For this edition of the Tell-Tale Traveler, I thought I would take you on a strange and ghostly daytrip of Indiana’s state capitol, Indianapolis. Though Indianapolis might not be the first city that comes to mind when you think of the odd and unusual, I can confirm that there are several hidden gems that you can visit throughout the city. This blog will essentially be a mash up of several trips that I have taken to Indy and includes many places that I tend to return to when I am in the city.
The Indiana Medical History Museum is located on the former grounds of Central State Hospital, Indianapolis’ hospital for the Insane. As a child, I can remember driving with my mother to Indianapolis on Highway 40 and being enamored by what remained of the hospital at the time. It seemed to me, even as a child, to be a very spooky yet beautiful location. Sadly, even less remains today but the former Pathology Building, built in 1895, now serves as the home of the Indiana Medical History Museum. The museum contains a truly interesting and morbid collection of medical artifacts and also spotlights the history of Central State Hospital. Visitors are given a unique glimpse into the operations of the hospital as well as the history of those that were labeled insane and resided at the hospital. The museum hosts guided tours of the collection as well as tours of the medicinal plant garden. There are also plans to add tours of the former hospital grounds. The Pathology Building is also reported to be haunted but ghost investigations are not currently allowed at the location.
Following your visit to the Museum, you should next plan to have lunch at Fresco Italian Café. This adorable little restaurant is located on the Canal near the Michigan Street Bridge and yes, the Canal does offer Gondola rides as well. Fresco has an outdoor patio so it is the perfect spot to grab lunch on a warm day and enjoy the beauty of the Canal. The menu at Fresco is filled with homemade Italian sandwiches, salads and flatbreads as well as Italian Ice, beer, wine and cocktails. During my first visit to Fresco, my friend and I sampled the cheese board which included cheeses from a local creamery and it was so fresh and tasty. I then had the caprese sandwich, with a basil mayonnaise…I was literally in Basil Heaven! I also had to try the spiked Italian Ice…I mean who doesn’t love a yummy frozen cocktail! They serve a lime version with tequila or a lemon version with vodka, which I sampled. It was the perfect cocktail for a warm summer day. During my second visit to Fresco, I decided to switch things up a bit. This time, a different friend and I both opted to begin with the tomato-basil soup, as it was a chilly Fall day. The soup was super yummy and warmed us right up. I opted to try the Margherita flatbread this time around. The flatbread did not disappoint and the fresh mozzarella was fabulous. Due to the chill in the air, I opted to avoid a frozen beverage and instead sampled the Limoncello Lemonade, which is fresh squeezed lemonade, limoncello and vodka served over ice and trust me, it is as good as it sounds.
If you find yourself in Indy at the right time, you should definitely visit the historic and haunted Hannah House. The home is maintained and preserved by volunteers and is open for tours once a month and paranormal investigations are occasionally held as well. The Hannah House was built in 1858 and was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad. One evening a fleeing group of slaves was sleeping in the basement of the home when an oil lamp fell over, catching the basement on fire. Some of the victims died from their burns, while others succumbed to the effects of smoke inhalation. The owner of the home, Alexander Hannah, was afraid that the deaths would bring attention to his work with the Underground Railroad so he decided that the victims would be buried in the basement assuring that his secret was safe. It is believed that due to their traumatic deaths and their burial in the home, that the spirits of the slaves have never left the Hannah House and that they remain there to this day. There is certainly a heavy feeling when one ventures into the basement though I did not experience anything during my daytime visit to the Hannah House.
Indianapolis is also home to the historic and beautiful Crown Hill Cemetery, first established in 1863. The massive cemetery boasts 374 acres and many of Indianapolis’ most notable residents have been buried in Crown Hill. The most stunning grave is that of famous poet James Whitcomb Riley. His tomb is situated on a large hill, known as the Crown that overlooks the cemetery. The grandeur of the monument is something to behold with large white columns and a staircase leading to the tomb. Riley’s grave is actually one of the most visited sites in Indianapolis. Infamous criminal John Dillinger is also buried in Crown Hill, albeit in a much smaller grave than that of James Whitcomb Riley. When Dillinger was interred at Crown Hill, the services were attended by nearly 5,000 people. Souvenir collectors also stole bits of dirt and flowers from the grave following the service, prompting Dillinger’s family to have the body exhumed and then reburied under a layer of concrete and iron. This did not stop vandals from continuing to desecrate the site through the years though, as they have been known to chip away at the stone, prompting the cemetery to replace the stone on at least 4 occasions. Crown Hill is also the final resting place of Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President of the United States and Colonel Eli Lilly, the Founder of Lilly and Co. The cemetery also hosts tours throughout the year including the Ghost Stories event in October which features tales of the cemetery’s spirited residents.
