History Monday #66

Let’s get it started!

I’m back from my continuing education program, and glad to be back to writing for pleasure rather than for classwork. So, without any further ado, I’m revved up for writing again. Speaking of being revved up, today’s #HistoryMonday is all about how folks in Indiana have gotten revved up for over a century.

Image result for indianapolis motor speedway

On this day in 1909, the first race is held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway—home of the world’s most famous motor racing competition, the Indianapolis 500.

The construction of a racetrack and races to be featured at the venue were conceived by Indianapolis businessman Carl G. Fisher. Fisher saw the appeal of a racing speedway in 1905 after attending a race event in Europe.

Fisher realized that automobile racing was a means of testing cars before consumers took delivery of them. He also argued that race spectators were only able to perceive a glimpse of the cars on a linear track. Fisher believed that a 3 to 5-mile oval track would allow many more to view the abilities of the automobiles featured.

With dozens of automakers located in Indiana, Fisher proclaimed, “Indianapolis is going to be the world’s greatest center of horseless carriage manufacturer, what could be more logical than building the world’s greatest racetrack right here?”


Construction of the track began in March 1909. Built on 328 acres of farmland five miles northwest of Indianapolis, Indiana. Laid out in a rectangle configuration measuring two-and-a-half-miles with four turns with two long and two short straight sections. The track’s surface was originally comprised of crushed rock and tar, a decision that would soon be regretted.

Fifteen  teams arrived on the first day of racing on August 19 for a three-day event. Fifteen to twenty thousand spectators showed up, paying at the most $1 for a ticket. In that first five-mile race Austrian engineer Louis Schwitzer won with an average speed of 57.4 miles per hour. But the track surface broke up in a number of places and caused the deaths of two drivers, two mechanics and two spectators.

Eventually, the surface was soon replaced with 3.2 million paving bricks, laid in a bed of sand and fixed with mortar. The new paving brick surface led to the speedway being dubbed “The Brickyard,” after it reopened in December 1909.

fast forward

Since 1911, the Indianapolis 500 has been held every year, with the exception of 1917-18 and 1942-45, when the United States World Wars 1 & 2. The decision to host the Indianapolis 500 proved to be more successful after the speedway owners realized an annual long-distance event rather than multiple short-distance races throughout the year.

With an average crowd of 400,000, the Indy 500 is the best-attended event in U.S. sports. An asphalt paved surface would eventually replace the original brick surface by 1961. Speedway owners chose at that time to preserve a one-yard line of bricks left exposed at the start-finish line as a nostalgic reminder of the track’s history.

The proliferation of races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway also led to other automobile racing organizations using the track to feature their cars. In 1994, NASCAR began their annual event at the Speedway originally termed the Brickyard 400. IROC, an all-star event featuring drivers from all automobile racing also partnered with the Brickyard 400 event similar to their companion race to the Dayton 500.

Motorcycle racing predated automobile racing at the speedway by less than a week. Motorcycle GP racing returned to that tradition almost a century later and continued racing at the track until 2015 using a road course configuration during the run.

Open wheel racing was also featured with Formula One using the track for Grand Prix events beginning in 1998 and ending in 2012. The F1 race featured a road course configuration similar to the Moto GP configuration.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s ownership by the Hulman family continued to grow the speedway and its fame. With the Hulman connection to the track, the family also earned enough money to fund colleges in their native Terre Haute.

The speedway and the Indy 500 have also continued to connect young viewers to Jim Nabors. Supported by Purdue University’s marching band, Nabors sang “Back Home Again in Indiana” prior to the start of the event. As Nabors health declined before his death, a capella group Straight No Chaser and Chicago Blackhawks singer Jim Cornelison performed the song.

Happy Indiana Day!

A day of celebration of all things Hoosier

That’s right, today is Indiana Day. It was on this day in 1816 that the Indiana Territory was officially recognized as a state. The granting of statehood to Indiana made it the 19th state admitted to the Union. Each year since 1925, the Indiana General Assembly proclaims this date as an anniversary to celebrate all things of the Hoosier State. Of course, two years ago during the state’s bicentennial anniversary the festivities and acknowledgements were much more impressive and manifold than the usual offerings. Interesting note, the state flag was only adopted more than a century after statehood. By waiting until 1917, Indiana was at that point the only state without a flag. The state did adopt a seal in 1801 and affirmed it again in 1816 during the push for statehood.

State Seal of Indiana

The initial efforts to achieve statehood for Indiana were begun on April 19, 1816 when President James Madison signed an Enabling Act that provided for the election of delegates to a convention at Corydon to consider statehood for Indiana. Forty-three delegates convened June 10–29, 1816, to draft Indiana’s first state constitution.  The location for the convention has been memorialized in Corydon as the Constitution Elm. The memorial is a preserved portion of an elm tree the delegates gathered under for shade during the scorching summer hours of the convention. Corydon would remain the state capital for nearly a decade and was moved to the more central location of Indianapolis in 1825.

