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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Lost Indianapolis (Images of America) by John P. McDonald

Not a complete history of the city, but an interesting one.

Lost Indianapolis is part of the very large Images of America series of books that feature historical photos of landmarks of a city or group of people and tell part of the history as well. From time to time "then and now" photos are included as well so that the reader can see how things have changed.

The author has written several local histories about Indiana and Indianapolis and maintains a webpage at http://www.lostindiana.net/Lost_Indiana/Lost_Indiana.html.

Lost Indianapolis is a great book for those with an interest in Indianapolis for two reasons:

1) The photographs. They are interesting and very well-chosen to add to the text. I have seen books of this sort that seem to have random pictures tossed in with the text.

2) The text. McDonald has chosen several interesting topics to tell some of the story of the city. This is not a complete history by any means, but he does a thorough job of telling episodes in the city's history.

Topics covered in the book include: the central canal, Union Station, the Interurban system, the Stutz company, Carl Fisher, Riverside Park, Burger Chef and Market Square Arena.

The Interurban system was an electrical train system that ran from Indianapolis and connected with similar systems all over Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. McDonald tells the story in both a thorough and interesting way, including how the electrical plants required to power the trains eventually started to sell their extra energy to nearby customers and morphed into two modern-day utility companies still operating in the state.

The history of the Stutz Company is interesting because it begins to tell the story of Indianapolis and its love affair with the automobile. The Stutz Bearcat was the most famous car to come out of the factories that still stand on Capitol Avenue (they now house offices and a series of art studios).

McDonald also tells the story of Carl Fisher, an automotive pioneer in many ways - he had one of the first car dealerships in the world, he sold parts, including the first working headlights and the electric starter. Most importantly, he was part of the team that created the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and began the tradition of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911. To the left is a photo of Fisher testing out the track before it was paved with more than 3 million bricks in 1911.

I very much enjoyed the section on Burger Chef as well. I did not realize that one of the warehouses I drive by from time to time on West 16th street was actually the corporate headquarters of Burger Chef!  I have fond childhood memories of the Fun Meal at Burger Chef featuring the characters Burger Chef & Jeff - the forerunner to the McDonald's Happy Meal. Lost Indianapolis details the growth of company and the men who founded it. Interestingly, they had made several fast food kitchen devices to make things like soft-serve ice cream, shakes and flame-broiled hamburgers and started the first Burger Chef as a showcase restaurant to demonstrate their products. It was so successful they decided to franchise their system.

Lost Indianapolis is marred by several typographical errors, but the good information and interesting stories more than made up for that.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Lost Indianapolis.

Reviewed on August 7, 2010.

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