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  • Qanats are constructed as a series of well-like vertical shafts, connected by gently sloping tunnels. Qanats tap into subterranean water in a manner that efficiently delivers large quantities of water to the surface without need for pumping. The water drains relying on gravity, with the destination lower than the source, which is typically an upland aquifer. Qanats allow water to be transported over long distances in hot dry climates without losing a large proportion of the water to seepage and evaporation.
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Major A. Riddle and Old Lady Riddle’s House

NOTE & UPDATE: There’s a comment here on this post from DACI (see comments down at the bottom of the page) that corrects much of the information in this post. There was a kernel of truth and much speculation in the story I recount here from my older neighbor regarding Major Riddle, and because of this, it’s important to take my anecdotes with a grain of salt and then read the comment by DACI for a more complete truth. I very much appreciate the updated information from her, because it gives a much clearer picture of Major Riddle and his life.

A while back, I was looking up the history of our house in the Old Northside Historic Plan, and I noted that the third owner of our house was Charles L. Riddle, who owned a lighting store in town in the 1920’s. I found a picture of the store in the Indiana Historic Archives, and posted it to my blog. We found out a bit more about the Riddle family today.

We were out working in the yard this afternoon, and stopped to have a chat with our neighbor Mr. K——, who’s an older fellow (graduated from Arsenal Tech in 1949) who once lived in the house next door. His son K—– owns the house now, and we’ve chatted with him many times, but we hadn’t ever talked to his dad.

He filled us in on what it was like to live there as a kid, and who owned what houses, and what some of the houses that burned down used to look like, and generally gossiping and telling us about some of the scandals in the neighborhood, which is HUGELY entertaining coming from a 77 year-old man.

He was telling us that when he was a kid, (in the late 1930s and early 1940s) the house was owned by “Old Lady Riddle” – her name was Susan, Charles’ wife. Charels died in 1925, apparently, and she owned the house after. Her son was a Major Arteburn Riddle, who grew up in our house and started a trucking company during the Depression here in Indiana. He was a generation older than Mr. K——–.

He told us that Riddle got rich during the Depression because he would sell rigs to his truck drivers and finance their purchase, then when they were 3/4 paid for, he would lay them off and foreclose on the loans by taking the rigs, so he had a reputation as a shady guy. (See DACI comment for more on this.)

Then he said that Major Riddle (all this time, we’re thinking “Major” as a military rank, but that was his actual first name) took all his “trucking” money and went to Vegas and bought into the Dunes Hotel, and after that he was really rich.

When he got to that part, I remembered that K—– had mentioned this story awhile back, too, but at the time I was more interested in Kurt Vonnegut, who lived for a while with his grandparents on 13th street, right around the corner from us, so I forgot about the Dunes Hotel story. Our neighborhood had some relatively famous residents in Indianapolis history.

Anyways, Major Riddle was married, but he came back to visit his mom one day with another woman — in a big convertible Cadillac with fins and a set of longhorns on the front. I wish I could describe word-for-word what Mr. K——- said, because it was classic — he said he couldn’t remember the woman’s name, but she was famous: “that woman. You know, that woman they were all shooting each other up for out there in Vegas.” She got out of the car, and took her fur coat out (in was in a garment bag?) and they walked up on to the porch, and Old Lady Riddle opened the door, and said:

“You can come in, but that whore has to stay on the porch.”

Which everyone around heard, because they were all out gawking at the car. And then he talked a bit more about the fancy Caddy, and mentioned that Riddle bought a 1960 Cadillac for Old Lady Riddle “before that, all her cars were Packards.” And because it was too big to fit in the garage, “they tore down the garage and built that one” – pointing at our rather spacious one car garage. He remembered them building it.

And then he went on to talk about Major’s sister, (? don’t know who this was; turns out Major didn’t have a sister) and how she made picnics every week on our front porch and invite all the neighbor kids from all around to eat, and Old Lady Riddle would have fits, because she didn’t want them all at her house.

And from there he talked about the neighborhood changing in the 1950s from an all-white neighborhood to a mostly black one, and how the neighborhood got poorer and many of the lovely homes burned down.

So after we came in I sat down and started searching for Major Riddle and the Dunes Hotel, and found quite a lot.

