Indianapolis, Indiana

For the third day of my trip, I would be leaving the state of Michigan behind and traveling south into Indiana to visit its capital and largest city, Indianapolis. This was another location that I'd never visited before; while I'd traveled through the state of Indiana previously, it was mostly en route to somewhere else, usually Chicago. The only place in the state where I'd spent any time was in South Bend, and that was only because my brother went to the University of Notre Dame. Indiana has always stood out a bit from the other states in the midwest: this is the only state formed out of the old Northwest Territory that has almost no presence on the Great Lakes at all, just a small strip of land at the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Unlike the other states in this region, who were mostly settled by farmers from New York and Pennsylvania, Indiana was initially settled by slaveholders coming north from Kentucky. While it was free state that outlawed slavery, Indiana always remained more rural and more conservative than its neighbors in Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois. It wasn't until the last few decades that Indianapolis grew into a major city, long after there were booming urban areas in Cleveland, Detroit, and Chicago. This trip was my chance to see one of the overlooked midwestern cities by paying visit to Indianapolis.

I woke up at 5:00 AM to start the drive from Ann Arbor down to Indianapolis. This was a Sunday morning and the roads were predictably deserted at this early hour. The initial portion of the drive took me back into Ohio again until reaching the outskirts of Toledo, then veered off to the southwest towards my destination proper. The route between Toledo and Fort Wayne on Ohio state road 24 was particularly empty, traveling through lots of farm country for almost a hundred miles. Eventually I reached Interstate 69 and despite a heavy amount of road construction along the way, continued to make good time towards Indianapolis. I was able to reach the city a little after 9:00 AM when it was still waking up.

I parked just north of the downtown area, with street parking happily being free since it was a Sunday. These pictures were taken looking to the north across a green space known as American Legion Mall. The American Legion has its national headquarters in one of the buildings; it's the brown building on the right in the second picture above if I'm reading Google maps correctly. The obelisk in the middle of the fountains gives this space its name, Obelisk Square. The designs on it seemed to be classically-inspired like a lot of the other traditional architecture in Indianapolis. The building at the far end of the mall was the central library of the Indianapolis Public Library system, a beautiful building that's popular enough to host wedding receptions inside. I did not head down there, or over to see the Scottish Rite Cathedral peeking out above the trees in that last picture, largely because it was a Sunday and the cathedral was in use for services.

One place that was open early on a Sunday morning was the Indiana World War Memorial, with the construction scaffolding on the outside facade not stopping visitors from entering. This memorial was constructed in the 1920s to honor veterans from the first World War, and apparently the goal was to lure the American Legion (newly created following WWI) to establish its headquarters in Indianapolis, a ploy that obviously worked as intended. Wikipedia confirmed something that I had suspected: the design for the memorial was based on the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient world and a building design that I recognized thanks to many long years of playing the Civilization games. The memorial stands a little over 200 feet / 65 meters tall and its classical architecture makes it instantly recognizable in the Indianapolis skyline. Inside the building, the Greek look continued with lots of stately columns lining the walls of the ground floor. There were flags and tributes to soldiers adorning the halls everywhere that I looked, reflecting the nature of this memorial.

The heart of the Indiana World War Memorial is something known as the Shrine Room, which is reached by climbing up a pair of staircases on either side of the main floor. The walls of these staircases contain lists of veterans from Indiana who served in different wars in the nation's history. Up at the top, these staircases give way into a large open room, the interior of the tall pillar viewed from the outside of the building. The Shrine Room is decorated with flags from the allied nations who fought together in World War I (many of which are no longer in use) and portraits of the allied leaders. Something tells me that few people outside of historians like me would recognize Marshall Foch these days, as the Great War has largely faded into obscurity in the USA. At the center of the room is an altar dedicated to the soldiers who perished in the war, situated beneath a gigantic American flag.

More views looking up at the flag and the stars above on the ceiling. The lighting in the Shrine Room is really interesting, with a soft yellow color used down near the floor of the chamber but then giving way to a light blue color up near the ceiling. At night, the memorial also shines the same blue light out of its windows into the night sky. The overall effect of the Shrine Room is stunning; it's one of the most beautiful war memorials that I've ever seen. It was even more remarkable to me because I had absolutely no idea that it existed. I had never heard about this place even in the minimal travel literature that I'd been able to turn up about Indianapolis. Thanks to the early morning hour, I was able to view the Shrine Room when it was empty of anyone else, and it was a powerful experience. I can't understand why there isn't more awareness of this place in terms of tourist destinations. The Indiana World War Memorial is very much worth visiting.

