Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Indy's Mt. Rushmore

Posted By on Wed, Apr 2, 2014 at 6:00 AM

I noticed recently a request for proposals for a statute to be commissioned of William Hudnut, Indy's longest-serving and most-effective mayor.

Does Hudnut deserve a statue? Absolutely. No question.

As we gear up for our bicentennial, I'm getting excited about the prospect of celebrating our Hoosier legacy.

If you're downtown, take a walk around the grounds of the Statehouse as we finally thaw from this winter of our discontent. I did last fall, and I noticed something unusual. Yes, besides the historical marker recognizing Indiana's 1907 Eugenics Law.

I counted 10 pedestals along the north and south sides of the grounds with another four spots that could provide a base for statuary.

click to enlarge Indianapolis is second in the nation when it comes to how many memorials we have. Time to make a move for first. - HUGH VANDIVIER
  • Hugh Vandivier
  • Indianapolis is second in the nation when it comes to how many memorials we have. Time to make a move for first.

So I make this humble proposal to the Bicentennial Committee: How about we commission statues to occupy these tabulae rasae and get all Hoosiers thinking about just which of our illustrious natives represents us, our values and our spirit?

And for the sake of discussion, I thought I'd take a stab at who those 14 should be. Looking through the list of famous Hoosiers, I realized quickly that I had hard decisions to make.

So I eliminated some that you'd expect right off: Eli Lilly, James Whitcomb Riley, Kurt Vonnegut and Madam Walker are all well-represented by institutions that bear their names. I also didn't consider people associated with Indiana, but who weren't born here: Amelia Earhart, Levi Coffin, Bill Monroe and Etheridge Knight as notable examples.

Here's my list, and let the discussion commence:

  • Mordecai "Three Fingers" Brown: Earning the nickname after losing parts of two fingers on his pitching hand, this Hall of Famer turned a disability into an advantage, serving up a wicked curve ball and a career E.R.A. of 2.06.

  • Eugene V. Debs: This is the nonstarter. I can't imagine anyone putting a socialist on the Statehouse lawn, but you have to admire a guy who runs for president while in jail. Vonnegut often quoted Debs' great line, "... while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element, I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free."

  • Carl Fisher: When you consider Indy's automobile and auto racing legacies, you have to commemorate Carl Fisher.

  • Carole Lombard: Best known for being the wife of Clark Gable, she died tragically in a plane crash after a stop in her native Indiana to sell war bonds. But this talented actress starred with a slew of screen legends. Watch her at her best in the original To Be or Not To Be.

  • Steve McQueen: Beech Grove's "King of Cool" beats out James Dean and Karl Malden. I'd love it if he were depicted on the motorcycle he rode during The Great Escape.

  • Wes Montgomery: I don't feel that Naptown's importance to the jazz scene is represented enough, and Wes Montgomery's talent stands at the center of that.

  • Cole Porter: Though he was thoroughly embarrassed to ever admit he was born of circus folk in Peru, his body of songs is the cornerstone of the Great American Songbook. He beats out Hoagy Carmichael, who passed out on my mom's shoulder during the 1968 Rose Bowl game.

  • Ernie Pyle: Way before embedded journalists accompanied the military in 2003, there was Ernie Pyle, right there on the front lines covering WWII from the foot soldiers' point of view. He beats out George Ade and Kin Hubbard for his bravery, grit and solid reporting.

  • Red Skelton: Whether vaudeville, radio, film or television, America's clown lived to make people laugh.

  • T.C. Steele: Thanks to the likes of this artist and teacher, The Hoosier Group defined American impressionism and Brown County landed an artist colony.

  • Booth Tarkington: After WWII, Both Tarkington won two Pulitzer Prizes and was the most famous person in America. Today he's largely forgotten. While fellow Hoosier Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie is more widely taught in schools, Tarkington's influence remains at the namesake of the neighborhood where he lived and his character Penrod lending his name to the annual September art fair.

  • Marshall "Major" Taylor: At the turn of the last century, this cyclist was the highest paid professional athlete and famous worldwide. He died in poverty and was originally buried in an unmarked grave. Yes, I know the velodrome was named after him, but Major Taylor deserves more recognition.

  • Little Turtle: This war chief of the Miami tribe contributed to the biggest Native-American victory against American forces, and later showed great skill at diplomacy.

  • Lew Wallace: Son of a governor, lawyer, Civil War general, author of Ben Hur and architect of his own study, Lew Wallace exemplified a Hoosier version of the Renaissance Man.

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About The Author

Hugh Vandivier

Hugh Vandivier

Hugh Vandivier is an online editor for Angie’s List. He’s a proud alum and volunteer for Wabash College, holds an MSJ from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and was a board member and director of grassroots arts nonprofit Primary Colours. He also interviewed Indy native Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in 2002.

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