It becomes apparent that Riddle’s trucking company here in Indiana had some pretty serious mob connections, and that he was involved with the Teamsters in Chicago and Vegas, too. And he was a major figure in early Vegas history, buying into the Dunes in 1956, bringing the very first topless Burlesque show to Vegas, and raking in loads of cash and making Vegas a hot spot for high rollers and wealthy gamblers. Major Arteburn Riddle was a pretty famous guy, and he may have slept in the Murphy bed in our house. (It was installed in 1924. Don’t worry, we bought a new mattress for it.)

Riddle also appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1962 to hawk his book, “The Weekend Gambler’s Handbook” to promote the Dunes.

There’s an entire thread on rec.gambling.poker about “The Takeoff of Major Riddle” which was apparently some huge poker scam involving fleecing Major Riddle at the Aladdin Room at the Dunes.

I haven’t figured out who the floozy on our front porch was yet, but I’m hoping to track her down.

And it occurred to us to wonder what might be under the garage floor, and under that weird spot of different-colored concrete in the basement. 🙂

In all, it’s made for a very entertaining afternoon of googling, and we have a theme for our next party, too. And my next pet will be named “Major Arteburn Riddle” after our esteemed mobster pal and former resident.

After learning all this, though, we realized we know most of the people who’ve owned/dwelled here: Joseph Caylor, Dennis Jenkins, Charles Riddle/Susan Riddle/Major A. Riddle, the Zimmermans, James Q. Mease, Dylan Wissing and Johnny Socko Band, Julie Wohead and friends, and the Mineart-Koutek family. Our house has a pretty colorful history.

2009/11/21 UPDATE: we picked up the book Bugsy’s Baby: The Secret Life of Mob Queen Virginia Hill
and discovered that the “woman they were shooting each other up over in Vegas” – Virginia Hill – was indeed having an affair with Major Riddle, however, she probably wasn’t the floozy made to stay on the porch. (see comments from Riddle family members below.)
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National Coming Out Day

Okay, I’ve been officially called out by one of my gay friends for being flip about National Coming Out Day, so I’ll ‘straighten’ my act out and give the day the attention it deserves.

Nineteen years ago on October 11, 1987, I was a student at Ball State University. I had been out of the closet since the previous year, but I didn’t have a huge amount of exposure to the gay community. The on-campus gay group was rather small, and I couldn’t get into bars yet, and I knew very little about gay culture.

The Thursday night before this day, I had been hanging out drinking with the small handful of gay people I did know: Gary Rice, Scott McClintic, Kally Love, and Kathy _____ (who’s last name I don’t quite remember.) It was about 1 in the morning, and someone brought up this “March on Washington” happening this weekend. And we all looked at each other, and someone said “We should go!” and the idea caught fire. Kathy called up some friends she knew in Maryland (in the middle of the night, of course), and asked if we could crash, and they said, “of course!”

So we went home, slept a couple of hours, threw some clothes in bags, and piled into Scott’s red Camaro. (Yeah, that’s five people in a Camaro, if you’re counting. I sat in the middle of the backseat, on the hump. I was really skinny back then.) After about twelve hours of singing, drinking and flashing pro-gay hand-drawn signs at other people on the road also driving to the March, we arrived in Maryland at Kathy’s friends apartment to sleep.

The next morning, Saturday, we drove to a metro parking lot, parked the Camaro, and took the Metro line to Dupont Circle (which is a very gay-friendly, progressive area of town with lots of gay businesses, like boystown in Chicago, or Greenwich Village in NY) to “find the gay people”. We were all from midwestern small-towns, and as we started to realize how many people riding the Metro with us were gay, we started getting more excited. I’m not sure I can adequately describe the feeling of being empowered/alive you feel as a minority when you find yourself in a group where there are more of “us” than there are of “them” — especially when you’re gay, because you typically don’t grow up with other gay people around you to temper the hostility directed at you, and you often feel very alone.
And then we got to the Dupont Circle Metro station. As we rode the escalator steps up from the dark station into the daylight, with the sounds of lots and lots of people overhead — the lyrics to a Wizard of Oz song popped into my mind:

You’re out of the woods, You’re out of the dark, You’re out of the night.
Step into the sun, Step into the light.
Keep straight ahead for the most glorious place
On the Face of the Earth or the sky.
Hold onto your breath, Hold onto your heart, Hold onto your hope.
March up to the gate and bid it open

There were people hanging out at the top of the stairs with signs — “Welcome Gay People!” and the circle was absolutely packed with people, and rainbows, rainbows, everywhere. And then there was a low rumbling sound, that got louder, as hundreds of motorcycles roared past — the Dykes on Bikes were driving through. I, of course, had never heard of the group, so I had no idea what to expect, or what to think of hundreds of butch women in leather on motorcycles, with femme blonde women in leather bikinis riding on the back of their bikes. I was thunderstruck.

