Tuesday, June 11, 2019

The Sohn Family of Downey Avenue

In 1905, eighteen-year-old Anton P. Sohn (1887-1961) slipped out of New Albany, Indiana with a $5 gold piece secretly given to him by his mother. He headed north on the Monon Line for Indianapolis where he started a new life. His first jobs were in various butcher shops. He found lodging above the stores at the corner of Washington Street and Ritter Avenue.  With a talent for business, he soon opened his first grocery store at 1744 Brookside Avenue. Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, the entrepreneur opened and sold additional grocery stores, purchased the Manhattan Movie Theater on West Washington Street, and bought a Jackson County farm. His life was about to change, however, when he met and eventually married Ruth Fulton.

Ruth Fulton (1903-1986) grew up in Hindsboro, Illinois. A talented student, young Ruth loved to write poetry. Her family, even to this day, treasure her poems and travel journals. Upon her graduation from high school in 1921, she moved to Indianapolis where her brother William, a dentist in Irvington, was living. Two sisters, Helen and Mabel, also resided in the Indianapolis area. Upon moving to the city, Ruth applied for nursing training at the Protestant Deaconess Hospital at the corner of Ohio Street and Senate Avenue. She was accepted and worked as a nurse for the next eleven years.

Anton Sohn and Ruth Fulton married on February 1, 1933, at Mr. Sohn's bungalow at 378 South Downey Avenue. Mr. Sohn was able to purchase the house at the height of the Great Depression because his grocery store at 1035 Fletcher Avenue managed to turn a profit during the hard times. He paid $4000 for the house in 1931. Built in 1915, the dwelling had previously belonged to the Olsen family. Mr. Sohn told his son Bill years later that many homes in Irvington, especially those along South Ritter Avenue, could be found at a cheap price during the Depression. Mr. Sohn, a financially prudent man, resisted the temptation to buy other nearby properties.

The modest one-and-a-half-story residence would serve as the Sohn family home for over fifty years. The couple raised four children in the bungalow. Dr. Anton Sohn, a son of Anton and Ruth Sohn, in his family memoir, Straight and Narrow (1992) noted that the house:

     ...was about1,200 square feet and consisted of six rooms, not including the bath, pantry, and porches. Oak hardwood floors were throughout the house and the walls were papered. When Bill (his brother) and I were older, part of the upstairs was finished with a bedroom and a full bathroom.

 Dr. Sohn noted that the house had a:

     coal chute under the kitchen window, but it was sealed when a gas furnace was installed after the War. Before then, Dad would let the coal fire burn out during the night. In the morning, we lit the oven and congregated in the kitchen until the furnace heated the house. 

The family planted a victory garden during World War II. Mrs. Sohn had a green thumb and planted a variety of flowers including many scented species, which filled the house with wonderful smells. The children played with the neighboring kids along Downey and Ritter Avenues.  The kids grew up hearing the sounds of trains along the nearby Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and the noise associated with the busy Irvington Ice and Coal Company on South Ritter Avenue.

In part two, you will learn more about the children and what it was like growing up along Downey Avenue in the 1930s and 40s.

Ruth Fulton Sohn's Wedding Announcement in 1933 (Courtesy of Indianapolis Star)

Anton Sohn, who lived at 378 South Downey Avenue, posed Bill, Annalouise, and Anton Sohn in 1938. (Image courtesy of Bill Sohn)

Anton Sohn pulls his siblings, Bill and Annalouise, in the side yard at 378 South Downey Avenue c1938. The Sohns were the children of Anton and Ruth Fulton Sohn. Behind them, you can see their neighbor's home at 384 South Downey Avenue. The Wickliff family resided in that bungalow at the time the photo was taken. (Image courtesy of Bill Sohn)

378 South Downey Avenue on June 11, 2019
Sources:  Interview with Bill Sohn May 30, 2019; Anton P. Sohn, The Straight and Narrow, (Reno, Nevada, 1992).  E-mail correspondence with both Bill and Anton Sohn. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

New Photo Emerges of 1953 Irvington Plane Crash

On June 20, 1953, two brothers, Charles and Robert Woods, lost control of their small plane and crashed into the Rennard family home at 354 North Bolton Avenue.  Although severely injured, the siblings survived the crash.  Throughout the day, crowds from the neighborhood and beyond gathered at the scene except for the Rennards who were out of town that day. Bill Sohn, a teenager who lived at 378 South Downey Avenue, heard about the crash and grabbed his camera.  He arrived on the scene after the plane had been removed from the attic of the Rennard home and snapped this photo.  To read more about the events of that day, click on the link on below.

