By Rick Hinton
“I’ve never spoken to a historical society before, so it’s a little scary. Hopefully I can tell you something that’s new and exciting for you,” journalist, copy editor and author Ashley Petry opened with her presentation to the Jan. 28 meeting of the Perry Township/Southport Historical Society. She fulfilled that wish.
Starting her freelance business in 2005, Petry is the author of three Indianapolis guidebooks: Secret Indianapolis: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure and two editions of 100 Things to Do in Indianapolis Before You Die. She divides her time between many projects, including copy editing for several publishers and as a freelance writer specializing in Midwest travel, food and the arts.
The Tuesday nights talk primarily focused upon her book Secret Indianapolis, breaking it down into four separate topics, all featured in her book.
“Basically, these are the folks that made the city great and have not gotten the attention they deserve,” Petry stated.
Colonel Richard Owen – first commander of the Confederate prisoner of war camp (Camp Morton), who held a dramatic compassion for his prisoners. “Even in dark times, we can be kind to one another,” she added; the death of African-American police officer, William Whitfield, in the 1920s, and how it finally came about that he received a gravestone in Crown Hill Cemetery; the KKK influence in Indiana and the dark tale of leader D.C. Stephenson’s infatuation with Madge Oberholtzer, effectively ushering in the demise of the KKK in Indiana. “It was the end of the KKK’s hold on politics in Indianapolis,” she declared.
Who will ever forget the Great Squirrel Invasion of 1822? Or the origin of the Martin Van Buren Elm tree? What about the Tuckaway House on the near north side and its owners, George and Nellie Meier, who always seemed to have a house full of prominent guests?
Most are familiar with the Indiana Medical History Museum and perhaps the Museum of Miniature Houses, but Petry pointed out a few not as well known: the Koorsen Fire Museum; the Indiana State Police Museum; the Dr. Who (a British SyFy television show) Museum in Camby; the Teeny Statue of Liberty Museum; and while not technically a museum – the World’s Largest Ball of Paint in Alexandria. It’s a 5,000-pound, 14-foot ball with 26,000 coats of paint that started life as a mere baseball. “Now you can go visit and add a layer of paint,” she offered. “They will hook you up with a very large paint roller.”
Recordface – vinyl artwork, with a secret artist, which has mysteriously appeared at various locations throughout the city. “Once you know about Recordface, it will find you;” the Victorian Hair Work at the Indiana State Museum; the architecture of the Indiana State Library; downtown building murals – “Orcas Passage” and “The Runner;” and The Pyramids on the north side – originally intended to be a set of nine, today there are only three.
Ashley Petry, a self-proclaimed lover of cheese, William Shakespeare and all things to do with potatoes found the perfect forum to introduce to the society members another side of the city we live in. And to keep an open eye for those “secrets that lie in our backyard.”
“The 100 Things book didn’t really give me a chance to tell the weird stories,” she said, while concluding the presentation. “Secret Indianapolis has given me that chance to share those things I find quirky and makes the city unique and interesting.”