Thursday, August 29, 2013

John Ross McCulloch

One of the most notable homes remaining in the central business district of Fort Wayne is John Ross McCulloch’s House at 334 East Berry Street.  In its heyday, from the 1880s to the 1940s, this was the finest home on the east side.

The family name always associated with the house – McCulloch – was itself a prominent feature of the community’s past.  The house, one of the few remaining examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Fort Wayne, was built in 1883 by Charles McCulloch but was intended for his son, John Ross.  Charles McCulloch, the son of Hugh McCulloch, Secretary of the Treasury under Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Chester A. Arthur, was president of the Hamilton National Bank, the predecessor of National City Bank.

J. Ross McCulloch was born in 1869 and he, too, went into banking.  But the tastes of this McCulloch were often very different from those of his ancestors.  Educated in Washington, D.C., and at the Irving Institute in New York, Ross spent his entire adult life in one half of the duplex on Berry Street.  In later years his partner in the east half of the house was Charles Weatherhogg, an English architect who came to Fort Wayne in 1894 and who, before his death in 1937, designed many of the major early twentieth-century buildings in Fort Wayne.

McCulloch’s other interest lay in the arts.  He served as the president of the Fort Wayne Community Concert Association, which eventually became the Fort Wayne Philharmonic Orchestra.  His first love, however, was for the theatre and painting.  Michigan artist Robert Grafton created murals in his home, and Ross became an active member of a local theatre group.


Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at history Our thanks to Fort Wayne Monthly for allowing us to re-publish articles that have appeared in their magazine.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A different kind of Fort Wayne Museum

by Nancy McCammon-Hansen
Historical marker outside Achduth Vesholom

Congregation Achduth Vesholom in Fort Wayne is Indiana’s oldest Jewish congregation, founded in 1848 by a group of 23 people as a “Society for Visiting the Sick and Burying the Dead”. In 1874, the congregation became a “Reform” congregation, meaning they are Reform Jews as opposed, for example, to Orthodox or Conservative Jews. In their current and fourth home at 5200 Old Mill Road you can find not only an historical marker out front but also a small museum inside.

CAV is undergoing some renovation work to transform it into Campus 5200. When the project is complete, the Temple be larger and will also be the home of the Jewish Federation and a newly remodeled Temple Head Start program through CANI.

With this come plans to expand their existing museum and increase programming on topics of interest to the Jewish and wider community including that of Holocaust Education.

This past Sunday, the museum committee met with Jonathan Greenstein, an expert on antique Judaica, who hails from New York City. Greenstein was in Fort Wayne to evaluate the objects in the CAV museum to help the committee determine how best to utilize what they now own and how to expand upon it. His determination was that the pieces from the 1860s should be the foundation of the museum’s expansion.

Greenstein also gave a presentation on Judaica works and offered thoughts on the value of various pieces that Temple members brought to the lecture.

Greenstein speaking to the group
Greenstein became interested in antique Judaica at age 14 as a “yeshiva reject” who ended up in public school with time on his hands after 1 pm. He went to work in an antique store in his neighborhood and watched “scores of little old Jewish ladies” bring in Kiddush cups (ritual wine goblets) because the price of silver was then $40 an ounce. Their children had no interest in these items from “the old country”.
Kiddush cup Viennese origin
Although Greenstein was not as connected to Judaism as he is now (he wears a yarmulke), he still felt that something was not right about melting these objects down. So he struck a deal with the owner of the antique shop, who was not Jewish, to buy the cups at cost. His collection grew and so did his interest in Jewish history. After he became a father, his connection to his religious background became a more central part of his life and he told stories to his children about the history of particular objects as his family used them.

“Each time we would light a Chanukah menorah from a different time and place in Jewish history, I would explain to them what was happening in the world at the time the piece was created. For example, when I made Kiddush on a cup that was made in Nuremberg, Germany in the 1770′s, my son knew that this cup was created at about the same time as the American Revolution was taking place. History became real before his eyes!

“Over the last 15 years or so, I have worked to become the American authority on Antique Judaica. About 10 years ago, I was asked to run a charity auction for a branch of Chabad, in which we placed some antique Judaic pieces. Many of the important items sold. From there I created the only auction house in the world solely devoted to the sale of antique Jewish ritual art. That was 9 years, 30 auctions and thousands of sold pieces ago.” (quotes from Greenstein on

Greenstein termed Judaica as any ritual object that is associated with Jewish art. Many pieces are rare, having survived WWII intact. Hitler and his army as well as Russian forces confiscated many pieces for the silver, which was melted down and re-used. A piece inscribed with Hebrew is typically worth about 10x what a piece that is not inscribed but forgeries of Judaica are second only to Fabrege works. You can, interestingly enough, find mythical creatures such as unicorns on some pieces.

There are about 700 avid collectors of Judaica in the world at this time, according to Greenstein and overall about 2000 collectors total. “Many of those collectors are casual, many active and several very passionate. People who have put money into quality antique Judaica over the years have seen tremendous returns on their investments, and as an added bonus, they were able to use the objects.” 

