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Dec. 11 show
Beech Grove history - and Steve McQueen to boot
It may not have a world-famous racetrack like its counterpart town that's surrounded by Indianapolis (Hoosier History Live! explored Speedway's town history a while back), but Beech Grove sports its own distinctive heritage. Railroad repair facilities, a major hospital, the birth of a movie icon of the 1960s and '70s and a post-World War II housing boom are chapters in the history of a city in southeastern Marion County that evolved from what had been a beech tree-filled cattle farm in the late 1800s.
Nelson's guests in studio will include lifelong Beech Grove resident Steve Nontell, a veteran announcer for its school district's sports teams whose parents moved into the town’s first post-WWII housing developments. In addition to Steve (who has been connected to Beech Grove High School's wrestling program - as a student manager, then as a scorekeeper and announcer - longer than anyone else in its history), Nelson will be joined in studio by librarian Will Smither, who grew up in the town, lived there for more than 34 years and has helped research the local links of Steve McQueen.
Speaking of the future star of The Great Escape (1963) and Bullitt (1968), who was born in Beech Grove's St. Francis Hospital in 1930: Nelson and his studio guests also will be joined by phone from Arizona by McQueen's biographer, Marshall Terrill. Considered a top expert on the turbulent life of the film actor, Marshall recently visited Beech Grove in connection with his new books, Steve McQueen: The Life and Legend of a Hollywood Icon (Triumph Books) and Steve McQueen: A Tribute to the King of Cool (Dalton Watson). His biographies are being released to commemorate the 30th anniversary of McQueen's death in 1980.
McQueen's birthplace, St. Francis, has been one of the city's largest employers for decades. For much of the early 20th century, so were railroad repair and equipment facilities. One of them was so massive that, according to the Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, it was known as "the largest locomotive hospital in the world."
First, though, the area was rural. The owner of one of the largest farms, banker Francis Churchman, is credited with convincing a major railroad to construct a shipping facility there at the dawn of the last century In 1906, construction began of a locomotive shop and equipment plant - and the city's identification with railroad repair facilities roared off.
Some fun facts:
- The Beech Grove Public Library has a collection of Steve McQueen memorabilia that our guest Steve Nontell has helped launch and organize. The collection focuses on Wanted: Dead or Alive, the TV series (1958-61) that "birthed" his career.
- In 2003, Beech Grove High's girls basketball team, the Hornets, won the state championship. In sports, Beech Grove has been particularly successful in wrestling.
- Not only was Steve Nontell a charter member of the city's Cub Scout Pack #465, his father was its first Cubmaster.
- Thanks to digging in U.S. census records and city directories by our guests Will Smither and Marshall Terrill, we know that McQueen's maternal grandparents were living in a house on Drexel Avenue on the east side of Indy (the home is still there) when the future film star was born at St. Francis. McQueen's mother was a teenage alcoholic who lived with her parents; his father was a barnstorming pilot who abandoned the family. After he was 3 years old, Steve McQueen primarily grew up in Missouri and California.
- Several major streets in Beech Grove were named for cities served by the railroads associated with the city. They include Albany, Buffalo and Cleveland streets.
History Mystery question
In one of his acclaimed movies, The Sand Pebbles (1966), Steve McQueen was directed by a fellow native Hoosier. His director, Robert Wise, was one of the most talented and versatile in Hollywood; his credits include directing The Sound of Music (1965) and West Side Story (1961).
Although Robert Wise was born in 1914 in Winchester in far-eastern Indiana, he attended high school in another town, which also is in that region of the state. The high school has named its auditorium in honor of Wise.
Question: Name the Indiana high school from which Robert Wise graduated.
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 a gift card to Barcelona Tapas Restaurant and a one-night stay at Sheraton Indianapolis City Centre Hotel, courtesy of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.
Chris Gahl of the ICVA will call in with a surprise Roadtrip this week.
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What's new with Hoosier History Live!
Congratulations to our own Nelson Price for winning the 2010 Dunn Award for having written the best article to appear this year in the Indiana Historical Society's magazine, Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History.
Nelson won for his article "Ryan White: Twenty Years Later," which appeared in the magazine's Winter 2010 issue. Stay tuned for a Hoosier History Live! show about that dignified young man who blazed a trail for AIDS understanding and awareness.
Nelson received the award at the IHS Founder's Day dinner on Monday, Dec. 6, at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center.
Consider a donation for the holidays
Do you enjoy listening to the show and perusing its archives on our website? It's the end of the year, a great time to make an individual tax-deductible donation.
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Dec. 18 show
Soaring back to explore WASPs
The final surviving WASP in Indiana is 88-year-old Marty Wyall of Fort Wayne. For many years, she has been the official historian of the WASPs (Women Air Force Service Pilots), who were recognized last spring with a Congressional Gold Medal for their service during World War II.
Created in 1943 to address a severe shortage of pilots, the WASP program was the first in which women flew aircraft for the U.S. military, undertaking non-combat missions. The historic details are fascinating, and Marty Wyall will join Nelson to explore them along with Leslie Lorance of the Indiana State Museum, where a current exhibit, titled "In Her Honor," salutes Marty and other WASPs.
More than 1,000 women earned silver wings to become WASPs. Marty graduated in the final class just days before the experimental program closed in December 1944, 66 years ago this month.
Although the WASPs were not involved in combat, they test-flew new planes from factories to military bases, towed targets to help train gunners in their shooting skills and undertook other challenges in the air. During their service, 39 WASPs died. Experts say their work paved the way – or blazed a route – for generations of women pilots who have followed.
Marty (her real name is Mary Anna) was born in the town of Liberty in eastern Indiana, graduated from DePauw in 1943 and had taken solo flying lessons prior to applying to the WASPs. After the war, she became a ferry pilot, then a flight instructor near Franklin, Ind. Even while marrying and raising a family in Fort Wayne, Marty continued flying and competing in transcontinental air races.
So did another WASP from the Fort Wayne area, Margaret Ringenberg, who was featured in Tom Brokaw's book The Greatest Generation (not to mention Nelson's Indiana Legends) and was named a Living Legend by the Indiana Historical Society several years ago; Margaret died in 2008. The exhibit at the State Museum honoring Marty, Margaret and the other WASPs continues through Aug 8.
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