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Growing Up in Evansville

Read the full feature in the November/December 2014 issue of Evansville Living.

Do you remember the Peanut Shop? Did your parents take you to see the monkeys at Baynham Shoe Co.? Did you see movies at the Sunset Drive-In or see the Triplets play at Bosse Field? Did you watch “The Peggy Mitchell Show” or “Romper Room” (with Miss Winnie and her Magic Mirror)? Do you remember the rides at Yabroudy Park? Did you get lunch from the Hot Tamale Man? If so, you grew up in Evansville, or at least nearby. We wanted to know about those childhood experiences, so we used social media to ask readers for their recollections, then sought out some specific topics and people to fill in the details. So navigate through the memories of nostalgic Evansville and allow yourself to be transported back in time to the days of growing up in the River City.

Baby Boom

Children’s store remained a Downtown staple for three quarters of a century
By Emily Patton

For hundreds of families in Evansville, the first pieces of clothing their children wore were from The Baby Shop, a Downtown staple at 404 Main St. The same was true for Gordon Schlundt, who was the fourth generation of Schlundts to work at the fixture.

His grandmother, Edna Schlundt, is credited with creating the store out of her Emmett Street residence she shared with her husband Henry in 1915. Edna, the mother of five children, was seeking an easier way for mothers to clothe their children other than working from a pattern and sewing the clothes themselves.

With help from Henry, who would later earn the nickname of “The Baby Shop Man,” the business grew to a third location in the Downtown commercial district. Henry’s father would actually help with its success, too. The store was a high-quality, high-service retailer with supplies for mothers, infants, and children through their teen years.

“If you had never seen it before, you almost wouldn’t understand,” says Gordon. “The store had 10 times the merchandise that any store for children has now. We didn’t have one dress. We had 50. It was a totally different experience. We tried to bring the best of everything to Evansville.”

Gordon’s father, Robert, would later take over as owner in the 1950s. Robert would earn the nickname of “Uncle Bob” seen on many birthday cards and gift ring announcements sent to customers.

Gordon became owner in the late ’80s, but only after working there beginning in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Many memories of his childhood come from playing at the Main Street location.

“I certainly always remember going down there on weekends and running around the many different stairways hidden from the public, including the fire escape. Probably doing some bad things and then later working there,” says Gordon, who planned to be a career officer in the U.S. Air Force, but a shoulder injury stopped those plans.

Gordon’s father pushed for him to join the store and he did after graduating from the University of Evansville in 1971. His sister, Robynn, also helped out in the store and worked in the office before she married and moved away from Evansville. Gordon’s wife Mary Ann Schlundt and their daughter Jill Hill, the fifth generation of Schlundts to work in the store, also helped operate The Baby Shop.

The Main Street store closed in 1981, but other branches were opened in Washington Square Mall, Eastland Mall, North Brook Shopping Center, and even as far north as Terre Haute, Indiana.

The Baby Shop closed its last location in January 1992 at Eastland Mall after the influx of shopping centers and department stores in the early 90s.

“I still remember all the smells Downtown and how much fun it was and how much fun it was to shop in an area,” says Gordon. “I can still smell the candy from the candy store and smell the peanuts from the peanut store. It was a wonderful environment to grow up in. It’s just nostalgia.”

Jane Davies, Harrison High School Graduate:
There weren’t any sports for girls until 1972, so the only things you could do were either cheerlead or dance. I started at Hodgini during nursery school and Mr. Albert Hodges, known as Mr. Hodgini, had a trampoline and would invite the class to jump on it. I took lessons with girls from all over the city who I wouldn’t have known otherwise. When the schools integrated, it wasn’t anything to me, because I was used to being with all different types of children. I continued taking lessons there until I was a sophomore or junior in the 1970s. I remember having end of the school year recitals at Roberts Stadium and Mesker Park Amphitheatre. One of my favorite memories is of Marian Hodges’ perfume. Even after she passed away, Mr. Hodgini continued to spray it.

Cathy Powers, St. Wendel:
As a child, I can remember my visits to Evansville, which we then thought of as being the “big city.” Just as it is now, Mesker Park Zoo was always a wonderful place for a child to visit. This was the era of the famed “Monkey Ship,” and everyone wanted to see them scampering around on their floating home.

When we ventured Downtown for shopping at perhaps The Evansville Store, deJong’s, The Peanut Shop, J.C. Penney, Sears, Kresge’s, or Baynham’s shoe store, our last stop was often the Farmer’s Daughter. It was fun to stick our feet into the X-ray machine at Baynham’s, and see their caged monkeys.

A few months before I was born, my mother went to The Baby Shop and bought all of the necessities to care for an infant. I am lucky that she saved this 1944 receipt and I still have it. Both my husband, Don, and I went to an allergy doctor in the Hulman Building as children. I’ll always remember riding up in the elevator, with a white-gloved “operator” taking us to the correct floor. He and I both remember sitting at the soda fountain in Kresge’s on the swiveling orange stools.

The Santa Claus parade was always a wonderful thing for children to attend, and I remember the Christmas that I won a coloring contest, which was displayed in a window at Shear’s. They also had a yearly exhibit of mechanical toys during the holiday season.

For many years, we passed the iconic Sterling Brewery, on Division Street, on our way Downtown, and it is hard to believe this is now gone. Division was famous for its train tracks, which frequently caused traffic problems. It was then the main artery across the city (see “Divided Division,” page 152). Teenagers of the 1960s headed for the Parkway Drive-In at the intersection of Indiana 66 and Mesker Park Drive. It was the place to show off one’s “ride” and order a burger and one of their famous “wine cokes.”

Attending the Ice Capades at Mesker Amphitheatre was a wonderful experience. This venue drew crowds for many different shows throughout the year. One of my best memories is going to the movies, either at one of the sumptuous Downtown theatres, like Loew’s or the Grand, or perhaps to the drive-in. We usually chose the Sunset Drive-In on U.S. Highway 41, or the Westside Drive-In. Someone always forgot to unhook the speaker from their car window, after the movie, and drove away, pulling it off its stand.

Evansville and the Tri-State area was a wonderful place to grow up, and it left me with many memories I treasure to this day.


Golden Girls-Best Friends for 62 Years

During the period of 1963 through 1965, I was in fact a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division stationed at Ft Campbell, KY. It was during this timeframe, that I met and dated one of the "Golden Girls" her name: Judith (Judi) A. Seiler, Mater Dei HS Class of 1964-909 Stewart Ave, Evansville, IN. She was a truly dynamic individual, who could dance the night away, and was a person I throughly enjoyed being with. The pleasantries of Evansville ceased at the end of 1965 , as I was sent to Vietnam and returned to the States after my tour in 1966. The memories of that time have stated with me over the years. Thank You for the retrospective. Bill Spych, Jr. 518 Brown St, Delran, NJ 08075

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