46 Super Reasons to Love Indy

Yes, this is Indianapolis. We know we’re supposed to be polite, practical, modest. But we have to admit: All this Super Bowl fuss has gone to our heads. Turns out we like being the center of attention—and it has us feeling pretty darn good about our city.

I. The Vonneguts were here (and still are).

The new Kurt Vonnegut mural along Mass Ave has made the likeness of Indy’s most famous author a permanent fixture of the cityscape. And the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, opened in 2011, allows visitors to lay fingers on the very typewriter keys the giant once tapped (and join a live Twitter feed, @kurtstypewriter). But if these additions represent a kind of homecoming for the deceased writer (he went east decades ago), his family’s legacy never left. Structures designed more than a century ago by his architect grandfather, Bernard Vonnegut Sr. (Block building, Athenaeum), are cherished landmarks. And the Vonnegut clan’s literary heritage lives on: Kurt’s second cousin Nonie Vonnegut-Gabovitch heads Butler’s Visiting Writers Series. [Editor’s Note, June 2012: And now a hip new eatery, Bluebeard, bears the name of his book.]

II. Shapiro’s corned-beef sandwich.

III. We volunteer.

The eagerness of Hoosiers to lend a hand when Indianapolis hosts big sporting events has been well-publicized, and the Super Bowl is no exception. The NFL estimated the city would need 8,000 volunteers to pull off the party; we signed up more than 12,000. We have so many willing volunteers, in fact, that we put them to work knitting. In other words, we have volunteers volunteering for volunteers. —E.W.
IV. Pete Dye golf courses. Golfing irony: We delight in playing courses by great designers, particularly when they’re sadists. At least Pete Dye, who lives just off a fairway at Crooked Stick, is our sadist. If you’ve played that course (or any of his others), you’ve likely sunk a ball in a water hazard or three-putted a sloping green. Dye’s keen eye creates inviting shots that are, in fact, scorecard disasters. Bring on the pain. —J.S.
V. We like what America likes. This is consumer-testing ground zero. “We have a very average demographic profile,” says consultant Paul Schrock. “We’re influenced by both the coasts. We have some Southern influence, but also some northern industrial. And we’re nicely balanced in terms of our economy. It’s a representative cross section of the U.S. population.” That’s right, we’re “average”—remarkably, exceptionally average. —M.D.A.
VI. Carnegie libraries. The dignified and ubiquitous stone-and-brick buildings have come to symbolize all libraries everywhere. Starting in the 1800s, Andrew Carnegie funded the construction of nearly 1,700 of them. Indiana got 164, more than any other state. Three stand in the capital, two that still loan books. The East Washington branch just turned 100, and the Spades Park branch nearly inspired a riot last year when officials suggested closing it. —J.S.
VII. The Bob & Tom Show. Next year will mark the show’s 30th in Indianapolis, and the formula (a bunch of Joes in a studio cracking crude jokes) hasn’t changed. But the numbers don’t lie: No. 1 in the local morning ratings since 1987; roughly 4 million listeners in about 150 markets; more than 50 comedy albums. As the city has grown, so has the show. But it hasn’t grown up. Here’s hoping it never does. —M.D.A.
VIII. So close. Twice.

Gordon Hayward and Butler made the 2010 championship game against Duke in Indy (and went to the title game again a year later).
Gordon Hayward and Butler made the 2010 championship game against Duke in Indy (and went to the title game again a year later).

IX. We made the world happy.
Lilly’s Prozac changed the game as depression goes.

X. Andre Watts with the ISO. Since joining the faculty of the Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, the virtuoso pianist has been popping up at Hilbert Circle Theatre to blow our minds with some regularity, like a recurring force of nature. And he demolishes the largest works in the repertoire without even breaking a sweat. Ride the next tsunami during the weekend of April 26–28, when Watts takes on Grieg’s mighty A minor concerto. Flooding of the eyes is forecast. —D.Z.
XI. The Honorable Sarah Evans Barker. Since Ronald Reagan appointed her nearly 30 years ago, making her the first woman to sit on a federal bench in Indiana, the U.S. district judge has been a reliable firebrand. Her first major decision struck down a 1984 Indianapolis ordinance banning pornography on First Amendment grounds, rankling decency advocates and feminists alike. In 2003, she forced an end to overcrowding in the Marion County Jail, held Sheriff Frank Anderson in contempt, and cited “derelictions of duty in every branch” of city government. Now 68, she’s given no sign that age is fading her independent streak: She has called Indiana’s new immigration measure “seriously flawed” and is allowing victims of the State Fair stage collapse to challenge the law that caps the state’s liability. You’d be hard-pressed to find an influence-maker of either leaning who would cheer all of her decisions—a fine recommendation for a jurist. —C.O.

