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September 25, 2021

Indy wife of Treasure Island’s Robert Louis Stevenson: encore

Unlikely as it may seem, Scottish novelist, poet and essayist Robert Louis Stevenson - author of such classics as Treasure Island (1883) - married an Indianapolis native.

Robert Louis StevensonFanny Vandegrift was more than 10 years older than Stevenson. Born in 1840 to a prosperous family during the early years of the Hoosier capital, she had left an unfaithful first husband (whom she later divorced) when she met Stevenson at a dinner party in Paris during the 1870s.

Stevenson, the author of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), wrote most of his best-known works after he met Fanny Vandegrift; some historians even regard her as his muse.

Indianapolis historian Sharon Butsch Freeland, who has researched and written about Fanny Vandegrift's colorful life, is Nelson’s studio guest on this encore of a show initially broadcast in 2018.

Fanny's father, a prosperous lumber dealer in Indianapolis, was a close friend of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, the preacher at Second Presbyterian Church during the 1840s. (Beecher, the brother of Uncle Tom’s Cabin novelist Harriet Beecher Stowe, eventually moved to New York and became one of the best-known clergymen in America.) In fact, Beecher baptized young Fanny in the White River.

Sharon Butsch FreelandAccording to Sharon's research, the Vandegrifts initially lived in a red brick home across from Monument Circle, then known as Governor's Circle. At the time, Second Presbyterian was adjacent to the house; since the late 1950s, the church has been in the 7700 block of North Meridian Street.

Also unearthed by Sharon: the Vandegrifts owned a farm in Hendricks County, the farmhouse of which still stands. Fanny stayed with her parents at the farmhouse during a rocky period with her first husband, Sam Osbourne, who lived in Nevada and California, where he patronized saloons and brothels, according to historians.

In the 1870s, Fanny and the couple’s three children moved to Europe. She eventually enrolled as an art student at an academy in Paris, where she met Robert Louis Stevenson, who was in frail health. When they married in 1880, she had just turned 40 and he was 29. The couple honeymooned in California, where they decided to live during the first years of their marriage.

Hendricks Counry FarmhouseAlthough the marriage initially upset Stevenson's family in Scotland, Sharon writes that they were won over after the novelist took Fanny to Edinburgh to meet them. "Fanny's father-in-law was so impressed with her literary judgment that he made his son promise never to publish anything without Fanny's approval."

In 1880, the Stevensons moved to Samoa in search of a climate that would provide relief for his respiratory problems. Robert Louis Stevenson died on his village estate in Samoa in 1894 at age 44. Fanny lived until 1914 and is buried next to Stevenson on Mount Vaea, which overlooks the Samoan capital of Apia and its harbor.


Some history facts:

  • Our guest Sharon Butsch Freeland has served as a guide for Robert Louis Stevenson devotees visiting from out of state who want to see sites associated with Fanny. They have included California relatives of Sam Osbourne, Fanny's first husband.

  • Fanny was just 17 years old when she married Osbourne, who then was working as the secretary to Indiana's governor, according to Sharon's research.

  • Before settling in Samoa, the Stevensons "traveled constantly for nearly a decade," Sharon writes. "They spent time in health resorts in England, Scotland, France, the United States and Hawaii."

  • According to an article in the spring 2007 issue of Traces, the Indiana Historical Society's magazine, Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny served an "American-style Thanksgiving dinner" in Samoa a few weeks before he died. During the feast, Stevenson raised his glass and proposed a toast to his Hoosier wife. He said she had been "all in all to me.”

Roadtrip: Hindostan whetstone grave markers

Jeannie Regan-Dinius of the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Historic Preservation, suggests a Roadtrip to seek out pioneer-era tombstones made from Hindostan whetstone. Whetstone grave markers were among the first commercial gravestones used in Indiana; they are made of sedimentary stone quarried from ancient river beds in southwestern Indiana. The term "whetstone" can be traced to the practice of using these flat, smooth stones to sharpen tools.

whetstone grave markerWhetstone grave markers were seen as an improvement over their wooden or fieldstone predecessors and were widely employed in Indiana in the first four decades of the 19th century. However, production peaked during the 1840s and began to decline due to competition from white marble grave markers that could be transported from distant quarries via the growing regional railroad system. The Indiana limestone industry also began to produce and market commercial gravestones around this time, as well.

Whetstone grave markers are among the oldest preserved graves in the southern part of the state, and they're not hard to spot in old cemeteries. They usually have a specific tombstone shape (see photo above), and their color is often tan, buff or light brown and streaked with rust (in contrast to the white or off-white of marble or limestone). The inscriptions on whetstone grave markers are usually still legible because the stone's relative softness allowed for a deep carve; unfortunately, due to the layered nature of the stone, the grave markers are also prone to splitting and flaking away over time.

More than 1,400 whetstone headstones have been identified in cemeteries throughout southern Indiana and southeastern Illinois near the Wabash River. Jeannie tells us that we might find some of these treasures in Greenlawn Cemetery in Vincennes, which is the oldest established cemetery in the state, or in Rose Hill in Bloomington.

Learn more:




Hoosier History Live welcomes Ryan DeRome

Hoosier History Live is pleased to announce Ryan DeRome as its new associate producer. Ryan is taking the reins from Mick Armbruster, who served diligently in that position for many years, as well as guest hosted occasionally. 

Ryan DeRomeMick, a former high school English teacher at both Arsenal Technical and Brebeuf Jesuit in Indianapolis, continues to pursue his various passions in what he calls "creative self-employment." "Follow your joy!" urges Mick.

Ryan, who began training with Mick a month ago, attended IUPUI Herron School of Art, is a writer and editor in the "gig" economy (as we all are!) and works in the audio/video industry as an installer, data technician and event technology operations manager. 

Ryan will handle editing the newsletter, website, and podcasts, and of course, always more! As one can imagine, a maverick, multi-level media project such as Hoosier History Live demands hours and hours of detailed behind-the-scenes work. As producer Molly Head often tells host Nelson Price, "We are absolutely lost without our tech people."

"My deep love of Hoosier and world history often go hand in hand, "says Ryan. "My personal library is filled with books on all things Indiana and working with Hoosier History Live is a great way to expand my knowledge and contribute to this show and the citizens of Indiana."


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Podcast Listening 101: The Basics

With voice searching on Google, it's incredibly easy to listen to Hoosier History Live podcasts.

We still broadcast live every Saturday on WICR 88.7, but more and more of our listeners are getting their Hoosier History Live shows by podcast - and it's easier than ever!

It's really this simple: If you have a smartphone, go to the Google search engine, click on the microphone button, and say "Hoosier History Live podcasts." Or if you don’t use the microphone, type in the words "Hoosier History Live podcasts" at the Google search bar.You'll immediately get a list of recent shows to choose from. Click on one of them - and let the listening begin!

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