Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Ira and Myra – the descent

To get up to speed on this true tale of New Albany history read the previous post – “Desperate Housewives – 1886 Style”

The Accusation – The Attempted Murder – The Murder

The Accusation
In December 1885 the rumors made their way back to Ira. Myra and Charles V. Hoover were having an affair. Acquaintances informed Ira that Charles had boasted of the affair. Rumor had it that Charles would blow kisses as he walked past the Strunk home. A resident near the church that both Charles and Myra frequented would later testify to witnessing the sin of all sins – “afternoon delight” in the church itself.

Church sex wouldn’t go over too well today – you can only imagine the scandal it would cause in 1885.

Ira believed his wife had been unfaithful. He had been dishonored. His was family disgraced. As Christmas was nearing, Ira moved out of the house and into the Occidental Hotel at West First and Main Street.

The Attempted Murder
Ira fell violently ill soon after moving out of the Strunk home. For weeks, he was stricken with inflammation of the bowels and a malarial fever. He did not recover until the end of April 1886. That’s nearly four months of being incapacitated, in bed, with nothing to occupy his mind except his wife’s infidelity. From time to time visitors would stop by and relate more gossip and rumor.

Friends would later describe how Ira began to change; he developed a wild-eyed look, rarely slept, appeared grief stricken, would become violent – he was feared by them.

In late April, Ira had recovered enough to take a shopping trip to Maienthal’s Clothing Store (corner of Pearl and Market). He saw a familiar face in the store, Charles V. Hoover. Ira drew his revolver and fired. Nothing happened, as the gun had misfired. Charles scrambled and escaped through the cellar.

A grand jury indicted Ira for assault and battery with intent to kill. He pleaded not guilty and was heavily bonded. He would then leave for Florida to sell his real estate holdings.

The Murder
Fast forward to July 27, 1886. Ira had been back from Florida for several weeks. There had been no reconciliation with Myra – he was back at the Occidental Hotel. On this hot July morning, he had taken his children for a walk. At eleven-thirty he sat down in one of the chairs in front of the New Albany Inn.

It was at this time that Charles and his father, Dr. Hoover, were walking home to eat lunch. Was Ira waiting for them? Was he aware this was their normal path home for lunch?

Regardless, Ira saw the two men, stood up from his seat, withdrew his revolver, and pursued them for two blocks. He reached Dr. Hoover first, firing twice and knocking him to the ground. He then turned the gun on Charles, firing and hitting him twice. Charles managed to stumble into the doorway of Bohl’s Barber Shop (East Fourth Street), but collapsed in the doorway.

Ira was not finished. As Charles lay near death, he pounded him in the skull with his revolver. A witness later testified that Ira then took out a handkerchief, wiped his brow, put on his hat, and walked back to his hotel. He was arrested an hour later.

What happened at the trial? Was Ira sentenced to death?
Check back later this week for a review of the trial, a postscript, and photos of landmarks relating to this sad episode of New Albany history.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Desperate Housewives - 1886 style

Sex, infidelity, greed, scandal, cowardice, love triangle, insanity, murder....

In the prosperous, bustling river town of New Albany life was pretty good for Professor Ira G. Strunk. A professor of penmanship, he came to town after graduating from the University of Kentucky. Ira arrived in 1872, being assigned as principal of the New Albany Business College. Within 2 years, along with a partner, he owned the school.

Then Ira met, wooed, and wed Myra Sullivan. Her parents, William and Jane Sullivan, operated a successful grocery. Myra was an only child, described as being endowed with charm and intelligence. She had a talent and love of music. She had the best musical education that was available at the time. She had also had the eye of many young men in the City. Ira landed a keeper.

The newlyweds took up residence at the Sullivan home, northwest corner of E. 5th St. and Main St. Ira worked long hours at the school, was an officer of a Building and Loan Association, helped the Republican Central Committee run campaigns, worked to promote the Odd Fellows Lodge, and made regular trips to Florida (alone) dabbling in real estate. Ira and Myra were blessed with two daughters born respectively in 1877 and 1879.

This was a prosperous, popular, and influential family. Even by 2005 standards, these folks were movers and shakers. It's hard to imagine a more idyllic life.

In addition to raising two children, Myra found time to put her musical skills to work as the organist for her church. Undoubtedly, she spent time there practicing with the church choir. The choir director was Charles V. Hoover. The Hoover and Sullivan families were close friends and neighbors - and had been long before Ira came to town.

Charles was the son of Dr. Charles L. Hoover, who operated and owned the Hoover Drug Store. It was a successful business. Charles V. was a traveling salesman for the store. When he was not traveling, he was obligated to work at the store. On such days, he and his father, Dr. Hoover, would often walk to their home on Market Street for lunch.

Again, the only thing notable is the nearly script like lives being lived by the Hoover, Sullivan, and Strunk families. But the plot takes a little twist in this script. On a hot summer day in 1886, at about 11:30am, there will be two pools of blood on Market Street.

Charles Hoover will watch helplessly as his father, Dr. Hoover, is shot. Then Charles' skull will be shattered by crushing blows and he will be shot twice at point blank range. Murder on Market Street.

Who was the murderer? What events led to this bloody lunchtime special on Market Street? Look for more installments later this week.

Friday, November 11, 2005

November 10th - a Historic Day Indeed (updated)

November 10th 2005 may indeed be a day to mark in your calendars.

