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.