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

Joseph Hayes – Novelist, Playwright, Screenwriter

Joseph A. Hayes, c.a. 1987. IU Archives, C299, Box 31.

When discussing famous Indiana Authors, names such as James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Gene Stratton-Porter, and Kurt Vonnegut are the first to come up in conversation.  Yet, another Indiana Native who had a way with words is writer Joseph Hayes.  Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on August 2, 1918, Joseph Arnold Hayes was the first individual to write a novel, play, and screenplay from the same parent story, The Desperate Hours.

Joseph Hayes attended St. Meinrad Seminary High School in Saint Meinrad, Indiana, and Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis, Indiana, before coming to Indiana University with his wife, Marrijane Johnston, in 1938.  While at Indiana University, Hayes was head of the Drama Loan Service, a former department at the university, and helped establish the Brown County Playhouse, where he wrote and directed plays.  In 1949, he had his debut on Broadway with his play “Leaf and Bough.”  He would come to have a total of four plays enter the Broadway scene during his career.

News clipping, c.a. 1949. IU Archives, C299, Box 31.

Hayes wrote his most successful piece, The Desperate Hours, in 1954, and brought his novel to both Broadway and Hollywood the following year.  The Desperate Hours was a story of a fictional family living on Kessler Boulevard, which was terrorized by three desperadoes.  In an interview in 1987 over the novel, Hayes explained that The Desperate Hours “was written in truly desperate circumstances”:

“My influences were desperation. I wrote it in six weeks, working 16 to 17 hours a day. I did the thinking and took notes on the way down. (The situation in the novel) was the most dramatic thing I could think of that would relate to the most people.”

In 1955, Hayes won the first Indiana Authors Day Award for the most distinguished work of fiction by an Indiana Author.  In the same year, the Broadway play version won the Tony Award for Best Play, and Hayes won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Motion Picture Screenplay for the film version, starring Humphrey Bogart.  In 1990, The Desperate Hours film was remade, with Hayes once again participating as co-screenwriter.  Hayes stated:

Title page of The Desperate Hours; second printing, 1954. Herman B Wells Library, PS3515.A972 D4.

“Since I’m the only writer who has ever done novel, play and screenplay solo from a single work of his own I can’t let anyone else at it.”

Throughout his career, Joseph Hayes penned numerous articles, short stories, novels, plays, and screenplays, including pieces in collaboration with wife, Marrijane Johnston, who was also an author.  Together they wrote the novel Bon Voyage in 1956, eventually bringing it to Hollywood in 1962, where the husband and wife duo co-wrote the screenplay for the Walt Disney film of the same name, starring Fred MacMurray.  The hectic schedule from the film made Hayes miss the Indiana Authors Day luncheon in 1957 to celebrate his award from the previous year for The Desperate Hours:

Letter to Earl M. Hoff; January 25, 1957. IU Archives, C444, Box 2.

“Nothing would please me more than to be able to say that I could be there April 14th.  Unfortunately, I don’t know where I’ll be.  I’m working on the screenplay of the new book, Bon Voyage! — and may have to go to Italy to scout locations or to Hollywood to discuss the many details — as we want to shoot in May…”

Adapting his own writing to the theater became a hobby of Hayes’, once again adapting his 1967 novel, The Deep End, into a play.  Although writing for multiple formats, Hayes is quick to point out to Cecil K. Byrd, longtime librarian and faculty member at Indiana University, that just because someone enjoys one medium of work (books, films, plays, etc.), does not mean they enjoy the other.  In regards to his novel, The Deep End, Hayes wrote:

Letter to Cecil K. Byrd; May 20, 1967. IU Archives, C542, Box 5.

“I shall be in New York all of next week for promotion, interviews, exploitation, etc. as arranged by Viking.  A nuisance we both deplore, but apparently necessary.  I find it hard to believe that people who watch television also buy books, but apparently they do.  (It’s not set definitely, but will probably appear TODAY SHOW on May 31, pub-date.)”

To which Cecil Byrd responded:

“That promotion week in New York is a heavy drink!  Look behind you once or twice!  I’ll watch TODAY SHOW on May 31.  Hope it becomes definite.”

Letter to Joseph A. Hayes; May 24, 1967. IU Archives, C542, Box 5.