The memorial contained more than just the Shrine Room though. Back on the first floor there was a small auditorium dedicated to General Pershing, the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in World War I. That's his portrait behind the stage in between the American flag and Indiana state flag, the one with the torch and stars. This theatre felt even older than its 1920s construction date would suggest; it felt like something out of the Belle Époque period of the 1880s or 1890s with its garish, nationalistic decorations. The whole place felt like a remnant of an earlier era that had somehow lasted unchanged to the present day.

Down in the basement of the memorial was a small museum dedicated to Indiana's military, starting with the frontier period in the early 19th century and finishing with contemporary wars in the Middle East. I enjoyed seeing the Civil War collections the most, including the homemade regimental flags from the initial Indiana volunteers and then a later flag from one of the African American infantry regiments raised in the state. In terms of random artifacts on display in the museum, there was a pamphlet distributed to infantrymen in World War II that discussed how to incapacitate German tanks through the use of improvised weapons like Molotov cocktails. I have no idea why that was up on display on one of the walls but the matter-of-fact nature of the pamphlet (the same style parodied in the Fallout games) amused me. I ended up having to breeze through the military museum faster than I would have liked, as I was already running behind on time. I had been expecting to spend 15 minutes at the Indiana World War Memorial and had already spent more than an hour inside.

These are a few pictures that I took while walking south from the memorial through University Park past something called the Depew Memorial Fountain. The sun had come out from the behind the clouds and it was turning into a beautiful day outside. I was heading into the center of the downtown to see the most famous historical attraction in Indianapolis, the Soldiers and Sailors Monument.

The aforementioned monument stands in a circle in the heart of the city and has become the iconic symbol of Indianapolis. Construction on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument took about a decade to complete before finishing in 1902. The 285 foot (85 meter) neoclassical pillar was dedicated to Indiana's veterans of the Civil War, and then later tributes to other 19th century wars up to and including the Spanish-American War were added to the base of the monument. This was the first monument to be dedicated to the common soldier in the United States, and it helped inspire dozens of similar tributes in the following years around the country. The whole base of the monument is decorated with different sculptures, most of them depicting Union soldiers in Civil War-era attire. There are also two large fountains on the east and west sides of the monument that add to the general atmosphere. There were still relatively few people out touring the area, and I took advantage of the lack of crowds to walk in a circle around the monument and see it from each side.

I was a bit surprised to find out that visitors can enter inside the Soldiers and Sailors Monument and climb up to the top for views of the city. On this particular day, the monument itself was open but the elevator was not, forcing anyone who wanted to make that trip to do it by foot. It took some effort to get all the way up to the tiny observation deck but I'd done plenty of harder climbs before. The view from the top was excellent, providing a bird's eye view of downtown Indianapolis. The tallest buildings in the city were concentrated in the area immediately surrounding the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, and Indianapolis' reputation as a financial center was reflected in the banking logos adorning these buildings. Off to the north, I could see the Indiana World War Memorial with its construction scaffolding, towered over by the height of the newer skyscrapers. To the south was the huge barn-like structure of Lucas Oil Field, home to the Indianapolis Colts of the National Football League. As a Baltimore sports fan, that was one place and one team that I had no desire to see up closer. Finally, nearby to the west was the Indiana State House, the state capitol building that I'd be heading off to visit next.

Of course, with it being a Sunday I knew that the Indiana State House would be closed to the public and I would only be able to see the outside of the building. Nonetheless, I was able to walk in a half circle around the structure and get a good look at the capitol building, including passing by a number of statues on the south lawn. The Indiana State House is the seat of government for the state of Indiana, and the fifth such building to be constructed in the state's history. This particular building dates to 1888 and follows the general standard for American legislative buildings: neoclassical architecture with a central dome and two wings to contain the two houses of the legislature. The Indiana State House had a green-colored dome that was significantly larger (and fatter) than the dome I had seen at the Michigan State Capitol the day before. I kind of wish that Indiana had kept their previous state capitol building, which was designed to look like the Parthenon in Athens but had to be condemned in the 1870s due to structural defects. It would have been more distinctive if Indiana's legislature were still using a setup like that.

