Listen to Hoosier History Live! at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM. You also can listen online at the WICR website during the broadcast or you can join our listening group at Bookmama's in Irvington to listen to, and discuss, the Saturday show. We invite you to visit our website!
Oct. 30 show
House of Blue Lights revisited
You now can listen to the full audio of our Oct. 31, 2009 Hoosier History Live! show about the House of Blue Lights with guest Mike Ahern. This audio link, as well as many photographs, are courtesy of the website that our guests have created, houseofbluelights.com.
As the source of perhaps the biggest urban legend in state history, the House of Blue Lights - and resulting folklore about the secluded estate regarded for nearly 50 years as the creepiest place in Indianapolis - can't be covered in a single show.
Those of you who tuned in to our Halloween Day broadcast last year featuring longtime WISH-TV anchorman Mike Ahern's insights about the House of Blue Lights - as well as anyone fascinated by the myths surrounding the estate of eccentric millionaire Skiles E. Test - are in for another Halloween treat. Nelson's guests will include Skiles Test's daughter, Louellen Test Hesse, a lifelong Californian who rarely has been interviewed about the House of Blue Lights.
Sneaking around the estate near Fall Creek Road and Shadeland Avenue became a Halloween-season rite of passage for thousands of high school and college students from the 1920s through the 1960s. Louellen has graciously agreed to be a guest by phone, joining Nelson and his in-studio guest, another person with firsthand knowledge of the mysterious House of Blue Lights: Garry Ledbetter, whom Mr. Test employed as a young caretaker.
Regular listeners will recall that Garry phoned in during last year's show to mention his duties included feeding more than 150 cats that Mr. Test kept as pets on the property. The resulting pet cemetery fueled curiosity by six generations of teenagers.
Primarily, though, their obsession focused on the urban legend that Mr. Test kept the corpse of his beautiful, dead wife in a glass coffin that he bathed in blue light. Trespassers hoped to catch a glimpse of the casket, the perfectly preserved dead body and of Mr. Test, who was said to sit beside it in a chair, rocking in sorrow night after night.
As we clarified during last year's show, there was never a corpse. Mr. Test (1889-1964) was married three times, and all of his former wives (including Louellen's mother in California) outlived him. Many more questions and myths abound, even though the eerie House of Blue Lights was demolished in 1978. As a news anchor, Mike Ahern covered the demolition, which he discussed during last year's show.
Garry and Louellen will join Nelson on the air this Halloween weekend to cover as much more turf as possible during the show, which is certain to be riveting.
According to Garry, some accounts even indicate J. Edgar Hoover visited the Test property during the 1930s to check out the creepy doings on behalf of the FBI.
Garry, Louellen and Nelson also will explore the tunnels on the Test estate, one of the many sources of intrigue for the waves of trespassing teenagers. What was the purpose of the tunnels? Did teens ever get trapped in them? And why, if the thousands of young trespassers eventually distressed Mr. Test, didn't he get out the word that there was no corpse on the property?
- Born into a prominent Indianapolis family, Skiles Test grew up in a spacious Woodruff Place home. His father, Charles Test, was one of the founders of the National Vehicle Motor Car Company.
- In 1913, Skiles Test purchased what was then a farmhouse northeast of Indianapolis. This is the secluded home that became known as the House of Blue Lights.
- He eventually built a spectacular Olympic-sized swimming pool and a three-story bathhouse on the property. The solar-heated pool featured a trapeze, a high dive and glass bricks, which, when illuminated, may have cast off a blue glow. Mr. Test also liked to decorate his property with blue lights during the holiday season.
- Louellen's mother was Mr. Test's third wife. She grew up in California with her mother but spent summers with her father at the House of Blue Lights.
- Garry moved with his father (an employee of Mr. Test) into a tenant house on the property in the mid-1950s when he was 8 years old. As he mentioned during last year's show, his duties eventually included feeding the 150 cats meals of cottage cheese, chicken and boiled fish. Under Mr. Test's direction, when the cats died, Garry and other employees would bury them in wooden boxes and create headstones for them. Mr. Test also asked them to bury dead wildlife, including squirrels, when found on the property.
