1910 Floral Parade - Complete Coverage

This article was originally published in the March 31, 1910 Indianapolis Star. It is an interesting account of the floral parade that was one of the most anticipated features of the March 1910 Indianapolis Automobile Show. Held on Thursday of a show week that ended with a banquet Saturday evening that closed the show. The floral parade captured the imagination of the entire city and probably was a device to build community while attracting women and children to the automobile industry.
Find here comprehensive coverage of the parade, which can in some ways be seen as a harbinger of the feature event of the "500" Festival that began its impressive work decades later in 1957. Provided here is a periscope into Indianapolis society of an earlier day. From a United States President's widow to hard-working business professionals to those that inherited their wealth to those that married into it and also the inevitable host of posers and hangers-on that made up (and always will) the peculiar mix of ego-driven, status-seeking society, the names appear here. We can't know who earned what they had and who connived their way through a life misguided by the pursuit of the temporal, but they all converged on a marvelous moment for Indianapolis.
The parade was composed of an estimated 45 automobiles with most but not all decorated with natural and/or artificial flowers. The course was apparently five miles long and was lined with "human walls" of a crowd estimated at 75,000. While this was the first automobile floral procession in Indianapolis the article indicates that "about" 10 years prior there was a similar display using horse-drawn vehicles. The largest clusters of people were reported to be around University Park and one of the most magnificent memorials in the world, Monument Circle
Imagine the awesome moment when the entrants began to assemble on one of the great avenues of the Hoosier capital, Fall Creek Boulevard. E.R. Vincent, J.F. Minthorne, F.M. Leary and John D. Orman, all officials of the Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association (IATA) and members of the event parade committee, rode in the official parade car. They assembled the formation and handed out the car numbers for identification and organization. The parade was led by Mayor Shank, Superintendent of Police Hyland and members of the Board of Public Safety in what was described as "a large car decorated with flowers and flags." Immediately following those officials was a large float designed as a warship and "carried" by the Indianapolis Military Band.
The parade was divided into three categories for competitive assessment and awards. These were: private owners, dealers and "unique prize" contenders. The parade came down the marvel of Meridian Street from Fall Creek Boulevard to pass the judges stationed in a Premier car at University Park. The judges' car was distinguished with American Beauty Roses and silk flags. All were female and headed by Mrs. William E. English (chair) with the widow of former President Benjamin Harrison - Mary Dimmick Harrison, Indiana Governor Thomas Marshall's wife as well as Mrs. Meredith Nicholson and Mrs. John Kern. Note that across from the judges' car children described as "orphans" were organized in lines. They were from the Indianapolis Orphan Asylum and the German Orphan Asylum. They were guests of one of the most prominent auto dealership owners of the city, Cecil Gibson.
The judges took three perspectives of the competitors. After University Park they rushed to first the glorious intersection of Meridian and Washington Streets and then on to Washington and Pennsylvania Streets. Afterward, they converged at the English Hotel where they met with show officials to render their judgment. First prize in the private owners class was Louis G. Deschler in his Chalmers. Second, went to Marion owner Edward G. Sourbier. The dealers' prize went to W.A. Wildhack in an Oldsmobile. Frank Willis and Ray Holcomb - two of the upper crust of dealership leaders - took the unique prize for their Packard.
Check out these absolutely amazing details of how the parade unfolded. The procession was headed by 25 motorcycle club riders (Probably of different makes: IndianHarley-DavidsonThorExcelsior...) under the direction of Harry Graff. These riders, I believe, were members of the Indiana Motorcycle Club. They prevented spectators from running out onto the street to pluck flowers off the vehicles but even more interestingly they kept the cars at a proper distance and when one stalled they sprang from their mounts to hand-crank the temperamental engines back to life. This was of great service to the car owners and their passengers as they did not have to disturb the delicate floral decorations climbing in and out of their machines.
At this point in the article, an important detail is discussed. It provides a window into what driving these early cars was like. An excerpt best captures this intriguing snapshot of the reality of everyday life in those wonderful times:
"To the motorwise, the pageant had far more significance than the floral display. It demonstrated the ability with which this modern invention of speed and endurance can be perfectly controlled. Driving in a parade is one of the most difficult tasks for a motorist, but all displayed expert skill in yesterday's procession."
The reference to driving in a parade being difficult is to note that maintaining sufficient engine revs in low gear during a crawl with a primitive clutch was a challenge. There were good reasons why many car owners hired professional chauffeurs to tend to the maintenance of the machinery and drive it as well. These cars required a good feel for appropriate input.
Numerous women served as drivers, a point the article felt was significant to note. Children of privilege rode along as well, frequently poking their faces out from behind the lush adornments. The winning machine in the private owner class was driven by James Neilson. Five young girls rode in the rear seats, all wearing white gowns. All carried branches of Easter Lillies (Easter had been celebrated the previous Sunday) as the entire car was covered with 1,000 of these white flowers as well as Farleuynse Ferns. The design, created by Irvin Bertermann of Bertermann Brothers Company, was of a large gold basket filled with the lilies with wide strips of white ribbons hung in a festoon shape from one end of the vehicle to the other with large bows on the hood. The girls were: Miss Ruth Perry, Miss Ortrud Schmidt, Miss Mabel Meurer, and Miss Lucretia Aneshaensel.
E.G. Sourbier's second prize-winning Marion carried Mrs. Sourbier, Mrs. Will H. Brown, Mrs. H.C. Stutz, and Mrs. F.J. Sieght as passengers. The article suggests that this entry may have boasted the most expensive decorations. The entire body of the car was covered with American Beauty roses and pink Carnations. Large baskets were hung from the sides of the front and back seats, all packed with more Roses. The Carnations coated the running boards. The women were dressed in white with matching "motoring veils" flowing in the breeze. The decorations for this stunning entry were developed and installed by Weigand & Sons. It must have been beautiful enough to make your eyes ache soaking it all in... Like the first place winner, all the flowers were natural.
Sourbier's car became the center of controversy. A protest about its award was written by a Mrs. Ed Rosenberg of 2637 College Avenue in Indianapolis. Rosenberg's concern was that the machine was in a clear violation of the rules in that it carried advertising regards to its make.
W.A. Wildhack's Dealer's Prize-winning Oldsmobile Limited was dressed in a solid mass of artificial yellow Chrysanthemums. His wife rode at his side along with Mrs. A.P. Fox, Miss Mary Miller Fox, Miss Edna Wildhack and Miss Dorothy McCullough - as with these women, the previously described white gowns ruled. At the front of the machine on either side of the windshield were two large cupids standing with arms extended, clutching white ribbon streamers that flowed to the back of the vehicle where they were fastened with large bows. B.P. Shirley is credited with the decorative design. Interestingly one of the judges was heard to shout, "An easy prize winner!" as the entry passed their inspection.
The unique prize-winning Packard "gunboat" may have been the most amazing of a long line of heart-stopping floats. Imitation cannons - compete with "blackened noses" - protruded from the flower-covered sides of the ship. The Stars and Stripes gloriously streamed from the masts. The Indianapolis Military Band struck up the "Star-Spangled Banner" and the guns emitted noise and smoke. The crowds reportedly loved it and expressed their appreciation with cheers. Frank Willis not only drove the car but helped design the decorations with Ray Holcomb. Their young sons were positioned at the front of the vehicle as captain and pilot. This float was an amazing fifty feet long with drapes hanging so close to the ground the car gave the appearance of floating along at sea.
Threatening morning weather which blew over dissuaded some entries from participating and still others were late but those that showed up on time were assigned number cards. They were not affixed to the cars but instead held by occupants for the benefit of the judges. An exhaustive list of the numbers is presented in the article. Let's summarize with numbers, car make, entrants and description:

  • #1: Chalmers, W.R. Hirst, and M.D. Atwater. From the description, it may have been affiliated with the Bell Telephone Company. Blue and white Chrysanthemums decorated the vehicle, augmented by artificial flowers of the same colors. This is interesting in that Indiana Bell was not officially founded until 1920.
  • #2: Marmon, Albert von Spreckelsen who was accompanied by his family. Red and yellow roses and green ferns completely covered the entry.
  • #3: The first-prize winning private entry Chalmers already described.
  • #4: Rambler, Victor Jose with wife and family. Decorated with red Roses.
  • #5: Premier, Mrs. Ed Rosenberg (driver) accompanied by another woman, both were dressed in black with matching veils. The design emulated a black basket with the handle over the heads of the women. The flowers were artificial black-eyed daisies. This was reportedly Judge Chair Mrs. William English's favorite, but apparently, she was voted down by the committee.
  • #6: Premier, John Bertermann and family. Reportedly elaborate, the design entailed draped pillars on top of which were large pots of blooming Azaleas. Bright red ribbons were wound in an artistic fashion.
  • #7: Rauch and Lang Electric, Mrs. Frank Fox accompanied by Mrs. E.W. Livensbarger and Mrs. F.R. Atwood. It was decorated with blue and white artificial flowers. Mrs. Fox' husband would go on to compete in the first Indianapolis 500.
  • #8: Hupp, F.I. Willis, accompanied by his young daughter. The design was like another flower basket with green sides and a variety of artificial flowers.
  • #9: EMF, Jake Kuhn. This car was dressed with purple Chrysanthemums. Vines were extended over the top of the car.
  • #10: Rambler, H.A. Russell accompanied by wife and family. This was decorated with purple artificial flowers.
  • #11: Buick, Malcolm Porter, accompanied by his wife and two other women: Miss Lillian Kern and Miss Dorothy Haskett. This car was adorned with brown and gold artificial Chrysanthemums. At the front, a large swan made of white flowers rode with ribbons extending back from its mouth like reins that were held by a large doll at the top of the machine.
  • #12: Premier, A.G. Feeny who was accompanied by six girls. The vehicle was decorated with bowers of pink Chrysanthemums.
  • #14 (note there was no "unlucky" #13): This was the second prize winning Marion of Sourbier.
  • #15: This was the Flanner & Buchanan entry, but the car make is curiously unidentified. The driver was J.W. Patterson. Flanner & Buchanan is a legendary brand in the funeral services industry and remains the gold standard of its category in Indianapolis today.
  • #16: Although it is unclear, this entry appears to be a second from Louis Deschler - winner of the private category - with his company's delivery truck.
  • No #17 is mentioned, but #18 is described as "one of the most striking and original designs of all." It is reported to be a second entry by F.I. Willis (see #8), but no driver is listed. The car was a Hupmobile that was decorated as a locomotive of pink and white Chrysanthemums complete with a bell the "engineer" rang frequently.
  • #19: Ford, driven by Mrs. C.F. Mass and decorated with "massive" sunflowers.
  • #20: Rambler, driven by A.J. Evans. This car was decorated with artificial flowers and boasted a large horseshoe at the front on the radiator.
  • #21: Studebaker Electric driven by Miss Lesley Clay accompanied by Miss Marie Pritchard. The car was dressed in white flowers. The name, "Studebaker" was spelled in red Roses at the front of the car.
  • #22: A second Studebaker car followed, entered by Frank Staley. Gasoline powered, it was a large touring car and described as elaborately decorated. Riding in the car were: Ruth Culbertson, Lucy Woodbridge, Ruth Joslin, Helen Warrum and Marie Dawson.
  • #23: Buick, entered and driven by local dealer R.H. Losey. His wife rode with him. The car used white Chrysanthemums and red Poinsettias.
  • #24: Austin, driven by M.L. Conley with friends and family riding along. It was adorned with artificial flowers.
  • #25: Stearns, entered by Co-Auto Company. It was decorated with green drapings of artificial flowers. At the front of the car, the brand was spelled across the radiator.
  • #26: Another Austin followed, this one driven by Bert Bronson who would enjoy success at the driving events associated with the auto show held at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • #27: Warren-Detroit: entered by the Finch & Freeman dealership. Little information is provided except that the car was decorated.

