A Biplane, A Walnut Tree, and an Uncomfortable Laugh at Dunn Meadow

Here at the Indiana University Archives, we usually blog about our more inspirational and heartstring-pulling stories. Today, though, I want to share with you a thrilling tale of daring and disaster. Our director Dina Kellams recently perused IU’s new subscription to NewspaperARCHIVE, a tremendous resource to more than 1,000 historical newspapers in Indiana. She shared a 1911 clipping from The Tribune (from Seymour, Indiana) detailing an airplane crash in Dunn Meadow here at IU.

Plane crash on Dunn Meadow, Arbutus yearbook p.113. IU Archives image no. P0022444

On October 11 that year, the adventurous aviator Horace Kearney attempted an exhibition flight at Dunn Meadow. In front of a crowd of hundreds, Kearney took off and almost immediately crashed into a walnut tree.  I must admit that the paper’s description of the crash put me into a fit of laughter. As someone who grew up in an era of The Simpsons and Johnny Knoxville, I have always been tickled by slapstick comedy and stunts-gone-wrong. Fortunately Kearney survived the crash (I would not have laughed if he hadn’t!), but his story shows the real dangers of aviation as entertainment. It also gives us an opportunity to see what Dunn Meadow looked like in 1911.

When Kearney came to Bloomington for his October 1911 flight, he had been flying for only two years. The St. Louis native started aviation only six years after Wilbur and Orville Wright made their historic Kitty Hawk flight in 1903. Kearney was a flier for the Curtiss Exhibition Co., a company that hired fliers and sent them on tours across the U.S. to exhibit aviation for an excited public. Fliers such as Kearney led a life of glory and possible disaster. Fellow aviator Baxter H. Adams claimed he learned to fly after he heard Curtiss was paying Kearney $600.00 per flight (more than $15,000 today). The rewards, however, came with significant risks. Baxter claimed Kearney broke fourteen bones just training to fly. An Indiana Daily Student preview for Kearney’s Dunn Meadow flight reveals:

“While flying in St. Louis in August, Mr. Kreary [sic] had the misfortune to run out of gasoline directly above a house. As he could not make an immediate descent he lost control of his machine and was hurled to the ground. He received injuries placing him in the hospital for several weeks.”

Like other daredevils such as skateboarders or BMX riders, aviators simply had to expect crashes. Obviously, though, the risk of serious injury or death was more severe for aviators. When I expressed my horror about this, University Archives photographs curator Brad Cook explained to me how biplanes were built to withstand inevitable crashes. They were lightweight enough to allow pilots to “glide” to the ground. Even so, gravity was not kind to Kearney on October 11, 1911. He came to Bloomington for Booster Day, a city celebration featuring entertainment and merchant sales. Kearney was to make two flights: one around IU’s campus and another around downtown Bloomington. The crash happened early in the first flight. The IDS described his unsuccessful takeoff at Dunn Meadow:

“Kearney came sweeping down the field at about forty miles an hour clip in an endeavor to get under headway, when he saw a wire fence a short distance ahead which forced him to go into the air too soon. With his attention riveted upon righting his machine, Kearney shot into the air and straight toward a walnut tree…The machine brushed against the tree and fell. Kearney was hurled to the ground, lighting upon his neck and shoulders.”

The paper continued to describe the public spectacle of the crash. The people of Bloomington rushed the crash site:

“When the machine came crashing to the ground the great crowd that had assembled to witness the flight remained motionless for a moment, and then stampeded toward the fallen man like a herd of wild cattle. Men, women, and children fought to get a sight of Kearney and the damaged machine.”

This is important because it brings me to my first point in this post: why was my initial reaction laughter? This IDS passage shows how that reaction is predicated on a history of people being wildly entertained by crash disasters. And the Class of 1912 Arbutus even made a witty goof of the event:

“October 11: The Dunn meadow aviator took a fall. About 300 students, who had previously expressed their willingness to accompany the aviator, were now glad that they had been overlooked when the invitations were sent out.”