Although deemed by some as having an unsuccessful career as an author after the publication of The Desperate Hours, Hayes positively claimed:

“No book I’ve ever written could be considered a financial failure.”

In 1970, Indiana University awarded Hayes with the Distinguished Alumni Service Award, and in 1972, the Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.  Hayes died on September 11, 2006.  Through the suggestion of Cecil Byrd many years ago, Joseph Hayes’ collection materials, including letters, manuscripts, drafts, typescripts, first editions of books, other writings, and foreign translations, are now housed at the Lilly Library.  The Hayes, Joseph Arnold mss., 1941-1977 collection (LMC 2828) can be viewed at the Lilly Library by appointment.

Dancing the Night Away: Student Life in the 1950s

Margaret Albersmeyer Werling graduated with a bachelor’s in Education in 1953, and, according to her personal scrapbook, attended every sporting event, theater show, and dance that she possibly could between 1951 and 1953. While perusing her scrapbook, I discovered many interesting IU student traditions including: the decorating of fraternities for football games, the Law-Med School Boress, the Arbutus Queen Contest, and the Fall Carnival Parade.

Fraternity decorated for Homecoming, 1949

Margaret was an avid attendee of athletic events and saved programs from basketball games, track and field events, and football games. She must have truly enjoyed attending the Old Oaken Bucket games between IU and Purdue because she saved tickets and programs from 1951 and 1952. Although she did get to see IU triumph in football, she watched the Hoosiers clinch the 1953 NCAA Basketball Championship over Kansas and attended campus celebrations.

C625_PurdueIU
Margaret Werling’s ticket for the 1951 Old Oaken Bucket game

I was most intrigued by Margaret’s impressive dance card collection. Dance cards initially became popular in Vienna, Austria in the 19th century and their usage peaked in the early 20th century.  Dance cards were typically small, decorated booklets worn on a woman’s wrist or attached to her dress with a cord. Men carried pencils and wrote their names on lines next to the name of dances in the booklet.

1942 Junior Prom dance card
1942 Junior Prom dance card

Dance cards remained in fashion until the 1960s when dances became less formal affairs.  Common phrases such as “pencil me in,” “my dance card is full,” and “save the last dance for me” are all tied to the dance card culture. Many of Margaret’s dance cards have a decorated cover that reflects the theme of the dance, lists of committee members who sponsored the dance, and details about the entertainment.

Dances were all the rage at IU in the 1950s.  There were plenty of formal and informal dances to keep students busy.  Students could attend the Freshman Frolic, the Freshman Tyronian, the Sophomore Cotillion, the Junior Prom, the annual Blanket Hop hosted by Sigma Delta Chi (the honorary journalistic fraternity), the Senior Siwash, and many more!

Dance at the Union, 1951
Dance at the IU Memorial Union, 1951

A dance that became an annual tradition on campus was the Wellhouse Waltz. The first iteration of this dance was held in 1944 at the Alumni Hall of the Union. Each year, male attendees selected a freshman woman to become “Miss Campus Coed.” It was said that in order for any IU woman to become a “true coed,” her date must take her to the Well House after the Wellhouse Waltz and then kiss her for the full twelve strokes at midnight.

The Junior Prom was the most formal dance of the season and was held in the Men’s Gymnasium with a dedicated theme.  The festivities could last until two o’clock in the morning. Students must have truly enjoyed these dances because they would “end only by force of the 12:30 curfew when dates unwillingly part” (1953 Indiana Arbutus, p. 138). The theme of Margaret’s 1953 prom was “A Star Danced.”

Duke Ellington at the 1952 Dames' Ball
Duke Ellington at the 1952 Dames’ Ball

Well-known artists played at many IU dances.  In 1952, Duke Ellington played at the Dames’ Ball, a dance where women escorted the men.  According to the 1952 Arbutus, “The men reaped the benefits of inverted chivalry that evening as they were called for, paid for, and encumbered with original – and uninhibited – corsages.”  At the end of the night, one man was chosen to be “King of the Dames.”

Students voted on a Queen at both formal and informal dances. At the 1952 Sweater Hop, the Sweater Queen was selected out of twenty-nine candidates. According to the 1953 Arbutus, “each housing unit had the privilege of selecting their candidate for the competition. The list was narrowed down to five girls before the dance by several judges picked from campus dignitaries. The sponsoring housing unit then put on an all-out campus campaign.” Couples attending the dance cast their vote and the winner was presented with a cashmere sweater and roses.

