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;

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