URBAN TRAILS. 51.5 miles.
We do love our cars. But with more than 50 miles of greenways connecting top destinations around town, we’re learning to take it slow—and getting noticed for it. The Project for Public Spaces honored Indianapolis alongside world-class cities like Zurich and Hong Kong for the new Cultural Trail, while msn.com hailed it as “one of America’s finest urban pathways.” —E.R.

XII. Cultural Trail

(8 miles)
The five downtown cultural districts
Along the way: 
Central Library, City-County Building, public art
XIII. Pleasant Run Trail (6.9 miles)
Connects: Ellenberger Park, Christian Park
Along the way: Kin Hubbard Memorial, Garfield Park Conservatory
XIV. Canal Walk & White River Wapahani Trail (7.8 miles)
Connects: White River State Park, Riverside Park, IUPUI
Along the way: Indiana History Center, NIFS
XV. Monon Rail Trail (16.7 miles)
Connects: Mass Ave, Broad Ripple, Nora, Carmel
Along the way: State Fairgrounds, Center for the Performing Arts
XVI. Central Canal Towpath (5.2 miles)
Connects: Butler and Marian universities, the IMA
Along the way: Historic 19th-century bridges

XVII. Fall Creek Trail (6.9 miles)
Connects: Skiles Test Nature Park, Monon Rail Trail
Along the way: Wollen Gardens, inspiring overlooks and vistas

XVIII. Peyton Manning. What can we say? The confetti-drenched Super Bowl. The four league MVPs. The wins. Lord, the wins. But for us, the defining moment of Manning’s greatness was the United Way spoof on SNL, when the QB, wearing big white sneakers and that aw-shucks hair part, told a group of kids he’d “kill a snitch.” We knew then our quarterback wasn’t just a jock with a good arm. He was a jock with a good arm who gets it. —E.W.

CIRCLE-TOWERXIX. Circle Tower. The Monument gets all the love.

But Circle Tower is the younger sister with glasses and no makeup—not as showy, but even more attractive when you get to know her. The Art Deco gem was constructed between 1928 and 1930, when an ordinance forbade buildings from obstructing views of the Monument (“Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”). Fittingly, finding the inner beauty only requires a visit to the beauty parlor: Studio 2000 on the second floor retains the ornate detailing of the original barber shop. —T.B.B.

Crown Hill Cemetery.

XX. DillingerXXI. IrsayXXII. RileyXXIII. LillyXXIV. Harrison

XXV. Mitch. Still our man! GOPers took long, longing looks at Governor Mitch Daniels as a prospective presidential candidate. Who could blame them? He balanced a state budget in economic crisis while maintaining the lowest property taxes in the country. His ties to Republican royalty (as a one-time Reagan adviser) and federal experience (former boss George W. Bush called him “The Blade”) made his flirtation with candidacy almost too titillating for budget-hawking conservatives to bear. His decision to demur broke their hearts—and, like any unrequited love, made their yearning more ardent. He coulda been a contender. But he’s still a champ in our book. —A.W.S.

MS-BROWNXXVI. Angela M. Brown. “It is said that big voices win out at the Met,” wrote one New York Times critic, reviewing her 2004 debut in Verdi’s Aida. “Ms. Brown has one, but her real secret is a purity and presence that can send even the quietest passages floating out to the back of the house.” Brown, a Crispus Attucks grad, grew up belting gospel and didn’t even think about classical training until she was an adult. Now she’s a world-traveling opera idol with a vitae of international performances. Poet Maya Angelou and composer Richard Danielpour even paired to write a song just for her. Fabulous as Brown is, though, she hasn’t forgotten where she came from, returning often to sing with the ISO and other local groups. “Opera ain’t that deep,” she has said. Just the kind of modesty we’d expect from a hometown diva. —S.D.