On June 20, 1953, the Woods brothers lost control and crashed their plane into 354 North Bolton Avenue. Bill Sohn of 378 South Downey Avenue, photographed the aftermath of the crash. Behind the plane, you can see the houses on the eastern side of the 300 block of Bolton Avenue. (Image courtesy of Bill Sohn)

http://vintageirvington.blogspot.com/2014/12/plane-crashed-into-irvington-home-in.html

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Mr. Whitaker's Shop Classroom--1949

Boys in the 1940s at School #57 in the seventh and eighth grades had to make a decision.  Did they want to take woodworking or metalworking from Mr. Hershel Whitaker?  Their classroom, a noisy place, was located in the basement of the school. For one young man, Bill Sohn of 378 South Downey Avenue, the choice was woodworking. Each child aimed towards creating a final product like a hall tree or a stool. Bill chose to create a lamp. At the end of the term, each student placed their item on display. Bill Sohn brought his camera to school and snapped the image seen below. Seventy years later, Mr. Sohn could still recall that the letters "D" and "P" were created by Don Peters, a boy who was a grade behind him. He also noted that for one month the boys and girls traded classrooms.  The boys went into the home economics classroom and the girls attended shop. Bill still recalls sewing a pin cushion.  Mr. Whitaker and his wife, Maria, resided at 5119 Norway Drive so he could have walked to school on nice days. You will see his hat hanging on a hook in the photo.

Boys in Mr. Hershel Whitaker's woodworking class displayed their final products in 1949. Bill Sohn, a student in the class, snapped this photo. He created one of the lamps on the table. 
The image and information for this story is courtesy of Bill Sohn.  

Monday, May 27, 2019

Two Brothers Near Beechwood and Burgess--1936

Mark and Don Gray laughed as they posed for a photo in front of their home at 5621 Beechwood Avenue on a cold winter's day in 1936. We do not know if the brothers were celebrating a special occasion or if they were just having a good time, but the image reveals the rear of several homes along Burgess Avenue. The  home most visible is that of 329 Burgess Avenue. The Fansler family dwelled in that large home in 1936. Could the Fanslers hear the laughter emanating from Beechwood Avenue? Did they peek out from behind the curtains?

Brothers Mark (Jr.) and Don Gray, laughed as they posed for this photo in front of their home at 5621 Beechwood Avenue. Behind the brothers, you can see the rear of 329 Burgess Avenue. (photo courtesy of Mark Gray, Jr.)

329 Burgess Avenue on a spring day in 2019. 
      I am especially indebted to Suzette Hagan for her amazing research on the families who resided at 5621 Beechwood Avenue. She has unearthed many photos and stories about her neighborhood. 

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

An Oak Avenue Home--1911

Dawson C. and Ida Belle Kile moved into their brand new home at 5921 Oak Avenue in 1911. Mr. Kile, who was 34 years old at the time, had lived part of his life in a house with his parents, Oliver and Sarah Kile, under the giant oak tree (now called the Kile Oak) on Beechwood Avenue. The younger couple were able to purchase the triangular lots on Oak Avenue because they belonged to the Frys, who were related to the Kiles. The house, fashioned in the American Four Square design, was a very popular style in the U.S. in 1911.  On the back of the photo, a realtor or family member described the interior of the home. Downstairs, the Kiles could enjoy a brick fireplace in the living the room with a coal grate.  The first floor also included a library, a dining room, the kitchen, and a pantry. The lower level had beautiful hardwood floors. Four bedrooms with "large" closets and a bathroom occupied the second floor. The builder attached city water and included a coal furnace that pumped warm air into the home on cold days.

The price of the home in 1911 or perhaps in 1913 was $5000 although the seller was willing to go down to $4500.  The Kiles moved from Irvington in 1913 so it is possible that this photo was used to try to sell the house at that time. It must have worked as the Evans family moved in and remained until 1918.

Dawson C. Kile worked as a railway mail clerk for the Pennsylvania Railroad for 37 years. He serviced various parts of the line from Pittsburg to St. Louis during his long tenure with the company. The couple had one biological son who survived into adulthood, John Albert Kile,  but he died at age 20 from malaria after they had moved to Ohio. The couple also adopted many foster children over the years. The Kiles left Irvington for Zanesville, Ohio after only living in this home for two years. The beautiful photo of their home shows the house before some of the later alterations occurred including a sizable rear addition. Mr. Kile's sister, Mae, continued to reside in the family home two blocks south on Beechwood until the early 1970s.  Ida Belle Kile passed away in 1948 while Dawson Kile lived until 1967.


Dawson and Ida Kile moved into this American Four Square at 5921 Oak Avenue in 1911. By 1913, they had moved to Zanesville, Ohio. Other families to reside here over the years included the Evans, Whiteman, Shirey, Kramer, Fee, Collins,  Pedigo, and Thomas families. (Photo courtesy of the Irvington Historical Society)

Most likely in 1913 when the Kiles were putting the home on the market, someone wrote all of these details about the residence on the back of the photograph.  (Photo courtesy of the Irvington Historical Society)
I wish to thank Paula Schmidt of the Irvington Historical Society for loaning me this wonderful image. 

Sources:  Information about the purchase of the lots came from the Indianapolis Star, May 23, 1905 and the Indianapolis News, March 19, 1907, 8) Other useful information came from the obituaries of Dawson, Ida Belle, and John Albert Kile.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Thousands Gathered Along Beechwood Avenue

Editorial Note: Much of the information for this post is courtesy of Suzette (Becker) Hagan, whose grandparents used to dwell at 5621 Beechwood Avenue. She has spent the past several months researching the residence and uncovering fascinating facts. While several families have lived at 5621 Beechwood Avenue, Suzette has found the most information on the Forsythes, the Grays, and on her own family, the Beckers. For this post, she tracked down Mark William Gray, Jr, the grandson of Mark R. and Elsie May Gray. He generously lent her family photos. The Grays lived in the house from the 1927 to 1947. 

An Indiana governor, a few Indianapolis mayors, U.S. representatives and senators, and numerous other Hoosier politicians have visited the lovely home at 5621 Beechwood Avenue. They had all one thing in common, a publisher and Democratic Party operative, named Mark R. Gray.

In 1927, Mark R. and Elsie May Gray purchased the gorgeous home at 5621 Beechwood Avenue that used to belong to the Forsythe, Falloon, and Keating families. The property also briefly served as a sorority house for Butler University in the early 1920s. For the next twenty years,  beginning in 1927, the house and the large property surrounding it would be the location of numerous parties and fundraisers for the Indiana Democratic Party. Mark R. Gray was the publisher of the Indianapolis Commercial.  He also served as the Grand Supreme Leader of the Moose for the United States! To say he was connected with some of the most powerful people in the state might be an understatement. Mrs. Gray was also involved in the Democratic Party. She frequently hosted events connected to the wives of the powerful.

Beginning in 1931, the Grays began to host a fundraiser for the Democratic Party on their property. Although it is hard to imagine, newspaper accounts from the period document that over 1000 people sometimes attended this event. Where did they park? What did the nearby neighbors think of this invasion? Sometimes there would be skits performed.  In the summer of 1941, local Democrats put on a "pageant" depicting the meeting between William Henry Harrison and Tecumseh. The culminating activity every year was a watermelon spitting contest. More genteel meetings hosted by Mrs. Gray included teas and talks. In October of 1932, Mrs Gray hosted Dr. and Mrs. William Larrabee in her home. Dr. Larrabee represented the Sixth District in the U.S. Congress. Of course, she invited numerous other powerful people, or those who sought power, to participate in the event.

When the Grays weren't hosting important state and national figures, they were busy raising their four children, Mark, Donald, Rosemary, and Richard. Much like the previous children who resided in the house, the Grays had plenty of room to play both inside the spacious home and upon the large yard. The backyard had a pool and plenty of space for running around or perhaps a game of baseball.