After leaving the Indiana State House grounds, I walked further to the west towards the river that flows through Indianapolis. I passed by the huge convention center, which is probably the building that brings the most people to Indianapolis, but which is also a thoroughly nondescript structure. More interesting was Victory Field, the stadium of the Indianapolis Indians minor league baseball team. Despite the "Indians" name, this is the AAA affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates and the team has a lovely small stadium that sits up against the riverfront. I had checked to see if I could catch a game here but unfortunately the Indians were out of town. Nearby the stadium was White River State Park, a green space that ran alongside the river on the west side of the downtown. The Indianapolis Zoo was on the other side of the pedestrian bridge crossing the river, and there was a strip of parkland leading back towards the center of Indianapolis as well. This was a pleasant area to walk around, and the cloudy skies overhead were the only blemish on these pictures.

I decided to stop and visit the NCAA Hall of Champions, a small museum dedicated to college sports located next to the park lands. I should clarify that NCAA stands for the National Collegiate Athletics Association, the organization that runs the college sports competitions in the USA. Non-Americans are often puzzled at the outsized role played by college sports in this country, where billions of dollars are spent annually on the marquee sports of football and basketball, both of which effectively function as developmental leagues for the professional teams. The NCAA has its headquarters in Indianapolis and this museum was part of their public outreach efforts. I'm a fan of college sports but not a fan of the NCAA, which is a thoroughly corrupt organization along the lines of FIFA or the International Olympic Committee (well, perhaps not quite that bad). The NCAA continues to insist, more and more implausibly each year, that their college athletes are "amateurs" despite the vast sums of money spent on promoting and televising their games. This claim of amateur status allows the NCAA to get away with not paying any of the athletes, a shameful farce that degrades everyone involved in the process. I wish that the NCAA would simply admit that they are running a series of professional sports leagues and let the colleges pay the players whatever they feel they're worth, rather than continuing to force the players to take sham classes so that they can pretend that these are "amateur student-athletes". What a bunch of nonsense.

Anyway, leaving aside the politics of the NCAA, the museum itself was a bit of a disappointment. It was smaller than I expected and I was able to see all of the content in about half an hour. I appreciated some of the background information on the non-revenue sports like softball and fencing and such, and there was a small basketball court up on the second floor with spots on the court marked where a number of famous NCAA Tournament shots were made. Visitors could try their hand at making the famous Christian Laettner shot for example. However, there just wasn't that much content in the museum, and I was disappointed to find that it didn't have much in the way of famous artifacts in its collections. There was very little here in the way of game balls or signed equipment from famous athletes on display, instead there was more generic educational information about the various NCAA sports. Overall, not terrible but nothing to write home about. This is an attraction that could easily be skipped.

In retrospect, I likely would have been better off visiting the Indiana State Museum, which I walked past as I began heading back to where I had parked. The Indiana State Museum is the largest historical and cultural museum in the state, and it has a series of galleries showcasing the story of the Hoosier state. The museum also has a fantastic location next to the city's canal walk, which I was following as it snaked its way back towards the downtown. There are several different attractions that run alongside the canal, including a memorial to past winners of the Congressional Medal of Honor and a memorial to the victims of the September 11th attacks. (As I mentioned before, Indiana is a more conservative state and there are a lot of monuments with military themes throughout Indianapolis.) Unfortunately it started to rain while I was walking back to my car and I was caught in a pretty good shower before I could make it back under cover. That was three days of my trip and three days of rain thus far, not a great start from a weather perspective.

I picked up a quick lunch in the car while heading to my final destination of the day: the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Located about 6 miles / 10 kilometers to the west of downtown Indianapolis, this raceway is home to the famous Indianapolis 500. As the guides at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway were fond of telling visitors, this is the highest-capacity sports venue in the world with a permanent seating capacity of 250,000 and individual race day attendance that surges as high as 400,000 on occasion. I can't imagine what the atmosphere must be like when that many people are in attendance, and the logistics must be truly nightmarish. Visitors to the speedway enter by driving underneath the track via a tunnel, with a small parking lot and a Hall of Fame museum located on the other side. I took note of the massive scale of the bleachers as I passed underneath, which looked something like dozens of high school football stadiums set next to each other end to end. The track was so large that it was hard to see all the way to the other side of the enclosed infield.

The Hall of Fame Museum was essentially what I was expecting it to be, with lots and lots of historic race cars along with information about the history of the Indianapolis 500. There were dozens of past winning cars on display, including the vehicle that won the initial Indianapolis 500 back in 1911, the yellow-colored Number 32 pictured above. The early cars had a cigar-shaped design with the wheels sticking out on the sides and did not look safe at all. I enjoyed reading about the trials and tribulations that the racetrack had gone through over the years, such as when it nearly shut down for good during World War II at a point in time when the track was essentially abandoned. There was also an exhibit about the Unser family here: three different Unsers across two generations have won the Indianapolis 500, and a bunch of their cars were on display. I'm not much of a car person or a racing fan, and it was somewhat amusing that the first three days of my vacation had all taken me to different museums that featured historic cars. I guess that's inevitable when touring Detroit and Indianapolis, two cities known for automobile manufacturing and automobile racing.