  • A neighborhood planning meeting attended by over 50 folk at The Grand.
  • An announcement that yet another building (M. Fine) will be undergoing a renovation and adaptive reuse.

And at the same time the New Albany Historic Preservation Commission (during a marathon 3 hour 45 minute meeting):

  • Approves plans for the restoration of three storefronts on Pearl Street between Main and Market.
  • Reviews and approves exterior design of Scribner Place YMCA and Aquatic Center.
  • Announces plans to seek Preserve America designation (http://www.preserveamerica.gov/) opening up a new grant funding source and bringing national attention to the heritage and cultural assets of New Albany.

Anyway you look at it - that’s a pretty darn good day for the city of New Albany.

Artist rendering of storefronts to be restored on Pearl Street -

Submitted by property owner Stephen J. Beardsley

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

A closing note on the Opera House (3rd installment)

Learning that we had an Opera House/theatre of a grand scale (lauded as the finest in the West) truly sparked my interest. Reading the research on it was enjoyable. It truly reinforced the fact that New Albany “had it going on” in that time period.

It was a time of incredible growth, expansion, and optimism. New Albany was the wealthiest city in Indiana. It was also the home of the wealthiest person in the state – Washington C. Depauw. The money was here. They wanted an Opera House. It was built.

As promised, here’s a bit more info on the interior taken from the New Albany Ledger, November 23, 1866

“The hall is on the second floor and is reached by a broad flight of steps of easy ascent. At the foot of the stairs on the north side is the ticket office, a neat and nicely organized room. Immediately at the head of the stairs is the entrance to the dress circle and parquette: while a flight of broad stairs on the right and left lead respectively to the family circle and gallery.”

I’m not as familiar with theater terms as I should be:
Parquette – main floor orchestra boxes (175 seats)
Dress Circle – 1st tier above the orchestra boxes (640 seats)
Family Circle – (2nd tier) section of seats normally less expensive than others (800 seats)
Gallery – (3rd tier) the cheapest seats (885 seats)

The dress circle and parquette are most elegantly and elaborately finished. They are supplied with spring cushion seats, covered in red damask, with green damask and stuffed backs. The seats in the dress circle are of the same kind of material. The parquette or orchestra boxes are separated from the dress circle by a beautiful iron railing in semi-circle form. The brackets that ornament the gas burners form a really magnificent ornament to the front and sides of the circle. A larger number of brackets add to the elegance of other parts of the house. The house was lighted by 150 gas burners.”

The family circle seats were the same as the parquette and dress circle. The 3rd tier is described as having comfortable seats. I was also not shocked to see that seating, as well as entry, was segregated - a sad but true statement of reality for that time.

The first floor was originally constructed for commercial purposes. There were 5 rooms rented – with the corner of Spring and Pearl used as the Post Office.

The Opera House decline appears to have begun in 1915, when it ceased to function as a theater. It seems sad to think of poultry shows, dog and pony shows, and other animal exhibits being held there, but that was the case. It also served stints as a billiard hall, bowling alley, roller skating rink, and movie theater. The fire that gutted the building took place on March 28, 1939.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

More Opera House (aka Music Hall and Lyceum Theatre)

Source for below – documentation given for the Floyd Historical Society by the late M. Lucille Reisz

Fast Facts: Cost - $100,000, Seated 2500, Lighting provided by 150 gas burners, Stage dimensions 34 by 65 feet.

The Opera House was a multi purpose structure. It played host to operas, commencements, a Democratic Congressional Convention (1868), plays, and much more. Opening night was November 26, 1866. A play was presented, “The Comedy of Fashion or Life in New York” written by Anna Cora Mowatt. It was pronounced as one of the finest American comedies.

Here’s a description of the drop curtain from the Daily New Albany Ledger, November 21, 1866: “It is a fine piece of work and reflects great credit upon the artist, Mr. West, who designed and painted the curtain. Mr. West is from Cincinnati. The scene on the curtain represents the Villa of Lucullus, an ancient Roman General. There are tall trees (tropical) that stand out in bold relief. Caves and grottos are also represented near. In the distance on a plateau is situated the villa.”

The Opera House was quite a draw. “Arrangements have been made with the Railroad Company to bring citizens from Jeffersonville to attend performances during the season at $.15 each way. The ferry boats and Louisville Street cars will run until after the performance to accommodate visitors from Louisville and Portland.”

Also noted (amusingly) were some not so happy about this addition to New Albany. “Not everyone was happy about the New Theatre. Many ministers preached against the immorality of attending the theatre….

Highlights from season performances:
1869 – Hamlet, Tom Thumb and His Wife, the Swiss Bell Ringers
1872 – An Opera Troupe presented “Martha” and “Barber of Seville”
1875 – A “grand masquerade party”, Gilmore’s 22nd Regiment Band
1876 – Davy Crocket
1878 – Humpty Dumpty, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Two show programs are below. I’ll post a bit more about interior descriptions in the next couple days. I’ve just about run out of gas today.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

New Albany's Opera House - Did You Know?

Did you know that New Albany had an Opera House? Built in 1866 in a city that at the time was the leading industrial and commercial center of the state. The next time you are cruising down Spring Street, take a look to your right when you get to Pearl. It’s the same building – altered significantly – but that is our Opera House.

A fire damaged the building in about 1939. A re-model followed soon after the fire, leaving us with the building we have today. The biggest change, of course, was the removal of the top floor.