With the onset of World War II, the Grays saw all three of their sons deployed. Mr. Gray, a veteran of the Spanish-American War, was likely very proud of them. With the conclusion of the war and the fact that all of their children were now grown and out of the house, the Grays settled into their own routines.  Mr. Gray's active involvement with the Moose Lodge took up much of his time. In fact, while attending a Moose Conference in Richmond, Indiana on February 2, 1947, Mr. Gray suffered a devastating stroke that ended his life days later. Newspapers from around the nation noted his death. Shortly after his funeral, Mrs. Gray placed the Beechwood Avenue home on the market.  She sold it to the Becker family, who would reside in the house for the remainder of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.

To see more photos and read more stories about the this house, click on either the "Forsythe" or "Becker" link below.

The Gray family went on vacation in the summer of 1938 and visited Pike's Peak. We do not know the names of the driver nor of the small girl. Others in the photo include: (left to right) top--Rosemary Gray, Mark R. Gray, Mark W. Gray; bottom--Unknown girl, Don Gray, Elsie May Gray, Richard R. Gray. (Photo courtesy of Mark W. Gray, Jr.)

Mark R. Gray was very active in the Indiana Democratic Party as well as the Moose Lodge. (Photo courtesy of Mark W. Gray, Jr.)

Mark R. Gray was the publisher of the Indianapolis Commercial as well as other printing businesses. He also helped to manage the 1940 Federal Census in Indiana. (Photo courtesy of Mark W. Gray, Jr.)

Mark R. Gray courted many politicians and ran for a few offices in the Democratic Party. He hosted large fundraising parties at his home at 5621 Beechwood Avenue. (Mark W. Gray, Jr.)

Brothers: Mark and Don Gray, the sons of Mark and Elsie May Gray, posed for this photo at the rear of 5621 Beechwood Avenue in 1930. (Photo courtesy of Mark W. Gray, Jr.)


Little Richard R. Gray posed for this photo next to his home at 5621 Beechwood Avenue c1930 (Photo courtesy of Mark W. Gray, Jr.)


Mark William Gray, the son of Mark R. and Elsie May Gray, served in World War II. He was a graduate of the Indiana School of Law. All three of Mark R. and Elsie Gray's sons were deployed during the war. (Photo courtesy of Mark W. Gray, Jr.)

Mark William Gray, the son of Mark R. and Elsie Gray, in 1945 (Photo courtesy of Mark W. Gray, Jr.)

Many families have called 5621 Beechwood Avenue "home" including the Forsythes, the Falloons, the Keatings, the Grays, and the Beckers. (photo taken on March 26, 2019 by Bill Gulde)
Sources:  Newspaper clippings from the Suzette Hagan Collection; Articles related to "Watermelon Festival" at the home:  "Larrabee Addresses Democratic Meeting," Hancock Democrat, July 16, 1931;  "Democrat Club to Hear Ludlow," Indianapolis News, September 1, 1941; "Minton at Melon Feast," Indianapolis News, August 16, 1934; "Democrats Hold Annual Outing," Indianapolis News, September 4, 1941;  "1,100 Democrats Attend Rally, Eat Watermelons, Indianapolis Star, September 9, 1938;  Mrs. Gray's political activities: "Democrats Plan Teas for Women," Indianapolis Star, October 23, 1928; "Congressman And Mrs. Larrabee Honored with Tea," Hancock Democrat, October 6, 1932;  "Hickory Club Auxiliary to Hold Yuletide Party, Indianapolis Star, December 9, 1934;  Mr. Gray's activities with the Moose Lodge--"Editor of Newspaper," Indianapolis Star, August 14, 1936; "Gray is Re-Elected State Moose Head," Indianapolis Star, August 14, 1938; Mr. Gray's obituary--"Mark R. Gray, Publisher, Dies," Indianapolis News, February 26, 1947, 1;

Saturday, March 16, 2019

The Forsythes Move to Beechwood Avenue

Editorial Note:  Much of the information for this post is courtesy of Suzette (Becker) Hagan, whose grandparents used to dwell at 5621 Beechwood Avenue. She began to wonder as to who else might have lived in the beautiful home. Her research led her to many newspaper clippings and even to the granddaughters of the Forsythe family. I am indebted to her for her kindness and generosity in sharing her copious notes and collections. I also wish to thank Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt, the granddaughters of William and Sarah Forsythe.  

William G. and Sarah E. Harris Forsythe moved into their stunning newly-built home at 5621 Beechwood Avenue in early September of 1911.  Designed with both Tudor and Arts and Crafts influences, the residence was the first to be erected between Audubon Road and Burgess Avenue. Although not confirmed, Charles Byfield was likely the architect of the house. He designed a similar residence in northern Indianapolis.

The large residence with its spacious rooms, hardwood floors, beamed ceilings, a gorgeous staircase, and a substantial fireplace, must have seemed like a dream to the Forsythes. Mr. Forsythe worked as a railway mail clerk and Mrs. Forsythe stayed at home to tend to the couple's three children, Helen, Marjorie, and William, Jr. Mr. Forsythe should not be confused with the artist William Forsyth, who lived at East Washington Street and Emerson Avenue.

To celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary in December of 1911, the Forsythes invited many friends over to play "500."  They had to set up ten tables for the event. The couple decorated the rooms with holly and trimmed the fireplace with branches of the Christmas Berry. They received several gifts that night, but one was very special. Howard Chandler Christy, a prominent artist and cousin to Mr. Forsythe, sent a beautiful piece of crystal. The artist would later go on to paint portraits of Presidents and other important world leaders.

The Forsythe children had a beautiful space in which to play as the house, during their tenure, sat on a large lot with no immediate neighbors. Across the street and to the west, they could see the older homes nearby along Burgess Avenue. Helen, the oldest child, graduated from Shortridge High School while living in the house. Her marriage to Clarence Volz on November 10, 1917, made the society pages of the local Indianapolis newspapers.

The wedding surely must have been one of the prettiest in the city. The couple decided that there could be no more of a finer location in which to be married than in the gorgeous Forsythe home. As the guests took their seats in the living room, Mrs. Marie Dawson Morrell played beautiful pieces on her violin while Mrs. Franc Willhite Webber strummed the harp. Mr. Forsythe walked his beautiful daughter to an altar near the fireplace. As it was in November, the family filled with the rooms "countless" chrysanthemums. In front of the fireplace, a florist placed tall ferns and pretty vines over lattice work. The future Mrs. Volz wore a beautiful white satin gown with a satin bodice and a long train draped from her shoulders. Her veil was arranged with pearls and she held a bouquet of lily of the valleys. The Reverend Lewis Brown of St. Paul's Episcopal Church administered the vows. After their wedding, the newlyweds honeymooned in Chicago. Their time together, however, would have to wait as World War One raged in Europe. Mr. Volz departed for France shortly after their lovely evening on Beechwood Avenue. Helen Volz lived with her parents in the Beechwood house until his return.

The Forsythes resided in the home for eight years before moving to a smaller place on Oak Avenue in 1919. The family continued to dwell in Irvington for many more decades. To see more historic photographs of this house click on the "Forsythe Family" link below.

5621 Beechwood Avenue on March 4, 2019 (photo by Bill Gulde)

The Forsythe family was the first to call 5621 Beechwood Avenue "home." They moved into the house in early September in 1911.  This photo was likely taken in 1912. (photo courtesy of Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt)

Sarah Harris Forsythe, the matriarch of the family, posed for this photo next to her home at 5621 Beechwood Avenue in 1915. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt)

William Grant Forsythe of Zanesville, Ohio posed for this photo on November 7, 1898. He later became a railway clerk and married Sarah Harris. The couple moved into 5621 Beechwood Avenue in 1911. (Photo courtesy of Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt) 

Sarah Harris Forsythe stood on her drive  at 5621 Beechwood Avenue likely in 1914. Behind her, you can see the tall Queen Ann styled home at 336 Burgess Avenue. (Image courtesy of Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt)

Sarah Harris Forsythe posed with her children, Helen, Bill, and Marjorie 1909. Two years later, they moved into 5621 Beechwood Avenue. (Image courtesy of Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt)

Marjorie and Bill Forsythe posed on the front porch stoop at 5621 Beechwood Avenue in 1913. (Image courtesy of Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt)

Marjorie and Bill Forsythe posed for this photo in 1913 perhaps on the Forsythe property at 5621 Beechwood Avenue. (Image courtesy of Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt)

5621 Beechwood Avenue on March 4, 2019 (photo by Bill Gulde)

Sources: Newspaper Clippings from the Suzette Hagan Collection; Wedding Anniversary-"Society," Indianapolis Star, December 27, 1911; Wedding--"Beautiful Wedding is Solemnized at Home in Irvington," Indianapolis Star, November 11, 1917. Interview with Nancy Allen and Charlotte Whitt, 2019 by Suzette Hagan.





