It “traces” the evolution of the two landmark hotels in the heart of the downtown area. To visit one of these hotels as a child was an honor and rare privilege for me: it cost a lot of money to dine in these marble-clad dining rooms with the shining silverware and silver serving dishes. It may have happened only a couple of times for my northside family.
My father did take my sister and me downtown to see the Last Encampment of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) veterans from the Civil War, in 1949. Our mother didn’t care to go to see the old men near 100 years old riding around the Circle in convertibles and then go to the Claypool to hear them sing in wavering voices, “Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground.” We observed all of this with mild curiosity, never realizing it would be one of the memories of a lifetime for both of us.
And we were vaguely aware, as our parents talked of them, of the notorious murders that occurred at the Claypool. Nelson chronicles in his competently reportorial, on-the-scene style, the murder of a physical therapist in August 1943 at the now older hotel. The radio stations and Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star were full of details of this lurid murder, which was never solved. We could be more aware of the 1954 “dresser drawer murder”: the murderer of Dorothy Poore of Clinton, Indiana, in the hotel was tracked down: he was Victor Lively, a salesman from Missouri.
There’s something poignant about the declining reputation of both hotels which Nelson chronicles, complete with the interesting stories of the demolition of these handsome landmarks which had stood for the best part of the twentieth century. The author’s detailed coverage and the photos he located vitalize the prominence that these hostelries represent: civic pride, glamour, and focus on Indianapolis’s downtown as the mecca for those visiting Indianapolis. This article on the Claypool Hotel and Hotel Lincoln makes us stand again in these lobbies, feel the call of the bellboys and the rush of the suitcase-carrying patrons, see the four-foot-high floral arrangements, and understand how a city’s desire for excellence can be symbolized by glamorous hotels, even if they do have only a limited lifetime.
Nelson Price is the author of several books, including Hawthorne’s classic Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosiers from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman. Click back to purchase the book. Traces magazine is available from the Indiana Historical Society at $7 per copy.