XXVII. We’re greener than you think. Okay, so we have a ways to go: The air quality stinks, the waters are tainted, and the mass transit isn’t mass. But it’s starting to feel like springtime in Indianapolis.
» People for Urban Progress is salvaging the old RCA Dome roof for retail products and art installations, and saving the seats from Bush Stadium for bus stops.
» Keep Indianapolis Beautiful’s tree-planting reduces strain on storm sewers and offsets the urban “heat-island” effect.
» The “Greener Welcome” landscapes and public art along I-70 established a precedent for INDOT’s use of native plants along roadways.
» The airport (where you can now plug in your electric car) and the headquarters for KIB and the Nature Conservancy have achieved LEED certification. The mayor’s Office of Sustainability has an incentive program for such efforts.
» Some 63 miles of bike lanes, a new City Market bike hub, and a coming bike-share program: Little wonder Bicycling ranked Indy a top-50 bike-friendly city. —S.M.

XXVIII. IMS Museum. Racecars on display in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum span a century of 500 winners.
XXIX. We thank our veterans. A lot of people say it. We mean it—and we back it up. Among U.S. cities, only D.C. has more veterans’ memorials, and none has more acreage devoted to honoring them.

Soldiers and Sailors Monument
Specs: 284 feet, 6 inches tall
Dedicated: 1902, to honor veterans of the Civil War and Spanish-American War, and later those of all conflicts prior to WWI
Notes: Would cost an estimated $500 million–plus to build today.

Indiana War Memorial
Specs: 210 feet tall
Dedicated: 1933, to honor veterans of WWI, and later those of all conflicts thereafter
Notes: General John J. Pershing, commander of American forces in WWI, laid the cornerstone. Modeled after the Mausoleum of Halikarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Veterans Memorial Plaza
Specs: One full city block; center obelisk stands 100 ft. tall
Dedicated: 1930, to honor all veterans
Notes: Trees and grassy landscaping added in 1975 in preparation for the national bicentennial.

American Legion Mall
Specs: Two full city blocks
Dedicated: 1924; separate monuments recognize veterans of WWI, WWII, and the Korean and Vietnam wars
Notes: The Cenotaph monument (pictured, foreground) memorializes the first U.S. casualty of WWI, Cpl. James B. Gresham of Evansville, Indiana.

U.S.S. Indianapolis Memorial
Specs: Made of gray and black granite
Dedicated: 1995, to honor the crewmen (and one passenger) of the U.S.S. Indianapolis
Notes: One of only 26 congressionally designated National Memorials.

Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial
Specs: 27 curved glass walls, 7 to 10 ft. tall
Dedicated: 1999, to honor Medal of Honor recipients in all conflicts
Notes: Among the list of nearly 3,500 names inscribed on the monument is one woman: Civil War surgeon Dr. Mary E. Walker.


XXX. Polka Boy in the Rathskeller biergarten. A band shell crowded with mostly middle-aged guys playing an oompa-style rendition of “She Blinded Me with Science.” A gravelly lot full of tipsy revelers spilling beer on your shoes. We could try to explain. But you really just have to be there.


XXXI. That shrimp cocktail from St. Elmo.


XXXII. The Mini. It’s only half a marathon. The biggest frigging half a marathon in the nation.

XXXIV. The State We’re IN. One of the world’s hottest Latin musicians is a 6-foot-tall Dominican lesbian who makes postmodern, turbo-charged merengue that plays in the clubs of her native land (and live in New York City’s Central Park). Born Rita Indiana Hernandez, she dropped the conventional surname to create her sonorous stage name. Rita Indiana: lovely, isn’t it? Powerful, clattering with hard consonants and short vowels. It scans, RAT-a-tat-a-TAT-a, like a tiny machine gun.

»  Meanwhile, actor Ethan Hawke recently named his newborn daughter Indiana. Before that, tabloids welcomed the arrival of Indiana Affleck, son of Casey. What’s good enough for an edgy dance-music phenom somehow works for American kids with Hollywood dads.


There’s artist Robert Indiana (born Robert Clark, in New Castle), whose L-O-V-E block spawned a giant sculpture, postage stamps, and a cottage industry of imitations. Mr. Indiana assumed his home state as a pseudonym after moving to New York, in what a MoMA bio describes as “a gesture that presaged his Pop-inspired fascination with Americana, signage, and the power of ordinary words.” His work has a heartland sensibility, his most famous pieces beautiful in their simplicity and forthrightness. He’s not an attention magnet like Andy Warhol, but he won’t be forgotten, here or anywhere, even if Indiana now lives in Maine.
»  And then there’s novelist and critic Gary Indiana (born Gary Hoisington in New Hampshire). He became Indiana after moving to California, and he was later a denizen of the downtown New York art scene. Over time, Gary Indiana earned a gothic reputation: As a teenager, he used to dress up in drag and steal needles for his junkie pals—echoing the blight and fear that, let’s be honest, do partly comprise the landscape of his namesake state.

