An Indianapolis Top 10

Although Indianapolis is America's 12th largest city, its contribution to the nation's cultural heritage has not quite kept in proportion with its place in the league table. However, the place has had its moments. In tribute to racing fan and talk show host David Letterman, who grew up in the now trendy suburb of Broad Ripple, we present... The Top 10 things you didn't know about Indianapolis!

An Indianapolis Top 10


Around the world Indianapolis is known for motor racing, but within the USA it is just as famous as the spiritual home of basketball. The Indiana Pacers, who now play at the new Conseco Fieldhouse arena in downtown Indy, have long been one of the major NBA teams, and reached the finals again this year. Dozens of other top stars around the country are graduates of the state's colleges, where basketball reigns supreme. The city has no major baseball team, but the NFL's Indianapolis Colts have recently come out of long shadow cast by hoops and nets, and have just enjoyed their best ever season. The team includes three of the country's top players. In recent years Indianapolis has also hosted the Pan-American Games, the US Olympic Trials, and even the World Rowing Championships. Tony George's Brickyard Crossing golf course, which includes several holes in the Speedway infield, holds a prestigious PGA Senior Tour tournament.


On June 26th 1977 Market Square Arena was the site of a truly significant event in US history, although no one knew it at the time. On the 68th birthday of his manager Colonel Parker, Elvis Presley played what turned out to be his last ever concert. He performed for 80 minutes, longer than usual. After bringing his father and some pals on stage for an extended goodbye, he brought things to a rousing finale, walked off, and took his plane back to Memphis. Two months later, he was dead.


The Beatles arrived in Indianapolis at 1am on September 3rd 1964, having just played a show in Philadelphia. They were whisked straight to the Speedway Motel, next to the circuit. The next day they toured the track in the their limo, played around with a slot-racing model, and even had a go on the mini-golf in front of the motel! Later they played two shows amongst the prize livestock at the Indiana State Fair, one inside, and the second outdoors. Already worn out by the incessant pursuit of fans, a bomb scare did nothing for their morale. When they made it back to the motel, Ringo couldn't sleep, and asked two state troopers to show him the sights. One of the cops lived on a farm 25 miles to the north, so they decided to take the world's most famous drummer there, stopping in a highway café for breakfast - much to the amazement of some disappointed Beatle fans who hadn't been able to get tickets. The group's entourage left town at 1pm the next day, amid a dispute about who should pay the hotel bills of the security guards. At the 1967 state fair Herman's Hermits took top billing over horse shoe pitching, the pre-teen water melon eating contest and The Who...


The most famous musician to actually hail from Indianapolis was jazz guitar great Wes Montgomery, who rose to prominence at the same time as top local vocal group The Ink Spots. Keyboard legend Booker T Jones was studying at the University of Indiana in Bloomington when soul classic Green Onions hit the charts. That town also produced singer John Cougar Mellancamp.


Although the state capital hasn't produced many big stars, Indiana as a whole can lay claim to some big names, including none other than Michael Jackson and his illustrious family. They were born and raised at 2300 Jackson Street in industrial Gary, just south of Chicago. Erstwhile Guns N' Roses stars Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin are natives of Lafayette, just off the highway between Indy and the Windy City.


Indianapolis itself hasn't made too many contributions to Hollywood, but again a look round the state reveals a few interesting names - including one of the greatest stars of them all. James Dean came from Fairmount, and his grave is still a major tourist attraction. The 45th anniversary of his death falls just six days after the GP. Fort Wayne, in the north east, produced Carole Lombard, Shelley Long (out of Cheers) and Dick York. You know - Darrin in Bewitched! Other Indianans include Richard Pryor, Karl 'Streets of San Francisco' Malden, and 50s star Anne Baxter.


Indiana has had more luck behind the other side of the camera, since no less than three top directors hail from the state; Howard Hawks (The Big Sleep, Scarface), Sydney Pollack (The Way We Were, Out of Africa) and Robert Wise (The Sound of Music, West Side Story). L Frank Baum wrote The Wizard of Oz at his home in Chesterton.


While a few Indiana natives have made it big in the movies, Hollywood has only rarely returned the compliment and ventured to the state. The most famous example was Winning (1969), the Indy 500 epic that inspired Paul Newman's passion for the sport, while the state's obsession with college basketball was captured in Hoosiers (1985). Sport seems to be the theme, for the cycling movie Breaking Away (1979) was filmed in and around Bloomington.


Indianapolis claims to have the biggest children's museum in the world, which also contains the world's biggest water clock, whatever that is. Anyway, it's 30 feet tall and uses 70 gallons of water. A tourist attraction which gets rather less active publicity is the grave of notorious gangster John Dillinger, shot in Chicago on July 22nd, 1934. Assuming that it really was him the FBI nabbed that day... By way of contrast, 23rd US President Benjamin Harrison is also buried in the same cemetery.


Anybody arriving at Indianapolis International Airport from London's Heathrow or Gatwick may get a sudden feeling of déjà vu. There's a good reason for that - the place is operated by none other than BAA, the company that oversees all the UK's top airports, and as such is the largest US airport run by a private firm. It's easier to get in and out of the place by road, since more major highways intersect at Indy than any other city. Those wishing to escape have a choice of seven directions! The city's oddest claim to fame is that it is the biggest US urban centre not accessible by sea, a lake or a navigable river. Indeed it may well be the biggest land-locked city in the world...

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