Indiana was able to grow even after statehood thanks to the National Road through the center of the state and by its advertised abolitionist leanings. The framers of the first Indiana Constitution included provisions that slavery was illegal in the state and an early session of the Indiana Supreme Court declared that any person purchased for enslavement in the Indiana Territory even before statehood would be considered free. Indiana’s opposition to slavery led to an overwhelming volunteer effort for the Civil War that several prospective men hoping to enlist were turned away.

Indiana’s growth as a state after statehood was also felt in government efforts from the mid-19th Century to the early 20th Century reflected the Hoosier state’s importance in American politics which saw an Indiana resident included in every presidential election from 1880 to 1924, in all but one race. Indiana has seen only one President from their state—Benjamin Harrison, but has seen five Vice Presidents: Thomas Hendricks (Cleveland), Charles Fairbanks (T. Roosevelt), Thomas Marshall (Wilson) , Dan Quayle(George H.W. Bush), and current Vice President Mike Pence.

Indiana was only the second of the several states comprising the Northwest Territory to gain statehood. Ohio earned its statehood 13 years earlier. Illinois would receive statehood just two years after its neighboring state of Indiana had earned theirs. Michigan would take another two decades, and Wisconsin and Minnesota would be admitted in the decade just preceding the Civil War.

Happy Anniversary to the Crossroads of America and every Hoosier by birth or choice (Yes, this includes you Purdue alumni too)!

“Indiana” by Arthur Franklin Mapes

God crowned her hills with beauty,
Gave her lakes and winding streams,
Then He edged them all with woodlands
As the setting for our dreams.
Lovely are her moonlit rivers,
Shadowed by the sycamores,
Where the fragrant winds of Summer
Play along the willowed shores.
I must roam those wooded hillsides,
I must heed the native call,
For a pagan voice within me
Seems to answer to it all.
I must walk where squirrels scamper
Down a rustic old rail fence,
Where a choir of birds is singing
In the woodland . . . green and dense.
I must learn more of my homeland
For it’s paradise to me,
There’s no haven quite as peaceful,
There’s no place I’d rather be.
Indiana . . . is a garden
Where the seeds of peace have grown,
Where each tree, and vine, and flower
Has a beauty . . . all its own.
Lovely are the fields and meadows,
That reach out to hills that rise
Where the dreamy Wabash River
Wanders on . . . through paradise.

Be sure to eat some Sugar Cream Pie and sing “On the Banks of the Wabash, Far Away” to commemorate the event. It’s honest to goodness Indiana if you do.




History Monday #36

Though the odds weren’t great, a new college would be founded after all on this day.

Ave Maria, adiuva nos inventus est collegium. No, St. Elizabeth never told this to the Virgin Mary and most Roman Catholics don’t actually pray this prayer on a regular basis, but it’s at least likely that a handful prayed this prayer for the new college they were planning to found and we look back on that college’s founding in today’s #HistoryMonday.

Rev. Edward Sorin, C.S.C. | First President of the University of Notre Dame du Lac

On this day in 1842, Father Edward Sorin and seven brothers both of Irish and French descent and belonging to the order of the Holy Cross arrived in South Bend, Indiana to establish a college. The establishment of the college was blessed by the Bishop of the Vincennes diocese, Célestine Guynemer de la Hailandière. Bishop Hailandière was hopeful that a college in his diocese could expand the Catholic presence in the state of Indiana. With Bishop Hailandière’s blessing and encouragement to instruct the faithful, Fr. Sorin named the new school in the name of Mary and a nearby lake—University of Notre Dame du Lac.

Early seal of the University (1876-1901)

The University began life as an all-male school for primary and secondary education. As it grew beyond the original buildings, it received an official charter as a college by the Indiana General Assembly in January of 1844.

The original campus was comprised of only three buildings: a log chapel, the priest’s house, and a shed. At the time of the college’s founding, most of South Bend was mostly frontier and predominated by Protestant believers. Eventually, more buildings were constructed as the college also served as a missional outpost to the local Potawatomi tribe and a church for the local parish.

fast forward

Notre Dame rose to greater prominence with their football team in the early 20th Century. Led by James L. Morrison and Jesse Harper, the Fighting Irish would gain attention to their use of the forward pass as part of the offensive strategy. One of Harper’s star talents, Knute Rockne would take over and become the team’s winningest coach. Thanks to their success on the gridiron, several primary and secondary schools would choose their fight song with appropriate words to the tune of “Victory March” the university’s fight song. (My own high school being one such school).

