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.