Urban contemporal history–the metastudy of cities as they affect time–is still a burgeoning specialty. Cities like Chicago, Kyoto, Changan, Orbit 17-Fifth, New New New York II, Rome, and of course the third parallel version of Blaine, Wisconsin, have received numerous and extensive treatments.
Contemporal historians have mostly ignored Indianapolis, a city in the state of Indiana in the United States of America from the 19th to 24th century. Jessica Goodwin, in her seminal Urban Places, Urban Time, wrote that Indianapolis “remains steadily average throughout its entire six centuries of existence. David Schuller [Clone 71-C], in “Temporal Sprawl: An Examination and Dissection,” wrote “And then there is Indianapolis, which influences time only insomuch as it is centrally located among several temporal nexuses and serves as a conduit for many other, more important incursions.” Others have gone so far as to suggest that Indianapolis is a “a retirement collective for worn-out but well-to-do time travelers.” (Scheweralaeranthytigoris, When We Go To Die: The Story of Aging, 2913).
I suggest that Indianapolis may hold more secrets than these contemporal historians give it credit for. In making these assumptions, they have failed to apply modern temporal methods, including those by James Ilsin who has developed a reliable way to chart temporal activity on a minute level. Typical temporal activity is always marked with highs and lows, not stability (Trillian Routhburg, “Temporal Activity: A Guided Study,” 2099). Indianapolis, though, has remained nearly at the same level of temporal activity for all six hundred years of its existence. This alone should raise eyebrows, though it has not. When we apply the Ilsin Graph to this activity we begin to see something else: small but significant spikes in activity in what is otherwise a straight line. Something is abnormally normal about Indianapolis’s involvement in the timeline.
With this paper I argue that Indianapolis is not a “retirement collective,” but that its average-icity may be something else altogether, something more strategic, and perhaps even constructed. I am largely employing the newly available liqui-diaries of The Illustration Thirteen and A Half, the flamboyant temporal cartographers whom, I believe, often refer back to Indianapolis in code. I will of course abide by the Temporal Ethical Restrictions of 112 Syleran Time, which prevent me from narrating the future from this point in the timeline in the event that this paper finds its way into the past.
There are eight spikes in the Ilsin Graph for Indianapolis’s temporal history, but for the sake of time I have chosen the three most significant. These are nominal spikes, especially when compared to activity in other cities. But the fact that they are such slight spikes in what is otherwise a plateau indicates importance. When the normal is so absolutely normal, deviation becomes imminently important.
The very first spike begins shortly after Indianapolis’s inception, and with Alexander Ralston. As a city, Indianapolis was born in the center. Later known as the “Crossroads of America,” this was also true in its birth. Chosen exclusively as the center of the state and therefore easier to access by elected officials spread up to the state’s boundaries, this city of Indiana immediately became spatially–and therefore temporally–important (Re-Ge-Te-Te, “Space in Time: The Importance of Geography and Temporality,” 5442 3rd Plane).
I would like to suggest that it was Ralston, an architect and planner from Scotland, who introduced the first true temporal incursion to Indianapolis. While in Washington, D.C., Ralston had worked with Pierre L’Enfant, whom we all know as the accomplished and brash temporal journeyman but better known at the time as a controversial urban planner. As Levar Isington demonstrates in his 2004 A Capital Without a Center, L’Enfant designed the nation’s capital so as to be one of the most widely used temporal crosspoints throughout the entire timeline. His ambitions were grandiose to say the least. But due to his gregarious use of centers and increasingly complicated connections throughout the city, his attempts to create a temporal capital failed miserably. Instead of designing a mecca, L’Enfant created an epic disaster, one that has taken generations of temporal engineers to repair.
