Pride and Prejudice

Museums? Galleries? Gardens? Here?

Back in 1981, I wrote a cover story for this magazine entitled “Indy’s Inferiority Complex.” I believe the editor stole the idea from another Midwestern city, and by that I mean Columbus, Ohio, a place that allegedly suffered from the malady. My task was to conjure up reasons why we here in the Circle City thought we sucked.

The cover, for which I was not responsible, featured a trio of well-endowed swimsuit-and-high-heel–attired models draped with beauty-queen sashes bearing the city names “Cincinnati,” “Denver,” and “Atlanta.” The fourth, a shapeless, bespectacled girl with “Indianapolis” on her cloth band, wore a stretched-out thrift-shop suit with a dented bustline, as well as a swim cap and rubber flip-flops. If the whole image weren’t bad enough, the cover line, for which I was not responsible, read “Indy’s Inferiority Complex: How Do We Stack Up?” (Stack. Ha, ha. Get it?)

I was born and bred in Indianapolis, I’m still here, and I’ve never apologized for my home. I liked it growing up when I walked the shady sidewalks to and from School 84; I liked it in 1981 as a young wife raising two boys who enjoyed First Baptist baseball and field trips to the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Inventing the cover-story neurosis was a chore, but due to my lowly staff position I followed orders, and in 10 magazine pages tried to bust the myth that competing cities—none of which included Denver or Atlanta, by the way—had better shopping, restaurants, sports, media, and arts.

The good news is, 30 years later, we aren’t making any such apologies, fictional or otherwise. The city is all grown up, nevermore referred to as Naptown or India-no-place, and bursting with all the stuff that makes cities great. Noteworthy independent restaurants have popped up all over town. We’ve got Tiffany and tenderloins; a dynamic symphony orchestra; enviable public-private partnerships; affordable housing; and low-level crime, assuming you don’t loiter around Circle Centre at 2 a.m. But we can’t keep outsiders, especially those who have never visited us here in the Crossroads of America, from their own preconceived notions.

“I’m proud of our city, but even after living here for more than a half-century, I am unfamiliar with too much of it.”

This I learned over the summer when my husband hosted a weekend meeting of fellow property-tax lawyers hailing from such big cities as Chicago, New York, L.A., Boston, and Washington, D.C. When they weren’t engaged in scintillating conversation about abstracting intangible value from real property assessments and valuation methodology discrepancies between mall and mall anchor stores, they socialized. I met many for the first time at a cocktail party on the 27th floor of a downtown office building, where I proudly marched folks from window to window to point out the majestic monuments and pristine green spaces that line Meridian Street, as well as distant views of White River and the Pyramids.

They were inspired by the streetscapes, but when I rattled off a list of tantalizing must-see attractions, they were shocked. Museums? Galleries? Gardens? Here?

One guy went to the Motor Speedway not once, but twice, so thrilled was he by the bus ride around the acclaimed track. A couple was so blown away by 100 Acres at the IMA, they took a second tour the morning of their departure. A group flipped out over the cobblestone streets and historic storefronts in Zionsville, and the lively new Main Street and awe-inspiring concert hall in Carmel. And despite a teeming rainstorm, my husband and his colleagues slogged across the parking lot to Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse to walk the iconic floor. No one admits it, but I believe tears were shed.

An art maven claimed never to have seen an installment so unusual and breathtaking as the Western display at the Eiteljorg, and even admired the bronze white-tailed deer splashing in the fountain out front. The IMA drew rave reviews for its vastness, accessibility, and varied collections; St. Elmo held its own (and then some!) against the best New York steakhouses; and the group marveled at the bustling crowds on downtown streets.

What I didn’t expect—and was unprepared for—were questions. Why was the Murat Temple built? Don’t know. Who designed Oldfields? Don’t know. What’s inside the Indiana War Memorial? How did Harrison Eiteljorg amass his fortune? Why is the American Legion based here? Don’t know, don’t know, don’t know. My ignorance rivaled my embarrassment a few years back when I got lost driving the editor of Los Angeles magazine to a restaurant on Alabama Street and had to call for directions. I’m proud of our city, but even after living here for more than a half-century, I am unfamiliar with too much of it. I frequent only my favorite destinations, passing by the places I’ve always passed by. A family member spent fun-filled summer vacation days with her kids, visiting many of the local places she’d never been before. We should all prepare bucket lists right here at home.

On the last night of the conference, the guests, still gushing over their stay at the luxe Conrad hotel, gathered for a group dinner. I was seated beside an erudite woman who had been showering praise on our city the entire weekend. “What did you expect?” I asked, aware this visit was her first. “I don’t know,” she said. “A dusty plain, perhaps. And windmills.”

The opening page of 1981’s “Indy’s Inferiority Complex” article shows our formerly awkward swimsuit model on a pedestal, her face fully made up, a floral tiara adorning her now flowing hair, a winner’s bouquet in one manicured hand. The other “contestants” look glum, but, standing tall in high-heeled sandals, she smiles widely. It didn’t take a silly article to show that our girl was the prettiest all along.

Illustration by Andrea Eberbach.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue.