of small neighborhood apartment houses built-in the old style of shops below and rooms above.  One of the buildings was home to the laundry and dry cleaning store his sister Mitz ran.  Being in a good location (between the businessman’s downtown and the upscale homes of the Indianapolis old North Side) Mitz’s shop cleaned and starched clothing for local celebs and politicians.  After actress Frances Farmer was “treated” for her nervous breakdown (famously via a frontal lobotomy) she came to Indianapolis and hosted a television program on one of the local stations.  Aunt Mitz did the movie star’s alterations and cleaned her delicates for years from her shop in Uncle Joe’s building.  I’ve never been clear on whether it was Mitz or Joe who owned the business.  I would speculate that it was there when he bought the building and he let Mitz run it as a way to support herself.  I couldn’t even say whether or not she paid a dime in rent.  Uncle Joe rarely talked about such things

Joe kept all the rentals as his investments.  All of John and Mary’s kids were desperately frightened of being poor.  Saving money and saving stuff (anything that could some day be useful to someone in the family) was always top priority for them. But he also worked for the Indiana University Medical School as a night watchman until he retired.  A family joke (or maybe it was truer than others wanted to admit) went that Joe guarded the cadaver room for 30 years and didn’t have a clue what was in there.

I mostly remember him as generally very quiet and reclusive.  We saw him at Grandpa’s occasionally on weekends before he went in for a night shift.  He would pull into the drive in his massive dirty ivory Plymouth Fury. His car windows were legendarily coated in an amberish vaseline-thick goo from years of collected cigarette smoke.   If I saw him coming, I would run to the kitchen drawer where Grandpa kept Joe’s ashtray (it was like a beanbag on the bottom) and scurry to get a spoon out for his stirring.  I delighted in watching him swirl the pale sugary coffee and cream soup he made in his cup.  I listened to the funny old world way that he spoke (he held the accent and manner of speech of the old country that my Grandpa had worked so hard to erase from his own speech) and watched him punctuate sentences with his hands.  Uncle Joe also had the largest nose I had ever seen on a person.  It was just like Jimmy Durante…but since Jimmy was on tv and in movies he really didn’t count as a real person.  Uncle Joe had a real-live Schnazola that was mercifully never passed on to the next generation.

When he died years ago, it was as a “confirmed” bachelor.  He is buried at the Catholic Cemetery,but I do  not recall a mass for his funeral. After his retirement from the night watchman’s job, he really had little to do and fell into the staid habits of a reclusive old man.  He must have had a heart attack and died without much suffering.  He was found after lying dead alone in his home days later. Only his German Shepard dog was with him.

I think of him whenever I stir my coffee 🙂

Photo at top of page from the Holy Trinity Parish Diamond Jubilee celebration book:

Slaves To No One, written by James J. Divita

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