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Hoosier History Live is an independently produced new media project about Indiana history, integrating podcasts, website www.HoosierHistoryLive.org, weekly enewsletter, and social media. Its original content comes initially from a live with call in weekly talk radio show hosted by author and historian Nelson Price. You can hear the show live Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET at WICR 88.7 fm or stream the show live at the WICR HD1 app on your phone, or at our website.

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June 22, 2024

Busting myths about historic houses

Maybe you have heard some of these comments about houses built in the 1800s and early 1900s:

"They never had closets." "Anything that sticks out of the house – like a wing -- was a subsequent addition." "Their only light was from candles or kerosene lamps."

These are widespread misconceptions that our distinguished guest, Indianapolis-based architectural historian Benjamin L. Ross of RATIO Architects, plans to dispel when he joins Nelson in-studio. For more than 15 years, Ben Ross has been involved in analyzing, interpreting and planning for the future of historic sites in Indiana and across the country, including well-known historic houses.

Some myths about historic houses are so pervasive that they even are repeated to visitors by well-intentioned docents at the sites, Ben says. They include: "The back part of the house is shorter and simpler, so it must be older." "Almost everyone was a homeowner." "Many people lived in one place their entire lives." In some cases, Ben says, the myths distort social history and the way people lived in the 1800s and early 1900s.

A historic preservation specialist as well as an architectural historian, Ben Ross has been involved in projects at the historic Shrewsbury-Windle House, which was built in Madison, Ind., during the 1840s; the Lincoln Home National Historic Site in Springfield, Ill.; and the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis. His other projects have been at the President Warren G. Harding House, which was built in Marion, Ohio, during the early 1890s, the historic Mount Pleasant Beech Church in Rush County, Ind., and the King Family Home at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site in Atlanta.

For a flavor of the misconceptions that Ben Ross will tackle during our show, here is a sampling, along with some of his insights about historic houses:

  • "They never had closets". According to Ben, "Many historic houses had closets. These were sometimes called 'presses' or 'cupboards'. Closets often filled unusual space next to a projecting chimney." At the Shrewsbury-Windle House, closets were built during the home's construction in the 1840s. Ben also notes that, in the 19th century, people stored clothing differently than today. Clothes often were folded and placed in drawers or in a wardrobe. Some clothes were hung on pegs or hooks on a wall.

  • "Any portion of the house that sticks out was a subsequent addition". The references to an "addition" are overstated. Regarding two-story houses with a one-story kitchen that "sticks out", Ben says: "Kitchens and other service spaces often projected from the main building. If you think about the experience of cooking in our climate prior to air conditioning, you want to separate the kitchen from the living spaces as much as possible, and to provide it with good ventilation."

  • "Many people lived in one place their entire lives". Ben's take: "This is a persistent myth about the past. Many people will tell you that everyone today is mobile and unconnected to the past. We actually move less today than Americans did 50 years ago. When you go back to the 19th century, you find that people were incredibly mobile. High percentages of Hoosiers in the 19th century had been born in Eastern states or in other countries."


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June 08, 2024 -Marquis de Lafayette, his farewell tour and Indiana Click here for podcast.

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Remember that Hoosier History Live's most valuable asset is our online product. The Hoosier History Live ARCHIVES is essentially our collection of previously aired shows that have been turned into podcasts, as well as their accompanying newsletters. And yes, we do control our online product (it's about the only thing we do control!), and yes, we do want you to share our enewsletters and podcasts!

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Madge Oberholtzer: more than victim of a shocking crime in 1925

The brutal rape of Madge Oberholtzer by KKK leader D.C. Stephenson and her subsequent death after a suicide attempt have been the subject of groundbreaking research by our guest, Charlotte Ottinger. Oberholtzer's deathbed testimony helped send Stephenson to prison.

