It is noon, and the Indianapolis City Market is filled with people grabbing lunch. I spot a sign that says, “Catacomb tour this way,” which points me up a staircase toward the Indiana Landmarks booth. There, I meet up with guide Craig Barker and a small group of masked tour-goers.
Barker begins the tour by reviewing the history of the City Market building. The group is mindful to stay six feet apart while taking turns peering at the historic photos that Barker holds up during his presentation.
After a short walk, we appear at the entrance to the catacombs and descend into the darkness.
Barker points out trip hazards on the floor with his flashlight as we trek along the brick arches of the underground maze. He details the history and construction of the catacombs, along with the many ways the space has been used over the years.
Though it is known that the space was once used for storage and may have been utilized by market vendors, Barker said no one is certain what items were kept here in the catacomb’s early days.
“We really don’t know, because things like that are not documented,” Barker said. “Does anybody write down what they put in their basement?”
Though the catacombs still hold many secrets, quite a few of them are uncovered during the tour, including how the place earned its spooky name.
“There are no bodies down here...at least that we know of,” Barker said.
He explains that in the 1970s, there was a proposal to put a restaurant called “The Catacombs” here. Though the restaurant never came to be due to “code issues,” Barker said the name persisted.
This is the second pandemic that the catacombs have weathered, as the structure was built prior to the Spanish influenza outbreak in 1918.
Kasey Zronek, the Director of Volunteers and Heritage Experiences for Indiana Landmarks, said the catacombs and attached building were utilized in the past for emergencies that included a major Indianapolis flood and a severe winter.
There is no indication, however, that the catacombs served a special purpose in 1918.
“We have not found any record of it being used to combat influenza during the last pandemic,” Zronek said.
During the tour, Barker made reference to one emergency use of the catacombs. The “mayor’s pajama party” took place in 1911-1912, when the mayor of Indianapolis allowed locals to shelter in the catacombs during a bitterly cold winter.
The Indianapolis City Market manages the catacombs and partners with Indiana Landmarks to offer tours to the public, Zronek said. The catacombs can be rented from the City Market for events.
According to Zronek, to combat the ongoing pandemic, Indiana Landmarks is continuing to keep visitors safe by adhering to all public health guidelines. Tour capacities are limited to 10 people, surfaces are sanitized between tours, and face coverings are required. Tour availability can be found here.
“Are you Gene Staples?”
Don Hurd called through his open car window at the lone figure sitting on a bench, looking over Lake Shafer. This was his first glance at the mysterious new owner of Indiana Beach, who had successfully evaded being identified by the media and hundreds of loyal park fans. That is, until Hurd decided to investigate.
Hurd, a longtime Hoosier journalist and owner of more than 20 hometown newspapers, had followed leads in the aftermath of the park’s shutdown on February 18, 2020, tracking down potential buyers in order to get some confirmation that Indiana Beach would be rescued. Staples’ name had been whispered as a prospective buyer, and when Hurd came across Staples’ email address, he introduced himself and asked for an interview.
Hurd made it clear in his email to Staples that he “wasn’t just out to scoop a story or announce something before Mr. Staples wanted it announced.”
“I think from the beginning, he understood my love for the park,” explains Hurd.
Hurd has been heavily involved in Indiana Beach his entire life. In 1978, he worked 80-hour weeks at the park as a “Coaster King”, and was the Director of Marketing for the park for a time.
Eventually, a late-night response from Staples appeared in Hurd’s inbox, and he confirmed that he had purchased Indiana Beach, but asked Hurd to keep it a secret. He promised Hurd that he would be the first person to break the story, and invited him to his cabin at Indiana Beach to talk about his plan for the future of the legendary park that means so much to countless Midwestern families. Hurd says that initially, he was skeptical of Staples’ ability to revive Indiana Beach. He had watched for years as the park weathered continuous mismanagement and neglect under corporate owners who cared little about the history-or longevity-of the park.
In 1926, Indiana Beach (then called Ideal Beach) was created in a cornfield in Monticello, Indiana. It was the vision of the Spackman family, who worked shoulder-to-shoulder alongside employees of the park for generations. Lifelong Indiana beach enthusiast Lynn Spinks can remember Mr. Spackman walking down the boardwalk, greeting park goers, never too busy to pose for a picture or shake a hand.
After the Spackmans sold the park to Morgan RV in 2008, Hurd says that rides were often closed down, and you could tell that the facilities were not being maintained. Spinks recalls that it felt like Morgan RV was mainly interested in running the park as a campground, and they could care less about keeping up with park repairs or implementing new attractions.
“They let the park fall apart,” Spinks said.
When investment company Apex Parks Group purchased the park in 2015, Spinks says there was initial excitement, since Apex owned so many other theme parks and would hopefully give the park the attention it deserved. Sadly, Spinks and other die-hard park goers were shocked at how quickly the park began to deteriorate. Spinks said that Apex largely ran the park from corporate offices out of state- hardly impressive to fans like her, who could recall kind Mr. Spackman touring his park daily, pointing out repairs to maintenance workers. For Spinks, Apex represented the antithesis of the Hoosier values that embodied the original spirit of the park. She described the day that she heard of the park’s closing as a “death”.
“It was devastating. It was like I lost a member of my family.”