- Because he gradually acquired more land, Mr. Test owned more than 700 acres. Under the provisions of his will, some of the property became the Skiles Test Nature Park. Another portion was bequeathed to Lawrence Township Schools and today is the site of Skiles Test Elementary School. Students at another school in the district, Harrison Hill Elementary, have done research projects on the House of Blue Lights.
History Mystery question
According to urban legends about the House of Blue Lights, the sprawling estate was guarded by packs of vicious dogs, primarily Dobermans. In truth, owner Skiles Test kept far more cats than dogs. And the pet dogs owned by Mr. Test were not breeds known for being vicious. Some of the pet dogs were Pekingese. But most of the dogs were of a large breed that was discussed on Hoosier History Live! last year as well as in other media accounts that have explored the truth - and the myths - about the House of Blue Lights.
Question: Name the primary breed of dog that Skiles Test kept on the estate.
To win the prize, you must call in with the correct answer during the live show. The call-in number is (317) 788-3314, and the prize is a gift certificate to Iozzo's Garden of Italy, courtesy of the Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association.
Chris Gahl of the ICVA suggests that we visit the Harrison Center for the Arts, which is located at 15th and Delaware streets in downtown Indianapolis. The Harrison Center is housed in what used to be the First Presbyterian Congregation, which was established in 1823 - a church where President Benjamin Harrison was an elder and Sunday-school teacher.
Present day, the Harrison Center serves as a hub for cultural development and urban revitalization, with more than 15 in-resident artists and lots of community education programs. Each month, the Harrison Center offers a new exhibit. November's show will feature paintings, photographs and written word that explores Indiana residents' relationship with Indiana food.
You can also plug in to the Harrison Center for the popular First Friday Art Tour, with the next one occurring Nov. 5 from 6 to 9 p.m.
What's new with Hoosier History Live!
Host Nelson Price and Producer Molly Head attended a "Father Tom Murphy Day" celebration at the Columbia Club in downtown Indianapolis on Oct. 12 and are pictured here with a blow-up of the Oct. 2 Hoosier History Live! e-newsletter. Lifelong Hoosier and lawyer-turned-priest Father Murphy was being honored at the Club on the 25th anniversary of his ordination.
Our Oct. 2 show had featured Father Murphy and Indy's oldest Catholic church, St. John, and the role that the downtown church had played and continues to play in the revitalization of downtown. Nelson and Molly attended the celebration at the invitation of longtime Hoosier History Live! listener Donna Shea.
Many thanks to the Indiana Historical Society for its annual renewal sponsorship of Hoosier History Live! We like year-long commitments! Thanks also to Lucas Oil for its annual renewal commitment. If you are a company or organization with strong Indiana roots, consider becoming a sponsor. We offer a fresh perspective on Indiana history that can't be heard elsewhere.
Many people believe that we are funded by the University of Indianapolis. We are very grateful to radio station WICR 88.7 FM for being our anchor station, and WICR is owned by UIndy. However, we receive no funding from the university; we are a consortium of journalists, historians and professionals who work independently to produce this program. We rely completely on sponsors, grants and donations for support. If you would like to hear more of the shows available online, as podcasts, consider making a contribution. You can even make a PayPal contribution on our website; that's easy enough!
Thanks also to the Indiana Humanities Council for serving as our 501 (c) 3. Visit our "Support the show" page. And you can always call our ever-persistent producer Molly Head at (317) 927-9101 to learn how you can help us out. And don't forget, you can become a fan on Facebook.
Your team on the Hoosier History Live! e-project,
Nelson Price, host and creative director
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Chris Gahl, Roadtripper
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Garry Chilluffo, creative consultant
Please tell our sponsors that you appreciate their support: The Fadely Trust, Indiana Historical Society, Lucas Oil, Indiana Authors Award and Story Inn.
Acknowledgments to Print Resources, Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, Monomedia, Indiana Humanities Council, Indianapolis Convention & Visitors Association, WICR-FM, Fraizer Designs, Chelsea Niccum and many other individuals and organizations. We are an independently produced program and are self-supporting through organizational sponsorships, grants and through individual tax-deductible contributions through the Indiana Humanities Council. Visit our website to learn how you can support us financially.
Nov. 6 - no show
Hoosier History Live! takes the week off
Hoosier History Live! will be pre-empted on Nov. 6 for WICR-FM's coverage of U Indy football. We will return Nov. 13 with a brand-new show.
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