Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

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April 19 show

Tornado history and storm chasing

The White County Courthouse in Monticello, Ind., was damaged beyond repair by the "Super Outbreak" of tornados in 1974. Image courtesy crh.noaa.gov.

With tornado season under way - and this month's 40th anniversary of one of the worst outbreaks - Hoosier History Live! will tackle the heritage of twisters in Indiana. We also will explore various aspects of storm chasing, including questions about why weather researchers put themselves in harm's way.

David Call.A "Super Outbreak" of tornadoes in April 1974 across the Midwest resulted in 49 deaths and 768 injuries in Indiana. Particularly hard-hit by the series of twisters were the cities of Monticello, Rochester, Madison and Hanover. To explore the impact of those tragic episodes and other tornado outbreaks - as well as to share insights about storm-chasing techniques - two guests will join Nelson in studio:

  • Dave Call, an assistant professor at Ball State University, who, almost every spring, leads students on storm-chasing trips across the Midwest and Great Plains. He also has worked as a broadcast meteorologist.
  • And Dan McCarthy, meteorologist-in-charge of the National Weather Service office in Indianapolis. He also is an expert on the April 1974 outbreak, which involved 20 tornadoes in Indiana and even more in Kentucky.

"Although Indiana is outside what most people think of as 'tornado alley,' the state does see an average of 22 tornadoes per year, and experiences three strong or violent tornadoes every two years," our guest Dave Call says.

Dan McCarthy."Generally speaking, tornado counts have increased in recent years, largely due to better detection. However, the number of tornado deaths has been trending downward, probably due to better warnings and awareness."

According to Dave, the "Super Outbreak" of April 1974 included the only officially recorded F5 tornado in Indiana. (The F scale, used to rate tornadoes on the basis of intensity, assesses them from F0 to F5;  the latter have the fastest wind speeds and cause the most damage.)

In Monticello during the "Super Outbreak" 40 years ago, the historic White County Courthouse took a direct hit. Several churches, schools, businesses and cemeteries were destroyed or significantly damaged.

In far-southeastern Indiana, several farms were leveled by F5 tornado damage near Depauw, an unincorporated community in Harrison County. Several tornadoes were observed by the VORTEX-99 team on May 3, 1999, in central Oklahoma. National Weather Service photo.On the Hanover College campus, 32 of 33 buildings were damaged, with some completely destroyed.

Southeastern Indiana also was hit the hardest by a tornado outbreak in March 2012. An F4 tornado that was on the ground for more than 50 miles caused extensive damage to Henryville, destroying the town's elementary school and junior/senior high school.

Eleven deaths in Indiana are blamed on the March 2012 tornado outbreak. In addition to Henryville, the small communities of Marysville and New Pekin suffered considerable damage.

With such dire consequences possible, why do weather researchers chase severe storms? In a guest column for The Indianapolis Star in June 2013, our guest Dave Call explained:

"Even with the dangers, there are good reasons to chase and get as close as we safely can to these meteorological monsters. Unfortunately, chasing is still one of the best methods for weather researchers to collect data about tornadoes. ... There is simply no good way to measure the near-storm environment without going to the storms themselves and deploying equipment."

A double tornado hit Goshen, Ind., on Palm Sunday 1965. Photo by Paul Huffman, The Elkhart Truth.He wrote the column following the tragic death of former Discovery Channel storm chaser Tim Samaras, a weather researcher who was among three people killed during a chase in Oklahoma.

Dave emphasized that tornado chasers should, "at minimum" take classes in storm spotting, research safety techniques, travel with experienced partners and "have escape routes mapped out in case a storm suddenly changes direction."

This show won't be our first foray into Indiana's tornado history.

In March 2012, we explored the horrific Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1965, the deadliest in Indiana history. Nelson's guest was Dennis Keyser, who was a 10 year-old boy in Bremen on April 11, 1965, a date that set him on his career path.

After witnessing the devastation of the tornado outbreak, which killed a total of 137 Hoosiers and injured about 1,200 others, Dennis eventually studied atmospheric sciences at Purdue. For his master's in meteorology, he focused on severe-weather dynamics.

Today, he lives in Silver Springs, Md., and works in a highly specialized field of troubleshooting related to weather data.

Listen to the March 24, 2012 show, "Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1965":

(Show length 25:12 - Click once and be patient; the file may take some time to load!)

History Mystery

Springtime in Brown County means it’s time for the Indiana Wine Fair in Story, Ind. Image courtesy Story Inn."Twisters" is a footnote in Hoosier sports history. It was the name of a short-lived, Indianapolis-based sports team that almost was called the Tornadoes. An expansion team in a professional league, the Indiana Twisters - sometimes known as the Indianapolis Twisters - competed for about two years in the mid-1990s. The team played at Market Square Arena, which was demolished in 2001.

