Did They Go to the Race?

On May 30, 1911, a big event took place at the Indianapolis Speedway—the first running of the Indianapolis 500 mile race—200 laps around the track. It was called the 500-mile International Sweepstakes race back then. One story is that while there had been other races at the Speedway in the past, the owners wanted to pick up attendance, so they decided to run one special race—the Indy 500. At that time, the cars were “2-seaters.” There was a driver and a mechanic who also served as spotter—these days they have spotters up on the rooftop to help the drivers know what may be going on around them.

This picture was in my Grandmother, Margaret (Millikan) McKinley’s collection.


Ralph DePalma drove in that first race. He also drove in the 1912 race, where he lead for 196 laps, then came in 11th place after his car broke down and he and his mechanic had to push it across the finish line. He finished just out of the money. (Only 1-10th places were paid winnings). He won the race in 1915 & continued to race at Indy in the early 1920’s.

So how did this photo end up in Grandma’s collection? The assumption is that it belonged to her father, Arza Millikan. The only hint I have is from a letter that was written to Arza May 25, 1911. It was from a young lady, Bertha Shortridge, that he had met through her brother when they attended the Farmers Institute at Purdue. He kept up correspondence with her for a couple of years. Anyway, she wrote:

I know of several who are going to the races but I hadn’t thought of going myself. I did think of it tho’ after getting your letter to-day. Several boys and some men and their families are going but I do not know that any of the girls are going. I have relatives in the city and would like, not only to see them and the races but would be glad to meet you there but have decided it is impossible for me to go. To explain—I am making some of the graduating dresses and the commencement is next Thursday night and I cannot finish them and go to Indpls. too, so feel I must keep my word and get the work done by then. You know it is always, “business before pleasure.” Thank you for the arrangements you have so kindly made for my pleasure and am very sorry I cannot enjoy the day with you but hope you can go anyway. Tell me all about it if you do. I think there are one or two Connersville men to be in the races. Expect to hear of several meeting their everlasting. Two men were hurt there yesterday.”

So the assumption is that Arza went to the race, he had apparently made plans to include Miss Shortridge, but even though she turned him down, I bet he still went. He probably went with a group of friends. There was a report in the Sheridan News from June 2, stating the early Monon train heading to Indianapolis on race day was full & some people were delayed in getting there until after the race started. If he did go, it was an all-day event. To qualify for the race, the cars had to go at least 75 miles per hour—if you consider 500 miles at that speed, the race itself would have lasted about 7 hours. The news article said the race was over at 5pm. I expect it would have been quite dusty and dirty out at the track, not quite like it looks now on TV. So it is kind of interesting to imagine that Arza was there for the first Indy 500 race. Maybe he went to another race as well.

I haven’t quite been able to tie the photo of Ralph DePalma to the Indy 500. In 1911, he didn’t drive a Mercedes. In 1912 he did and his car was #4, but I can’t find a picture of him in the car. There is a car in the Indy museum that is reportedly the car he drove, but it is a little different than what is in the picture, but then I wonder if they painted it a couple of times. In 1915 he drove a Mercedes #4 car and won, but that is a different car than what is in the picture. I did find a similar picture on-line & the caption indicates that it was of Ralph DePalma and his mechanic, Tom Alley in 1912 relating to the Elgin road race in IL. But he didn’t win that race until August 1912, well after the 500 was run. So there is still a little mystery to when the photo souvenir was acquired.

And I still wonder if Arza went to the first Indy 500.

© MJM 2017

Mother & Daughter Silhouettes

For Mother’s Day I figured I would share two silhouettes that are part of my collection. They came from my Grandmother, Lucille (Beiersdorf) Chvarack Ash (1920-2011).

Silhouettes used to be quite popular before photography became affordable. After that they were more of a novelty.

First, we have my Grandmother, Lucille’s silhouette. Don’t know when it was done, but I guess she was a few years old.


Next, the silhouette of her daughter, my Mother. It was done in 1945. She was a few years old then. So I guess the two were done about 20 years apart.


Mom’s has a few more details cut into it. But I notice both girls had quite curly hair. Can’t say I inherited that trait.

Happy Mother’s Day!

© MJM 2017

Benjamin Stafford, A Morgan County Pioneer

This funeral card was part of my Grandfather’s collection.


The other day I found the corresponding obituary on Newspapers.com. It is from the Indiana State Sentinel, Indianapolis, IN Wednesday, April 1, 1891.


So who was Benjamin Stafford? He is mentioned in a couple of books about the history of Morgan County, Indiana. (both books are available on the internet)

One book, The Counties of Morgan, Monroe & Brown, Indiana (Charles Blanchard ed., Chicago, F.A. Battey & Co. 1884) gives a biographical sketch of Benjamin on pg 269. His parents were Robert & Sarah (Bullick) Stafford from North Carolina. He was the 3rd of 7 children. He was born in Ohio May 28, 1810. He moved to Indiana in 1818, then to Morgan County in 1820. At that time, the county was still a wilderness.

The other book, The Pioneers of Morgan County, Memoirs of Noah J. Major, (Indianapolis, 1915), recounts the memories of Noah Major, a prominent citizen of Morgan county. Benjamin Stafford shows up on page 272. He is listed as “one of the younger men” who settled in the “Matthews and Drury neighborhood” & “who came with their parents or alone, to this settlement, and who loved, wooed and wedded the girls of their choice—unless the other fellows got them, as sometimes happened, whereupon they turned to a second choice which often proved as good or better than the first one. They were not to be cheated out of matrimonial bliss because of a choice between a Rose and Lily.”

According to these books, Benjamin married Ruth Gifford in 1830 and had a daughter, Sarah. Ruth died soon after.

Benjamin married the second time to Margaret Price in 1835. They had 8 children: Nancy J., John, Marion, William, Benjamin, Barnard and Grant. Then Margaret died in 1852.

One account states that Benjamin married again to Miss Sloan. They had no children.

Benjamin married Susan Fry, a widow with 5 sons. They had 7 children: Mary, James, Priscilla, Martha, Emaline and Oliver P.

So Benjamin had a total of 16 children and 5 step-children. All of them lived to adulthood. One of them, Priscilla (who married Jeremiah McKinley) was my great-great grandmother.

Mr. Major indicates the “Matthews and Drury neighborhood” was located “along the north bank of White River, from the mouth of White Lick to Sycamore Creek.” He said that Benjamin Stafford “lived low down in the pocket when the tide of ’47 came sweeping along, leaving him little else than a house, barn and bare ground. He sold his bottom farm and bought one on Sycamore, where he lived to the close of his life.” This farm was located south west of Centerton.

Benjamin shows up in the US Census records for Clay Township, Morgan County, IN in 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880. In 1850, the names of some of the children are different than what is mentioned in the history books.


The first time I went to the Morgan County Library to do research several years ago, I found some unique information about Benjamin. They had a ledger listing the livestock markings for local farmers. (Morgan County Indiana Marks & Brands, April 18, 1822 to March 8, 1878, Recorder’s Office, Morgan County Courthouse, Martinsville, IN)


Benjamin Stafford marks with a crop off of the left and split in the right ear. Clay Township December 9th, 1847.”

Benjamin died in 1891, although the exact date is not clear. The news clipping indicates March 29; the funeral card, March 26 and his headstone, March 25. Regardless, he was 80 years old when he died. He is buried in Williams Cemetery in Morgan County, IN next to his second wife, Margaret. His wife, Susan, and other family members are buried in the same cemetery.

© MJM 2017