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the sidebar » Blog Archive » Indianapolis: a brief contemporal history
Indianapolis: a brief contemporal history
By anonymous
Wednesday, November 14th, 2007

Good evening.

Contemporal history – the study of history in relation to to the entire timeline – is still a burgeoning specialty, yet cities tend to crop up more than occasionally due to the strong connection between space and time as duly noted by my colleague.

Cities like Chicago, Kyoto, Changan, Orbit 17-Fifth, New New New York, Rome, and of course the third parallel version of Blaine Wisconsin, have received numerous and extensive treatments.

Indianapolis, however, is comparatively ignored by contemporal historians. Jessica Goodwin, in her Urban Places, Urban Time, wrote of Indianapolis that it “remains remarkably average throughout its entire six centuries of existence.” Historians have even written off or ignored Indianapolis’ slightly higher than normal amount of temporal incursion. A clone of David Schuller , in “Temporal Sprawl: An Examination and Dissection,” wrote that “Indianapolis has, yes, bent the timeline more than once. But this is due more to its convenient temporal location than its notability in the main timeline.” Even others have gone as far to suggest that Indianapolis is a “a retirement collective for worn out but well-to-do time travelers.”

Yet, I suggest that Indianapolis may hold more secrets than these contemporal historians give it credit for. In making these assumptions they have largely ignored recent temporal archeology efforts, some by researcher James Ilsin who discovered that the temporal activity was not only just above average, but that it was consistently above average. This poses something of a conundrum, as typical temporal activity is marked with highs and lows, not stability. The most obvious example is that of Blain, Wisconsin, for example, which sees no temporal activity until 3022 when activity suddenly spikes for nearly five hundred years and then just as suddenly drops off. Indianapolis though, has remained nearly at the same for all six hundred years of its existence.

With this paper I use this newer research to argue that Indianapolis is not a “retirement collective,” but that its average-icity may be something else, something more strategic, something more constructed. I am using the Ilsin Papers, but am also piecing together already available liqui-diaries of several well-known time travelers who, I believe, refer back to Indianapolis. I will of course abide by the Temporal Ethical Restrictions of 112, which prevent me from narrating the future from this point in the timeline. And due to the time constraints of this panel, I will leapfrog from moment to moment of the city’s history but will be presenting this material in full at later date.

I’m basing my three primary points here on the slight spikes in the Ilsin Graph. There are eight such points in Indianapolis temporal history, but for the sake of time I have chosen just three for their notability. I should mention that these are nominal, especially when compared to activity in other cities. But the fact that they are slight spikes in what is otherwise a plateau does indicate some kind of significance. The very first spike begins shortly after Indianapolis’ inception, and with a man named Alexander Ralston.

As a city, Indianapolis was born in the center. Later known as the “crossroads of America,” this was also true in its birth. Chosen exclusively as the center of the state and therefore easier to access by its elected officials spread up to its boundaries, this city of Indiana immediately became spatially – and therefore temporally – important.

But this was just plain luck. It was an architect and planner from Scotland, Alexander Ralston, who introduced the first true temporal incursion to Indianapolis. While in Washington, DC, Ralston had worked with Pierre L’Enfant, himself an accomplished temporal journeyman and accomplished urban planner. As Levar Isington demonstrates in his 2004 A Capital Without a Center, L’Enfant designed the nation’s capital so as to be one of the most widely used temporal crosspoints throughout the entire timeline. His ambitions were grandoise to be sure. But due to his egregious use of centers and multiplying connections in the city, he failed. Instead of designing a mecca, L’Enfant created an epic disaster, one that has taken generations of temporal engineers to repair.

Ralston studied under L’Enfant while in DC, and when he moved to Indiana for a quieter life he must have realized the state’s potential for a city that would slide under the radar, yet be large and important enough to serve as a receiving station for time travelers. He cozied up to Judge Christopher Harrison, the official assigned with the duty of determining the capital’s new location, and in 1821 Ralston began surveying a spot. He quickly developed a plan for Indianapolis, called the “Mile Square,” which took the basic grid design set up by Thomas Jefferson, but applied moderated L’Enfant temporal technique. The result was a circle in the center, with 8 “spokes:” Meridian, Market, and then 4 outlaying diagonal streets.

In Christopher Kaplan’s seminal 1996 A Built Language for Time, the architect speaks to the necessity of a city’s plan to employ the act of “urban encoding” to facilitate successful time travel.Kaplan of course does not admit it, but he does pull from L’Enfant’s technique, however failed. Ralston did the same, only with much more subtlety than Kaplan.

Ralston’s own life reflected this sense of slight difference, and has the marks of someone living outside one’s own time. He lived and died a bachelor . His closest friends were of different skin colors. Citizens of Indianapolis thought his house rather strange with its unusually numerous doors and windows, but everyone thought very highly of Ralston; honest, and a gentlemen of “extreme sensibilities.” Finally, Ralston tightly maintained his position of Marion County Surveyor until his death, perhaps to make sure that the city grew according to the plan.

Ralston’s actions paved the way for the third (I’m skipping the second) temporal incursion in Indianapolis’ history: the construction of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument at the Circle.

Originally planned for Crown Hill Cemetery, and on a much smaller scale, a businessman named William Hayden English corralled plans for the Civil War memorial to the Circle – and therefore close to his hotel and opera house. This was not the first time English exercised influence. He started as a lawyer and worked as a clerk in the U.S. Treasury, slowly gaining prominence until he returned to Indiana to serve as a U.S. Representative for the state. He started First National Bank in 1863, and then moved his family to the most important place in the city: the Circle. He secured controlling interest in the Indianapolis Street Railway, and then began investing in real estate on the Circle, slowly buying up lots until he owned the entire northwest quadrant.

