As Halloween nears, it seems a perfect time to talk about weird and obscure things, doesn’t it? Well, there just so happens to be a new book out called Secret Indianapolis: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure. The author is lifelong Hoosier Ashley Petry and, according to her, is a tribute to the Circle City.
“I love this city,” she told The Paper. “I am so excited to be able to share everything about it.”
So what are some of the weird, wonderful and obscure items from Indianapolis?
“One of my favorite things I discovered was about Martin Van Buren,” she said. Van Buren, the eighth president of the U.S., apparently ticked off Hoosiers.
“Indianapolis was hugely depending on the National Road, US 40 and during the presidency of Martin Van Buren the government cut off funding for that road,” she explained. “Well, he later did a tour for re-election on 40. And when he got to Plainfield, they (Plainfield residents presumably) decided he needed to be taught a lesson. So they got his driver to go over a particularly rough patch of road and when they went over part of an Elm root, Martin Van Buren got thrown out and landed in the mud. The elm he ran over became known as the Van Buren elm. I just thought that story was hilarious because who would have thought we would have played a prank on a president?”
Ashley also notes that the driver was paid off with a silk hat that cost about $5.
There’s actually a plaque on the site today. You’ll have to get out of your car to see it, but it’s right there in Plainfield.
Not all her stories are humorous.
“Some of the entries in the book are about the city’s overlooked and forgotten heroes. There’s the story of William Whitfield, a police officer who was killed in 1920. The speculation is that he was assassinated. He was an African American and was assigned to patrol a while neighborhood. He was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery with no gravestone and he was essentially forgotten,” Ashley said. “Well, in the 1990s, the story came out as part of a newsletter and it was decided to raise money to get a proper gravestone. They thought it would take some time. It took three hours to raise the money. He did finally get the recognition he deserved.”
Ashley is no novice when it comes to writing.
“I’ve spent 15 years as a freelancer writing for newspapers and magazines on these types of topics.”
She has appeared in USA Today, Indianapolis Monthly, the Indy Star and several magazines. She is also the author of 100 Things to Do in Indianapolis Before You Die. You can find out more about her, her books and where they are available at

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