Margaret must have loved her time dancing the night away as an undergraduate at Indiana University because she came back to earn a master’s degree in education eight years later. If you would like to learn more about dances at IU, look at Margaret Werling’s scrapbook, or learn about other IU student traditions, contact the IU Archives.

Walter Q. Gresham: 19th Century Judge and General

gresham001
Letter from Gresham addressed to his wife

As you walk across campus, you may notice that most buildings have names. Some names may be familiar or well-known, but others may not particularly stand out. However, the people behind some of those names can have fascinating stories. One such person is Walter Q. Gresham. Gresham, an Indiana native, was born in 1833. He attended Indiana University Prep for a year and then became a student of law. By 1854, he had been admitted to the Bar and was on his way to an illustrious career. He briefly served his home state as a member of the Indiana General Assembly; Gresham then went on to serve his country during the Civil War, rising through the ranks to become a brigadier-general. He also organized the 53rd Indiana Infantry and was wounded at Atlanta during the war, ending his time of service.

gresham003
Handwritten copy of a letter from Gresham to his wife from Vicksburg. The handwritten copy was written by his son, Otto.

During this time, he sent letters to his wife, Matilda, which can be seen in the picture above and the picture to the left. The letter pictured above includes details of his recent experiences in the war, but it also includes a touching note to his wife and children:

“Don’t be uneasy if you don’t hear from me regularly for some time for I will have very few opportunities to write. Write often & continue to direct your letters as heretofore. I think of you often, yes every hour in the day I think of my dear wife & children. It is hard to be thus separated but a man must do his duty to his country in a time like this. God bless you & the children & take care of you is my purpose. I must lay down & take a nap for I will be up at 3 o’clock in the morning. Good night.

Your Officer Husband,

W. Q. Gresham”

In the copy of the letter transcribed by his son Otto, Gresham writes from Vicksburg in July of 1963 and describes how his regiment has marched over fifty miles over only a couple days. He takes great pride in the Indiana 53rd, saying, “Never did the 53d show its superiority over other regiments as it has on this March.”

After the war, Gresham’s career rose to a national level. From 1869 to 1883, Gresham served as a US District Judge. Indiana University then conferred an honorary LL.D. upon him in 1883. President Arthur then appointed Gresham as Postmaster-general, followed by appointment as Secretary of the Treasury; however, he was not in these positions very long. In 1884, he became a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court and served in this position until 1893. Gresham was a candidate for the Republican presidential ticket in 1888, although he did not receive the nomination. In 1893, he served as Secretary of State for President Cleveland. Gresham did not serve in this position for a lengthy time, as he died in 1895.

Gresham’s legacy lived on, however, as his family donated his sword from the war to Indiana University in 1911. Sadly, IU no longer has Gresham’s sword, but his legacy lives on through the dining hall with his name on the Bloomington campus. A large collection of Gresham’s papers can also be found at the Library of Congress.

Display card for General Gresham's sword
Display card for General Gresham’s sword

Frances Morgan Swain and the League of Extraordinary (IU) Women

After 110 years of existence, the IU Student Building is being renamed in honor of Frances Morgan Swain (Miller). But wait, what’s so special about this lady?

Photograph of Frances Morgan Swain, circa 1887-1889
Frances Morgan Swain, circa 1887-1889. Note her pins from Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.

Frances “Fannie” Hannah Morgan was born in Knightstown, Indiana, in 1860. Her family appears to have been reasonably well-off (her father, Charles D. Morgan was, by turns, a lawyer, banker, and state representative), and they were members of the Fall Creek Monthly Meeting of Friends in Henry County. It is unclear when Frances met Joseph Swain, who was by turns a student (B.L.1883, M.S. 1885), professor of mathematics (1887-1891), and president (1893-1902) of Indiana University. One account by the Bloomington Courier stated that they met as students at Indiana, but there is no record of Frances’s attendance before 1887. What is certain is that they were married in September 1885, presumably after connecting over their joint Quaker heritage. And love of mathematics. Keep reading–you’ll see.

