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 new listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show.
April 3 show
Booth Tarkington's magnificent life and home
"A Decorated Past" was the headline on a recent newspaper story about the historic North Meridian Street mansion once owned by two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and playwright Booth Tarkington. The "decorated past" included glittering dinner parties that the author of The Magnificent Ambersons (1918) and the Penrod series hosted for guests such as Helen Hayes and the Marx Brothers.
But there also is a "decorated present" at the Tudor-style home, as its current owner, former Marion County Clerk Doris Anne Sadler, will explain when she joins Nelson in studio along with Sally Sebeckis, decorator chairman of St. Margaret's Hospital Guild, which has chosen what's commonly known as the "Booth Tarkington Home" as the 2010 Decorators' Show House.
By the way, the Decorators' Show House, which benefits Wishard Health Services, has quite a history of its own: This marks its 49th year, making it one of the nation’s oldest, consecutively-running show house events.
A portion of the Booth Tarkington Home dates clear back to 1911, long before most of the other North Meridian mansions were built. Most were constructed during the mid- and late 1920s. The home’s initial owner was a widow named Marie Hare, who lived in it with her six children. Tarkington, who first drew national attention for his novel The Gentleman from Indiana (1899), bought the home from Mrs. Hare in 1923. Then he significantly enhanced the mansion, filling it with artwork as he flourished as a writer there and entertained his distinguished friends until his death in 1946.
Since Doris Anne, her husband Tim and their two young children moved in, guests have included former President George H.W. Bush. During a visit last fall, the former president shared memories of his encounters as a young boy in Kennebunkport, Maine, with Tarkington, who spent his summers at the New England resort. For nine months of the year, though, Tarkington and his wife, Susannah, lived in the North Meridian mansion, where he wrote every single day, including Sundays, even during a period in the late 1920s and early ‘30s when he suffered from cataracts and was nearly blind. (During that period, Tarkington wrote by dictating his stories.)
This was quite a reversal from the early life of Tarkington, who had been born in 1869 to one of Indianapolis’ most prominent families. He disliked school, frequently played hooky, and, as a young man, drank heavily and lived extravagantly. As a condition of Susannah’s marriage to him in 1912, she demanded that he focus on his gift for writing. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Price for The Magnificent Ambersons, a novel about an aristocratic family coping with social and economic upheavals, Tarkington won a Pulitzer for Alice Adams (1921). This is the second time St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild has chosen his mansion as the Decorator’s Show House; it also was the show home in the mid-1980s.
Daily tours of the Decorators’ Show House will be April 24-May 9 (except for Mondays), with special events sprinkled throughout. They will include a “designer breakfast tour” May 7 at 8:30 am that will feature presentations by Tarkington scholar Jim Powell of IUPUI as well as by Nelson and photo historian Joan Hostetler, who collaborated on the book Indianapolis Then and Now, which features the historic home. Fun fact: Even though Tarkington is associated with a North Meridian mansion, he used spacious homes built during an earlier era, houses in the Woodruff Place neighborhood, as the inspirations for the elegant residences in The Magnificent Ambersons.
Roadtripper Chris Gahl of the ICVA will suggest that we head to Franklin, Indiana to see a picture at the Artcraft Theatre in Franklin's historic downtown, just north of the Johnson County courthouse. Built in 1922, the theater has been a venue for Indiana entertainment for more than 80 years.
The Artcraft started out as a theater for Franklin residents to enjoy both motion picture and stage productions, and through years of faithful patronage it has been able to establish itself as the perfect place to catch silver-screen hits from the Golden Age of film. This summer's movie lineup includes famous films like "Treasure Island," "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers," the James Dean classic "Rebel Without A Cause" and the family favorite "The Wizard of Oz." And tickets are only $5!
While you are enjoying Franklin's delightful small-town ambiance, you also can dine at the Willard Hotel, next door to the Artcraft. Make it a Roadtrip!
History Mystery question
Novelist-playwright Booth Tarkington is considered to have been one of the "Big Four" of the golden age of Indiana literature during the early 1900s. Two of the others were poet James Whitcomb Riley and Meredith Nicholson, author of the best-selling novel "The House of 1,000 Candles."
Question: Name the fourth distinguished Hoosier literary figure regarded as one of the "Big Four" during the early 1900s.
The call-in number for the correct answer is (317) 788-3314, and the prize is a pair of tickets to the Indiana Wine Fair in Brown County on April 24!
Your friends in Hoosierdom,
Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, tech and web director
Garry Chilluffo, online editor
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Acknowledgments to Scott Keller Fine Art and Antiques Appraisals, Print Resources, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities Council, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Drew Pastorek and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through sponsorships and through individual tax-deductible contributions through the Indiana Humanities Council. Visit our website to learn more.
April 10 show
WWII fighter pilot from Indiana
For four months in 1944, a Hoosier was the lead flying ace in the entire U.S. Navy. His biographer, Ray Boomhower of the Indiana Historical Society, will join Nelson in studio to share insights about the daring exploits of Alex Vraciu, a Hellcat fighter pilot who shot down 19 enemy airplanes in the air and destroyed an additional 21 on the ground.
Ray is the author of Fighter Pilot (Indiana Historical Society Press), a new biography of Vraciu (rhymes with "cashew") that's written for young readers to enhance their understanding of World War II. A native of the Calumet Region of far-northwestern Indiana and the son of Romanian immigrants, Vraciu graduated from high school in East Chicago, then attended DePauw University and learned to fly during his college years.
Fighting in the skies over the Pacific Ocean, he shot down six dive-bombing Japanese airplanes in just eight minutes on June 19, 1944. According to Ray, the Hoosier flying ace was "possessed with keen eyesight, quick reflexes, excellent shooting instincts and a knack for finding his opponent's weak spot."
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