In other words, people have been finding thrills and comedy in disaster for quite a while. So what happened to Kearney? He recovered after convalescing at a Bloomington doctor C.E. Harris’s home, he returned to St. Louis for biplane repairs (the plane itself was a total loss, but the engine and some parts were unharmed in the crash) and continued as an entertaining aviator. Tragically, but perhaps unsurprisingly, Kearney died about a year later (December 1912) in a hydroaeroplane accident near Los Angeles. Kearney and a journalist, Chester Lawrence, were found at sea shortly after they took off in a Curtiss Hydroaeroplane (affectionately named “Snookums” by Kearney) near Redondo Beach. Kearney’s death is evidence of both the extreme dangers of early aviation and the determined adventurousness of early aviators. To put his final flight in context, Amelia Earhart’s first flight across the Atlantic Ocean was not until 1928—a full sixteen years after Kearney’s final flight into the Pacific Ocean. Earhart’s final flight was not until 1937. Indiana University witnessed an extraordinarily early aviation event when Kearney flew his Curtiss biplane into that walnut tree in 1911.

I hate to leave this post on such a morbid note, so let’s take one last look at Kearney’s amusing Bloomington flight. We can also use this event to give us some historical detail about Indiana University. Specifically, Kearney’s flight shows us what Dunn Meadow was like in 1911. I thought it was odd that Dunn Meadow could provide enough runway space for an airplane. It turns out that before the 1920’s, Dunn Meadow was much larger—it extended all the way to 10th Street. Dunn Meadow also served as a golf course at this time. Take a look below:

Dunn Meadow Golf Course, ca. 1917. IU Archives image no. P0025683
Dunn Meadow Golf Course (HPER building to right), ca. 1917. IU Archives image no. P0022957
Dunn Meadow Golf course, ca. 1900. IU Archives image no. P0049306

A Day in the Life: Pauline Day’s University Years Through Her Scrapbook

A picture is worth a thousand words. I would argue that a scrapbook is therefore worth tens of thousands of words. Scrapbooks are ways for people to collect photos, objects, and other items they deem important in order to reminisce on them later. Of course, as years go by, the value of the scrapbook changes. For modern researchers, scrapbooks become windows into a world that does not exist anymore, or at least one that is very different.

Pauline Day pictured with two unknown men
Pauline Day (foreground), circa 1915.

Pauline Day’s scrapbook is no different. She lived in Indiana her entire life, starting when she was born in Dunkirk, Indiana in 1894. She and her parents lived in Winchester for most of her life. She came to Indiana University in the fall of 1912 to get her degree in English, though she also took several courses in education. Looking in the Arbutus yearbook of 1916, one might wonder what Pauline did in her spare time, considering she was not part of any student group or sorority chapter. For all intents and purposes, it seemed like she wasn’t very involved in anything. Her scrapbook tells a different story.

Continue reading “A Day in the Life: Pauline Day’s University Years Through Her Scrapbook”

Bringing Luck to the Diamond: Superstitions in Baseball

I.U. baseball player Bill Blaise waiting for the home run ball, 1936. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

Opening Day has once again arrived for Major League Baseball, bringing with it the freshness of spring and the warmth of summer. The excitement of a brand new season instills a sense of euphoria in fans, and reminds them the long days of summer are not far behind. An April 4, 1933 clipping from the Indiana Daily Student captured the excitement of a new baseball season for students, declaring unkind those professors who dared schedule exams on the day of the first game.

Nomination for worst professors in April 4, 1933 Indiana Daily Student. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

As teams emerge from their winter hibernation and make their way back to the diamond, they will begin preparing themselves for both the physical and psychological rigors of the game. For superstitious players in particular, the baseball season can be a grueling stretch of routines and beliefs intended to build confidence and ward off bad luck. Baseball superstitions are as old as the game itself, and the very mention of the word brings a feeling of unease among players and fans. While some are humorous, some have become so ingrained in baseball culture they are now enforced as law.  Lyle Green notes some basic superstitions include never stepping on the foul line when walking on and off the field, and above all never mentioning an in-progress no-hitter.

Carl Erskine, a native of Anderson, Indiana, pitched for the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers from 1948 to 1959. When he was interviewed in 1973 as part of a folklore class at I.U., Erskine detailed the near paranoid levels of superstitions prevalent at the Major League level. Some of the more trivial include the Dodgers’ Leo Durocher, who as third base coach would kick third base before taking his position. Dodgers pitcher Billy Lowes was adamant on sitting in the same spot in the dugout, and always wore the same clothes when he was on the mound. Chicago Cubs first baseman/outfielder Phil Cavaretta would take two warm-up swings of the bat while in the on-deck circle. Before taking a third swing, he would spit in the air, and then hit it.