A trip to Indianapolis would not be complete without a little shopping and my preferred spot is the Society of Salvage. This great little shop has odd and unique items, architectural salvage, old medical pieces and bottles, vintage signage and pretty much anything in between. It’s a perfect place to find a small oddity for your curiosity cabinet or something so big that you can design a whole room around that specific piece. I ended up purchasing an antique dental tool and later during my second visit, an old glass medicine bottle. They also have super friendly shop cats that wander about visiting with patrons and I mean, who doesn’t love visiting with fur babies while they shop? Or maybe it’s just me but I’m inclined to think not.
At this point during your Indianapolis adventure, you must attend a ghost tour with Unseen Press. The company offers a variety of bus and walking tours throughout Indianapolis spotlighting some of the cities most haunted and historical locations. They also conduct tours in Noblesville and Westfield, with one tour focusing on the Underground Railroad History of Westfield. I attended a tour of the Chatham Arch Lockerbie neighborhood, part of the Theatre District in Downtown Indianapolis. Some of the stories include the death of Dr. Helene Knabe, a place called Cockroach Row and even Graverobbers. Unseen Press also periodically hosts ghost hunts throughout the year. You must register for tours in advance, as they do not take walk-ups and these tours do tend to sell out quickly.
While on the ghost tour, we stopped at the Rathskeller Restaurant, which specializes in ghosts and Bavarian food. The Rathskeller is housed in a building called the Athenaeum, which has been rumored to be haunted for many years. The most well-known story is that of Jolly Verner. Jolly loved to frequent the Rathskeller and enjoy the variety of beers that they offer but unfortunately, one evening, Jolly had a little too much to drink, stumbled toward the fireplace, fell in and died. Employees report hearing footsteps, seeing objects move by themselves and some have even seen shadowy figures moving about upstairs. The smell of the food was so enticing that following the tour, my friend and I popped back over to the Rathskeller for dinner. Being that I am a vegetarian, Bavarian/German food is not something that I have too much experience with because I stereotypically associate it with Bratwurst, Sauerkraut and Schnitzel but the Rathskeller has quite a few vegetarian options. My friend and I ordered the baked brie for our appetizer and it may well be the best baked brie that I’ve had. It’s served with toasted almonds, apples, grapes, fresh bread and a Chambord raspberry sauce that the Rathskeller should bottle. The sauce is that good. For my dinner, I did not order a Bavarian or German entrée, as I went with something Italian: Linguini with Sun-dried Tomato Pesto and Feta. I just have to say that for a Bavarian restaurant, they know how to do Italian food and I was definitely pleased with my decision. The Rathskeller doesn’t specialize in cocktails but they do have an extensive beer and wine list, which happens to include the only kind of beer that I will drink, Lambic. I opted to have the Lindeman's Framboise, a raspberry Lambic, that tastes just like a fresh ripe raspberry. I also suggest you save room for dessert because the Rathskeller’s dessert list is like a who’s who of sweet treats. I had the Black Forest cake so between that and the Lambic, I did sample a couple of German delicacies. My friend opted for the Snicker Ice Cream pie, which she referred to as amazing! All and all, I would say that the Rathskeller should definitely be on your list the next time you find yourself in Indianapolis.
That will do it for the Indianapolis edition of the Tell-Tale Traveler. I hope I gave you a glimpse into the haunted and historical locations that Indianapolis has to offer and that you might find yourself headed there for a road trip soon.
Tell-Tale Traveler Strange Indianapolis, Indiana Itinerary
1) Indiana Medical History Museum - 3045 W Vermont St, Indianapolis, IN 46222 -Thursday through Saturday 10:00am to 4:00pm – Cost: Adults $10.00, Seniors (over 65) $9.00, College students with valid I.D. $5.00, Students under 18 $3.00, Scouts $5.50 (includes badge) - www.imhm.org
2) Fresco Italian Café on the Canal – Canal level; take steps down by Michigan St bridge, 340 W Michigan St, Indianapolis, IN 46202 - (317) 797-9185 - Hours: Tuesday through Saturday 11:00am to 8:00pm - www.frescoindy.com/italian-cafe-on-the-canal
3) Hannah House - 3801 Madison Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46227 - (317) 787-8486 – Tours available on a monthly basis with occasional paranormal investigations offered – Tour Cost: $5.00 - www.thehannahmansion.org/
4) Crown Hill Cemetery - 700 38th St, Indianapolis, IN 46208 – Hours: Monday through Saturday 8:30am to 5:00pm and Sunday 12:00pm to 5:00pm - www.crownhill.org
Howling Hamilton County Bus Tour
Spirited Indianapolis Bus Tour
Chilling Chatham Arch-Lockerbie
Haunted Indianapolis Ghost Walks
Nefarious Noblesville Ghost Walks
Underground Railroad Walking Tour
Haunted Union Street Walking Tour