There had been failed attempts by others in 1901 to bring together the Hoosier natives in the Windy City through the “Indiana Club of Chicago.” But it would take these three Indiana expatriates with extraordinary complementary talents and a common bond to form the Indiana Society of Chicago. On September 22, 1905, forty-seven men signed on as charter members.
The inaugural Dinner celebration of one’s good fortune at having glorious Indiana roots took place on December 21, 1905, at the elegant Auditorium Hotel on Michigan Avenue. The camaraderie, pride and high-spirited humor that pulsated through that first Dinner have been the hallmarks of 82 subsequent Dinners.
There were 375 tuxedo-clad men in attendance who were served a menu of Blue Point, Whitefish au Chablis, Tenderloin of Beef Bordelaise, Roast Philadelphia Squab, Cream of Spinach Solferino, Sorbet au Kirsch, Meringue Glace and even more. This sumptuous array certainly befitting such a history-making occasion was virtually duplicated for the Society’s 90th Anniversary Dinner on December 2, 1995 at the Chicago Hilton & Towers, and this time for over 1500 formally-attired men and women.
The playfully irreverent intention of the Society was forever ingrained at its initial dinner by Ade in his opening remarks, “. . .I came to Chicago, but I couldn’t get away from Hoosiers. In fact, you can’t get away from a Hoosier no matter where you go. Needless to say, I found Chicago surcharged with Hoosier exiles – men who were here not because they wanted to leave Indiana, but because the population up here could be worked more easily than the bright native article down home.”
He also later laid down the dinner program ground rules. “. . .the Annual Dinner comes every December. These dinners have been notable because the members and guests attending them have not been bored to death by long speeches. At every dinner there are four headliners chosen with even more care than accompanies a selection for the Hall of Fame. We play no favorites. Even the statesmen and politicians are admitted on terms of equality with the authors, the judges, and the predatory rich. . .the main asset of the Indiana Society is the enthusiastic good fellowship of its members.”
Writer and charter member, Wilbur Nesbitt, certainly recognized the state’s unique significance, and speaking at the 1905 Dinner referred to “that first of all Hoosiers – Adam, and further noted that Christopher Columbus was a great Hoosier.” Hence, the naming of Columbus, Indiana. Nesbitt also confirmed that “the Garden of Eden was located in what is now Brown County.”
This manner of having fun with people and places lives on not only in the wit of comedians on the program, but also in the traditional ballroom parade of gag signs that jibe “good-naturedly” at the pretentious, the self-important – and rib fellow members to insure their humility will be intact for yet another year.
Among the headliners at the first dinner were, in addition to Ade, McCutcheon and Holloway, fellow Board of Trustee member, Senator Albert T. Beveridge, Federal Judge and later Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and the Presidents of Purdue and Notre Dame Universities.
At the time of the Society’s creation, Indiana was the toast of the literary world, second only to New York in the number of published authors. This Golden Age of Indiana Literature would naturally influence the Society’s early membership composition and character of its celebratory dinners.
Besides Ade, McCutcheon and Nesbitt, other literary luminaries associated with the Society included James Whitcomb Riley, Booth Tarkington, Meredith Nicholson, Kin Hubbard and George Barr McCutcheon. James Whitcomb Riley, as Hoosier a poet as ever was, summed up the Society’s charter members as “you who have the fortune of birth and the misfortune of migration.”