It was English’s speculation, coupled with a sudden boom from post-Civil War business in Indianapolis, that transformed the Circle from a place of residence to a place a business. By the time the English Hotel and Opera House opened in 1880, the Circle’s lots had gone from being entirely populated by homes and one firehouse, to having only two houses left – which were quickly bought up in the 1880s.

Throughout the Monument’s entire planning stage, which took nearly a decade, English exercised influence. For example, when artists like T. C. Steel decried the inclusion of an elevator – then perceived as an amusement – and accused English of profiteering from art. English replied that everyone, orphan and widow alike, should have the right to see the city.

Of course, even brief glances through the monolithic 10,000 page design guidelines set forth by the Association for Temporal Standards and Measurements shows that the Monument almost perfectly fits the description of a “Timeline Inhibitor and Interloper.” There are of course some dissimilarities; the use of bears in the supporting spires, for example, but the lack of trees and use of racial iconography is to par effectively show that English – and whomever was working with him – designed the Monument with an intention of preventing time travel into Indianapolis. Of course, the more interesting usage of the Monument would occur not much later during the carnival celebrating the turn of the millennium in 1900, effectively undermining and even, perhaps, transforming the intention of the Monument as interloper.

The differences between Ralston and English are stark. Ralston lived simply, and despite creating one of the only equitable city plans that still exists today in the United States, lived and died without grand recognition.Ralston’s body lays unmarked somewhere in Crown Hill Cemetery.

English’s body, on the other hand, was buried by the state governor at the Capital Building, where over 15,000 people paid their respects. English has an avenue named after him, and the English Foundation in Indianapolis continues to house and support many crucial city charities, including the YMCA. English also lives on another organization he helped found: the Indiana Historical Society, which maintains his collection of papers.

For whatever reason, that same Society would generally ignore the archive and recording of Indianapolis’ most significant spike in temporal activity: that of the Dust Bowl in the 1950s Indianapolis, a makeshift basketball court which crucibled a new breed of basketball players. Located near Indiana Avenue in Lockefield Gardens, a leftover WPA project built to house 748 African American families, the Dust Bowl was a a flat, grassless vacant lot that neighborhood kids converted with their imagination into a basketball court. A huge cloud of dust would kick up every day at 3pm when nearby Cripus Atticks let out school, and kids flocked to the court, some of them using tightly wound socks as a ball for lack of a real basketball.

It was on the Dust Bowl that these players slowly transformed basketball from a gently played sport for white, collegiate farmboys, to an aggressive, direct, and distinctly urban game. It was also on the court of the dustbowl that All-Star and MVP Oscar Robertson – the Big O – learned to play, and his no-nonsense style would change the sport forever. It would also change the way people in Indiana perceived blacks. When GeorgeMcGinnis, who played for the Indiana Pacers in the 70s, saw Dust Bowl alumni Robertson lead the Cripus Atticks high school team to victory for 45 consecutive games, “"It was like a win for us," McGinnis said. "Oscar was anointed at that point. He was our prince, our standard-bearer. He was the guy every African-American kid who picked up a basketball from that point on emulated." Later, Robertson would say that the style crafted at the Dust Bowl opened up the eyes of whites. "For a long time, people said blacks were lazy," he said. "They couldn’t think. They couldn’t play. They were not good students.” The Dust Bowl proved them wrong.

In 1980, a radical restructuring of the city as part of a semi-secret group’s city plan that included the famed Unigov ordered that much of Lockefield, including the now-paved Dust Bowl, be torn down to make way for a new urban center of learning: IUPUI. The Dust Bowl is now covered by lawn.

There are two fairly obscure sources that speak directly to the Dust Bowl’s significance, and to the strange heightened Ilsin graph anomaly. One was penned by a participant in the Battle of Yuris during the Praxis-Timewars, a small and contained battle but one that ultimately effected the entire war. “I asked my old friend why we’d survived, why we were among the few. He thought for a minute, then said that as long as I stuck around him I’d be alright; he’d been through the ‘Bowl and lived to tell about it.”

One more source, a liqui-memoir from the fourth eon spilled out by a yet unidentified space-bound race, directly refers to Robertson while facing possible extinction imposed by a hostile enemy. Translated as best we can into English, it reads, “If O. [sic] of the Sphere existed here, he would know what to do. Not win, but lead. Then hide.”

That last phrase “then hide,” is crucial. It speaks directly to the nature of Indianapolis. I contend the strange existence of people like Ralston , English, and Robertson, and the seemingly unnatural plateau of temporal activity, suggests that something else is happening in this city. It is entirely possible that the median nature of Indianapolis is actually a construct, one that hides some kind of conflict or resistance that its participants wish hidden from future observers. Indeed, such places must exist as certainly as there are hidden geographies in our present world. Who is doing the constructing, who is doing the hiding, and whom they are hiding from – is beyond the current availability of sources to even speculate.

Still, writing off Indianapolis as unimportant or insignificant on this timeline may be one of the clumsiest mistakes of contemporary contemporal historians. We are skilled at studying source-rich urban environments, like New New New York, and to some degree the lower end of the urban temporal vernacular. What we are not so accomplished at is examining the median, or what is commonly identified as the “norm.” Yet it may be in the median, the average, the center, that we may uncover one of this timeline’s greatest mysteries. Indianapolis is more than it seems, and it is up to this generation of scholars to uncover its secrets.

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