I didn't come to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just to see their little museum, however. I had booked a two hour tour to go out and see the race track itself, which started out with a ride by bus over to the starting line. The huge scale of the track became apparent again as our bus made its leisurely pace out onto the asphalt. The distance around the track is 2.605 miles (4.192 km) and there was a noticeable tilt to the curves as we traveled around them, with the turns banked at a 9 degree angle. That wasn't a big deal for our bus traveling at normal speeds, but the racers go around them at roughly 200 miles/hour (320 km/hr) and while trying to pass each other the whole time. It's a dangerous sport for thrillseeking drivers.

The first place that our tour bus stopped was the starting line where the race begins and ends. The distinctive feature here was the "Yard of Bricks", a single yard (that's a unit of measure slightly shorter than a meter for non-Americans) of bricks that pays tribute to the original pavement surface at the speedway. The track was initially built using 3.2 million bricks as its racing surface, which gave the Indianapolis Motor Speedway its nickname as the "Brickyard". They were all paved over with asphalt in 1960 out of safety concerns, everything except for this small stretch of remaining bricks at the starting line. There's a tradition that the winners of the race bend over and kiss the bricks after a victory, which all of the visitors were invited to try for themselves. From down here on the racing surface, we could see the grandstands stretching far into the distance in each direction, separated from the racetrack by a stout chain link fence. Unfortunately the skies decided to open up and start raining again, which limited the time that we were able to spend outside of the bus taking in the scenery.

The tour headed next into the media center building, which was located above the grandstands on the interior side of the racing circuit. The working area for visiting journalists was huge, with the capacity to handle several hundred people at once, and it turned out that this room was still insufficient to fulfill the demands of the actual race days. There was a second media room just as large on the floor below designed to accomodate several hundred more journalists. All told, more than a thousand reporters come to see the Indianapolis 500 each year from locations around the world. We were able to check out the official interview table where drivers field questions from the media, and enjoy the excellent sight lines down to the track from this vantage point.

The victory podium was also nearby, elevated up on a second story platform above the starting line. This is where the winning racers pose for photographs and enjoy the traditional celebratory bottle of milk (yes, that's the real tradition here). It had stopped raining for the moment and this was another place to capture some excellent pictures of the grandstands near the starting line. The Yard of Bricks was easily visible, standing out both on the racetrack itself and in the section that leads to pit row.

For our last location on the tour, we went up to the Timing and Scoring station on the top floor of the building overlooking the starting line. This building was originally designed to look like a Chinese pagoda, and when a new version of the tower was constructed in 2000, it kept the same pagoda style of architecture while adopting a sleek modern look made out of glass and steel. We were up on the tenth floor of the building and had a real bird's eye view looking down at the track, high enough to see the whole thing as it curved around the infield. Down below were the garages where the race cars are stored along with various administrative and support buildings used by the speedway. On a race day, the whole infield would be packed with well over 100,000 people camping out in RVs and drinking themselves into a frenzy. I don't think that I'd want to be there with them but I can appreciate the spectacle of it all.

We were even high enough up to see the city of Indianapolis in the distance, roughly 6 miles / 10 kilometers off to the east. With the telephoto lens on my camera, it was easily possible to make out the cluster of buildings in the downtown along with Lucas Oil Stadium off to the right. A sharp eye could make out some of the details on the Indiana State House due to the green color of the roof tiles, although other buildings blocked the view of the main dome. It was a great way to finish up this day spent touring the city, and with the speedway tour over I headed off to get some dinner. With this being a Sunday afternoon, everything was shutting down for the evening anyway.

That brought a close to another day of sightseeing. As usual, there were plenty of things that I would have liked to visit and had to skip for lack of time, such as the highly acclaimed children's museum located in Indianapolis and the state capitol building that had been closed for the day. However, I was still pleased with the attractions that I had been able to visit, and felt as though I had picked up a good feel for the city of Indianapolis. The next day I would be heading across the western border into the state of Illinois, not to visit the metropolis of Chicago but instead to see the state capital of Springfield. I wanted to see the hometown of Abraham Lincoln and all of the associated Lincoln artifacts for myself. Our sixteenth president would be the focus of my next day of travel.