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A Horse Named Jack and His Adventure in the Canal

Two Christmases ago my sister, knowing my fondness for history, purchased an old photo off from eBay for me as a gift. The photo, below, involves one of my favorite topics, the Central Canal, which I'm guessing is what attracted her attention to it in the first place.

This image depicts a horse which has somehow managed to find itself in a part of the Central Canal in downtown Indianapolis. The photo is an old wire service photo, the kind which are distributed all over the country for use by other papers. The reverse side includes a slightly blurry ownership notice from the Associated Press, warning against unauthorized use, and requiring the credit line "Associated Press Wire Photo."

The caption for the photo details that the horse in the canal is named Jack and is owned by Carl Bridwell (note the edit to the caption) of 1212 West Washington Street. As described in the caption, Jack apparently fell into the canal when the coal wagon he was pulling got too close to the edge and the wagon slid in, taking Jack with it.

The caption, and the background of the image, show that the incident occurred on Wabash Street, which is technically an alleyway that runs east-west, bisecting the block between Market Street and Ohio Street. Jack's swim took place in between West Street (which is behind the photographer who took this photo), and Missouri Street, about where the large basin by the State Government Complex and the Fire Station is located today. Providing the exact location is just an excuse to post an excerpt of the 1941 Baist Map, and an aerial image of the same area, where Jack went on his adventure. Note the canal in 1952 took a 90 degree right turn just before Market Street and then headed west. That westward turn can be seen in the background of the photo, as can the statehouse and the old Beveridge Paper Co. warehouse. Right next to the paper warehouse is the site of the old Central Canal Lock.

The date April 1 is included on the photo I have, although there is no year, and this was no April Fool's joke. A cropped version of this image, below, does appear in the Indianapolis News on April 1, 1952, describing about the same info as the caption on the photo, although Jack's owner's name is again changed. This photo is credited to Horace Ketring, News photographer. Ketring was a longtime Indianapolis News reporter, starting with the paper in 1929 and retiring in 1980. He spent 38 of these years as a reporter, and the final 13 on the paper's photography staff. Even as a reporter he took to taking a camera with them since he worked the police beat and was often riding with officers on runs and would be the first on the scene of a story. I'm not sure of the relationship between the Associated Press and local newspapers, but I would guess that Ketring's photo was submitted or added to the AP wire through the News.

The Indianapolis Times also had coverage of the Jack in the Canal incident, including a series of photos showing the progression of Jack's ultimate escape from the canal.

In their story, which headlined the paper that day, there are some reporting inconsistencies with the caption in the News. The caption of Ketring's photo quotes Jack’s owner as declaring that his horse was “he's too smart to drink from the canal,” (although this quote was modified in the caption which appeared in the News) while the Times reported that Jack "ambled over to the canal for a drink," while Bridewell was delivering coal to a client at 436 W. Wabash. As he leaned in for a drink, the coal cart rolled in, taking the horse with it. The Times reported that Jack was doing his best to drink all the water in the canal, while the Indianapolis Police Emergency Squad #5 arrived with their boat and launched an "amphibious operation" to rescue the horse. After a an IPD lieutenant attempted to lasso Jack three times without success, a spectator, who in the photos above appears to be Jack's owner, Bridewell, took up the lasso and took a step into the canal to place the lasso around Jack's neck. A short tug encouraged Jack to pull himself out of the canal.

Whichever description of Jack’s adventure is correct, the Times or the News, both reports are clear in that Jack was rescued from the canal, none the worse for wear aside from some small cuts on his legs.

Jack's predicament and the fame associated with it spread beyond just Indianapolis. The AP image I was gifted also appeared in the Anderson Herald Bulletin, the Terre Haute Tribune Star, the Syracuse (New York) Herald Journal, the Lowell (Massachusetts) Sun, and the Williamsport (Pennsylvania) Sunday Grit National Edition. Images from the Indianapolis Times were part of a photo compilation which appeared in the Edwardsville (Illinois) Intelligencer, The Albuquerque (New Mexico) Tribune, and the Saranac Lake (New York) Adirondack Daily Enterprise.


Indianapolis News: April 1, 1952, April 26, 1994

Indianapolis Times: April 1, 1952

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Benjamin Lamb
Benjamin Lamb
Jan 06, 2023

It really doesn't fit my mental image of postwar America that there were still horsedrawn cargo vehicles in downtown Indianapolis in the 1950s, but truth is always stranger than fiction.

Ed Fujawa
Ed Fujawa
Jan 06, 2023
Replying to

My thought exactly. I think this was really the tail end of horse drawn transport in the city. Bridewell may have made use of the various alleyways, like, Wabash, to move around town, versus the main streets.

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