Friday, December 13, 2013

Remembering the 1977 Evansville Purple Aces

Evansville, IN
Rarely do I take a trip down memory lane on this blog, but alas, today is one of those times. I was stunned a few weeks ago when I realized that it had been 36 years since a regional tragedy shook southern Indiana to its core.

Tuesday, December 13, 1977 was a cold, rainy evening in Evansville, Indiana. Fog was moving in in front of a cold front, and wind gusts whipped across the prairie. 

The University of Evansville Purple Aces, the men’s basketball team, was preparing to head to a game at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. But the team had waited over three hours at the airport before their plane arrived. It had been delayed due to inclement weather.

Bobby Watson
The players and their new coach, Bobby Watson, were excited and anticipating this game, thinking it could be the beginning of the holiday turn-around games they were expecting to win.

1977 Purple Aces
With a 1 – 3 record going into this game, the Aces wanted to prove they had what it would take to bring home a victory, and that their young, optimistic coach was right – in their first season of Division 1 competition they planned to be a force to be reckoned with come spring. And the City of Evansville staunchly supported them.

But at 7:22 p.m., on runway 18 at Evansville Dress Regional Airport, all hopes for the team and their coach ended.

Crash Debris
Within 90 seconds after takeoff, the twin-engine Douglas C-53 (DC-3) chartered to fly the team to Nashville, lost control and crashed in a nearby field. There were 29 people on board; 25 were killed immediately. Three others died at the scene. Only one person made it to the hospital where he died a few hours later.

The hometown basketball team was gone. The horror of the crash rebounded around the city, the state, the Midwest, and the country.

The official accident report listed the probable cause of the crash as "An attempted take-off with the rudder and right aileron control locks installed, in combination with a rearward centre of gravity, which resulted in the aircraft's rotating to a nose-high attitude immediately after take-off, and entering the region of reversed command from which the pilot was unable to recover.”

The report also stated that the passenger baggage had not been loaded correctly, creating an improper weight balance in the rear of the plane.

Of those who were killed, 14 were members of the Purple Aces basketball team, along with Coach Bobby Watson. Also on board were three student managers, three UE officials, the team’s radio announcer, two fans, and four members of the flight crew, along with the president of the airline.

David Furr
Only one member of the Purple Aces had not been injured. Freshman David Furr, who also served as the team’s statistician, had been sidelined due to an ankle injury and was not on the plane that night. But two-weeks later, Furr and his 16-year-old brother were killed in a car accident after being hit by a drunk driver. By the end of 1977, all of the members of UE’s Purple Aces were dead.

Memorial Plaza
Weeping Basketball
A memorial plaza was built as a monument to the team. What is known as the “Weeping Basketball” stands in the center of the plaza. Stone slabs are engraved with the names of all who died in the crash, and also teammate David Furr, killed two weeks later. The memorial is located on the University of Evansville campus.

UE Game
Tonight will mark thirty-six years since the crash of the team’s plane. A lot has changed, yet some things remain the same. The university basketball team still fights under the mantle of purple, and the city is as enthusiastic and supportive as ever of their Purple Aces. Yes, Hoosier Hysteria still reigns throughout Evansville, and the state of Indiana.

But many who can recall that terrible event will pause this evening, and remember the night when basketball died in a barren southern Indiana field.

~ Joy

Remembering those who lost their lives in the crash:

University of Evansville Coach
Robert (Bobby) Watson

Purple Aces Players
Kevin Kingston, senior
John Ed Washington, senior
Tony Winburn, senior
Steve Miller, junior
Bryan Taylor, junior
Keith Moon, sophomore
Warren Alston, freshman
Ray Comandella, freshman
Mike Duff, freshman
Kraig Heckendorn, freshman
Michael Joyner, freshman
Barney Lewis, freshman
Greg Smith, freshman
Mark Siegel, freshman

Student Managers
Jeff Bohnert
Mark (Tank) Kirkpatrick
Mark Kniese

University of Evansville Officials
Bob Hudson, athletic business manager
Gregory Knipping, sports information director
Charles Shike, comptroller