“Splat, and he was ready to hit,” Erskine recalled.

Though he was surrounded by superstitious players, Erskine himself stated that while he tried avoiding becoming engrossed in superstitions, it was nonetheless challenging to prevent being swept up in them.

“It’s so difficult that I found myself not going to the same seat on the bench, not wearing the same sweatshirt every time I pitched, not walking back the same way each time, to the point where one day I realized…well, I’m being superstitious about not being superstitious,” Erskine said.

Superstitions can be found everywhere on the diamond, including food. Good nutrition undoubtedly keeps the body healthy and in top physical condition, but for the superstitious player it can be the difference between a memorable day at the plate or one better off forgotten. Jay Grohowski, an I.U. baseball player interviewed in 1981, noted the effect something simple like a pre-game hot dog could have on a player’s day.

“You have a hot dog and you go 6-for-8 on a doubleheader, and you go home and…you think, ‘what did I have last game for lunch?’ and you have the same thing again.”

A good meal can certainly keep a player calm, but where the food is consumed can be just as important. Harold Halman, another I.U. baseball player, discussed the role of McDonald’s for a player’s success.

“So happens you go out, the team does well, and you play fairly well, and next day you go there. ‘Let’s all go to McDonald’s, like yesterday,'” Halman said.

Indiana Daily Student clipping welcoming the 1936 baseball season and encouraging fans to bring their favorite razzes to the diamond, April 7, 1936. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

Superstitions can take hold of fans in ways similar to players, though their rituals morph into a communal effort intended to will the home team to victory or support an individual player’s effort. From turning hats inside-out during rallies to tapping bobbleheads, fans become consumed in the moment, and almost work harder than the players themselves to snag victory from the opponent. While Erskine’s mother was listening to her son throw his first no-hitter in 1952, she continued ironing the same tablecloth throughout the entirety of the game, believing any attempt to stop would squander Carl’s efforts.

Clipping from April 4, 1933 Indiana Daily Student heralding a new baseball season. (Indiana University Archives, C624, Box 2.)

“She related my good fortune to what she was doing,” Erskine later said. “She probably felt that she had quite a bit to do with that.”

The beginning of a new baseball season signifies the oncoming days of spending long summer days basking in the sun at the ballpark. For teams and fans looking to keep bad luck at bay, the strains of the game can result in habits and routines seen as bizarre by outsiders but viewed by player’s and lovers of baseball as being essential to keeping a level head when out on the diamond.

Both the the IU Folklore Institute’s student papers collection and the IU Athletics Manager’s Books were mined for this post. If you follow those links, be warned – the student papers collection is HUGE and takes a long time to load. Click “Entire Document” on the left and then walk away for a bit while it loads!

Into the Unknown: Theodore Bowie and “The Arts of Thailand”

Theodore R. Bowie, an art historian known for his work in what was at the time an underrepresented field – the history of Asian art- wore many hats during his time at Indiana University. A newly acquired and now-processed collection of Bowie’s papers containing a large number of photographs, letters, lecture notes, publications, and preparatory documents for perhaps the largest undertaking of his career, i.e. a 1960 exhibition named “The Arts of Thailand,” has allowed me a peek into the life of this prolific academic. Partially complete drafts of his memoir paint an inspiring picture of the man whose unflinching eagerness for professional involvement, passion for learning and travel, and unwavering confidence managed to bring the art of Thailand to the United States for the first time in history.

Cover of the softcover catalog for the 1960 opening of “The Arts of Thailand”

Originally educated and trained in the study of French literature, Bowie first displayed the nimbleness with which he moved through his career, throughout a multitude of academic positions and areas of expertise, when he moved into the discipline of art history. Bowie joined the Art Department as an associate professor at Indiana University in 1950. His relative lack of background in the field made him an uncertain candidate for tenure. Noticing his supervisor’s hesitancy in granting tenure, Bowie suggested his own installation as a librarian and guardian of the department’s new Fine Arts Library, a position which provided the ambitious and optimistic professor the opportunity to become involved in curating.

