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A Bar Crawl with a Twist of Crime 

After a few drinks most people can attest that it's easy to lose track of the time. But what happens when the cocktails are designed to transport the drinker to another time and place? No, we're not talking a new powerful, hallucinogenic elixir. Instead, we're talking about a historic pub crawl in support of Indiana Humanities, which will take place on Mass. Ave on Tuesday and Wednesday evening this week.

"As a humanities organization, we didn't want to just do a bar crawl," says Kristen Fuhs Wells, Director of Communications at Indiana Humanities. "We wanted to make sure that people were getting some historic connection to Indianapolis."

Indiana Humanities organized its first bar crawl in partnership with Indiana Historical Society (IHS) last year. Due to the event's popularity, it was extended to two nights this year. Tomorrow and Wednesday 120 attendees will divide into four groups and shuffle through six different stops along Mass. Ave. "Crime and Punishment" will serve as the theme of this year's pub crawl, and each destination will offer Indy residents a glimpse into the seedier side of their city's past.

No DeLorean necessary: participants in last year’s historic bar crawl traveled through time by trolley.  - COURTESY INDIANA HUMANITIES
  • Courtesy Indiana Humanities
  • No DeLorean necessary: participants in last year’s historic bar crawl traveled through time by trolley.

"We just feel like making the humanities accessible is really part of the core of our mission," Fuhs Wells says. "So, we want to provide programming that allows people to access the humanities -- history and literature -- without feeling like they're in school or it's an academic event. It's our way to make the learning fun and accessible."

The night begins and ends at the catacombs, beneath City Market. From there, attendees will visit the former City Hall, where they will witness closing arguments from the 1925 murder trial of KKK leader D.C. Stephenson, who was accused of raping, kidnapping and killing his mistress, Madge Oberholtzer. At The Ball & Biscuit, visitors will see the apprehension of Henry Harland Shelton, who wound up on the FBI's first "Most Wanted" list after escaping from Michigan state prison in 1949. The basement of Mass Ave's newest pizzeria, Pizzology, will transform into a turn-of-the-century brothel. From there, guests will visit Art Bank Gallery, the site of a robbery from notorious Depression-era gangster, John Dillinger.

To program the event, a graduate intern with Indiana Humanities was tasked with providing IHS's historic interpreters with the background info required to reconstruct the disreputable scenes from Indy's not-so-distant past. Interpreter Robert Davie will play the undercover FBI agent who captures Shelton. "I just had so much fun during last year's pub crawl, that I jumped at the chance to do it again," Davie says. "The people over at Indiana Humanities are great to work with. They love what they do, and they have a passion for what they do and that's what kind of draws us together."

Henry Harland Shelton’s pictures from his 1949 wanted poster. Shelton kidnapped an electrical worker and fled to Indiana after escaping from Michigan state prison. When he was apprehended in Indianapolis, Shelton was offered a cigarette and a drink by the undercover agent, prior to his return to prison. - COURTESY INDIANA HUMANITIES
  • Courtesy Indiana Humanities
  • Henry Harland Shelton’s pictures from his 1949 wanted poster. Shelton kidnapped an electrical worker and fled to Indiana after escaping from Michigan state prison. When he was apprehended in Indianapolis, Shelton was offered a cigarette and a drink by the undercover agent, prior to his return to prison.

Davie is an Indy native who began working with the Historical Society as an interpreter around eight years ago after retiring from more than 35 years in the public transportation industry. Davie's wife was working with Dan Shockley at Indiana State Museum, prior to his role as director of interpretation at IHS. "They needed some extra help," Davie says. "My wife just told Dan that, 'My husband is home and he's not doing anything.' That was about eight years ago, and I've been involved ever since."

In his time at IHS, Davie has played the role of a mailman in a 1945-era grocery store, a detective on Robert Kennedy's 1968 assassination case, and more recently Harvey Middleton, Indy's first African-American cardiologist. An Indy native and Crispus Attucks graduate, Davie is old enough to have lived through some of the events he has re-created at IHS. "Even though I knew quite a bit about the area, being the age that I am," Davie says. "When you dig up and you see the struggles and things, particularly in the African-American community -- where we came from and whose shoulders that we're standing on -- it becomes more interesting."

click to enlarge Attendees at last year’s event enjoying cocktails along Mass. Ave.  - COURTESY INDIANA HUMANITIES
  • Courtesy Indiana Humanities
  • Attendees at last year’s event enjoying cocktails along Mass. Ave.

Davie believes it's important that Indy residents are aware of the positive and negative sides of its past. "We get so caught up in enjoying ourselves that we only look at the good times," he says. "Then, when something happens, such as the current crime rate, we wonder how we got here. It didn't just start. It's sort of like pouring sand on a pile. If you put enough of it there, it's going to gradually build up. That's what crime and behavior does. It builds up, but we're not paying attention because we're pre-occupied with other things."

"[Bar Crawl visitors] might be surprised at some of the stories they'll hear," Fuhs Wells says, echoing Davie, "We're always encouraging people to learn more. So attendees will receive resources if they're still interested in the story to follow-up on after the event."

Tickets for this year's historic pub crawl were priced at $50 and are now sold out. However, Davie encourages those interested to take advantage of the experiences that IHS offers throughout the year. "Having people learn and appreciate the history of where we are, where we come from and where we might be going now," he says. "It's amazing to see that nothing is different, only the clothing has changed but behavior is still the same. We have over 1.6 million photographs and documents down there. From those, we create three or four experiences each year. People can actually do genealogy research, and find out more about their families. It's a must-see and do."

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About The Author

Rob Peoni

Rob Peoni

Bio:
Rob Peoni is a freelance writer with a passion for underappreciated rock 'n' roll, local business and culture. The stories he tells are typically found where those interests intersect. The hours away from the dim glow of his computer screen are often spent scouring the Circle City for live music.

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