Saturday, February 16, 2019

Irvington Tragedy--1953

Not all was right in the formerly fashionable home at 5316 East Washington Street. Dr. Harold Bailey Cox and his third wife, Halene (sometimes spelled Helene) Wilson Cox, had been living in the stuccoed Mission-Revival American Four Square since their marriage in 1937. The couple welcomed Nedra Lucretia Cox into their lives in 1940. The home was perfect for Dr. Cox's family medical practice as patients could meet him downstairs while the family lived upstairs.

By 1953, Dr. Cox was seeing few patients as he was ailing. The sixty-eight-year-old physician was also dealing with another kind of sickness, the mental illness of his forty-year-old wife. Neighbors had noticed that the family had become quite reclusive. Few people ever went to the house and delivery men were asked to place parcels on the front porch. Then, on March 18, 1953, while working in his garage, Dr. Cox suffered a fatal heart attack. Halene Wilson Cox who seldom left her home, found her husband in the garage and dragged his body to the front porch. She then phoned a friend who was a physician, to check on Dr. Cox, but it was too late. While authorities found the scenario odd, no one was charged as he had clearly died of natural causes.

For the next eight months, conditions deteriorated in the Cox household.  Fourteen-year-old Nedra, who was supposed to be attending Arsenal Technical High School, failed to enroll. She remained inside the house although friends did say that over the summer of 1953 she showed up at Ellenberger Park. Few ever saw the mother-daughter team outside again. Over the years, Mrs. Cox had become a hoarder and her home was filled with refuse, boxes, and disorder. No one was ever allowed to come in. Worried about their daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Hal Wilson of 569 Middle Drive Woodruff Place, stopped by on Sunday, November 1, 1953, but Mrs. Cox refused to allow them into the home. Nedra  spoke to her grandparents through a peep hole in the front door.

At 1:05AM the next day, Harold Hunt, of Greenfield, Indiana was driving eastbound on Washington Street when he noticed flames shooting out of a downstairs living room window at 5316 East Washington Street. He then saw Mrs. Cox screaming from a second floor bedroom window. Mr. Hunt phoned the fire department and Irvington firemen rushed to the scene.  While the first floor was engulfed in flames, the second floor was filled with smoke. Fireman, Errol Evans, climbed up a ladder and found Mrs. Cox slumped over the headboard of a bed. He managed to get her down with help from three other firemen named Arthur Lynn, William Gearns, and John Thompson. Then, the fireman found Nedra Cox on a bed and they brought her down as well.

Both women were carried next door and wrapped in blankets and given oxygen; however, it became apparent that both had been shot. Detectives rushed to the scene and found a house in chaos. As the last of the embers burned, detectives in the house noticed trash and even a decaying cat corpse inside the wrecked residence. Dr. Bailey had been a gun enthusiast and had given his daughter a .22 caliber pistol as a present before his death. Nedra apparently used the gun to shoot both her mother and herself.  Mrs. Cox had been shot in the chest and had been burned on her back although strangely her clothes were not burned. She must have changed before the firemen arrived.

Detectives had a hard time sorting through the strange story. Mrs. Cox was coherent and managed to tell investigators that Nedra had accidentally shot her and then killed herself. The next day the story was captured in lurid headlines in newspapers all over the state. Both the Indianapolis Star and Indianapolis News seemed obsessed with Nedra's appearance and behavior. They called her "exotic" and "sultry." Reporters noted that she had worn bikinis in the summer and had grown immensely long fingernails. They seemed to have overlooked the major plot that a fourteen-year-old girl was trapped in a home with a mother who was clearly mentally ill. In the end, the county coroner ruled that Nedra had indeed shot her mother and then killed herself, but why did Mrs. Cox have burn marks on her back when the fire was on the first floor and she was on the second floor? Did she try to escape but then realized that she could not get out? Some aspects of this story will never be known.