A few years before that, the Twisters were history. By the end of 1997, the team's brief heyday was over because its sports league had collapsed.

Question: What was the sport?

The call-in number is (317) 788-3314. Please do not call into the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win the prize if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months.

The prize is a pair of tickets to the Indiana Wine Fair in Brown County on April 26, courtesy of Story Inn, and a pair of tickets to the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, courtesy of Visit Indy.

Roadtrip: Worthington, Ind.

Guest Roadtripper and public historian Glory-June Greiff tells us, "Ignore the new interstate stampeding through the southern Indiana countryside. Take a drive about 70 miles southwestward from Indianapolis on State Road 67, past Spencer to the little town of Worthington, founded in 1849."

This sycamore near Worthington, Ind., was said to be the largest broad-leaved tree in the United States. For size comparison, note the man next to the trunk. Image from Trees of Indiana, 1911.She adds: "It's small, to be sure, but chock-full of history and simple pleasures."

Worthington is full of antique shops, many of them located in antique buildings, to fill your afternoon. Because the highway comes into Worthington at a sharp angle, the town has a public triangle rather than a square. In the late 19th century, a well was dug in the center of the triangle, later replaced with a flowing fountain pumped from an artesian well. People once came from miles around to fill jugs with this especially healthy (so they thought) water. Today, a fountain remains in the triangle and adds to the town's charm."

A few blocks from downtown is the city park, and in it is displayed Worthington's pride, a branch (and it is huge) of what was believed to be the largest sycamore tree in the state. It was destroyed in a storm in the 1920s, but a limb was saved and has been displayed for decades.

Hungry? Check out the Route 67 Diner right downtown (1 South Commercial), open seven days a week. Real food and ice cream goodies, too.

If the outdoors is more your thing, Worthington is only about 15 miles northeast of Goose Pond, a recently established fish and wildlife area. It is a birder's paradise, a good place to see a myriad of waterfowl and raptors.

If you're hungry before you head home, you can always stop at the Front Porch Steak House on Highway 67.

Your Hoosier History Live! team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer

Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant

Joan Hostetler, Michele Goodrich, Jed Duvall, Dana Waddell, advisors


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April 26 show - encore presentation

Jazz recording heritage in Richmond

Memphis, New York City and Nashville, Tenn., have long been hailed for the significant roles their recording studios played in the boom of American popular music. Why do some say Richmond in far-eastern Indiana should be mentioned in the same breath?

The Starr Piano Co. in Richmond, Ind., is pictured in this vintage postcard. The Gennett Records label was based here.Consider that during the 1920s the parade of future musical legends who traveled to the town - specifically, to the Starr Piano Company and its Gennett Records division - included Louis Armstrong, Indiana native Hoagy Carmichael, cowboy singer Gene Autry and Jelly Roll Morton, who recorded nine piano solos at the Richmond studio in 1924.

Hoosier History Live! will explore Richmond's rich but frequently overlooked heritage in recording jazz, blues and country music in this encore broadcast of one of the most popular shows in our archives. Its original air date was April 13, 2013.

Rick Kennedy, 2013 photo.Nelson's guests include Bob Jacobsen and David Fulton, president and treasurer, respectively, of the Starr-Gennett Foundation, a non-profit that is helping Richmond reclaim its recording heritage, which ended with the Great Depression.

"Gennett was among the first record companies to cater to both the segregated white and black record markets," according to Rick Kennedy, author of Jelly Roll, Bix and Hoagy, whose book, first published by IU Press in 1994, has been released in an expanded, revised edition.

Bob Jacobsen.Rick is a guest on our show, along with the board members of the foundation, which has established a Gennett Records Walk of Fame and an annual music festival in September near the Whitewater River.

That's also near where the riverside piano factory and recording studio made so much musical history.

David Fulton.Performers who recorded on the Gennett label - either at its Richmond studio or one in Manhattan - included Duke Ellington, Joe "King" Oliver and legendary cornet and piano player Bix Beiderbecke, who befriended and influenced a young Hoagy Carmichael. The musical director and lead soloist of the Wolverine Orchestra (usually known as the Wolverines by jazz enthusiasts), Beiderbecke died at age 28 in 1931.

The musical heritage in Richmond had accelerated in the 1890s when piano retailer Henry Gennett bought an interest in a pre-existing piano company and renamed it Starr.

The saga that unfolded, according to Rick's book, included a legal fight over patent infringement between Gennett and mighty Victor Records, which in 1917 had produced the world's first jazz records. Gennett was joined by other small labels; they prevailed in 1922, breaking Victor's stranglehold.

Later in 1922, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings made their recording debut at the Richmond studio.

"Ragtime, jazz, blues, gospel, country and other 'new' sounds swelled the mainstream of popular music with the help of instruments and recordings produced by Starr and Gennett for international distribution," according to the Starr-Gennett Foundation.

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