That’s when I first realized how very different my life was going to be.

National Coming Out Day
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1898 Sanborn Map of 2165 N. Penn

1898 Sanborn Map of 2165 N. Penn
Sanborn maps were fire insurance maps that showed neighborhoods and houses for the purposes of determining insurance rates. This is the 1898 map of my neighborhood, showing my house as it looked at that time. I used to have a wrap-around front porch. There also appears to have been a stable on the property.
See the picture on Flickr.

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Stakeout on Millennium Drive

I hate throwing in the towel on books. I feel guilty if I can’t get through one, and I will struggle to the end of even the most difficult stuff. And I wanted to like Stakeout on Millennium Drive; I really did. It is, after all, a book set in Indianapolis, by a native writer, Ian Woollen. We just don’t have enough of those, so I was hoping to write a glowing review of a “must read” book. He even sent the book to IndyScribe so we could review it. It’s a murder mystery, and I love those.

The premise of the story is that a police officer shooting has occurred on “Millennium Drive” (a fictional street the approximate location of which I wasn’t able to determine) witnessed by a reporter named Kurt Blackwood on a ride-along with said policeman, Louis Garcia. Blackwood is a bit of a crackpot and writes for a fictional alternative local paper — the “Whipping Post” — where he writes a tinfoil-hat column called “Naptown Nuggets” (that name alone made me want to reject the book). Officer Garcia gets shot and killed by a woman as he tries to knock on her door to break up a domestic dispute between her and her husband. Despite the testimony of the reporter, the inquiry into the shooting determines the husband fired the gun, and that the incident was an accident, so the case is closed.

But Blackwood, who hears the voice of the slain policemen in his head, believes that the real facts of the shooting were covered up because there was some connection between the quarreling couple responsible for the shooting and the Mayor of Indianapolis, a fictional character that seems to be modeled on former mayor Steve Goldsmith (references to privitization and corruption abound). So Blackwood begins a stakeout of the street to gather more information, and at the same time begins writing reports on his progress in the form of long, rambling, disjointed letters to the Assistant Deputy Mayor of Indy (Randall Fleck), whom Blackwood conveniently has dug up some dirt on. The novel is composed almost entirely of these letters, with some short snippets of narration about Fleck’s reaction (or non-reaction) to these epistles.

You can see my problem, can’t you? If you were given a bunch of nutty ramblings about something you didn’t have a reason to care about, would you sit and read them? Even if they were conveniently bound in book form?

Woollen inserts a lot of interesting Indianapolis history into Blackwood’s ramblings through the character’s backstory; his family were long-time residents and had connections to early local architecture and culture movements. But I was bothered by the character expressing scathing feelings about the city. Everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, of course, but I wondered why an author would bother to set a book in a city that they appear to strongly dislike.

And as the letters to Fleck progress, Blackwood seems to lose track of his goal of ferretting out the truth as he interacts with the “colorful” characters of Millennium Drive, who hang out at his van and talk to him, and later invite him into their homes, instead of calling the police as anyone with an ounce of sense would do. He even becomes friends with the woman who shot officer Garcia and contemplates attempting to sleep with her. The point at which Blackwood begins a discourse on his sexual proclivities was one of my stopping points. I tried to power through it, but I got as far as the street’s pro-wrestler native american attempting a spirit-cleansing to exorcise the spirit of Officer Garcia from Blackwood’s head before I had to stop.

There was every reason for me to enjoy this book, but I couldn’t wait to put it down whenever I had it in my hands, and I dreaded picking up again. I even began cheating on it with other books on my to-read list. If you want to tackle the book, let me know how it wraps up. I wouldn’t mind knowing how it ends, but I just can’t devote the time to get there myself.

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