Mrs. Cox eventually moved in with her parents in Woodruff Place. Sadly, she killed herself on July 8, 1954. The Cox home was torn down shortly after the fire and in 2019, the site serves as a parking lot for a medical facility.



Dr. Harold B. and Halene Cox along with their daughter, Nedra, resided at 5316 East Washington Street. Fourteen-year-old Nedra shot her mother and then herself. It is not known which of the women set the fire on the first floor. If you look closely, you can see Dr. Bailey's physician sign hanging on the front porch. He died eight months before the fire. (Image courtesy of Patrick Pearsey)

A fireman combs through a messy second-story bedroom. The house at 5316 East Washington Street was in complete disarray when the department arrived on the scene. Mrs. Cox appears to have been a hoarder and suffered from mental illness. (Image courtesy of Patrick Pearsey)

Nedra Lucretia Cox was fourteen years when she fired a shot at her mother and then took her own life. Local newspapers focused on her attire and looks. (Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Star, November 3, 1953)
A special thanks to Patrick Pearsey, who chronicles the history of the Indianapolis Police Department, for the images and links to the stories about the Cox tragedy. 

Sources: "Girl Set Fire to House, Shot to 'Escape?'" Columbus Republic, November 3, 1953, 1; "Exotic Irvington Girl Shot Mom, Committee Suicide, Police Theorize," Indianapolis Star, November 3, 1953, 1;  "Tests Hint Slain Girl Shot Recluse Mother," Indianapolis Star, November 4, 1953, 13; "Widow of Doctor Takes Own Life," Terre Haute Tribune, July 8, 1954, 2. "Dr. Harold B. Cox Found Dead in Garage at Home," Indianapolis Star, March 20, 1953, 9; "Dr Cox Wins Shoot with Perfect Score," Indianapolis Star, June 9, 1940, 38.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Train Wreck in Irvington--1940

With two rail lines cutting through the neighborhood, Irvington residents have seen a fair number of accidents over the years. On Saturday, April 27, 1940, residents in southern Irvington were jolted by a thunderous crash. Nine train cars pulled by a double header (two locomotives) sped along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from Cincinnati. As the train traveled through the community, a coal gondola (open-air car) came loose causing the other eight empty stock cars to slam into each other near South Spencer Avenue. Amazingly, neither the conductor, Ralph Lowry, nor the engineer, Carl Shaefer, were injured in the spectacular crash. Curious neighbors raced to the scene and found the train cars strewn about and the tracks torn up. Since it was a lovely spring day and on a weekend, many walked or rode their bikes down to the scene of the accident.

The Sohn family dwelled at 378 South Downey Avenue. The B & 0 Railroad was just south of their backyard. On the following Sunday, Anton and Ruth Sohn grabbed their family and headed to the accident scene to survey the damage. They didn't have to walk far as the crash site was just behind their home. At some point, Mrs. Sohn photographed her husband and children standing next to the wreckage. The story of the crash made page seven of the Sunday edition of the Indianapolis Star. A dramatic fire in downtown Indianapolis along Pennsylvania Street and Hitler's blitzkrieg through northern Europe occupied the main headlines on the front page of the paper.

Anton and Ruth Sohn dwelled at 378 South Downey Avenue. Mr. Sohn operated a grocery store along Fletcher Avenue. In this photo, he posed with his children most likely on Sunday, April 28, 1940, next to the train wreckage along the B&O RR in Irvington. (Photo courtesy of Anton and Bill Sohn)
Local residents gathered to view the wreckage of nine train cars along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad on April 27, 1940.  Mrs. Sohn of 378 South Downey Avenue kept the newspaper articles about the crash in a diary. (Indianapolis Star, April 28, 1940, 7) 
 Information and images for this story are courtesy of the Sohn family.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

School #57 Graduation--1949

Seventy years ago, several members of the eighth grade class at IPS #57 gathered in the front yard of the school for a photo on a warm spring day in 1949. The excited children had so many possibilities ahead of them. Most would attend nearby Howe High School in the autumn.