Radio Announcer
Marvin (Marv) Bates

Fans and Boosters
Charles Goad
Maurice (Maury) King

Flight Crew Members & Airline Representatives
Ty Van Pham, pilot
Gaston Ruiz, first officer
Pam Smith, flight attendant
James Stewart, president of National Jet Service, Inc.
Bill Hartford, charter flight manager

Friday, December 6, 2013

Tis the Season - Celebrating the Real St Nicholas

St Nicholas
It was on this date in 343 AD that St Nicholas died - and the origins of Santa were born.

You see the story of Santa begins with Nicholas. Born in Patara, Lycia (now Turkey) in 270 AD, Nicholas’s wealthy Greek parents raised him to be a devout Christian. When they died in an epidemic, Nicholas took his inheritance and used it to help the needy, sick, and infirm.

Bishop Nicholas
While still a young man, Nicholas became the Bishop of Myra. Because of his many miracles, he became known as Nikolaos the Wonder Worker. He enjoyed giving gifts to those in need – but always in secret so they would not know from whom the gift came – which is how he became the model for Santa Clause.

Nicholas & the Dowery
One legend has him tossing three purses filled with gold coins through a poor man’s window so that each of his daughters could have a proper dowry and be able to marry.

Miracle of the Grain
Of his miracles, it is said that during a famine in Myra, Nicholas asked a captain to sell him some grain from his three ships bound for Alexandria. The captain refused, saying that the cargo had been weighed and measured, and must be delivered intact. Bishop Nicholas told the captain that there would be no problem with the cargo’s weight. The captain unloaded 100 bushels of corn from each ship and continued on. When he arrived in Alexandria, the grain weighed what it had when the voyage began.

With the 300 bushels of corn, Nicholas was able to feed the people of Lycia, and also provide enough seed for them to plant to keep them in food for another two years – until the famine ended.

St Nicholas Medal for Sailors
Sailors also have a special bond with St Nicholas. During a violent storm, sailors implored Bishop Nicholas to help them. The sailors then saw Nicholas appear on the ship and assist them in retying masts and getting the ship out of danger. When they landed in Myra they sought out the Bishop and asked how he had heard them and been able to help. Nicholas replied that a life devoted to God made the person clear-sighted and able to heed the calls of those in danger.

Tomb of Bishop Nicholas
On December 6, 343 Bishop Nicholas died. He was buried in the cathedral in Myra. Because of the numerous miracles attributed to him, and for his generosity of spirit, Bishop Nicholas became St Nicholas in 400 AD. The anniversary of his death is known as St Nicholas Day. (Celebrated on December 19th on the Julian calendar.)

Celebrating St Nicholas Day
Throughout the centuries the legacy of St Nicholas traveled throughout the world. He became known as the protector of children and sailors. And has always been known for his heart-felt gift-giving.

During the 12th century the Dutch and French began to celebrate St Nicholas Day by leaving gifts for those in need. The custom spread to other countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and England.

St Nicholas Giving Gifts
Rudolph Hospinian
In the 15th century the Swiss writer Rudolf Hospinian helped spread the legend when he wrote, “It was the custom for parents, on the vigil of St Nicholas, to convey secretly presents of various kinds to their little sons and daughters who were taught to believe that they owed them to the kindness of St Nicholas and his train, who, going up and down among the towns and villages, came in at the windows, though they were shut, and distributed them.”

John Pintard
But it seems that St Nicholas didn’t really get embraced in America until the early 19th century. John Pintard, founder of the New York Historical Society, indorsed St Nicholas as the patrol saint of the city, and the society in 1804. Just a few years later Washington Irving published Knickerbocker’s History of New York and mentioned a jolly St Nicholas-type figure.

Anderson's Drawing
By 1810, Pintard had commissioned an artist to create an image for the American St Nick. Artist Alexander Anderson drew Nicholas placing treats in children’s stocking that were hung on the fireplace.

