The penguins in their current location in 2015
Jane and the penguins in 1967
In Chapter Nine of The Ghost of Cheeney Creek, young Vanessa and her cousin Emma visit the Glendale Mall in Indianapolis. That was in June, 1967. Back then, the mall was open-air, with the stores arranged around a large open space filled with fountains and shoppers walking from store to store. In addition, just outside The Glendale House Restaurant, a sculpture of three child-sized, shiny bronze penguins stood in a circle around a silver ball. They were commissioned by the architect of the mall, Victor Gruen, and created by Kansas City artist, Arthur Craft (1922-1977). Craft was known for his colorful mosaics and stylized bronze animal sculptures installed in Kansas City, Cleveland, and other cities. The penguins beautifully captured a sense of movement and whimsy. They were meant to be crawled on, and affectionately mauled, by children, and they were! Named Wynkin, Blykin, and Nod after the famous poem, they stood in the elements from their installation date October 12, 1960, until the mall was enclosed in the 1970’s. After the mall was razed in 2005 and rebuilt in a different configuration as the Glendale Center, the penguins were lovingly restored and placed in the lobby just outside of the branch of the Indianapolis Public Library located at the Center. Those who had known the penguins as children sighed with relief that they would continue to be a part of the Center and protected for future generations to enjoy. One of the photos above is of my cousin Jane standing near the penguins in their original location in 1967, and the other the other is a photo of the penguins in their current location taken in 2015. At a recent book signing, a man named Joe told me that his first summer job was in maintenance at the Glendale Mall, and his first task each day was to wipe down the penguins. Joe’s an Executive Vice President at a national bank now, but you could tell he was pretty proud to tell me about his connection to the penguins.
Lorne Greene greeting cousins Jane, Ellen, and Martha at Weir Cook Airport, 1961.
In May, 1961, Lorne Greene, the actor known for portraying patriarch Ben Cartwright on the long-running TV western, Bonanza, came to Indianapolis to be in the annual Indianapolis 500 Festival Parade and to attend the race. He wasn’t the grand marshal of the parade this time. He would have to wait until 1967 for that honor, which he shared with co-stars Michael Landon and Dan Blocker. His arrival in Indy was a big deal to many of us, because celebrities didn’t come to Indianapolis very often back then. My Aunt Betty drove cousins Jane, Butchie, Martha, and Ellen out to Weir Cook Airport to see him arrive and to get his autograph. Back then, travelers walked down a staircase pushed up to the plane and then across the tarmac to the terminal. There was no security or TSA to contend with. So, you could easily see people as they arrived and walk right up to them if you wanted to. Bonanza had been on TV only two years at that point, and would run another 12 years before it was retired (but continued in syndication). After NBC moved the show in September, 1961 to Sunday evenings at 9:00, the show soared to number one and stayed there for many years. Lorne Greene was a Canadian actor known for serious roles and Shakespeare before Bonanza. You can see in these photos that he’s traveling in his Pa Cartwright TV costume. He must have really bought into his character! He even named his home after the name of the ranch on the show, The Ponderosa II. Cousin Jane reports that as he approached the crowd of teenagers waiting for him that day, he looked less than thrilled. Perhaps he was still adjusting to being a celebrity. My cousins got his autograph, of course.There’s a reference to all of this in Chapter Ten of The Ghost of Cheeney Creek where the family decides what to watch on TV and settles on Bonanza after a brief discussion about going to the airport to see him. A.J. Foyt won the Indy 500 race in 1961. The Official Pace Car for the race was a custom-made, gold Thunderbird convertible with a white top and pearl beige interior. It was given to A.J. as part of his winnings. It’s rumored that A.J. gave that Thunderbird to his mother. Some lucky lady!
Lorne Greene arriving in Indianapolis in 1961.