Ralston studied under L’Enfant while in DC, and when he moved to Indiana for a quieter life he must have realized the state’s potential for a city that would slide under the radar, yet be large and important enough to serve as a receiving station for time travelers. He cozied up to Judge Christopher Harrison, the official assigned with the duty of determining the capital’s new location, and in 1821 Ralston began surveying a spot. He quickly developed a plan for Indianapolis, called the “Mile Square,” which took the basic grid design set up by Thomas Jefferson, but applied moderated L’Enfant temporal technique. The result was a circle in the center, with eight “spokes:” Meridian, Market, and then 4 outlying diagonal streets.
In the seminal 1996 A Built Language for Time, architect Christopher Kaplan speaks to the necessity of a city’s plan to employ the act of “urban encoding” to facilitate successful time travel. Kaplan of course does not admit it, but he is himself inspired by L’Enfant’s technique, however flawed. Ralston did the same with Indianapolis, only with much more subtlety than Kaplan.
Ralston’s own life reflected this sense of slight difference, and has the marks of someone living outside one’s own time. He lived and died a bachelor. His closest friends were of different ethnicities. Citizens of Indianapolis thought his house rather strange with its unusually numerous doors and windows. But everyone thought very highly of Ralston; honest, and a gentlemen of “extreme sensibilities.” Ralston maintained his position of Marion County Surveyor until his death, perhaps to make sure that the city grew according to the temporal plan he had set forth.
Ralston’s actions paved the way for the third (I’m skipping the second) temporal incursion in Indianapolis’s history: the construction of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument at the Circle.
Originally planned for Crown Hill Cemetery, and on a much smaller scale, a businessman named William Hayden English corralled a Civil War memorial to the Circle–and therefore close to his hotel and opera house. This was not the first time English exercised influence in the city. He trained as a lawyer and worked as a clerk in the U.S. Treasury, slowly gaining prominence until he returned to Indiana to serve as a U.S. Representative for the state. He started First National Bank in 1863, and then moved his family to the most important place in the city: the Circle. He secured controlling interest in the Indianapolis Street Railway, and then began investing in real estate on the Circle, slowly buying up lots until he owned the entire northwest quadrant.
It was English’s speculation, coupled with a sudden boom from post-Civil War business in Indianapolis, that transformed the Circle from a place of residence to a place a business. By the time the English Hotel and Opera House opened in 1880, the Circle’s lots had gone from being entirely populated by homes and one firehouse, to having only two houses left–which were quickly bought up in the 1880s.
Throughout the monument’s entire planning stage, which took nearly a decade, English exercised influence. For example, when artist T. C. Steele decried the inclusion of an elevator in the monument and accused English of profiteering from art, English replied that everyone, orphan and widow alike, should have the right to see the city. English was a pragmatist, not an idealist. The elevator was installed, and operated for years. But there might be more to the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument than just capitalistic endeavor.
Brief glances through the monolithic 10,000 volume design guidelines set forth by the Association for Temporal Standards and Measurements shows that the Monument fits the description of a “Timeline Inhibitor/Interloper.” There are of course some dissimilarities; the use of bears in the supporting spires, for example, but the lack of trees and use of racial iconography is proof enough that English–and whomever was working with him–designed the monument with an intention of preventing time travel into Indianapolis. Of course, the more interesting usage of the monument would occur not much later during the carnival celebrating the turn of the millennium in 1900, effectively undermining and even, perhaps, transforming the intention of the monument as interlope (but that’s another lecture).
The differences between Ralston and English are stark. Ralston lived simply, and despite creating one of the only equitable city plans that still exists today in the United States of America, lived and died without grand recognition. Ralston’s body lay unmarked somewhere in Indianapolis’ Crown Hill Cemetery (at least until the Thesians From Dimension 17 exhumed his body, resuscitated him, and integrated his consciousness into their supercomputer).
English’s body, on the other hand, was buried by the state governor at the Capitol Building, where over 15,000 people paid their respects. The city named several prominent avenues after English, and the English Foundation in Indianapolis continued to house and support many crucial city charities for many years. English also lived on another organization he helped found: the Indiana Historical Society, which maintained his collection of papers, and in 2076 reformulated his AI.