After mounting five shows dealing with the arts of Japan and China, in 1955 Bowie was approached by Henry Radford Hope on behalf of then-president Herman B Wells asking for a show demonstrating the art of Thailand. This request for a Thai art show came at a time when IU was one of multiple state schools participating in an exchange program with the Southeast Asian country. American universities sent faculty in a variety of disciplines and their families to Thailand for eighteen to twenty-four months and, in turn, Thailand sent undergraduate and graduate students to study at its partner universities. Bowie agreed to take on the immense task, despite having no knowledge of Thai art. After inquiring with the National Gallery in DC as a location to inaugurate the show, he was met with a polite but firm “no.” Although “The Arts of Thailand” would go on to travel to a number of large internationally recognized museums across the US, Western Europe, and Japan, contributing institutions agreed that the show would open, for the first time, in Bloomington, Indiana in 1960.

Promotional material for “The Arts of Thailand” at Indiana University.

For Bowie, the formation of his selection committee was critical in facing the large task that now confronted him. He brought on Kojiro Tomita, a specialist in Japanese art from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; Alexander Griswold, an archaeologist and paleologist specializing in South Asian art; and Prince Subhadradis Diskul, the curator in chief of the national museum in Bangkok, to assist him in the project and teach him the ins and outs of Thai art. One of the few rules Bowie had in organizing the show was that none of the works were to be on loan from dealers, but rather from personal collections. A large number of the pieces featured, therefore, ended up coming from the collections of the Thai royal family. Bowie writes in his memoirs of the collectors hesitancy to let their best pieces travel, a cautiousness which was remedied by both Griswold’s personal connections and Bowie’s assertion that if Thailand wanted the global exhibition of its art to be on par with those of its East Asian neighbors, he would only accept the best.

Once the loans of the nearly three hundred and fifty works of art, many of which were large sculptural pieces, were secured, Bowie employed a Thai photographer to document them for the catalog. One of Bowie’s biggest challenges with the exhibition was transportation of the loaned pieces. As the show traveled around the world, Bowie was effectively responsible for each piece’s safety for the entire two years for which it toured. The pieces were stored in crates made from native Thai teakwood. During the entire duration of the shows global lifespan, the items were packed or unpacked over twenty times. Transported by large naval ships, the crates had to be stored on the top decks and protected from the elements, as opposed to in the more enclosed holds. This unique accommodation was necessitated by the sacred nature of a number of the items and the belief that to stand or walk above or on an image of the Buddha was sacrilegious. The Thai curators who accompanied the works abroad had never had the experience of traveling works of art across continents, and these logistical considerations provided additional job training and experience for them.

Pieces for the exhibition being transported using ships belonging to the US Navy.

On a local level, Bowie was confronted with the complication that what would become the IU Art Museum was still under construction (part of the present day Fine Arts Building)– a problem which he solved by creating a dynamic show spread across three locations: IU’s Auditorium, The Lilly Library, and the Art Center Gallery (what is now the Grunwald Gallery). The unconventional settings, although facilitating greater access and public engagement, presented security concerns, as the various locations were not equipped with surveillance or guards. The safety of the Thai art work was ensured, however, by a detachment of university ROTC officers who provided twenty-four hour security. The Auditorium held sculptures from a variety of periods, with many of the larger pieces having to be displayed on the floor because of their weight. The Art Center Gallery displayed paintings from the collection of the King of Thailand and theatrical masks, while the Lilly featured displays of Thai books, manuscripts, and richly decorated lacquer cabinets. A number of the visitors to these exhibition areas would have, on their way to other events on campus, stumbled across lobbies for the three exhibition areas decorated in vibrant silks and been enticed to stay and linger with the treasured pieces on display. Well-received by students, faculty, and administrators at IU “The Arts of Thailand” would prove to be a huge success with audiences throughout its two year run, and inspired both a film of the same name and a follow-up exhibition, “The Sculpture of Thailand,” in the 1970s. Recently digitized, the film is part of the IU Libraries Moving Image Archive and can be accessed here through Media Collections Online.

