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#indyplaques: The Birthplace of a Literary Icon

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

I walk and bike around Indianapolis a lot. When you aren't encased in a metal shell of a car, and if you keep your eyes off your phone, I've found that Indianapolis is covered in plaques. Plaques to memorialize bridges, long gone (or still standing) historical buildings, momentous events, even the random time capsule.  

One day last November I was walking along Meridian to work after my leaving the library where my wife had a meeting (we carpool to work). Just south of North St. on the west side of the street I spotted a small plaque attached to the side of the large office building on the northwest corner of Michigan and Meridian memorializing a significant birth at 520 N. Meridian St. in July of 1869:

The plaque might be understating how prolific its subject was. Booth Tarkington was a bit more than "noted," and was actually one of the most prolific authors of his day, with a list of accolades which would take far too long to recite here, although I will note his two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction in 1919 and 1922. These prizes were awarded for two of his most popular novels, The Magnificent Ambersons and Alice Adams. While his writings aren't as common as they were one hundred years ago, the Tarkington name is still quite prevalent. Today, the Butler Tarkington Neighborhood in Indianapolis takes part of it name from the authors house located at 4270 North Meridian St. A theater in Carmel, Indiana (???) is named after Booth, elementary schools across the country bear his name (including my mother's old school in South Bend), and numerous streets.

While the address may say the 520 N. Meridian, a look at the 1869 city directory shows the Tarkington family residing at 272 N. Meridian.

No map showing the location of the Tarkington home in 1869 at the time of Booth's birth has been found. However, the Sanborn map from 1889 shows the 272 address referenced in the city directory in the middle of the block between North Street (top, outside image) and Michigan St. (bottom). Meridian Street is on the right side of the image.

Not long after his birth, Booth's family moved a north to a stately brick home at 1100 N. Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, this home no longer stands, but we do have a nice interstate running through that property.

Taking a look back at the Meridian St. address, by 1898, the street numbers had been reassigned. The residence is now in the 500 block of north Meridian (now labeled as 520 as referenced on the plaque), and is part of a larger apartment block, although you can still see parts of the outline of the old house within the green squared area.

As mentioned, this location is now occupied by an office building. It isn't clear when the plaque was placed, although the building itself was built in the mid 1970's. The red arrow below shows the plaque, roughly the size of a envelope, just to the right of the main entrance. The plaque looking thing below it is a water spigot. No historical value with that.

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Michael Kalk
Michael Kalk
Oct 14, 2020

Re: Swift's missing bust from Garfield Park. Several years ago my work took me to the Garfield Park area on a weekly basis and when taking breaks in the park, I noticed at that time that almost any monument in the park was bereft of any metal. I assume 'scrappers' got it all at some point. Sad the economy and society today is in such a shape that anyone would steal it, but sadder that a recycling operation would allow it to be 'recycled' since it so obviously came from public property.

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