He was a wide-eyed boy of five near Kentland, Indiana in 1871 when the city of Chicago, in extraordinary fashion, cast out its lure to him. Much later, after achieving big city fame and fortune as a writer during the Golden Age of Hoosier Literature, George Ade reminisced about this singular event.
“That one night in October, just as far back as I can reach in the past, we sat on the fence and looked at a blur of illumination in the northern sky and learned that the city, which we had not seen, was burning up in a highly successful fashion.”
A dramatic display of predestination? Perhaps to some, but it was simply a reality about a century ago that gifted Hoosiers with certain talents and ambitions had darn best transplant themselves within that lakeside city now blazing with opportunity – and, of course, some excesses.
Some Hoosiers might well have boasted that Chicago was actually the grateful beneficiary of the luminous talent pool offered up by its goodhearted neighboring state. After all, the Chicago flag features four six-pointed crimson stars and the points of one star represent France, Great Britain, Virginia, the Northwest Territory, Illinois Statehood and the Indiana Territory!
And so, it became a decidedly symbiotic, backscratching relationship, even if there were culture clashes now and then. In fact, somewhat biting the hand that fed him, as a writer for a Chicago newspaper, George Ade’s Hoosier values flowed through his pen as he characteristically revealed and ridiculed big city pretension and self-importance.
Ade began at the customary bottom in 1890 as a weather reporter for a major Chicago newspaper. He shared a room in a seedy rooming house with his Purdue University Sigma Chi fraternity brother, John T. McCutcheon, who was something of a writer himself, but more of an artist. Ade’s journalistic skills were apparent early on, and he was given the plum assignment of covering Chicago’s colossal coming of age party for the world, the Colombian Exposition of 1893. After the success of his descriptive pieces entitled “All Roads Lead to the Fair,” with pen and ink illustrations by John T. McCutcheon, he was given a permanent column and became one of Chicago’s first roving reporters, free to cover anything he wished. “Stories of the Street and of the Town,” once again illustrated by McCutcheon, was masterful, as was his book, “Fables in Slang” published in 1897.
He tried his hand at writing for the stage with resounding results: three smash hits, The County Chairman, The Sho-Gun and his most popular and successful work, The College Widow, ran simultaneously on Broadway in 1905. Now wealthy, he purchased a farm near Brook, Indiana, built his estate home, Hazelden, and hosted visits by Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Will Rogers, Douglas MacArthur, Tom Mix, Gene Tunney and other celebrities.
The esteemed critic, H.L. Mencken said, his writing was “as thoroughly American in cut and color, in tang and savor, in structure and point of view as the works of Will Dean Howell. . .or Mark Twain.” His name and estate established, he was freed up and of a mind to start a Society.
The name of his friend, John T. McCutcheon, to some generations is synonymous with his famous “Injun Summer” drawing and text, evoking boyhood memories of curling smoke from bonfires in Hoosier corn fields. It first appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1912 and continues today, each autumn. As featured cartoonist, McCutcheon was the first Tribune staff member to win a Pulitzer Prize. His artistry would prove to be invaluable to the Indiana Society of Chicago.
Lesser known, but also very important to the Society’s birth was Edward M. Holloway. Although in a seemingly undistinguished role as a Federal Court Clerk in Chicago, his pragmatism and organizational skills were instrumental in structuring the Society into being. His grandfather was Indiana’s Civil War Governor, Oliver P. Morton. And this relationship endowed him with a network of Hoosier notables who would form a highly visible, powerful, Indiana-imbued membership base.