Carole Lombard’s Swan Song
The Fort Wayne–born movie star spent the last night of her life in Indianapolis, selling World War II bonds.
Indiana has a lengthy history of patriotism. We’re headquarters to the American Legion; second only to Washington, D.C., in the number of war memorials; and at the heart of our city, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument stretches into the sky.
One month to the day after the United States declared war on Japan, an Indianapolis Star headline declared: “State Will Hold First Bond Rally.” And it did mean first. Hoosiers took the lead among all states in fundraising for war efforts, bringing out one of Hollywood’s biggest guns of the time: Carole Lombard, born Jane Alice Peters in Fort Wayne.
On January 15, 1942, the actress had a packed schedule of activities around the Circle City—flag-raising ceremonies at the State Capitol and Claypool Hotel, selling bonds at the Statehouse, and tea at the governor’s mansion. This was capped off with a huge rally, concert, and program at Cadle Tabernacle.
Each person who bought a bond received a receipt with a thank-you message from Lombard that included her photo and autograph. An untold number of receipts were distributed for the $2,017,513 worth of bonds she sold that day.
The evening event at Cadle Tabernacle thrummed with patriotic fervor, swelling with music by the IU and Purdue bands and the Culver Military Academy drum and bugle corps. A huge military pageant included soldiers from Fort Benjamin Harrison and sailors from the Naval Armory marching through, then the American Legion Auxiliary drum corps. This was followed by a series of rah-rah songs and addresses.
Lombard gave an impassioned, patriotic speech, encouraging citizens to buy bonds and stamps to fill the war chest. She reminded the Indiana audience of their heritage: “As a Hoosier, I am proud that Indiana led the nation in buying Liberty Bonds in the last war,” she said. “I want to believe that Indiana will lead every other state again this time—and we will! We won the last war, and with your help, we will win this war!”
The night’s festivities concluded with the glamorous blonde star leading the crowd in song. “The Star-Spangled Banner” was the last tune fans would hear from Carole Lombard.
In a hurry to get back to her husband, Clark Gable, in California, Lombard wanted to return that night by plane, not train. Her agent and mother, who were traveling with her, preferred the railroad, but a winning coin toss for Lombard proved fatal. On January 16, 1942, the actress died alongside 21 other TWA passengers when they crashed into Potosi Mountain in Nevada.
Tiffany Benedict Browne runs historicindianapolis.com and secretly covets Lombard’s wardrobe.