Spinks says she has been going to the park since she was still in her mother’s womb. The park is filled with precious memories of Spinks’ childhood. For her, Indiana Beach is a living, moving memory bank, filled with nostalgia. When she rides the same rollercoaster that she and her Grandfather always went on together, she can feel his presence. According to Spinks, Apex was already auctioning off parts of the park and throwing memorabilia in the trash when they announced permanent closure. Spinks and her family were traumatized as they watched their “childhood being auctioned off” online by Apex. To this day, she feels sorrow when she recalls not having the funds to buy a ski-ball lane from the auction, one of the most historic, antique features of the park.
For Jerry DeRome, 70, announcement of the park’s shutdown meant the demise of a legendary Hoosier music venue, the Indiana Beach Ballroom. The Ballroom is where he says he spent “the most memorable night of my life.” In 1968, he competed in a battle of the bands in the Ballroom and came in second place. The prize was tickets to a Who concert, which took place the next day on the very stage that DeRome’s band had played on. DeRome and his friends got to the concert early and stood right in front of the band, “packed in like sardines”, gleefully relishing the pieces of smashed instruments that rained down on them that night. DeRome recalls that in the 40’s and 50’s, the Indiana Beach Ballroom was the go-to spot for sock hops and swing bands, and in later years, was a stop for big bands travelling between Chicago and other parts of the Midwest. The Ballroom attracted the likes of Janis Joplin, Alice Cooper, REO Speedwagon, the Beach Boys, and the McCoys.
The Ballroom still stands today.
As Don Hurd got to know Mr. Staples, he realized that Staples possesses much of the same vision that made the Spackman family so successful. Hurd says that Staples is often present at the park, and his children work conducting the train and working the rides, just as the Spackmans did. Staples worked alongside park laborers to prepare for a soft reopening in the summer of 2020. Hurd says Staples even honored the worthless season passes that Apex had sold to parkgoers just months before they announced the park would shut down. Hurd went on to say that Staples is dedicated to preserving the history and traditions of the park, while adding new attractions, such as an escape room and new rides. Hurd says Staples invested countless time and money on fixing the infrastructure of the park- an invisible, crucial aspect of Indiana Beach’s upkeep that had long been neglected by former owners.
Lynn Spinks is looking forward to working at Indiana Beach this year in the numerous projects she is involved in. You might spot her in the park’s new historical center, founded by none other than Don Hurd. She described meeting Staples as he was helping to get the park ready for reopening in 2020.
“He had his sleeves rolled up helping. He was helping get signs hung, directing traffic, helping figure out where things needed to be” says Spinks. “He was so genuine, and said ‘thanks for being here. I’m glad you care about the park.’”
She described how much it meant to her to shake Mr. Staples’ hand and thank him for saving the park she has spent so much of her life at.
“He genuinely cares. He cares about the authenticity and the americana of the park. I feel like it’s in really good hands with him,” said Spinks.
Don Hurd and Gene Staples have had many meetings since the day they first spoke through a car window at Lake Shafer. Hurd says that he now counts the park owner as a friend and trusts him “100 percent.” He says Staples has “brought so much energy into the park,” and cares about making it successful “for another hundred years.”
“When Gene does stuff, he does it right,” Hurd says. “He’s in it for the long haul.”
Indiana Beach will open for the season on May 22, 2021. Find season passes and information on attractions at https://indianabeach.com/ and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/indianabeach?lang=en
IUPUI students hoping to study abroad in 2021 should remain flexible in their plans and watch for updates from the Office of Overseas Study in the coming weeks.
In a Feb. 11 statement, the department encouraged students to postpone study abroad in the summer and fall semesters altogether if they are able, in order to “avoid incurring financial commitments.” The statement also directed students to have housing and an alternate course of study prepared in case their program does get canceled or delayed.
There is no strong indication of when Study Abroad programs will return to pre-pandemic availability. A Feb. 12 email to IU faculty from the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs detailed the difficulties the university faces in planning overseas study programs.
“Unfortunately, due to COVID-19-related health advisories, quarantines, and travel bans around the world, international mobility remains severely restricted,” the email said.
The bulletin advised faculty members that “Undergraduate study abroad programs are being reviewed individually, with consideration of local health conditions and on-the-ground support. We currently expect that only a limited number of programs will be cleared for student participation.”
Students hoping that a coronavirus vaccine shot will increase their chances of studying abroad this year must wait their turn.
The coronavirus vaccine rollout continues in the Hoosier state, but access to the shot is currently restricted to ages 65 and up. “Supply is the problem,” according to Dr. Aaron Carroll, a member of IU’s COVID-19 response team. In a Feb. 10 question and answer session, Carroll stated that Indiana currently does not “…even have enough vaccine…to get through [ages] 65 plus”.
Carroll went on to say that Indiana is limited regarding how much of the vaccine we receive from the government, but that our state has been effective in quickly distributing its supply of vaccine once received. He points to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracking website as evidence of our success.
“At this time IU has not made any determinations about requiring vaccines among the student population, including study abroad students,” said Stephanie Leslie, Director of Study Abroad at IUPUI.
In regard to specific study abroad programs that may be available this year, and which countries students may be eligible to travel to before others, Leslie said that “Future programming will depend on how the pandemic evolves in the coming months. At this time, it is not possible to predict when IU students will be able to travel without special restrictions or exemptions”.
Leslie says that IUPUI’s International Festival will take place virtually from February 22-26. This festival is “...a lively event for students, staff, faculty, and community members to celebrate the diversity of cultures at IUPUI and connect to international opportunities and resources”, according to the website.
Updates regarding study abroad can be found here.