Children's Friend Santa
The first lithographed book published in the U.S. in 1821 was titled the Children’s Friend,
and told of Santa Clause who lived at the North Pole and traveled by a sleigh, pulled by flying reindeer.

In 1823, A Visit from St Nick, or as it is better known now, “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” was published. This description of Santa formed the lasting American image of St Nicholas.

Thomas Nast's Santa
During the 1860’s and 70’s, Thomas Nast drew illustrations of Santa for Harper’s Weekly. In his drawings Santa wore a long, white beard, and a red fur-trimmed suit, which covered a round belly. In many illustrations he was shown smoking a clay pipe. Somewhere during this century St Nicholas and Santa became intermingled.

By the middle of the 20th century, Santa had gone commercial.
Santa Goes Commercial
Instead of giving gifts from the heart, as St Nicholas had, Santa became all about spending money on presents, and the more money, the better. The expectation became give a gift; get a gift. Somewhere along the line, helping the poor, sick, and infirmed became a novel idea instead of the norm. Commercialism had reared its ugly head and taken over the holiday, along with the spirit of giving.

Ghost of Christmas Present
We are now over a decade into the 21st century and Charles Dickens novella A Christmas Carol still retains a contemporary message. When the Ghost of Christmas Present parts his green fur-lined robe to revel two starving children, Scrooge asks whose children they are. The Spirit replies, “They are Man's and they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance and this girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.”

Maybe this should be the year we celebrate the season more in keeping with the way Bishop Nicholas would have: with kindness, charity, and generosity of spirit: some things even Santa might approve of.

~ Joy

Friday, November 29, 2013

A Grave in the Middle of the Road

Tractor Crossing
Deer Crossing
It isn’t unusual when traveling country back roads to come across road signs warning drivers of deer or other unseen hazards. But this sign was a first for me… It’s meaning?

Grave in the Middle of the Road
There is a grave in the middle of the road.

But the grave was not always in the flow of traffic. 

Settler's Cabin
Nancy Kerlin married William Barnett in 1808 and they settled near what would become Amity, Indiana. They raised several children before Nancy died on December 1, 1831.

Indiana Wilderness
Her family buried her on top of a small hill that overlooked Sugar Creek, one of her favorite spots. Soon others were also buried in the makeshift graveyard, and over the years a small county cemetery developed.

Local Longhorn
But then progress reared its head and decided that a road needed to be built to connect Amity with other thoroughfares in the state.

Around the turn of the century, Johnson County decided to take the road directly through the cemetery, which meant that the graves would need to be relocated.

Johnson County Courthouse
But Nancy Barnett’s grandson, Daniel G. Doty had a problem with that. He did not want his grandmother’s grave disturbed. Doty went to the county and voiced his opposition to the plan but nothing changed. So, Doty decided to take matters into his own hands.

When the county work crews arrived to begin moving the graves that morning, they discovered Doty, sitting on his grandmother’s grave – with a loaded shotgun.
Road Crew

Again, Doty told the county that his grandmother would stay where she was. If they insisted on trying to move her grave, they would have to deal with him…

Graves That Were Moved
Nancy Barnett's Grave
The county concurred and left Doty and his grandmother’s grave alone. All that remained after the other graves had been moved was Doty, sitting on Nancy Barnett’s grave – still holding his gun.

Historical Marker
In 1912, a concrete slab was placed over the grave to protect it. A historical marker was added in 1982 by Barnett’s great, great grandson Kenneth Blackwell and his son, Richard Blackwell.

Nancy's Grave ON CR 400S
If you’d like to make the journey to see “the grave in the middle of the road,” travel south out of Indianapolis on U.S. 31 about 25 miles. You’ll travel through the town of Franklin, Indiana and continue south on 31 before turning east on County Road 400S about 1.5 miles.

Divided Roadway
It’s a part of unique American history; the result of the perseverance and determination of those who call themselves  "Hoosiers."