Hoosier Half-Dozen

USS Indpls

The USS Indianapolis Memorial on the Canal Walk provides a great opportunity to teach a little history and take in some downtown scenery.

Ah, summer… picnics, pools, parades – and generally time to get in a few family outings. Check out our first 2010 list of a half dozen “hidden” Hoosier hot spots right here at home. They’re out there in the open, but too often, we just drive on by. So take a closer look at each of these free sites:

1. Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis

Look down Meridian Street as you head south and there it is, the Soldiers & Sailors Monument. But have you really stopped to look? Snapped some pictures? Taken a tour?

Indiana Landmarks offers a free guided tour that tells the story of Monument Circle, past and present. Why was it built? When? What do the statues represent? Why does the woman on the top face south? What’s under the monument? And what about the buildings on the Circle? Tours begin at 11 a.m. every Friday and Saturday through October – no reservation required, but no tour if it’s raining cats and dogs. The tour departs from Borders Café at 11 S. Meridian Street, just one block south of the Circle. Suggested parking is in one of the Circle Centre Mall garages – enter from Georgia, Illinois or Washington streets.

Monument 3

Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis

“Out of town visitors are regularly impressed with the architecture and sculpture of Monument Circle,” says Indiana Landmarks volunteer tour guide, Rich Steininger. “People who live in Indianapolis take the tour too, and they find it fascinating since many of the stories about the Monument and the historic buildings on the Circle are new to them.”

See “tours and events” at www.historiclandmarks.org.

The Monument is just one of several spaces that belong to the Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District. Its southernmost point is the Monument. Walk about four blocks to the north to get to the…

2. Indiana War Memorial at 431 N. Meridian Street

Indiana War Memorial

Indiana War Memorial

The huge gray square of a building is what its executive director, Brig. Gen. Stewart Goodwin, calls the best kept secret in Indiana. “And we don’t want it to be,” he says. With that in mind, there’s been an expansion of its public image with special events that have included Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard’s swearing-in ceremony.

In a profound gesture of respect, veterans who have entered the service from Indiana now have the right to a funeral in the Memorial, with no charge for the building. “Our mission statement is to honor Hoosier veterans,” says Goodwin. “What greater honor than to offer a sacred environment for them to have their funeral service?”

Goodwin says the state has always been patriotic. “In the Civil War, three out of four eligible Indiana men who could fight did fight,” he says. At the time, Indiana was the country’s seventh most populous state. No state sent a greater percentage of soldiers to fight, however, except Delaware.

The Soldiers and Sailors Monument, on Monument Circle, was planned to honor Civil War veterans. By the time it was completed, however, the Spanish-American War had also been fought, so the monument became a testimonial to Indiana’s veterans of wars of the 19th century. The Indiana War Memorial, built to honor World War I vets, now honors all veterans in wars since World War I.

Both memorials have museums inside. The one below the Soldiers and Sailors Monument focuses on the Civil War, with exhibits reflecting the war experiences of residents from throughout the state. The museum on the ground floor of the Indiana War Memorial focuses on Indiana’s connection to conflicts, beginning with George Rogers Clark and his victory over the British in Vincennes.

Both are open Wednesday-Sunday, and both are free.

The Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District (see www.in.gov/iwm) also contains three parks and 24 acres of monuments, statues, sculptures and fountains, making Indianapolis second only to Washington, D.C. in acreage and number of monuments dedicated to veterans. It is also home of the…

3. American Legion National Headquarters at 700 N. Pennsylvania Street

American Legion headquarters

American Legion headquarters

The American Legion was founded in Paris, France, in March, 1919. Two months later, another meeting in St. Louis solidified its mission. Veterans convinced the newly-formed organization to locate its national headquarters in Indianapolis, adjacent to the Memorial. Like the others, this building is open to the public – with a small museum of its own on the fourth floor.

“A lot of people are shocked at what we have here,” says Duaine Booker, who served as a tour guide one recent afternoon. “You get a lot of reminiscing (from veterans). They get choked up when they see the berets, the uniforms, the pictures.”

Curator Howard Trace adds, “Most people don’t know the depth of the Legion. Going through the museum can give you that.”

The same holds true for a stop along the north end of the Canal Walk, at Senate between St. Clair and Walnut streets, site of the…

4. USS Indianapolis Memorial

It honors those who served aboard the USS Indianapolis, which delivered components for the atomic bomb to the island of Tinian in the South Pacific, and then was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine just after midnight on July 30, 1945. She sank just 12 minutes later.

Of the 1,197 men aboard, about 900 survived the sinking and were thrown into shark-infested waters. Because her mission was secret, no one knew the ship had gone down; no one looked for her. On August 2, the surviving crew members were spotted bobbing in the water, by chance by a seaplane pilot. The number rescued: just 317.

It’s an intriguing story, to be sure. The last naval loss of World War II. The huge loss of life. The subsequent fall of the captain’s career, and ultimately, his vindication.

In 1946 the USS Indianapolis’ captain, Charles McVay, was court-martialed and found guilty of “hazarding his ship by failing to zigzag.” In 1968 he committed suicide. Almost 30 years later, a Florida 7th grader became intrigued in the case after watching Jaws and hearing Quint, the boat captain, tell of his surviving the sinking of the USS Indianapolis. The 12-year-old made national headlines when his research convinced Congress to look at McVay’s court martial again. In 2002 the captain was exonerated.

Pieces of the USS Indianapolis story can be found throughout the country. But the ship’s namesake city holds a special place in the hearts of the survivors, who hold a reunion in Indianapolis every other year. In 1995 the monument to the ship and its crew was erected on the Canal Walk. An outdoor site, it is available to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From there, take a walk south along the…

5. Indianapolis Canal Walk

Canal Walk 1Here, literally, is history under your feet. The Walk is a portion of the Indiana Central Canal, a 19th century idea spurred on by the success of New York’s Erie Canal. It was supposed to help bring commerce westward. But with a national depression and the arrival of the train, it went nowhere, except perhaps to help bankrupt the state. The canal was never completed.

With the emergence of White River State Park in the late 1980s, however, the waterway was revitalized with beauty and recreation in mind. And the ribbon of water that flows through downtown Indianapolis for about a mile and a half, is meeting that intent.

Renovation turned the old Washington Street Bridge, the original bridge built in 1833 to carry travelers on the National Road over the White River, into a pedestrian crossing, which connects the Indianapolis Zoo and River Promenade with the park attractions on the east side of the river.

The venues in White River State Park charge admission, but the Canal Walk itself is free.

Then, with a drive to the northwest on 38th Street, take in the newest addition to the…

6. Indianapolis Museum of Art at 4000 Michigan Road (www.imamuseum.org)

IMA nature park by IMA

The new Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park at the IMA

The Indianapolis Museum of Art takes its mission outdoors with the addition of “100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park,” opening June 20 with a public grand opening celebration including tours, live music, art-making workshops and a Summer Solstice program. The park has a visitor center and numerous walking trails that highlight the landscape. As with the IMA galleries, admission to the park is free.

“The park is truly a unique experience. Every component of the park from the eight art installations to the beautiful architecture of the Visitors Pavilion was created especially for this location. The multi-faceted experience of visiting the park and experiencing art, design and nature brings our mission to life,” says Katie Zarich, museum spokesperson.

The Park is one of the largest museum art parks in the country, and the only one to feature the ongoing commission of site-specific artworks. The park site is also bordered by the White River and runs contiguous to the IMA’s current 52-acre campus, a large portion of which is comprised of historic landscapes and gardens. There is a scenic pathway running through the heart of it for walkers and joggers. The land, a former gravel pit, has evolved through a natural reclamation into its current state of untamed woodlands, wetlands, and a 35-acre lake.

The architecture of the visitors pavilion was inspired by a deteriorating leaf. Parents can point to the ceiling that was designed with alternating planks of wood and acrylic allowing sun to shine through and explain the architect’s vision of sun gleaming through the veins of a leaf. And what kid wouldn’t giggle with glee at the chance to sit on “Funky Bones,” an enchanting grouping of 20 benches that form the shape of an enormous skeleton when looked at from above.

Coming up: Another Hoosier half-dozen, this time a short drive from Indy.

Elizabeth Granger is a freelance travel writer from Fishers. She also teaches English and journalism and advises the award-winning student newspaper at Lawrence Central High School.

Read more