Jewish artisans took on the art forms of the countries where they were living. For example, a Polish Kiddush cup would be “folksy” (Greenstein’s word) while German and Viennese vessels are more “symmetrical”. One of the pieces he showed was in an Art Deco style and had been created in the 1930s. Another piece resembled a sunflower and had been made in the Ukraine where sunflowers grow en masse.
A spice container

“Jewish ritual items can be found in the U.S. in families with relatives who came to this country during the great Jewish immigration years, between the 1880s and the 1940s. Those immigrants brought everything with them, such as menorahs, silver spice boxes, and Kiddush cups that had been in their families for generations, says Greenstein.
“He says some of these pieces are valuable, but since many immigrants were poor, most of the objects are made of bronze rather than silver. But even a moderate collectible item can be worth $3,000 to $5,000.
“More commonly, Greenstein says he sees Kiddush cups worth $1,000 or so, although some that are inscribed and were made before World War II are worth as much as $50,000 to $75,000. ‘The more aesthetically pleasing anything is, the larger it is, and the rarer it is, the more valuable it is,’ says Greenstein.
“While the supply of these items is very limited, there is still much of it to be unearthed. ‘There are over six million Jews in America plus countless others who have Jewish relatives,’ says Greenstein. ‘There are more Jewish treasures in the apartments in New York, Los Angeles, South Florida, and Cincinnati than in any museum in the world.... People may not realize they could be sitting on a goldmine.’" (

Music box cover

 We are picturing a number of the items that were on display this past Sunday with no thought as to relative value. Rather, they are depicted as interesting examples of Judaica as owned by residents of Fort Wayne.

An American menorah c. 1920s

Passover assemblage c.early 1950s
Spice containers
Resources used in this article include:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Transfer Corner

by Tom Castaldi

The intersection of Main and Calhoun streets was the busiest corner in Fort Wayne from the 1890s to the 1960s, for it was here, at the “Transfer Corner,” that all the trolleys (and later buses) converged from their various routes.

Originally, the intersection was called the “Turntable Corner” because a rotating track had been installed in the street to direct each departing trolley onto its assigned outbound trip.  This was removed in 1888 and replaced by a network of stationary tracks.

On January 6, 1872, the first street railway, or trolley line, began operation with a great parade led by a car pulled by a single horse carrying twelve passengers at a smooth, steady pace.

These horsecars could move in either direction, so that when the car reached the end of the line, the driver simply unhitched the horse and led it around to the other end of the trolley, re-hitched it, and started the return run to the “turntable corner.”  By 1890 efforts to electrify the street railways became feverish, and some extraordinary experiments in power trolleys took place in Fort Wayne.

Successful electrification in 1892 used overhead wires, powered by a new generating plant located on Chestnut Street on the city’s east side.  By the 1940s, electrically powered “trolley buses” began to replace the trolley cars, the last one of which ran on January 27, 1947.  In 1960, the trolley buses were replaced by diesel-powered buses.

Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail,” which is broadcast at 6:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. Mondays on WBOI, 89.1 FM; and “Historia Nostra” heard on WLYV-1450 AM and WRRO 89.9 FM. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog, “Our Stories,” at

Monday, August 12, 2013

From the Dodgers to the Wildcats – Carl Erskine

by Carmen Doyle
(Carmen works at our front desk and is THE baseball fanatic on our staff!)

Carl Erskine played with the Brooklyn Dodgers at the same time as Jackie Robinson and Pee Wee Reese. Erskine was a pitcher who came up a year after Jackie’s first major league season, but played with the Dodgers for many years.

Although Erskine was a great pitcher- he pitched two no –hitters in his career- it is his off the field activities that are worthy of note. After leaving the Dodgers, he became involved in banking, eventually becoming president of Star Financial Bank, an Indiana bank.

He also came to Fort Wayne, to help with Wildcat Baseball.

Erskine not only became involved with Wildcat baseball, he got other major leaguers to help, among them greats such as Bob Feller, Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson.  In fact, Jackie and Erskine did so much for Wildcat baseball that Mr. Mac dubbed them “Godfathers of Wildcat Baseball”.

According to a Sports Illustrated article from 1988, it was Erskine who urged Mr. Mac to focus on teaching fundamentals rather than winning.

Wildcat Baseball was started in 1960 by Dale McMillen- “Mr. Mac”- with the motto of “Everybody Makes the Team”. What makes Wildcat baseball different from Little League is that the emphasis is less on winning than on improving kids’ baseball skills. Everything from throwing a ball (starting with which hand to throw with) to how to bat is taught.  The focus is on the fundamentals of baseball, not on winning.

Several thousand kids have participated in the Wildcat program. Any kid age 6-15 can participate- boys or girls. The program is divided into four league divisions. Kitten is for kids ages 6-7, Kitty ages 8-10, Kat ages 11-12, and Tiger ages 13-15. There are over 10 locations throughout Fort Wayne where the kids play. Wildcat baseball is a summer tradition for many kids and multiple generations.   

Scores for each game are published in the newspaper.  

A season of Wildcat baseball lasts two months. One of the highlights of the season is Mr. Mac Day. Mr. Mac Day is a “special day...intended to provide a fun-filled morning of games, competition, prizes, awards, and a lunch for the Wildcatters” according to the Wildcat website. Kids compete in All-Star Games and relays, and can also compete in base-running, throwing accuracy, and throwing for distance. There are drawings for various prizes, such as a baseball glove or bat. Trophies are awarded, but the focus is on the fun. And because the competition is held at the end of the season, it’s also a chance for the kids to show off to their parents and friends how much they have improved their skills that season.

Mr. Mac Day was originally called Progress Day, and Major League ballplayers such as Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Bob Feller as well as Carl Erskine attended to the delight of many kids. These pro ball players also helped to run clinics teaching baseball basics. What better way to learn the fundamentals than from the greats?

Wildcat baseball had such an influence on kids that when Carl Erskine was looking for a new family physician, the doctor told him that they had met before- in Wildcats.