“Thai Arts Exhibition,” 1960 in the Art Center Gallery (now the Grunwald)

“The Arts of Thailand” was a massive undertaking for its time, fraught with a number of obstacles which Bowie seemed to blithely address in stride. Describing his mindset in undertaking the show, Bowie wrote:

 “I had hoped to talk about it to Henry [Radford Hope] and Herman B Wells, but alas Henry is gone and I will never know whether the thought had occurred to him that here was a non-existent museum, represented by a little known member of his Art Department who was not an authority on anything and had published nothing, who was generally (and loosely ) familiar with Far Eastern Art  but totally ignorant of Thai art, proceeding as an equal with some of the most important museums in the country to bring to this country and circulate a large collection of works of art of all kinds, easily deserving because of the scale and quantity of objects of the term “blockbuster,” …The odd thing is that at [the] time in question, about 1959, I was not in the least fazed by those duties that I had not applied for. I was, however, certain that I could carry it out as expected and never lose any sleep over the matter”

As an aspiring curator and a student pursuing my master’s in art history, the discovery of the life of Ted Bowie has been timely. Coming to the field of art history with, as a former studio major, what felt like less background than my cohort, was daunting. As I am again veering off in a different direction, away from academia and, hopefully, into the field of curating, I often find myself riddled with uncertainty. Starting the grueling process of applying for jobs, I find myself doubting my qualifications. Coming across Bowie’s words, and researching his life, one which progressed not in a straight and proscribed line, but in a joyous meander driven by his passions and ambitions, I am reminded that, perhaps, it is good to wear a few hats throughout one’s lifetime. Bowie’s brazen self-confidence has come as a perfect rallying cry, a reminder to question not whether we are capable, but rather what things we might be capable of.

An undated portrait of Bowie found in his personal archive – The Theodore Bowie Papers

Behind the Curtain: Katie Morrison, Archives Assistant

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. 

What is your role in the IU Archives? Katie works as a processor in the IU Archives.  She helps with the arrangement and description of record collections.

What is your educational background? Katie’s educational background is rather impressive.  In 2012, She graduated with a BA from Purdue University, where she majored in Art History and minored in both English and History.  In 2014, she graduated from the University of Colorado with her MA in Art History.  She is currently working on obtaining her MLS with a specialization in Archives and Records Management. She will graduate in the summer of 2019. She was recently accepted into the PhD program in Information Science at IU and will start fall of 2019!

What previous experience do you have in archives? Her fascination with the archival field began at a young age.  This was due in part to her parents, both of whom are history professors.  This fascination followed her into adulthood, all the way to the University of Colorado.  While working on her master’s thesis, Katie spent a fair amount of time with the Jerome P. Cavanaugh Papers and Detroit Free Press photographs at the Walter Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs.  Though she had enjoyed her previous use of online archival resources, it was this experience that held the greatest impact on her.  “It was pretty much the transformative experience of my life…. that hands-on experience was big for me,” says Morrison.

What attracted you to work in the IU Archives? Katie approached the IU Archives after some encouragement from other student workers to apply.  “I knew this would be the best place on campus to get hands-on processing knowledge, and everyone I met was instantly encouraging and warm”, she says.  It would also seem that she has found camaraderie with several co-workers who also happen to be Boilermakers.  “Go Purdue!”

Favorite item or collection in the IU Archives? The Leon Varjian papers are Katie’s favorite collection in the IU Archives.  “IU is fortunate to have such great documentation of counterculture happenings on campus in the 1960s and 1970s. Varjian’s cartoon map of Bloomington as “Fun City” reminds me of some of my favorite irreverent counterculture art collectives like Drop City. It’s smart without being pretentious, funny, and inherently political.”

What project are you currently working on? Katie curated an installed an exhibit here, “Thomas Sebeok and the Scientific Self,” using materials from his collection (she is also close to finishing the processing of that collection). She wanted to show how Sebeok brought together a range of disciplines in his scholarship. “There remains such a mystique about how academics think and work, and I wanted to demystify that a bit while still acknowledging his prolific intellect.” The exhibit is open through the end of March.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives? Despite being a “cynical person”, Katie says that every week brings a new favorite experience.  “Everything from reading letters written in the 19th century, to installing an exhibition, to encoding finding aids…it’s all a joy,” she says. She particularly enjoys assisting with outreach and class sessions with undergraduates.

What is something you have learned about IU by working in the Archives? Overall, Katie has learned that IU has a deep and rich history.  The knowledge of this history would not be possible without the hard work put in by the University Archives and its affiliates.  “The diversity of materials and stories contained in this archive is extraordinary. People may think a university-centered archive would be a) dull or b) small and boutique-like. Really, it is the opposite! The IU Archives has a kaleidoscope of times, materials, perspectives, and experiences to share.”