by L. Mark Finch
Psychic residue. There’s no special word for it in Western culture, but many people believe that anything possessed by a person becomes imbued with that person’s spirit, including objects, places, and buildings—that somehow, people leave a little energy behind, and that energy accumulates.
The Indianapolis house called Tuckaway, at 3128 Pennsylvania St., packs quite a charge. The Historic Meridian Park home of Joe Everhart and Ken Ramsay is among five featured on this year’s Midtown Holiday Home Tour, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 11 and 12.
Stepping into Tuckaway immediately sends visitors over a century into the past. This is one hospitable house, just the kind of place where you’d like to hang around for a while and pick up some energy. Lots of famous people did: Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Amelia Earhart, George Gershwin, James Whitcomb Riley, Margaret Sanger, Carole Lombard, Mary Pickford, Duncan Hines, and Lowell Thomas. Eleanor Roosevelt visited. Rachmaninoff played piano in the drawing room. Why did these celebrities come?
PALMISTRY IN MIDTOWN
A visit to Tuckaway’s past unveils its appeal. Its name is still apt: Located just north of Fall Creek in Midtown, Tuckaway sits back on its lot, huddled under several large, protective trees. The trees are large because the site was once an Indian burial ground and considered to be sacred land by early settlers, who avoided clearing that particular parcel. It wasn’t until 1906 that someone—the builder’s name has been lost—put a small Arts and Crafts cottage on the site.
The builder was a friend of George Philip Meier and his wife Nellie Simmons Meier, who purchased the house in 1910. They wanted to retain the look of a bungalow in the natural setting, but they needed more room to accommodate their possessions and large circle of friends. Clearly, remodeling was in order.
Tuckaway’s roof was removed intact and placed on the ground nearby. The house was gutted, and the area where several small rooms had been became a large drawing room. An upstairs was added, and the roof was replaced. In later years, a sunroom was installed, and an apartment was built over the garage. Nothing but the finest materials were used.
The Meiers could afford it. They both had family money, and both had careers. George was a highly respected couturier whose gowns graced the frames of tasteful society women in the United States and Europe. He opened a ladies’ tailoring and dressmaking shop downtown in 1898, and had a shop in the L. S. Ayres store until his death.
Nellie was a palmist with an international reputation. She was no Gypsy fortuneteller, though—to Nellie, palmistry was a science that described correlations between lines on a person’s palm and their character traits. She compiled her research in books and manuscripts that earned her the respect of her contemporaries, as documented by the letters, autographed books, photographs, and other memorabilia now in the Indiana State Library’s digital Indiana Memory collection. At the request of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nellie compiled 137 palms and character analyses, which are now housed in the Library of Congress.
In an introduction to Nellie’s 1937 book Lions’ Paws: The Story of Famous Hands, Indiana-born author Meredith Nicholson said, “[Palmistry] was known to the Chinese long before the Christian era; the Egyptians and the Greeks were not without belief in it. . . . . The introduction of the fingerprint into criminology called attention anew to the individuality of the hand. If nature has been at pains to place so irrefutably the clue to man’s identity in the finger tips, why should not the great mother of us all have mapped in our palms traits and tendencies indicative of distinct personalities?”
A WELL-KNOWN ADDRESS
From the beginning, the Meiers planned for Tuckaway to be a gathering place where creative people of all disciplines could socialize and stir the cultural soup of the early 20th century. Arts salons were the rage in Paris, where the Meiers kept their summer residence, so having their Indianapolis home become an arts salon seemed almost inevitable. This was during a time when the city truly was the Crossroads of America, as anyone traveling between New York and Chicago or from coast to coast was likely to pass through Union Station. Many visitors “stopped in while they were in the neighborhood,” and Tuckaway became a well-known address.
George died at Tuckaway in 1931. Nellie remained active there with her palmistry and her friends until her death at the house in 1944. The house then passed on to their niece, Ruth Austin Peaslee Cannon, who danced professionally under the name Ruth Austin. After her husband died in 1959, Ruth stayed at Tuckaway until 1968, when she remarried and moved into Riley Towers. Tuckaway fell into disrepair.
In 1972, historic preservation consultant Ken Keene learned about the house from a friend. He went to see the place, and after pushing through the overgrown shrubbery, thought, “I’m home! I’m home!” He spent about 12 hours on the grounds, transfixed, and began making phone calls to locate the owner to see if the house was for sale.
Ruth wanted someone to look after Tuckaway, and she found that person in the 25-year-old who, after forking over the $12,500 purchase price, found himself the proud owner of what real estate ads typically refer to as a “handyman’s special.” Ken got more than he bargained for—as a housewarming gift, Ruth gave him several thousand dollars’ worth of heating, plumbing, and electrical work.
Unfortunately, Ruth—who knew more about the house and its history than anyone—died eight months later. But before she died, she gave Ken many of the family’s personal effects—photographs, letters, personally inscribed books, an early Disney comic strip drawn by the master himself, and a collection of palm prints that Nellie had made of her clients, many featuring notes taken in the shorthand that only she could read. For Ken, it was the beginning of a history project that continues with its new owners today.
When Ken died in 2015, the home passed to his friend and heir Jan Kilpatrick, who sought help from Indiana Landmarks to make sure Tuckaway would be preserved. Local old-house restoration experts Joe Everhart and Ken Ramsay bought it; a recent Landmarks tour of their progress on its rehabilitation was a sellout.
The house is often included as a stop on home tours. And Tuckaway continues to collect new energy to add to that left by Ken Keene, Ruth Cannon, the Meiers and their guests, and the Native Americans who preceded them. midtownindy.org/holiday-home-tour
Updated from the July–August 1994 issue of Branches magazine. Mark Finch was a co-founder of Apple Press Inc., in Broad Ripple.