The Lilly Civil War Memorial in downtown Indianapolis.

Getting your Evanston news from Facebook? Try the Evanston RoundTable’s free daily and weekend email newsletters – sign up now!

In September 2010, the Getaway Guys visited Indianapolis, Ind. On previous Indiana trips they ventured to Auburn, Columbus, South Bend and Valparaiso. Alan has fond members of his Indiana roots, but Neil often associates it with its hideous Turnpike, which seems to remain a perpetual mess.

Concentrating on history, art and architecture, the Guys left the Indianapolis Speedway Museum, Conner Prairie and other notable sites for later. Their first stop was the Indiana War Memorial just a few blocks from downtown. A massive limestone structure modeled after the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (353 B.C.) by the Cleveland firm of Walker and Weeks, construction began in 1926 and the Memorial was dedicated in 1933 (although still not finished).

Complete with an expansive plaza containing a commemorative obelisk at the south end and a cenotaph at the north, this memorial, originally dedicated to World War I Indiana servicemen, is an impressive 210 feet  high. Its main floor has a subdued grandeur, its lower level contains a riveting chronological exhibit of uniforms, equipment and ephemera from Tippecanoe to Baghdad. Its third level is a shrine dedicated to the fallen of all wars. An expansive, somber space of overwhelming portions, surrounded by massive Corinthian columns and battle flags, the shrine is very thought provoking and deafening in its silence.

In the heart of downtown, the Guys encountered another structure dedicated to heroism, the Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Monument, made of Indiana limestone, 284 feet tall and embellished with high, narrative relief sculptures of heroic sacrifice. These sculptures reminded Neil of Francois Rude’s Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Located in a large plaza-traffic circle reminiscent of Paris, the Lilly Monument has a distinctive European sensibility. 

Departing downtown Indianapolis temporarily, Neil and Alan visited the James Whitcomb Riley House Museum at 528 Lockerbie St. Built in 1872 in the then popular Italianate-Victorian style, the Riley house is unique because it contains all of its original furniture and decorations.  An early Riley poem, “Little Orphant Annie” was the inspiration for the famous comic strip “Little Orphan Annie,” but as far as the Guys could tell, nowhere in Riley’s poem was there a Daddy Warbucks, Punjab, the Asp or Annie’s loquacious dog, Sandy.

Next was the Benjamin Harrison House, another historic-house museum resplendent in its original furnishings. Back when the federal budget was less than $4 billion or not squandered on bi-elections (a la 2010), President Harrison (the 23rd U.S. president) greeted constituents and well-wishers on his front lawn. Legend has it that his picket fence was picked to pieces by souvenir-seeking well-wishers, and he had to have pickets made to hand out.
Ah, the good ole days.

For dinner the Guys feasted on German fare at the Rathskeller in the historic Athenaeum Building at 401 East Michigan St. Originally “Das Deutsche Haus” (1893), this German cultural center was forced to change its identity due to anti-German sentiment during World War I. With atmosphere galore, a reasonably priced menu and an expansive bier garten packed with under-30-year-olds, this place rocks on a Friday night. The Guys peeked at the under-30s and decided their presence was futile. Earlier, the Guys ate lunch at Elmo’s, a landmark establishment with very good food, too.

The next day the Guys explored the  Indianapolis Children’s Museum and were treated to a panoply of fun filled exhibitions. Eager to see the Museum’s toy train collection, Neil was not disappointed. Alan got into the temporary Rock n’ Roll exhibit. Both were intrigued by the temporary Barbie Doll exhibit and blown away by the permanent dinosaur display. In Indianapolis, missing the Children’s Museum would be a mistake. 

Next up: the Indianapolis Art Museum – a return visit for Neil, a revelation for Alan. Among its many masterpieces, the IAM has an important collection of French Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. With works by Monet, Vuillard, Pissarro and Seurat, the collection is remarkable. The American collection is equally impressive. Works by Homer, Inness, Hassam, Sloan, Hopper and Manship are outstanding. More contemporary are pieces by Smith, Dubuffet, Mitchell, Indiana and Judd. After moving and changing its name a number of times, the IAM found a permanent home in 1970 in a new building on the former Lilly estate, Oldfields (which the Guys did not take in because of time), but now regret.

Things to see and do in Indianapolis are numerous and varied – 16 hours is not enough time. The Guys advise planning a longer visit or visiting more than once. Despite its Hoosier identity (by default), Indianapolis is a happening place.

Editor’s Note:  The authors maintain
a free website, www.getaway-chicago.com, which offers recommended outings
to nearby destinations that are often overlooked, but of genuine interest and delight.