Indy’s Bicentennial: A Year Of Celebrations

Indy’s bicentennial-year bash boasts a signature beer and whiskey, larger-than-life likenesses of Hoosier legends, and would-be new traditions.

Illustration by Suharu Ogawa

Wait, didn’t we just throw a party? The 2016 bash was for the state’s bicentennial, not the city’s. So we get to celebrate all over again! Consider the 92-county torch relay and Bicentennial Plaza’s fountain light show a practice run.

It’s a year-long bash. Indy is officially blowing out birthday candles from June (the 200th anniversary of the state capital moving here from Corydon) to May 2021, when the Indy 500 will send the Bicentennial year out with a bang.

The Indiana Historical Society is creating a Hoosier treasure trove. Browse snapshots, letters, and audio recordings from the city’s last 200 years in a digital archive on the IHS website, and, starting in September, pop by a You Are There 1920: Celebrate Indianapolis exhibit. It includes a reenactment of an eight-part 1920 centennial pageant, which, according to The Indianapolis News, featured a “weird symbolic dance” by a giant mosquito, and whose four-hour run time was considered the production’s “one error.” (Don’t worry, the IHS is just doing a partial reenactment.)

All kinds of stories will get their due. The IHS won’t just spotlight Indy’s David Lettermans and Eli Lillys—the exhibit will showcase the city’s overlooked histories, from African-American residents displaced by the construction of Indy’s first public housing project, Lockefield Gardens, to scenes of early LGBTQ life.

You’ll have the chance to share your story. The Polis Center at IUPUI is updating the Digital Encyclopedia of Indianapolis, an online chronicle of the city’s people, places, and events, from Bush Stadium to the Burger Chef Murders. A lot has changed in the 25-plus years since the urban field guide’s 1994 debut (like hosting a Super Bowl and connecting neighborhoods via the Cultural Trail), which is where you come in. People are invited to suggest topics and comment on entries they’re knowledgeable about, so think of your best State Fair and Gen Con stories.

On the guest list: 30-foot Hoosier heroes. Oscar Robertson or Madam C.J. Walker might soon be eyeing you as you stroll an Indy street. The Arts Council of Indianapolis is planning an “Indiana Legends” mural series to commemorate Hoosiers who have left their mark on the city. The identities of the guests of honor are still under wraps, but Arts Council of Indianapolis President Julie Goodman says there “are some obvious candidates.”

It wouldn’t be a party without favors. The Bicentennial Commission garnered more than 100 submissions in its fall contest to design the celebration’s logo, from a quilt of the Indianapolis skyline to a young Zoo aficionado’s giraffe-centric sketch. Broad Ripple’s The Shop will sell T-shirts featuring the winning designs in the Overall, Youth, and People’s Choice categories.

Sun King is brewing a Bicentennial beer, and West Fork is creating a special whiskey. As if you needed an excuse to swig these suds, some proceeds from the brew will go toward revamping the city’s more than 100 playgrounds.

More details to come. A city ice-cream social, speaker series celebrating Hoosier icons, and music festival have all been floated. Taylor Schaffer, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff, says they’re seeking projects that will last beyond a year. The city’s 1970 sesquicentennial birthed Black Expo and the first Fourth of July Fireworks Spectacular, so the bar is set high.