Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Grahams of the Graham-Stephenson House

William H. H. Graham, a prominent attorney from Kentland, Indiana, moved to Irvington in 1889.  He and his wife Ellen McLeod Graham built their dream home in that year at 5432 University Avenue.  Mr. Graham, a Civil War veteran, was very involved with the Disciples of Christ.  The organization would later name a chapel after him at their headquarters at 222 Downey Avenue.  The Grahams had several children, all of whom would go on to successful careers.

Two tragedies struck the family within a four-year time span.  Mr. Graham passed away in 1906 leaving Mrs. Graham a widow and alone in a very large home.  Her daughter and son-in-law moved in with her shortly after Mr. Graham's death at age 65.  Then, Mrs. Graham received horrible news during the summer of 1910 that her son Ernest had died under mysterious circumstances.  The young man worked for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad as a general engineer.  He had graduated from Butler University in 1900 and had impressed his employer.  The company gave the young man the task of supervising the construction of two bridges over the Monongahela and Susquehanna Rivers in West Virginia.  While walking ahead of the rest of the management team, Ernest vanished from view. His brother-in-law, Luther Eldridge, immediately began looking for him and could hear him moaning down in a deep ravine. By the time rescue crews could reach him, he had fallen into a coma and later died. West Virginia authorities were unable to determine if he merely slipped or if he was pushed.  His devoted friend and brother-in-law brought the body back to University Avenue where the family held a memorial service on August 6, 1910.

Mrs. Graham continued to dwell in the large home.  She invited her sister, Sophronia, to live with her and she occasionally rented out rooms.  In 1920, a teacher by the name of Frances Darracot lodged in the mansion with the two sisters.  By the early 1920s, Mrs. Graham was in her seventies and the home became too much for her so she rented it out to a Butler University sorority and moved in with her daughter, Mary Place, at 5452 Lowell Avenue.  Although she did not want to part with the family home, she finally came to terms that she would have to sell the property. When David Curtis Stephenson approached her with a tempting offer, she sold the place to the powerful leader of the Ku Klux Klan. How much she knew about the man is unclear, but her decision to sell to Stephenson would place her beautiful house into infamy.  One can only speculate on what she must have thought of the sordid events that would unfold in her former home. Amazingly, Mrs. Graham would live to the ripe old age of 93  She passed away in 1940.

The Graham Home in 1905:  Local historian, Larry Muncie, printed this photo from the original glass negative. Notice the beautiful setting and the former porch.  

Kappa Kappa Gama rented the Graham home in the early 1920s.

Scene of the crime in 1925:  Ku Klux Klan leader, David Curtis Stephenson, removed the tasteful porch and placed pretentious columns on the front of 5432 University Avenue.  He would later be convicted of the rape and murder of local Irvingtonian, Madge Oberholtzer.  His conviction ended the reign of the Klan in Indiana and really in the US.

The historic photos are courtesy of Larry Muncie, Amy Friedly, and the Indianapolis Star.

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