After my previous tour around Indianapolis, centering around John Green’s “The Fault in our Stars”, I cranked up my literary playlist, and decided to take another bookish tour around the city that gave the world Kurt Vonnegut.
Before we get to the legend himself, it’s important to learn a little about his family and their importance to the formation of the city to fully understand his deep-seated connection to Indianapolis. Vonnegut’s father and grandfather were both architects, and are responsible for designing some of the most iconic Art Deco style buildings in the downtown area.
The first stop on my tour was the Athenaeum. This is the finest example of the Art Deco style the elder Vonnegut family’s designs are centered around. The building currently houses a German-inspired restaurant/bier-garten/concert venue, and a fitness facility. Something tells me that’s probably not what it was originally intended for, but the beauty of the original design still shines through.
My next stop was at Vonnegut’s childhood home at 4365 N Illinois Street: the residence where it all started. The address is actually 4401 N Illinois Street these days, due to construction and renumbering. The structure is a more than adequate size in a nice area, going against the grain of the typical “starving artist” trope that everyone generally expects. However, that lavish lifestyle all came crashing down during Kurt’s childhood with the Great Depression. As amazing as it would be to wander through Kurt’s childhood bedroom and the kitchen where he ate his meals, I should probably mention that this is a privately owned residence, and creeping around to take pictures is a really weird thing to do, so maybe don’t do that.
Just a few short blocks from his childhood home is Shortridge High School where Vonnegut attended public school. For all the complaints about public school and the deficiencies of the learning systems, Vonnegut is a shining example of what can still be accomplished even with a public school system education. A lot of people credit his upbringing in public schools to what made him, him. His brother and sister both went to private school before his family’s wealth was wiped out by the Great Depression. Looking back, it’s hard to imagine what kind of material Vonnegut would’ve produced with a totally different social setting.
Vonnegut is known to have had a very tenuous relationship with his hometown. Although, having said that, he was always proud to be a son of the Circle City. Later in life, Indianapolis finally recognized his literary contributions and embraced the writer as one of its own, commissioning and dedicating a mural in his honor on the ever popular Massachusetts Avenue right in the heart of downtown. It’s a 38-foot representation of him, standing with his back to the city that many feel turned its back on him for much of his life.
Now before I go on, I gotta tell you, I was pretty honked off after making this next stop on my tour. I’ve always been curious to check out the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library. I checked the museum hours online and was assured of when they would be open and planned accordingly, only to find out the building is now a law firm. I tried contacting the number that was listed online just to be greeted with a recording that the number is no longer active. Standing on the side of Senate Avenue, I dug through several posts and pages online only to finally discover that the lease had expired seven months prior (at the time of my tour), and their future location was not yet operational (again, at the time of my tour). I was really looking forward to sitting in front of his typewriter, and taking a crack at cranking out my own literary brilliance. (Long shot there, I know.) They also have a compilation of Vonnegut’s rejection letters from editors. Man, what I would give to see some of those letters with the clarity of hindsight! Unfortunately, it just wasn’t meant to be. Not on that day, at least. I’m holding out hope that someday, I will still get those experiences. Their new location is set to open in the very near future, so here’s to hoping.
Lastly, I ended my tour at Bluebeard in Fountain Square, just southeast of downtown. Bluebeard is a trendy restaurant named after a Vonnegut novel. Outside of the name, I haven’t been able to make any other significant connections, so I guess they just liked the sound of it? As I was getting educated on the new location for the Museum and Library, I found out that apparently a second Bluebeard location will occupy the first floor of the museum’s new home.
And that was the conclusion of my Kurt Vonnegut tour of Indianapolis. At this point, my two small sons were ready to climb out of the moving vehicle if I took them to one more location. While they may have lacked the appreciation on that day, one day hopefully they’ll understand the significance. Maybe.
Thank you, that is all.