» Is any other state name versatile enough to suggest such a sweeping range of experiences? (Michael Iowa? Sam Arkansas? Lucy Louisiana? I don’t think so.) Robert, Rita, and Gary don’t even live here—but they understand the power of the moniker. Indiana may be a sock-shaped parcel wedged between Illinois and Ohio, but “Indiana” is a concept, a statement. The name connotes something vast and solitary, beyond the meat-and-potatoes pragmatism we’re known for: Ours is also a place for loners, outsiders, and aching romantics.

» Archaeologist/adventurer Indiana Jones, the ultimate rugged individual, was saddled with the given name of Henry Walton Jones Jr. … yawn. “Indiana Jones,” on the other hand, cracks like a whip. So it’s not surprising that when Ben Davis grad Ron Miner moved away in the ’90s, he called himself DJ Indiana Jones. “In New York, if they can’t think of your name, they give you a nickname real quick, and it’s usually where you’re from,” he says. “I just threw the Jones on there for marketing.”


As an IU grad, I’ve come to prefer the T-shirts that omit “University” and just go with the single word—“Indiana,” arced across the chest—because they seem to champion more than the school. When you wear an Indiana shirt, you’re wearing the whole place: the glory of the ’76 Hoosiers and the chagrin of Dan Quayle’s “potatoe”; every autumn leaf in Brown County and every driveway basketball hoop; every cornfield; every thunderstorm. The idea of Indiana can burrow into you and never leave—no matter who you are, where you are, or what you call yourself. —Nick Marino

Bird, here a sophomore, was a well-kept secret for most of his basketball career at Springs Valley High School.
Bird, here a sophomore, was a well-kept secret for most of his basketball career at Springs Valley High School.

XXXIII. Bird. I grew up about 20 miles down the road from Larry Bird. And I hated him. Hated him for his schoolboy heroics at Springs Valley High, in backwater French Lick. Hated him for giving up on IU for Indiana State, then leading that podunk school to the championship game, where he became one half of a duo (Earvin “Magic” Johnson the other) that would resuscitate the ailing NBA. Hated him for his sharp elbows, maddening hustle, and the jump shot as certain as school on a snowy freaking morning. Hated him for the three consecutive MVPs, the three NBA crowns. Hated him for Game 5 in the 1991 playoffs, when, against the Pacers, he cracked his head on the parquet of Boston Garden and left the game, only to return in the second half like some resurrected hillbilly Christ to deliver the Celtics to victory (32 points, 9 rebounds, 7 assists, 1 concussion). Hated him for the proto-mullet, the cheesy ’stache, and the “Hick from French Lick” drawl. Hated him for coaching the Pacers to their only NBA Finals appearance without one iota of experience. Hated him for cleaning up former GM Donnie Walsh’s mess. And hate the fact that one day some kid’s not going to know who Bird is and will never have the pleasure of hating the best. —Michael Rubino

XXXV. Lisa Freiman.

She changed the art landscape in Indy—literally. When Freiman, head of the IMA’s Department of Contemporary Art, saw that wide-open floodplain behind the museum, she recognized an opportunity she’d never have found in densely developed New Jersey (where she’s from) or Boston (where she worked before landing here). The sprawling outdoor gallery allowed her to issue an ambitious collection of site-specific commissions that would make 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park one of the country’s largest and most-talked-about sculpture gardens.
»  Soon after, Freiman turned her attention to what you might call the Super Bowl of the international art world: the 2011 Venice Biennale. Although the privilege of commissioning works for the U.S. Pavilion has historically gone to museums on the scale of MoMA or the Art Institute of Chicago, Freiman’s proposal to stage politically charged works from a pair of Puerto Rico–based artists wowed judges and the State Department, which had rarely approved artwork so explicitly critical. The lesser-known IMA won the assignment, elevating Freiman and the institution to unprecedented visibility.
»  The downside? The art world is taking notice of the IMA’s rising star—which may well truncate her time at our fine little museum. Ah, but better to have loved and lost. —E.A.