She was the victim of one of the most lurid crimes in Indiana history, the brutal rape in March 1925 by D.C. Stephenson, Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, that led to her eventual death after a suicide attempt. The deathbed testimony of Madge Oberholtzer, a resident of the Irvington neighborhood of Indianapolis, resulted in the eventual conviction of Stephenson of second degree murder, a pivotal episode in the downfall of the Klan in Indiana during the 1920s.

For several years, Charlotte Ottinger, a registered nurse who has lived in Irvington for more than 20 years, has been working on a biography of Madge, digging up new information about the 28-year-old state employee and former teacher. Madge Oberholtzer was raped during a train trip to Chicago with Stephenson, who also lived in Irvington. One of his associates accompanied them on the trip.

Charlotte's book is entitled Madge:The life and times of Madge Oberholtzer. Incidentally Charlotte will return as a guest on June 29 to discuss further developments in the Oberholtzer case.

Charlotte, who is convinced Madge did not willingly go on the train trip, will be Nelson's guest to discuss her extensive research. She has interviewed four grandchildren of Madge's brother, who have given her family documents, photos and other artifacts never seen by the general public or used by other researchers. Some of the material is now in the archives of the Irvington Historical Society; Charlotte is a former board member.

According to Charlotte's research into Madge's youth, she was mentored by several Indiana suffragists. Madge graduated from Manual High School in 1914 and attended Butler University, which then was Butler College and located in Irvington. According to Charlotte, the talent in painting and drawing that Madge displayed at Manual earned her scholarships to study at the Herron School of Art.

During our show, Charlotte will describe the impact of Madge's tragic death on her family. Madge's mother, Matilda Oberholtzer, was a short-term patient in a sanitarium in Martinsville after her daughter's death.

An American Sign Language medical interpreter as well as a nurse, Charlotte says her medical background helped her sort through the treatment provided to Madge, the autopsy results and the extensive medical testimony at Stephenson's sensational trial. After her brutal rape in Stephenson's private train car, Madge swallowed poison in a hotel room in Hammond.

"Another Hoosier History Live endorsement from a Hoosier in California ..."

"Hoosier History Live is a bright spot in my media constellation. I also frequently forward your weekly enewsletters to friends around the globe. I may now be a Californian, but my Hoosier interest is endless. The podcasts and streaming are good tools. By all means, persevere!"

- Tom Cochrun, former news anchor, WTHR-TV Channel 13 Indianapolis


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- Kathleen Madinger Angelone, retired bookstore owne


Trivia prizes sought

Our "History Mystery" on air contest continues to be very popular!  If you are an organization or business that would like to contribute tickets or admissions, please contact our host Nelson at nelson@hoosierhistorylive.org.

Prizes must fit in a standard business envelope. Hoosier History Live prefers to "snail mail" prizes to our trivia winners. And If prizes are time sensitive, they need to be offered well in advance of the event so that we can get them out in time.

We'd like to thank the following recent individual contributors who make the Hoosier History Live media project possible. For a full list of contributors over the years, visit Support the Show on our website.

  • Jill Lough Chambers
  • Jeanne Burke
  • Jo Ellen Meyers Sharp
  • Anonymous
  • Marion Wolen, honoring Richard Sullivan
  • Margaret Smith
  • Charlotte Ottinger
  • Bruce and Julie Buchanan  
  • Sandra Hurt
  • Chuck and Karen Bragg
  • Ken and Luan Marshall
  • Tom Swenson

Molly Head, executive producer (317) 506-7164 
Nelson Price, host and historian
Corene Nickel, web designer and tech manager

Richard Sullivan and Ryan DeRome, tech consultants
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer

Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support!

Facebook logo links to the Hoosier History Live! page. Acknowledgements to WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Monomedia, Henri Pensis, Caden Colford, Jace Hodge, Jake Helton, Austin Cook, and many other individuals and organizations. We are independently produced and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorship and through individual contribution, either online at our yellow button on our newsletter or website, or by U.S. mail. For organizational sponsorship, which includes logos, links, and voiced credits in our podcasts and in our show, please contact Molly Head at (317) 506-7164 or email her at molly@hoosierhistorylive.org.

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