For whatever reason, that same society would generally ignore the archive and recording of Indianapolis’s most significant spike in temporal activity: that of the Dust Bowl in the 1950s Indianapolis, a makeshift basketball court which crucibled a new breed of basketball players. Located near Indiana Avenue in Lockefield Gardens, a leftover Works Progress Administration project built to house 748 African American families, the Dust Bowl was a flat, grassless vacant lot that neighborhood children converted into a basketball court. A huge cloud of dust would kick up every day at 3 p.m. when nearby high school Crispus Atticks let out school, and children flocked to the court, some of them using tightly wound socks as a ball for lack of a real basketball.
It was on the Dust Bowl that these players slowly transformed basketball from a gently played sport for white, collegiate farmboys, to an aggressive, direct, and distinctly urban game. It was also on the court of the Dustbowl that All-Star and MVP Oscar Robertson–the Big O–learned to play, and his no-nonsense style would change the sport forever. It would also change the way people in Indiana perceived blacks. When George McGinnis, who played for the Indiana Pacers in the 1970s, saw Dust Bowl alumnus Robertson lead the Crispus Attucks high school team to victory for 45 consecutive games, “”It was like a win for us,” McGinnis said. “Oscar was anointed at that point. He was our prince, our standard-bearer. He was the guy every African-American kid who picked up a basketball from that point on emulated.” Later, Robertson would say that the style crafted at the Dust Bowl opened up the eyes of whites. “For a long time, people said blacks were lazy,” he said. “They couldn’t think. They couldn’t play. They were not good students.” The Dust Bowl proved them wrong.
In 1980, a radical restructuring of the city as part of a semi-secret group’s city plan that included the famed Unigov ordered that much of Lockefield, including the now-paved Dust Bowl, be torn down to make way for a new urban center of learning: an urban university. They covered the Dust Bowl with a parking lot.
There are two fairly obscure events that speak directly to the Dust Bowl’s significance, and to the strange heightened Ilsin Graph anomaly. One was penned by a participant in the Battle of Yuris during the Praxis-Timewars, a small and contained battle but one that ultimately affected the entire war. The participant, a young soldier, incepted this over ancient holochannel, “I asked my old friend why we’d survived, why we were among the few. He thought for a minute, then said that as long as I stuck around him I’d be all right; he’d been through the ‘Bowl and lived to tell about it.”
One more source, a liqui-memoir from the fourth eon spilled out by a yet unidentified spacebound race, directly refers to Robertson while facing possible extinction imposed by a hostile enemy. Translated as best we can into English, it reads, “If O. [sic] of the Sphere existed here, he would know what to do. Not win, but lead. Then hide.”
That last phrase “then hide,” is crucial. It speaks directly to the nature of Indianapolis. I contend that the strange existence of people like Ralston, English, and Robertson, and the seemingly unnatural plateau of temporal activity, suggests that something beyond simple average-icity has been happening in this city. It is entirely possible that the median nature of Indianapolis is in fact a construct, one designed to obfuscate observance. Indeed, such places must exist as certainly as there are hidden geographies in our present world. Who is doing the constructing, who is doing the hiding, and whom they are hiding from–these questions are beyond the current availability of sources to even speculate.
Still, writing off Indianapolis as unimportant or insignificant on this timeline may be one of the clumsiest mistakes of contemporary contemporal historians. We are skilled at studying source-rich urban environments, like New New New York II, and to some degree the lower end of the urban temporal vernacular, such as the tragic time gulags of the Yjrn Migration. What we are not so accomplished at is examining the median, or what is commonly identified as the “norm.”
Yet it may be in the median, the average, the center, that we uncover one of this timeline’s greatest mysteries.
Indianapolis is more than it seems, and it is up to this generation of scholars, or the clones that come after it, to uncover its secrets.