Lisa Frieman
Lisa Frieman

ITSY-GITSIXXXVI. Naptown Roller Girls. They began as a clutch of fishnetted women skating in a church parking lot. But after five seasons of organized competition, the league draws upwards of 3,500 fans to bouts at Pepsi Coliseum and has a national rep as the scrappy underdogs of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association.

XXXVII. Dave’s Mom. For years, Late Show viewers thought David Letterman’s mother “character” was played by an actress (and, no doubt, many still do). Because how could this lovely little lady, a picture of motherhood straight from Central Casting, be real? Thank goodness not everything in show business is show. Dorothy Mengering, of Carmel, is actually Dave’s mom. And on TV, at least, her sweetness shines through as good and true as a mother’s love should. —M.D.A.

XXXVIII. Rupert. Rupert Boneham, that is, our loveable, homegrown Survivor star. The guy is a walking bear hug. But governor? We’ll see.

XXXIX. Ryan Murphy. The Glee co-creator made show choir cool again. He knew the milieu well, having performed at Warren Central and IU. And his televised musical comedy-drama made a splash when it debuted in 2009. It has since become a cultural phenomenon, with a diehard fan base of “Gleeks” and a slew of Emmy and Golden Globe awards. Rumors of tyrannical behavior dog Murphy’s reputation, but for the most part his career has been one long high note. —K.K.

(L-R) Ryan Murphy, Julia Roberts, and a colleague
(L-R) Ryan Murphy, Julia Roberts, and a colleague

XL. The Children’s Museum. Largest one in the world. And it has dinosaurs.


XLI. Duckpin bowling. Indy has the nation’s only duckpin lanes west of Pennsylvania, and we have the owners of Fountain Square Theatre to thank. Linton Calbert was an avid bowler before the Navy shipped him off to Norfolk, Virginia, where duckpin (smaller ball and pins, three throws per frame) is commonplace. He was hooked (as it were). So when he and wife Fern took over the landmark in the early 1990s, they installed duckpin machines where a 1928 alley had been, and Action Duckpin Bowl was born. Strike! —E.W.


XLI. This guy has saved a lot of lives.

If you run into Larry Einhorn on the street, the rumpled sweater, crooked glasses, and LiveStrong bracelet might give you the mistaken impression that he’s an ordinary schmo. But Einhorn, an oncologist at the IU School of Medicine, is actually a pretty big deal. He cured cancer.
EINHORN»  When Einhorn began his research in 1974, only 5 percent of men diagnosed with testicular cancer survived. Einhorn started experimenting with a drug called cisplatin. Two years later, half of the men who used it survived. The FDA approved cisplatin in 1978; now the survival rate for men with testicular cancer is 95 percent. And the “penicillin of cancer drugs” is also the leading treatment for bladder, lung, ovarian, and thyroid cancer.
»  Some 200,000 young men are alive as a result of Einhorn’s breakthrough. One of them, Lance Armstrong, is arguably the world’s most famous cancer survivor. After the cyclist learned he had the disease, in 1996, he consulted Einhorn. Then he won the Tour de France every year from 1999 to 2005—and fathered five children.
»  Prominent shout-outs in Armstrong’s autobiography gave Einhorn some much-deserved notoriety, and the two remain close: The good doctor attended Armstrong’s 40th-birthday party in August, and the cyclist returned the favor in September in a tweet to his 3 million–plus followers. “Happy birthday to Dr. Larry Einhorn,” it read. “Thanks for all you do including, uh, saving my life.” —A.W.

XLVI. We play here.

LUCAS-OILLucas Oil Stadium:

It has a retractable roof!

And here…

XLIII. Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
Consistently rated a top NBA arena by people who spend a lot of time in NBA arenas.

XLIV. Victory Field.
Sports Illustrated called it the best minor-league ballpark in America.

XV. Hinkle Fieldhouse.
You (yes, you) can bounce your ball on the same court where Bobby Plump sank the Shot Heard ’Round the World.

With Marc D. Allan, Elisabeth Andrews, Tiffany Benedict Berkson, Shannon Draucker, Kelly Kendall, Nick Marino, Scott Minor, Caitlin O’Rourke, Elise Renollet, Michael Rubino, John Schwarb, Amy Wimmer Schwarb, Adam Wren, and David Zivan

Some photos by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the February 2012 issue.