Notre Dame Fighting Irish logo.svg

Notre Dame has also garnered attention for its commitment to quality undergraduate and graduate programs including law, business, and religion among others. Even student athletes have often been tasked with maintaining high academic standards during their college careers.

Current seal of the University of Notre Dame

Notre Dame is also integral as a Catholic institution. While at times this has drawn negative attention, including the 1988 Notre Dame v. University of Miami (FL) football game dubbed the “Catholics v. Convicts” game. Outside of this event, strong anti-Catholic skirmishes have also happened off the football field. In particular, Ku Klux Klansmen have had negative involvement with faculty, students, and other officials at Notre Dame. Luckily, as the KKK’s influence waned in Indiana, the near-violent conflicts subsided. The Catholic influence is still felt at the university as an overwhelming majority of the student body identifying as Christian, and in particular as Catholic. Mass is celebrated over 100 times each week, and each residence hall on campus has a chapel located in the building for a total of 57 chapels on campus. While the student body is by majority Catholic, there are faith organizations including Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM), Orthodox Christian Fellowship, Jewish Club, Muslim Student Association, as well as others. Notre Dame is likely one of the top symbols of the Catholic world outside the Vatican.

Notre Dame has also been the object of reference in television and film. Pres. Josiah Bartlett in The West Wing is an alumnus of Notre Dame with degrees in economics from the university, Pres. Ronald Reagan played star halfback George Gipp in the Knute Rockne biopic, and of course Sean Astin starred as Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger in the eponymous film Rudy.

Admittedly, I grew up being a fan of Notre Dame football and the university itself. However, as my secondary education continued, my academic efforts languished, and I realized that the University of Notre Dame might not be where I’d complete my post-secondary education. That, and the climate of Northern Indiana helped seal the deal.

What connections do you make with the University of Notre Dame?

History Monday #25

Today in 1812, Southern Indiana falls victim to hostility from local Native Americans.

It’s time for #HistoryMonday once again, and today’s topic makes me nostalgic for my 4th and 8th grade social studies classes. For those unfamiliar, Indiana Department of Education requires that students in those grades study Indiana history as part of the social studies curriculum. Admittedly, I don’t remember learning about today’s event though.

On this day in 1812, several Native Americans comprised mostly of the Shawnee tribe attacked settlers in the Indiana Territory at a town known as Pigeon Roost. The town consisted of several houses near the current town of Underwood in Clark County. The town was named for its prevalence of passenger pigeons. This extinct species of pigeon is also the basis for the naming of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

Pigeon Roost.jpg

The settlers of Pigeon Roost were technically living in land not legally available until the passage of the Northwest Ordinance. Early American politicians didn’t enforce the legality of the settlement but warned that without official deeds there wouldn’t be guarantee of safety from unfriendly Native Americans and their British allies.

The war party killed many members of the Elias Payne family, and then moved on to kill members of the Collings family. William Collings is alleged to have killed four of the Native American raiders before escaping to the Zebulon Colling’s blockhouse. Mrs. John Biggs, sister of William Collings managed to escape the raiders too, but unfortunately lost a young child who suffocated after Mrs. Biggs stuffed a shawl around his mouth to muffle his whimpers to prevent the raiders from discovering the family’s whereabouts.

As news of the massacre spread, a militia from Charlestown was dispatched to deal with the Native American raiders. The war party escaped before the militia reached their position. Members of the Indiana Rangers, a mounted militia responsible for protecting white settlers from Native American attacks eventually met up with the war party near Bartholomew County and clashed with the war party, sending the Native Americans back to their homes. The Rangers did suffer a casualty, John Zink.

The leader of the raid was believed to be a Shawnee, Missilemotaw.  He claimed to be a confidant of notorious chief Tecumseh, who waged many more raids and battles with Indiana settlers in the pre-statehood era.

fast forward

As far as the impact of what this raid means today, there have been no Native American attacks lately. It’s worth noting that the Pigeon Roost Massacre was the first Indian attack in Indiana during the War of 1812. Missilemotaw confessed upon his capture that the Pigeon Roost Massacre was aided by British forces who hoped to cripple the young United States in the War of 1812.

Today, there exists a memorial placed near the site in 1904. The memorial is an obelisk [Washington Monument-style shape] carved from Bedford limestone and stands 44’ tall. It is dedicated to the memory of the 2 dozen settlers who perished in the massacre. Some 25 years after the memorial was dedicated, Indiana declared the area a state historic site. In 2004, Indiana placed a historical marker along US Route 31 near the site to help tourists find the memorial.

There is also a replica cabin and picnic shelter built in the area. The picnic shelter is host to an annual picnic of the surviving descendants on the Sunday following Labor Day. So, if you’re inclined or can prove your ancestry try to show up and enjoy the food and fellowship.