My adopted hometown of Indianapolis has a deep history in the automotive industry. It can be argued that but for Henry Ford’s fortuitous decision to locate in the Detroit area, Indianapolis could have become a major center of the U.S. automotive industry.
Well, it some ways it still is – if we count cemetary plots.
We here at CC keep finding new things to write about. We have covered ships, aircraft, tractors, lawnmowers and even appliances. But until now we have never covered gravestones. While some could find the topic a touch on the morbid side, this certified automotive history geek finds this to be a fascinating topic.
It is also a topic that should be treated respectfully. Everyone in a cemetery had a life like you and me with families, friends, successes and failures. Those who became famous for their work in bringing us the cars and trucks we have been drawn to are no different. And I see this as another way to remember them for the good things they did.
A few years back and completely by accident I stumbled upon the fact that the Chevrolet brothers are buried in Indianapolis. Louis, Gaston and Arthur Chevrolet were legends in early auto racing, but the name is best remembered because Louis linked up with a certain W. C. Durant in forming a little auto manufacturing shop. You may have heard of it.
Anyway, Louis got sideways with Durant (didn’t everyone?) and stormed out of the company in 1916 because he was not about to make cheap cars like that guy up in Michigan. He and his brothers went on to other automotive ventures in Indianapolis including the Frontenac company, makers of speed equipment for the Ford Model T.
Gaston died first, in a 1920 racing accident. He was buried in the old St. Joseph/Holy Cross Catholic cemetery on the south side of Indianapolis, in what is now an old industrial area. Louis joined him in 1941 and Arthur in 1946. There is actually some dispute about Arthur, with some claiming that he rests in an unmarked grave in Louisiana. Anyway, the Chevrolet Motor Division supplied some updated grave markers in recent years and there you have it – one of the most famous names of the auto industry will be forever sited in Indianapolis.
I got to wondering what other famous auto industry pioneers might be found here. And discovered that each of the Big Three is buried in the same Indianapolis cemetery. I do not mean that other Big Three that people in Michigan keep yammering on about. I mean the Real Big Three – the holy trinity of the classic car world: Duesenberg, Marmon and Stutz.
Fred and August Duesenberg are both buried here, in the big-league Crown Hill Cemetery on the north side of Indianapolis.
They are, of course, known as the men behind the best and most exclusive car built before WWII. Although the company was part of the Auburn Automobile conglomerate assembled by E. L. Cord, the Duesenberg was manufactured in its own factory on Harding Street in Indianapolis. One of the buildings survives on the grounds of what is now a transit company maintenance facility.
Harry C. Stutz is also a famous name in automobilia, as the man behind “The Car That Made Good In A Day”. Who over age 60 has never heard of the Stutz Bearcat? It was the most sought-after sports car of its day (never mind what those fans of the Mercer Raceabout might say).
Harry Stutz is another resident of Crown Hill.
And while his name may not be quite as well known, his company’s factory still survives in the form of a collection of offices that serves the artistic and creative community here.
Finally there is Howard C. Marmon. Marmon was responsible for two great bursts of fame, first as builder of the Marmon Wasp, the very first winner of the Indianapolis 500 in 1911 – a car that exists in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. He was also the man behind the fabulous Marmon Sixteen, one of the most elegantly engineered cars ever built.
Although Marmon moved out of state following the demise of his company, he came back following his death and is another inhabitant of Crown Hill. His final factory survives as well, on West Morris Street between Kentucky Avenue and Harding Street, and is used by Eli Lilly, our hometown pharmaceutical company.
OK, in terms of tracking the burial sites of automotive heavyweights, we Central Indiana Hoosiers have Stutz, Marmon and Duesenberg with the Chevrolet brothers besides. Which I think is a pretty impressive bunch. So how about you – we have readers everywhere, and there are surely many, many famous automotive names buried in places all over. Yes, we will hear a lot from the Michigan contingent, but I have no doubt we will hear from some less expected places too.