Listen to Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM. You also can listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast or you can join our listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show. We invite you to visit our website!
Oct. 23 show
Rush County history with Joe Hogsett
Given that Hoosier newsmakers hail from every corner of the state, isn't it grand when they drop by Hoosier History Live! to be our guides as we explore their hometowns and counties? It's particularly appreciated when they do this amid a high-profile job change.
To explore Rush County and his cherished hometown of Rushville, the county seat, former Indiana Secretary of State Joe Hogsett will join Nelson in studio. Joe has been generating a fresh round of headlines because he started his new job this month as U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Indiana following his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.
Before launching his political career in the 1980s by managing Evan Bayh's campaigns for governor and secretary of state, Joe grew up in Rushville, the town of about 5,900 located 40 miles southeast of Indy.
Joe isn't the only prominent politician associated with the town. As the maverick, dark-horse presidential nominee of the Republican Party in 1940, charismatic Wendell Willkie, a native of Elwood, designated Rushville as his adopted hometown because he had married a local resident, Edith Wilk (no relation). Her husband ran his rollicking campaign against FDR out of the historic Durbin Hotel, drawing national news media and public figures to Rushville, where Willkie eventually bought property.
In more recent years, political figures from Rushville have included Suellen Reed, a Republican who served three terms as Indiana's superintendent of public instruction, beginning in 1992. Fun fact: As a teacher in Rushville, her students included a young Joe Hogsett.
It's not just public figures who have drawn attention to Rush County, though. The county also is the home of covered bridges built in the late 1800s by the renowned designer E. L. Kennedy. Amid much fanfare in September, a reconstructed covered bridge in tiny Moscow (pop. 38 people) was dedicated after the bridge, which Kennedy designed in 1886, was thrown into the Flatrock River by a tornado in 2008.
The reconstruction of the Moscow covered bridge used 30 percent of the wood from the historic bridge, which had been held and contained in the river. Gov. Mitch Daniels likened the reconstruction, which took 18 months and involved a community-wide effort, to "an old-fashioned barn raising." Attended by a crowd of camera-toting, flag-waving spectators, the dedication ceremony featured bagpipes, drums and performances by the marching band from Rushville High School, Joe's alma mater.
In addition to covered bridges and politicians, Rush County has been the home of Amish communities for many generations. Named in honor of Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, the county also has several round barns.
Let's circle back to the public figures. In addition to Joe Hogsett, an attorney long associated with the Indianapolis law firm of Bingham McHale (he also served as chairman of the Indiana Democratic Party), Rushville has ties to NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who, like Willkie, has two Hoosier hometowns. He primarily grew up in Columbus, where Tony maintains a home to this day, but as a boy he launched his racing career in Rushville and was nicknamed "the Rushville Rocket."
Some more fun facts:
- Wendell and Edith Willkie are buried in Rushville's East Hill Cemetery. So is Knowles Shaw, a 19th-century evangelist best known for composing the gospel hymn Bringing in the Sheaves.
- A lifelong history lover (in fact, he has a master's degree in history), Joe called during a Hoosier History Live! show last March to correctly answer a trivia question related to Bringing in the Sheaves.
- Joe and Nelson have known each other since they were teenagers. The two met as 17-year-old freshmen at Indiana University.
History Mystery question
Twenty years ago, Joe Hogsett pulled off an upset victory in the election for Indiana secretary of state. Although he was the incumbent - having been appointed secretary of state a year earlier by newly elected Gov. Evan Bayh - Joe was running against a much better known opponent in his 1990 campaign for the office.
Question: Name the well-known Republican whom he defeated.
To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and the prize is four tickets to the Indiana State Museum, courtesy of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.
Chris Gahl of the ICVA will call in with a surprise Roadtrip.
Your team on the Hoosier History Live! e-project,
Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
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Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
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Oct. 30 show
House of Blue Lights revisited
As the source of perhaps the biggest urban legend in state history, the House of Blue Lights - and resulting folklore about the secluded estate regarded for nearly 50 years as the creepiest place in Indianapolis - can't be covered in a single show.
Those of you who tuned in to our Halloween Day broadcast last year featuring longtime WISH-TV anchorman Mike Ahern's insights about the House of Blue Lights - as well as anyone fascinated by the myths surrounding the estate of eccentric millionaire Skiles E. Test - are in for another Halloween treat.
Nelson's guests will include Skiles Test's daughter, Louellen Test Hesse, a lifelong Californian who rarely has been interviewed about the House of Blue Lights. Sneaking around the estate near Fall Creek Road and Shadeland Avenue became a Halloween-season rite of passage for thousands of high school and college students from the 1920s through the 1960s.
Louellen has graciously agreed to be a guest by phone, joining Nelson and his in-studio guest, another person with firsthand knowledge of the mysterious House of Blue Lights: Garry Ledbetter, whom Mr. Test employed as a young caretaker. Regular listeners will recall that Garry phoned in last year's show to mention his duties included feeding the 150 cats that Mr. Test kept as pets on the property.
The resulting pet cemetery fueled curiosity by six generations of teenagers, but their obsession primarily focused on the urban legend that Mr. Test kept the corpse of his beautiful, dead wife in a glass coffin that he bathed in blue light. Trespassers hoped to catch a glimpse of the casket, the perfectly preserved dead body and of Mr. Test, who was said to sit beside it in a chair, rocking in sorrow night after night. As we clarified during last year's show, there never was a corpse. Mr. Test (1889-1964) was married three times, and all of his former wives (including Louellen's mother in California) outlived him.
Many more questions and myths abound, even though the eerie House of Blue Lights was demolished in 1978. So Garry, Louellen and Nelson will cover as much more turf as possible during this show, which is certain to be riveting. According to Garry, some accounts even indicate J. Edgar Hoover visited the Test property during the 1930s to check out the creepy doings on behalf of the FBI.
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