Members of the Class of 1949 of School #57; Names compiled by Harry Smith
Front Row, Left: Ted Helkema, Gene Toole, John Cordell, Bill Ropp, John Sauer, Gary Crawford, Bill Foster, John Garrison, Harold Brown, Harry Smith, Don Martin; Second Row, Left: Bob Cox, John Kirkhoff, Jack Webb, Anton Sohn, Shirley Garrett, Don Davis, Margarite Esther, Judy Wire, Judy Ball, Marilyn Titus, Judy Janneck, Marilyn Rasener, Bob Pirtle, Ben Benefield, Frank Parish, John Sanford; Third Row, Left: Marcia Shick, Stephanie Moore, Anabelle King, Paula Bailey, Daisy Harrison, Judy Henderson, John Gooch, Diane Hale, Stan Barnett, Charles Russell, Janice Carlock, Bob Schram, David Taylor, Rolland McMaster, Marilyn Lantz, Nancy Tanselle, Marilyn Banaka; Top Row, Left: Ruth Jenkins, Barbara Little, Nancy McMillin, Darlene Baird, Sara Snyder, Ann Schmidt, Kathleen Craig, Louis Hoynes, Jim Fleener, Nathan Negley, Jerry Christianson, Barbara Swengel, Lois Eikenberry, Jerry Webb, Martha Shortridge, Betty Cowell

World War II had been over for four years and Harry Truman was President of the United States. If the young people paid attention to the news, they would have noticed that Henry Schriecker, a Democrat, was the Governor of Indiana while Albert Feeney, another Democrat, served as the mayor of Indianapolis. Their parents likely read in the local newspapers that an organization called NATO had just been formed. Many of the adults probably worried about the Soviet Union as the Red Scare gripped Americans. By the end of year, the Soviets would have the atomic bomb. Some might have breathed a sigh of relief upon reading that the USSR had ended the Berlin Blockade. Hoosiers might have read or heard that Chaim Weizmann became the first president of Israel or that the Irish people finally received full independence from the United Kingdom.

On May 30, 1949, a television station called WFBM-TV started in Indianapolis. It would be several years before residents of Irvington would start placing these bulky boxes in their homes, but many in this photo had likely heard of the device. Most of the kids would have still listened to their favorite programs on the radio. Tarzan, Superman, the Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers, Captain Midnight, Lassie, and The Shadow were just some of the radio series that captivated the kids in this photo. Many of teens likely listened to the dramatic coverage of the Indy 500 that year where Bill Holland raced to victory. Nearby at the Irving Theater they could watch "Canadian Pacific," which was being held over for a second week in early June. Their parents likely viewed "Portrait of Jennie," starring Jennifer Jones and Joseph Cotten.

A dramatic Western ran at the Irving in early June, 1949

"Portrait of Jennie" was not initially received very well by the public, but the film has held up throughout the decades. It played at the Irving in early June of 1949.

In August of 1948, Miss Wallace Montague replaced Mildred Orr as the principal at #57. Miss Montague had just spent a year on a teacher's exchange in England.  She had previously served as a principal for the Indianapolis Public Schools. Throughout the autumn of 1948, Miss Montague spoke to groups about her experience in England including to the PTA at #57 on November 16, 1948. Many other educators influenced the children in this photo including Abbie Kanz, Genevieve Burns, Martha Barber, Helen Loepper, Laura Benson, Ruby Winders, Hershel Whitaker, Virgil Wise, and numerous others.

Miss Montague served as the principal of School #57.  On September 21, 1948, the Indianapolis News featured her on the front page. Miss Montague had just returned from England where she had been on an exchange. 

I was able to obtain the school photograph courtesy of the Sohn family. I first heard from Bill Sohn and then his brother Anton. The Sohns grew up in a bungalow at 378 South Downey Avenue. More about this family will be forthcoming. Anton reports that he became life-long friends with many of the guys in this image. They later formed a social club at Howe High School and gathered well into their adult years. They called their adult club, the Gentlemen's Serenity Club of Pistol Creek. The one aspect that they all shared was a love of nature.

Their friendship began both at School 57 and at Howe but over the years, these Irvington men gathered to hike, fish, hunt, and enjoy the beauty of nature. 

Sources: Sohn Family Collection; On Miss Montague: Indianapolis News, August 11, 1948, 17; "Going to School in England," Indianapolis Star, November 14, 1948, 52; Irving Theater Movies: Indianapolis News, June 9, 1949.