The number listing falls apart in the report at this point. Other cars are described, presumably, in the order they appeared before the judges and spectators in the parade. I suspect the cars numbered above were the private entries and what follows next were factor or dealer entries. These are:
The first of these was a six-cylinder Premier with a "delicate" lavender shade finish decorated with lavender Sweet Peas and green Smilax. Each door panel carried the letter, "P," in white. Seven women rode in the machine with a small girl. All are described as wearing cream-colored serge suits with lavender veils and carrying parasols of the same color. The driver was the wife of Premier executive Harold O. Smith. Her companions were Mrs. Own Mothershead, Mrs. Donald Ketcham, Mrs. Kerfoot Stewart, Mrs. Henry J. Branden, Mrs. William Rockwood (who apparently lived on Talbott Avenue according to other information) and Miss Carroll Smith.
Next up was a Waverley Electric driven by Mrs. W.C. Johnson (her husband was an executive with that auto company). It was decorated with pink and white Carnations. An REO entered by Cecil Gibson followed, decorated in an autumn theme with tree branches carrying artificial leaves of gold and brown. A truck from the House of Crane immediately followed the Gibson entry.
Three cars following behind are briefly described:

  • Maxwell, entered by H.W. Martz, decorated with both natural and artificial flowers.
  • Premier, Mrs. Joseph Holmes, dressed in natural and artificial flowers as well as drapings of ribbons and bunting.
  • Willys Six, W.F. Jenkins, carry patriotic colors.

In a sign of the times that would be lambasted today one of the entrants of the unique class was a Premier designed with a Southern plantation theme. It was a large truck that carried a model log hut with several "colored" men pretending to be at work. They sang at intervals during the parade. 
Other cars at the rear extended the parade but many had no decorations and none were assigned numbers so they were not judged for any of the three prizes.

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