Compared to the women who preceded her as “first lady” of Indiana University, Frances was hardly the conventional president’s wife. Unlike her predecessors, she actually attended Indiana University, completing junior-level mathematics coursework over two years. She began her studies in 1887, the same year that Joseph was appointed an associate professor in the department. Even more unusual was that she did so as a married woman. She began studying in 1887, the same year that Meadie Hawkins Evermann became IU’s first married female graduate. Swain’s education took a detour when her husband was invited to join the faculty of the newly formed Stanford University in 1891–she completed her A.B. in Mathematics there in 1893.

Perhaps the most significant difference between Frances and her predecessors was her public and active commitment to effecting change on campus. When the Swains returned to Bloomington, Joseph as the new university president, Frances completed some graduate-level mathematics coursework, but soon turned her interests to the welfare of students, especially women, at the university. The historian Thomas Clark describes President Swain’s era at IU as one of rapidly increasing enrollments, which proved particularly challenging in the area of housing for female students–there was no women’s dormitory at the time, and private housing options in town were limited. Women arrived on campus from “strict homes…bound down by admonitions, taboos, and inhibitions,” and there were few means of support beyond sororities to “safely” navigate their new environment. Frances’s answer to the problem was the organization of a “Women’s League” dedicated to the self-improvement of its members as well as improving conditions for women on campus and in the Bloomington community.

Group photograph of IU Women's League officers, 1896
The officers of the IU Women’s League, as pictured in the 1896 Arbutus. Frances Morgan Swain is looking straight ahead in the center of the group.

Founded in 1895, the IU Women’s League was composed of women serving in various capacities on campus, including faculty, wives of faculty, members of campus clubs and sororities, and “unrepresented” female students–students who did not belong to a sorority or other club that provided housing or a support system. It provided educational and social programming for league members and the broader campus and Bloomington communities, including lectures, receptions, and dramatic performances. One of the League’s first speakers was Dr. Rebecca Rogers George, an Indianapolis physician who became a longtime, non-resident lecturer on female physiology and hygiene for the university. Over the years a variety of other speakers, including female educators, social reformers, and suffragists discussed current events and other topics of interest. Over time the mission of the Women’s League evolved, transitioning from a social club to a form of women’s student government.

One of Frances’s (and the League’s) most significant efforts on campus was the campaign for the construction of a Women’s Building on campus. Inspired by the existence of such facilities at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and other regional institutions, Frances and the Women’s League began raising funds so that female students at IU could have a building of their own. In March 1901, with $6500 in pledges under her belt, Frances appealed to the Board of Trustees to support the project, which she presented as a much-needed space for socializing, exercising, and relaxation. The Board responded with the following resolution:

Be it resolved, that the Trustees of the University most heartily endorsed the movement, presented and explained by Mrs. Swain, for the erection of a Women’s Building on the campus, and inasmuch as said building is to be erected entirely by private subscription, all friends of the University and of education generally are urged to aid Mrs. Swain and her association in their good work.

The campaign for the Women’s Building, essentially the first mass fundraising appeal by the university, ultimately found success through a generous matching donation offer by John D. Rockefeller. Sacrificed in the process, however, was the building’s status as a facility exclusively for women–it instead was built as the “Student Building,” and has remained so up until this week.

The Swains left Indiana when Joseph accepted the presidency of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. While the couple were doubtless as happy as, well, a pair of Quakers at a school for Quakers, their interest in the welfare of Hoosier Nation never ceased. Besides returning to campus for personal visits and university ceremonies, Frances and Joseph were the first donors to the post-World War I Memorial Fund, giving $500 each in 1921 and lobbying alumni to donate as well. In 1932, five years after Joseph died, Frances married John A. Miller, also a former faculty member of Indiana, Stanford, and Swarthmore. And a mathematics professor–see what I mean? But in Bloomington, she’ll always be remembered the most as Mrs. Joseph Swain.

As the existence of the Women’s League demonstrates, Frances Swain was not the only woman involved in promoting change on campus. The mere existence of women faculty and staff, however few, surely made a difference to the women who followed them. It is easy to overlook the legacy of women of Frances Morgan Swain’s era, when gendered social norms and expectations limited the ways they could participate in public life. The renaming of the Student Building this week is an important step to make sure they are not forgotten.